Making their second appearance at Coachella this year are L.A.-based electro-pop duo Sofi Tukker. For members Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, their debut at the world-renowned festival came in 2017, three years after their launch, and it remains one of the high points of their career.
The five years of their existence have seen Hawley-Weld and Halpern embark on the wildest of rides. 2016's Soft Animals EP saw them earn mass plaudits, while their debut full-length album, Treehouse, came out a year ago and saw their stock continue to rise. They've just dropped a new single and accompanying high-concept video, “Fantasy,” and there's a new record on the way. It all bodes well for their two sets at Coachella.
“It was amazing in 2017,” Halpern says. “It really lived up to the hype. It was one of our first festivals. We were pretty nervous, it was pretty overwhelming. You go there, and there are so many people and so much art and press. It was crazy. I remember being so exhausted after the weekend. We were so like, all senses were overloaded. But it was pretty awesome. I'm really looking forward to going back.”
Hawley-Weld says it's a little odd to perform a festival set and then repeat it the following weekend, but she loves the experience all the same.
“It's really cool to be able to play on the same stage,” she says. “There's less pressure on the second weekend, and we'd got used to the stage. So it's really cool to be able to do that.”
“It's kinda cool to get a second chance,” Halpern adds. “You can get a redo. Anything you weren't happy with, you get another shot. I don't think we'd ever even been to a musical festival before we started the band. That's one of the only times we've actually been at a festival all weekend and got to really experience it. Maybe that's why we liked it so much. It was so fun. I remember seeing The XX and Lorde. It was cool. I really loved it.”
Sofi Tukker formed when the duo met while studying at Brown University. Halpern was playing basketball, while Hawley-Weld was studying hard.
“I guess I was there studying a little bit, too,” Halpern says. “I ended up getting sick and having to leave school for a year. That's when I taught myself how to make music, in my bed on my computer. I ended up getting obsessed with it. I was DJing a lot in my senior year and that's when I met Sophie, who was an acoustic bossa nova jazz singer-songwriter. We met at an art gallery, and I was the DJ after the event. I saw her perform and thought it was really beautiful, but thought it could be a little more sped up and fun because it was really slow and that's not really my thing. So we met that day and I asked if I could remix one of her songs, and we've been working together ever since. That was about halfway through our senior year.”
Their first live experience as a musical project didn't go well, according to Hawley-Weld, who says they were trying too hard to be cool and mysterious. She didn't have fun at all, and was questioning the future of the project.
“I realized that what we needed to do is be excited, be ourselves, and not try to be cool,” she says. “And then it became the most fun thing ever.”
Since then, fun has certainly been the name of the game for Sofi Tukker. While the sound is rooted in dance-pop, there's no lack of inventiveness there — a desire to push things a little and see what they end up with. For those reasons, they prefer not to define the sound or label it.
“We do what's inspiring us in the moment and not feel like we're limited to any kind of sound,” Hawley-Weld says. “But it's definitely dance music, and it's influenced by music from all over the world.”
“It's hard,” Halpern adds. “The only way to describe it is it's really us. We have really different influences and different backgrounds, so it's sort of that interesting place where Sophie's brain and my brain come together. I think it wouldn't really be possible to make it with just one brain, because I think it's too many different influences mixing and mashing. It's always fun to see what comes out.”
Those influences definitely are varied. Hawley-Weld's favorite artists come from the bossa nova world, and she adores musicians from Brazil and Mexico. Meanwhile, Halpern grew up listening to his parents' Chic and disco records before going through punk and hip-hop phases. Eventually, he ended up at EDM, where he really fell in love with house and dance music. All of that has made its way into the Sofi Tukker sound, though there has been clear growth between the Soft Animals EP and Treehouse.
“When we first made Soft Animals, we had never played a show before, so we were making music that we wanted to listen to hanging out, sitting around,” Halpern says. “When we started performing and touring nonstop, we realized the connection with the people, and our performance started influencing the music we're making a lot. That changed things a bit. We're like, we want to go crazy. We really lose our minds onstage and like to go nuts. And so we wanted to make music that would let us do that, and that would push people to dance even harder. Smile more and scream more.
“I think the evolution of our touring and travel influenced the way we make music a lot. Also, all the people we met around the world — friends we've met and artists we've met at festivals and stuff, collaborating with them. Everything has influenced us,” he adds. “Our lives have changed so much since we made the songs for Soft Animals. Now with 'Fantasy' starting the new phase of things, it feels like a progression. But it always feels like us. We make sure of that.”
While the band formed in New York during their college years, they recently made their way to our sunnier climate.
“We were living on the road for about two years, so we didn't actually have a home,” Hawley-Weld says. “When we graduated college, we moved to New York, in part because it was close to our college. It was only a four-hour drive away, and I think that's what a lot of people were doing. We worked in New York for about two years, and it was a great place to start the band but I think ultimately we both really love being outdoors in nature, and we love the warm weather. So the fact that there's another city that's really about music and has those two things was appealing to us. We still travel the world and we mostly still live on the road.”
“I think the main thing was when we were on tour all the time, coming back to New York after being on the road for a month or two and being exhausted, it's not the best place to recharge and recover,” Halpern adds. “You get there and there's so much to do — you want to go see all your friends.”
Ultimately, Los Angeles offered a home where the two musicians could relax and recover, while also enjoying all of the music the region had to offer.
“I think compared to New York, there's so much going on musically,” Halpern says. “There's so many songwriters — even if they're not living in L.A., everyone's often coming through L.A. I think we've found even more time to collaborate and get more done by being there often.”
They've been involved with some excellent collaborations, too, with artists as diverse as The Knocks and Benny Benassi.
“We really make music mostly with our friends,” Hawley-Weld says. “Both of those people, we're friends with. It's really our favorite thing to do, make music and be with our friends. We mostly make music just the two of us, but when we get to incorporate other styles, we always learn something and it's really fun.”
To date, the group has earned two Grammy nominations, for the song “Drinkee” and for the Treehouse album. Both musicians recognize the impact those honors have had on their career, though they also claim that most of what they do hasn't changed at all.
“I think the bread and butter of our everyday life is pretty similar,” Hawley-Weld says. “We make music, we tour, we're grinding. Right now, we wake up every day, get on a flight and go to a new city. For the day-to-day stress, it doesn't have an impact. But in interviews people talk about it, and I think there's a certain legitimacy that it gives that has helped our band and our lives. We're really grateful for it.”
They were also helped out when Apple chose to use their song “Best Friend” for the iPhone X commercial.
“We have no idea [how that happened],” Halpern says. “We are grateful though. We have a long-growing support from Apple and people always ask, 'Who do you know?' Honestly, we got lucky. Our first song that we put out on Soundcloud, 'Drinkee,' was picked up by Apple for an Apple Watch commercial in 2015. That's basically what let us start the band, because then we could pay rent and not have other jobs. Ever since then, they've been championing us and it's been amazing. We've met some of them by now, and we're really appreciative of the board. But there's no real connection. It's happened quite a bit now, and each time another one has come up, we're just like, 'You've got to be kidding me. This is amazing but what the hell is going on?' We're grateful and we love them.”
All of which means that the band are in fine shape as their Coachella sets approach. They're certainly looking forward to going back, and checking out other artists such as Nora En Pure and Maggie Rogers, as well as the likes of Billie Eilish. As for their own set, they've been planning that for a long time.
“We're revealing our brand-new stage setup and production at Coachella,” Hawley-Weld says. “So we've been filming our dream set really, for a while. We're going to be doing it for the first time ever at Coachella, with a lot of new songs, lot of new production, new visuals.”
“Not the actual first time,” Halpern adds with a smile. “We're going to rehearse it for a week before. We're not going to totally wing it, I promise.”
After Coachella, Sofi Tucker will be performing in the United States, Europe and Australia, flying back and forth while simultaneously trying to get new material out. Most of what they have coming up, they have to keep under their hats for now. But hey, they've set a high bar. Whatever they do, it's worth keeping tabs on.