Q Couch Potatoes With The Soft Pack
Approaching the dressing room of The Soft Pack, an LA post-punk buzz band, on a snowy March Glasgow night, Q finds some sniffly guys with Christmas sweaters, anti-bacterial gel and "considerate" attitudes. Simple and direct amid awkward silences, the quarantined foursome name-check every new group on their quietly esoteric radar in a bid to prove that the West Coast reigns superior. Except when it comes to Barry Manilow...
Q: Hi guys, how are you today?
Matt Lamkin (vocals): [In monotone] I'm sick already [coughs].
Brian Hill (drums): Yeah, just to warn you. We're little critters.
David Lantzman (bass): Well, I'm a paragon of health.
BH: He was. [Reaches into jacket pocket for hand gel and begins applying]
DL: [Sheepishly] I was. I've been taking my decongestants.
BH: I lost mine! They were somewhere in my pocket...
ML: Here, have some of mine.
DL: [Looks to Q] You can have some if you want?
Q: You look ready to battle the germs...
DL: I'm a believer that sanitising makes you more sick. It stops you building up your natural immunities.
BH: Well, this is for the benefit of other people. It's for when I touch doorknobs. I agree though. I used to work in a hospital and I'd sanitise all the time... people still got sick.
DL: Brian is a very considerate man. But there are no germs in Scotland so we're good.
BH: Scotland is great.
Q: So you're enjoying the UK leg of the tour, germs aside?
DL: We're glad to be back here, that's for sure. We had a really good time in (Glasgow's King Tut's) the last time we came around town. The crowd were chanting "Soft Pack" and there were like 15 people there. Pretty wild.
BH: Maybe there'll be 16 tonight. [Smiles] We don't really know what people are thinking when they stand there... they could be totally not into it. And then they clap and we're like, Oh ok yeah it's good. But this city's really cool. It's our third or fourth time here. We did a tour with Titus Andronicus last year. We've opened for other bands in the past, like Franz Ferdinand. They're really great guys and looked after us. We're going to Edinburgh tomorrow...
Q: You don't want to tell tonight's Glasgow crowd that.
BH: [Starts rioting in Scottish accent] Aye, Fuck youuuuu!
DL: Glasgow got my heart first so I'm sticking with it.
BH: So many good things come out of Glasgow. Teenage Fanclub, Orange Juice... they're all coming tonight right?
ML: [Deadpan] Glasgow's the best.
Q: It's often mentioned that you had to change the original bandname, The Muslims. Was that like starting all over again?
ML: We got a lot of shit from people who thought we were making a statement and that we were then selling out with a new name. It was kinda annoying. We're starting to move forward now.
BH: We didn't really notice at the time that (the original name) would be so controversial.
Matt McLoughlin (guitar): Well, it isn't an offensive word or anything. It wasn't weird to the people we hung around with. I guess we just didn't think it was going to get outside that little circle where noone cared.
DL: It was a catalyst for a bunch of stupid bullshit jokes that we didn't want to be associated with. We weren't trying to make a political statement like some other people were.
MM: If we'd have kept it we'd just have become a stupid bullshit joke. Even though the year after we changed it sucked. Had we not changed it and dealt with shit for a year we'd have dealt with shit forever. It was kinda like the one way we could just be a band.
Q: Your debut as The Soft Pack has a post-punk sound that has you compared to The Strokes and The Hives. Are there any more surprising influences there?
DL: We like a lot of hip hop: OutKast, Notorious B.I.G. We've been listening to Parliament Funkadelic lately. I just think that's good music. I've been enjoying Elvis.
BH: [Struggles] Gerrr...
All: Gerry Rafferty!
ML: [Laughs] Yeah, and Fleetwood Mac.
BH: We like a lot of soft rock actually. We do like loud bands too.
DL: [Pause] I like Sade...
BH: I could not be in the New Revolution (Prince's The Revolution), or whatever. It wouldn't be convincing. I'd smile too much. Prince would fire me. [Laughs] Cos I couldn't keep a beat. His drummer is way better.
Q: The album is sharp, to the point, very raw. You're the same as a group. What about the whole get-up that comes with being a new band?
BH: As far as the whole package goes we've never been able to pull that off. We're just a band and we like all that punk stuff. It kinda comes out when I record cos I'm a spaz.
ML: We're all kinda spazzy.
BH: [Laughs] So, a lot of those songs are excitable. [Pulls angry face] 'Argh'!
ML: I think it's partly by necessity. I can't really do much musically, it's gotta be simple.
BH: We're all about simplicity. I like just being yourself. People can actually relate to that. Bands that have a whole deal are cool though. It's entertainment.
Q: You're based in LA. But the media keeps talking about Brooklyn...
MM: No! The LA scene's amazing. The Smell scene has No Age, Abe Vigoda, Mika Miko... Best Coast have been talked about a lot. Haunted Graffiti is one of the best if not the best right band in LA right now. [Resounding approval]
ML: They're super technical and not exactly to the point. Very interesting.
DL: There are a ka-trillion bands right now.
Q: So the West Coast is going to reclaim the crown?
MM: Some say it already has. If you look at the bands that are out - Girls are from San Francisco. [Animated] Let's start a West Coast, East Coast feud! Matt gets shot.
ML: That would suck. I don't wanna go first. I've always been a Biggie guy.
BH: Yeah he had the producer, the video, the dancers...
DL: There are a lot of great bands from New York too.
ML: But which city is better, David? [Pause] Los Angeles!
MM: Bakersfield's got a burgeoning scene. It's the best for... Pavement.
BH: Yeah Pavement and... And that's it.
MM: But they're pretty good. [Laughs]
BH: Yeah, and then they moved to New York.
Q: When it comes to collaborations then, who would you most like to work with?
ML: Rizzo. Or, Gerry Rafferty.
MM: [Jumping] No, no, no! The guy who wrote...
All: BARRY MANILOW!
MM: He's written a bunch of jingles, it'd be really cool to work with him.
ML: [Starts singing Mandy]
MM: [Laughs] He said in an interview, I just forget to eat. Nobody forgets that.
BH: I don't know man, he's got problems.
MM: I think it comes out in the pop music.
BH: He's a genius.
Q: How about a post-punk take on Barry Manilow?
BH: Me First And The Gimme Gimmes did a version of Mandy.
MM: That'd be cool. We'd be open to collaborate with anybody. Whenever we're in California we say Joan Jett in the hope she'll take notice... so I guess, Edwyn Collins? Actually, it'd be cool to collaborate with someone outside of our sound. Not necessarily someone hip hop cos that's like the standard indie white guy thing.
DL: [Impression of "standard white indie guy"] Dude, I actually listen to some of that stuff, I'm not racist. It's cool!
MM: Yeah, they listen to it... While they lock their doors. [Laughs]
BH: Grizzly Bear's Michael McDonald collaboration is the type of thing we'd consider.
MM: Yeah, we want a Donald Fagen or a Walter Becker, that'd be most ideal. We're huge Steely Dan fans. But with my musicianship they might have to just do it with Dave and Brian. Matt and I would sit that one out... Or one of the Deal sisters (The Breeders).
BH: I just want to be in The Breeders.
MM: [To Brian] Get the fuck out of here. [Laughs]
Q: What's in store for The Soft Pack after Europe?
MM: SXSW, then a tour with Nodzzz and Male Bonding, and this group called Beaters from San Diego. They're really good. After that we play Coachella. We have four or five weeks to write a bunch of songs. Hopefully we'll record some time in the fall.
BH: We don't get too much free time to write on the road.
ML: We go to our practice space, which is just Matty's garage. But we take a couple of weeks off before.
BH: Try not to strangle the vibe out too much.
On that note Q exits to fend off an oncoming bout of The Soft Pack's illness. The guys prepare for the show by mingling with the crowd. Strictly post-hand sanitising, of course.
The Soft Pack are currently touring the UK and will be heading over to Europe before playing the US. Their new album The Soft Pack is out now.
Words: Eve Barlow (Eve's personal music blog can be found here)
12:50 PM | 25/02/2010
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