Chicago-based alternative rock band SŌK hit the ground running in 2020. With the release of their debut EP in January followed by a nearly sold-out release show at Subterranean’s (2011 W. North Ave.) downstairs stage in Wicker Park Feb. 12, the four college students making up SŌK were finally building momentum up the mountain.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic caused the U.S. to start lockdowns around the country, and the band felt like they were sliding back down.
“To have a full stop like that, right in the middle of that kind of uptick, it’s really hard to come back from,” said Jonah Nink, bassist for SŌK and a senior at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “That momentum is really fragile to maintain sometimes, and stuff like this … it can kill it.”
After a busy academic year, the band planned on a summer of recording, a miniature tour and other steps forward – only for the pandemic to sweep it away from them as quickly as they had built up their successes.
Since their universities closed in late March, the members of SŌK have practiced in person only once – at a space they can no longer access – and have transitioned to online platforms such as Google Docs and Zoom to continue collaborating.
“We’ve never lived through this, our parents, even our grandparents have never lived through this,” said guitarist Nick Bilski, a senior music student at Columbia College. “So just no one knows what to do.”
Although plans changed drastically, SŌK is hopeful they will start moving forward and eventually be able to record in-studio again. For now, they remotely celebrated the release of new single “Jawbreaker” and its accompanying lyric video Sept. 4.
“Jawbreaker” was mostly recorded pre-lockdown, though Nink ended up having to record his bass tracks from home. Lead singer Alexis Ploen, a senior music major and music business minor at Columbia College, is particularly excited about the release. As the female lead of a rock band, she wishes more songs like “Jawbreaker” existed while she was growing up.
“Classic rock is where my heart is, you know?” she said. “That was one of my biggest influences, and barely any of that is from a female perspective. A lot of it’s sexist, and sometimes racist … and I’m like, ‘What if we take some of that energy and put it like in a modern context for the younger people of today?’”
For Ploen, “Jawbreaker” is a means to express frustrations with sexism in the music industry, particularly her experiences being underestimated as a female rock musician.
“For example, [in terms of] music theory … if I know the most in the room, no one’s gonna act like it,” she said. “I mean, in any field, you have to work harder in order to get the same level of recognition, definitely.”
“This song’s kind of my reminder … I know I might be sweet, but I’ll also break your jaw,” Ploen said. “Be careful who you’re dealing with.”
While the band faced hardships throughout the lockdown, they can see the good side of their time in social isolation. Carlson has had time to practice drumming techniques with his hands, Bilski has devoted his extra free time to playing the guitar and Ploen has written songs she doesn’t think would have come to fruition without staying at home so often. The band plans to livestream a show at Rogers Park’s New Rhythm Arts Center (1441 W. Morse Ave.) Sept. 19.
“There’s a lot to be grateful for, even though it’s easy to sit and wallow … on what the year could have been for us,” Ploen said. “Now that we’re getting better at navigating this new time that we’re in, I think we’re ready to just kind of do it full force again.”
“Jawbreaker” is now available on Spotify and other streaming services.