The 405 meets...The Soft Pack
Doing something different takes guts. This, of course, includes bull running, which literally can remove your entrails. But artistic courage, the kind of which displayed on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ or when ‘Judas!’ rained down as Dylan plugged in, this creative risk taking is somewhat more palatable than being skewered in Pamplona.
A more recent example is The Soft Pack’s new album, Strapped, released 1st October on Mexican Summer. The band, whose last record featured a song with the not so adventurous rock 'n' roll title ‘C’mon’ are now coming out of the garage blasting saxophones. We caught up with guitarist Matty McLoughlin to discuss their new record.
The sound on Strapped is still brilliantly Soft Pack but will hardcore fans feel like abandoned pets?
Ha ha I have no idea! I'm sure some old fans will think: "Hey, this is not for me. I don't like it." But I also feel that people who weren't feeling our previous albums might say: "Hey, these Soft Pack guys are alright, man!" You can't think about fans, critics, or anyone else really, other than what the other members in the band think when making an album. We are always trying to impress each other, which I think is a healthy thing.
McLoughlin goes on to mention quite a dark horse when it comes to inspiration for the album in the form of a David Lee Roth quote: “The first rule of rock ‘n’ roll is, if it sounds good, it is good.”
“When we were writing and recording the album we decided that we didn't care about what kind of fidelity or style of song we were going to put on the album. Whether it was a song we did in a nice studio or a recording one of us did on our computer in GarageBand, if the recording sounded interesting it was going to go on the album. Probably should have given homie a shout out in the liner notes. THANKS DAVE.”
Comparing your self-titled record and Strapped it hits me how different they are in style and influence. On the last album the sound was distinctively American. For me, Strapped feels more European. Do you know what I mean?
You guys listened to Denim, Momus, The Church, YAZ, Grace Jones, INXS, Carole King, Lee Hazelwood, The Byrds and Elton John. What other vibes can be heard on the album?
‘Oxford Ave’ probably comes from listening to a lot of Funkadelic, specifically Maggot Brain and Electric Spanking War Babies. ‘Second Look’ kind of has that Peter Buck (of REM fame) style of guitar playing. Though ‘Captain Ace’ doesn't sound Krauty at all, we were inspired to make a longer song from listening to bands like Harmonia and Amon Duul II. So I guess there are some European influences on there after all!
You also recorded a mean cover of Phoenix’s ‘Fences’.
We were asked to do a remix for their REMIX album. We had no idea how to approach it so we just fucked around in the garage and it came out pretty cool, I think. We threw our style on their song.
Apart from Dave, what inspired you to create Strapped?
We found inspiration in the music we were listening to and these rum drinks we were all about... And we didn't want to be called "garage surf rock" anymore. We wanted to push ourselves and make a record that we would listen to.
When you performed ‘Answer to Yourself’ on The Late Show with David Letterman, you dedicated it to Warren Zevon. What does Warren mean to you?
We were listening to Warren Zevon a ton during that time and he's from LA, which we think is cool. He also had a bunch of cool moments on Letterman and we thought it was fitting.
What is your relation to the sixties?
We were listening to The Byrds a lot and like that guitar sound. The jangly chord picking thing.
Your last album had a live vibe to it. The sound on Strapped is more diverse and rich. How would you describe it?
We overdubbed things more on this record. The last one was just the four of us in a room playing like it was a concert.
After the two and a half years’ near-constant touring before and after your self-titled release in 2010, you seemed burnt out. Can you describe your feelings at the time?
We were just exhausted and sick of everything. We were sick of playing the same songs. The music didn't really sound like stuff we were listening to and we just wanted to go home and write and figure out how to make it fun again.
And you then decided to self-produce your new album.
We are big fans of control.
For your last album you developed 12 songs and recorded all of them – 10 made it to the album, the other two became B-sides. In contrast, while making Strapped you created 80 demo ideas. Can you tell me about this process?
We just demo'd everything we did at practice. There were 80 song ideas but only 30 were recorded for real. Record everything and pick the ones you like later was the approach. When you record all of the time you don't become so attached to one idea, because if it doesn't work you have other things you can fuck with.
And what will happen to the songs that weren’t chosen for the record?
I am sure some of those song ideas will resurface on later stuff. Who knows though... Maybe it was all a waste! Fuck!
You were making the album over the course of two years. It’s quite a long time, what did this mean for the way you worked and the sound of the album?
We were really rushed on the last one and didn't want to be rushed at all for this one. We wanted to decompress and write and demo a bunch of music. To not really be concerned with anything other than compiling ideas.
Which song was the hardest to get right?
‘Bobby Brown’ was the hardest one to record by far. We recorded it like 7 million fucking times. We couldn't get the drums to match up with the synthesizer. SO ANNOYING. It was such a relief to finally get a recording of it we were happy with. It is one of my favorite songs on the album and to lose it would have been a bummer.
There are several songs on the album that includes saxophones and horns: ‘Second Look’, ‘Tallboy’, ‘Oxford Ave’ and ‘Captain Ace’. And, of course, the 1980s sax solo in ‘Bobby Brown’. Why were you particularly drawn to this sound?
We wanted to make this one more sonically diverse than the previous ones. We thought sax sounded cool and enjoyable. We also wanted to add synthesizer and stylophone.
Can you tell me a little about the lyrics on Strapped?
‘Ray's Mistake’ is about a drink at this Tiki Bar we like to hang out at in LA called Tiki Ti's. ‘Captain Ace’ was inspired by this sculptor named Robert Arneson. ‘Head on Ice’ is about the prostitutes on Matt Lamkin's street. The finest black chicks you have ever seen.
‘Saratoga’ was the first single to be released. Why that one?
We picked ‘Saratoga’ because it was really catchy and a nice segue from the last album to this one.
You’ve got a new record out, what’s the next step for the band?
We are going to be on tour for a while promoting the album. I haven't really looked past that.
After your 2010 tour burn-out, how do feel about touring again?
We are in New Orleans on tour right now! We are having a lot of fun playing these songs and kicking it with this band Heavy Hawaii (who we are on tour with). They are a sick band from San Diego.
One more thing: any new bands from LA we should know about?
White Fence, Crazy Band, SFV Acid, Puro Instinct, Abe Vigoda, Dunes, Regal Degal.
Read The 405’s review of Strapped here:http://thefourohfive.com/review/article/the-soft-pack-strapped