I’m a softie for THE SOFT PACK : A semi-sappy, but earnest mini-memoir of how I feel in love with one of the best bands to come out of the San Diego music scene
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a pretty big fan of The Soft Pack. So, needless to say, I was a tad excited to come home Sunday from a long night of work and find a small package containing their new full length released this February on Brooklyn’s Kemado Records. As I eagerly ripped open the mailer, and held the shiny jewel box in my hands, and saw their photo on the front, the liner, and the disc, I had to smile. I felt a little bit proud and a little bit inspired and pretty sentimental. Not because I had anything to do with the success of these guys, or that I even know them, but because I did see them start out, and watched them progress from basement shows to, well, due recognition. I got to know their music first hand, when good music was exploding all around me, and I guess holding their CD reminded me of how they started out and it reminded me of why I love rock and roll, and of how I came to love The Soft Pack.
As I remember, the first time I saw The Soft Pack perform, it was 2007 and they were an unofficial 4-piece band called “The Muslims”, with a girl on bass (Emily Neveu who was later to deliver the gauzy-goth vocals in Calico Horse). The Muslims were playing at The Tower Bar in San Diego, California, and opening for the now defunct band, Grand Old Party, which at the time, was the “next big thing” in San Diego. I wound up at this show because a week prior, I had heard GOP perform for the first time at a free gig at The Museum of Contemporary Art. GOP was fronted by Kirsten Gundred, (who now goes by the alias Dee Dee Dum Dum) a girl, who worked in a nearby clothing store and happened to have a lightening sharp voice and something of a knack with the drums. After their set, she shyly handed me, along with some other new fans, a CDR with three of their songs. I made it a point to make their next show, at The Tower Bar.
The Tower Bar smells like piss, and the toilet always clogs, and I make a concerted effort to not walk on carpet or any remotely clean surface the next day with the shoes I wore there the night before. However, they have killer Bloody Marys, and free buttons emblazoned with the Schlitz bear and their name, and they are famous for a car driving into their building in the 60’s. That Spring night in 2007, regulars and scene goers alike, lined the walls of the bar like PBR soaked sardines. There was little room, and people were standing on top of the ripped cushions seats of booths. Often, opening bands for the main act are hit or miss. However, sometimes, there is that sweet, unwonted occasion, when an opener really grabs me, and I have a new favorite band. I love those unexpected moments, and this was one of them. The sound from this band, The Muslims, was punchy, simple and instant. The crackling, seductively skuzzy sound, sprinkled with squeaky-clean guitar solos, offset by crisp dry drums, a juicy bass, and dead-pan vocals hooked me. It was music I didn’t have to dissect or think about, I just experienced it; felt it. GOP didn’t disappoint me that night, but The Muslims were the band I went home talking about. At the end of their set, I articulately shouted to my friend, “These guys are like….really good! ” while noting to myself to remember their name, lest I get it confused with all the other two-word band names that were cropping up in SD at the time.
Obviously I didn’t forget their name. The first track I ever got from The Muslims was downloaded for free from their Myspace page. Although I am now somewhat chagrined by the idea of Myspace, (maybe because it seems to be overrun with 13 year olds, glittery profiles, and creeps) there is no denying that Myspace was and still is a great and powerful tool (that’s what she said) for beginning bands to connect with their fan base and get discovered. Case in point, my 96 bit rate track, downloaded on 8/13/07, titled “Extinction156” by The Muslims from an “Unknown Album”. Extinction has since been played about 1 billion times by me (that is just a rough estimate). Hearing the music at home, only made me want to hear it more, so I would go on to try to catch every live show. I wanted to continue to hear the music that I could feel. And I always did, and I always ended up dancing, along with the rest of the crowd to their 2 minute electric songs.
The guys in the band never feed me or the other kids in San Diego some cool, alluring image of a scene or a look. They were just guys who happened to be in a band with a good sound who I would see buying beer at Rite Aide after house shows at the Slaughter House. I think of humble frontman, Matt Lamkin, smirking on stage or in a sweaty living room, in some unintentionally hip collared shirt, coolly and casually delivering vocals while, guitarist, Matty McLoughlin’s feet are planted in a spread leg stance cushioned by bloated, white sneakers with giant, floppy, tongues hanging out as he grimaces and contorts his mouth while wailing on his guitar. He probably has since “graduated” to some polish-able black pointed shoes, but I doubt he really gives a shit. I remember bassist, David Lantzman, sipping bar coffee on stage from a mug at 11:30 pm, with a bemused smile, while he whipped bass lines into submission, and played to an eager crowd. And I see Brian Hill deftly playing drums standing up like a gracious and un-cocky pro, even though he has permission to act ungracious and cocky because he does such a damn fine job with the things.
I believe that part of what makes The Soft Pack so alluring, is that as people and musicians, both then, and now, they come off as unfeigned, and unprocessed. They eschew hype and are seemingly ambivalent to comparisons or labels. The Soft Pack simply keeps it rock and they keep it real.
Of course, The Soft Pack didn’t stop in San Diego. As one can surmise, they would go on to pay their dues, play many a show, many a house party, many a bar and shows at The Casbah (a San Diego staple for relevant music). They would solidify their band lineup, move to LA, release some EPs, release an LP, play local music fests, play national music fests, blow up, (change their name, of which I got “startling” wind of via a late night text from a fellow fan and friend. Ha!). They would crop up in magazines, and blogs, cover and release songs by The Cure and Phoenix, and tour with Franz Ferdinand, and make an appearance on Letterman. They would travel the world and get reviews from Dazed and Confused such as: “a testament to the power of three chords.” Along with Spin, Q, Billboard and Paste touting their recent album, “The Soft Pack”, as the “Most Anticipated release of 2010.”
So, now you have the history of my love affair with The Soft Pack, the artists formerly known as The Muslims. Some might say I’m just full of sap, or drunk on nostalgia, bored in Kansas, or even borderline creepy. Maybe part of my devotion is due toinspiration which draws from the fact that what started out as a couple ofunassuming guys from San Diego, throwing together some gigs, pounding some chords and maybe some Miller High Life, is now a bonafide band…a band that managed to turn more than a few heads, simply by doing what they liked. What is now The Soft Pack was once (and basically still is) a casual, imperfect, arrangement, of some dudes, not seeking recognition, only a sound, and eventually winding up with both. Or maybe, I’m simply a softie for The Soft Pack.