Mint Magazine Interview | The Soft Pack
The Soft Pack are the kind of band that any kid who grew up with rock’n'roll wants to be in. When I call up guitarist Matty McLoughlin, he’s in Dayton, Ohio, which he describes to me as “the home of The Breeders and Guided by Voices”. They’re driving to Indianapolis for a show later that day, and he’s just chilling outside a Panera Bread sandwich place. This makes sense, as a few hours earlier the following tweet graced the band’s Twitter page: “If you panini’d my arm, I would eat it.” These guys really are as carefree as their Southern Californian indie rock sound suggests.
“Tour food’s pretty bad,” he says, describing his sandwich as “pretty shitty and a little disappointing”. But when you’re touring the US of A and you’re a garage rock band who has just implemented a sax and a synth player, life’s got to be better than a shitty sandwich, right? I was determined to find out, diving head-first into a conversation about the band’s new album Strapped; how adding sax was partly inspired by Bobby Brown and found out how exactly the band narrowed down 12 songs for the record from roughly 80.
How have you found the reception on tour this time around?
It’s been good! We’ve been playing the majority of the new record; people seem to like it a lot – we have someone playing saxophone and synth with us now. It’s just nice to play new songs, we haven’t really been out in a while. We’ve been like little babies; we haven’t done a real, full tour in about two years, so it’s been good to play new songs because it makes the old songs more fun to play, y’know? It’s good to have a lot of songs to pick from.
The new album seems to be dominated by a strong saxophone sound almost all the way through. Was its implementation – as well as a more diverse range of instruments – something you’d always intended to do when you headed into the studio?
Yeah, that was one of the main goals. With the last record we wanted to capture what the band sounded like live with just the four of us hammering away. With this one, we wanted to make it sonically more interesting – we were listening to a lot of that band Morphine, they’ve got a lot of sax. That Iggy Pop & James Williamson record Kill City, too. We just kind of liked the way it sounded. It’s like live, whenever a saxophone starts playing people immediately feel better, there’s an immediate reaction. It’s a nice little rock’n’roll trick and we wanted to broaden our sound instead of just a guitar solo here and there, we wanted to mix it up.
Looking at some of the song titles on the record – ‘Bobby Brown’ and ‘Ray’s Mistake’ in particular – it sounds like you might’ve had some Bobby Brown and Ray Charles influences too?
Yeah! When we were jamming or recording in the studio we’d sometimes switch up instruments to kind of break out of what we were doing at the time. One time when we were playing the Bobby Brown song I was playing synth, and we were using my computer to record so I’d like write in the demo name of each of the tracks afterwards, and I thought the synth line sounded like Bobby Brown’s ‘Every Little Step I Take’. I’m a huge Bobby Brown fan, so I just named it Bobby Brown. It sounds kind of like that late 80s, early 90s R&B kinda thing, and Bobby Brown’s the man, so that’s why we named it that.
I heard you’d played around with roughly 80 sketches of songs during the recording process before narrowing it down to the 12 songs that made it on the album. How did you find this sort of writing and recording method in comparison to your first two records?
With The Muslims record we recorded ten songs and those were the ten songs that made it on the album. With the self-titled, we recorded twelve songs and ten were on the record and the other two were b-sides. With this one, we just weren’t listening to the same stuff as with the previous two records and so we just kept writing and writing and letting those new influences come out naturally. Out of the 80 sketeches there’s probably 30 finished songs – we just wanted to have a lot to pick from. By doing it like this you don’t necessarily have to be so buried by an idea: if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, you just move on and keep writing. That was the approach with this one, make as much as possible and then eventually you’ll find something that you like. Rather than ‘we wrote this song for the record and it might kinda suck, but we have to put it on because we only wrote ten’.
What was the one key element you were looking for when narrowing down those tracks?
When recording first started we had this mixtape idea, even though it doesn’t really sound like that now. We kind of followed the lines of that David B. Ross quote “if it sounds good, it is good”. We weren’t so much interested whether a track was rocking a high fidelity thing or a low fidelity thing. A track went on if we found it interesting. These songs sounded good to us, there’s more things going on and it’s more of an enjoyable listen overall I think. We didn’t want to turn in something super weird like Metal Machines by Lou Reed – we’re a pop band after all, so the catchiness comes out, but we definitely weren’t interested in the fidelity of these songs at all.
Do you think any of the tracks that didn’t make the album will appear at a later stage?
I think so. A couple of the songs – for instance Saratoga – I had forgotten. Sometimes Dave, Brian and I would get together and jam without Matt, and Dave and I went through some stuff and saw it as being the first kind of single on it. Having more songs means you’ve got more stuff to pull from, and have more ideas to pick from. ‘Bobby Brown’ we wrote like three years ago so as long as we keep writing we can go back and mess with stuff and make sure we always have as much stuff as possible.
The Soft Pack’s new album Strapped is out now on Mexican Summer.