Chicago alternative rock band SŌK releases new single “Jawbreaker”

Jack Austin, Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor

Dressed in a David Bowie t-shirt, a black beanie, and with dyed pinkish orange hair, Alexis Ploen struts around the studio with confidence, swinging her whole body with the beat and belting out poetry. Her band, SŌK, backs her up with instrumentation, creating high-energy songs with socially aware lyrics.

Members of the Chicago band describe their sound as “hybrid alternative rock.” The group formed in December 2018 and recently released a single, “Jawbreaker.”

The band originally was spelled “Soak” but had to change the name to avoid confusion with the Swedish folk artist with the same name, Cameron Carlson, the drummer, said.

“I kind of like the idea of soaking in the human experience and just absorbing everything you possibly can from emotions, the fear of existing,” Ploen, lead vocalist and songwriter, said. “That is one of the goals of art — to just soak in that human existence.”

The songwriting process for the band varies, but is usually jam-based, meaning the band has a general structure for the song but improvises together, making each performance of the song unique. Often, Ploen comes up with chords, lyrics and melody, and then takes it to the band to jam and polish it. Other times, Nick Bilski, lead guitarist, comes up with riffs and the band brainstorms accordingly.

Ploen said she was inspired by “edgier female vocalists” while writing “Jawbreaker,” which has been her proudest work to date.

“When you see those few who stick out and are incredible at what they do, it’s really exciting,” Ploen said. “I adore (Patti Smith) for blending poetry and rock and roll, Janis Joplin’s aggressive way of singing the blues, Billie Holliday with the context of the songs she was singing. I respect the innovation they brought in their respective fields.”

Because SŌK is an alternative rock band with a lead female vocalist, they get compared to popular bands like Paramore, Ploen said. However, Ploen said she incorporates more of an “angsty feminist” perspective in her lyrics.

The band gains a lot of strength from their diversity in musical taste and inspiration, Jonah Nink, the bass guitar player, said.

“Alexis and I are huge classic rock nerds,” Nink said. “A lot of that stuff is misogynistic and can be racist at times. I think you can learn from that and apply that same energy to stuff that isn’t making those same mistakes.”

Ploen added that they can ride the energy of classic rock, but revisit it for a younger and more progressive audience. She also said they like to experiment, drawing influences from a lot of places including metal and classic rock.

Bilski and Ploen agreed that their EP release show was one of the most rewarding experiences as a band. That night, they sold out of all their merchandise and were only eight people away from selling out at the Subterranean in Wicker Park.

“That was rewarding. It was snowing really bad that day. I was like ‘nobody’s probably going to come,’” Bilski said. “It was packed, it was one of those shows where you pick up the guitar and everything feels like butter, like everything is magic.”

Normally, the band practiced one to two times a week at Columbia College, where three of the members are art and music students. Since the pandemic, SŌK members have only rehearsed twice, but are planning to practice regularly at the Music Garage, a recording studio.

COVID-19 also spoiled the band’s plans to go on tour outside the Chicago area. However, Bilski said this time presents the band with an opportunity to reassess their priorities, strengthen their existing sound and find a path forward.

For now, the band said they want to focus on growing together and releasing material they are increasingly proud of.

COVID-19 has been one of the largest obstacles the band has faced, and has only exacerbated their fear of losing momentum.

“This is so momentum based, the minute you lose that it can be really hard to recover,” Nink said. “That’s all we really can do, especially with the pandemic. Keep writing, keep recording, keep doing live streams just to get some type of forward motion going.”

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Twitter: @JackAustin10

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