San Diego bred indie rockers The Soft Pack have built a solid name for themselves with their uproarious portions of supercharged guitars and stampeding drums. It’s back-to-basics hard rock with a drizzling of indie sensibility, a style showcased on their recently released their second full-length effort, Strapped.
We had the chance to catch up with guitarist Matty McLoughlin to chat to us a bit about the album, their evolution as a band and the separation of music and politics. Given the hype that surrounded them in their early days, and the high expectations of their recent album, there must have been a lot of pressure on them. So what’s the story of their new record, Strapped? “The new album is the result of a lot of writing and growth as a band,” Matty responds. “We decided to self produce this time around, to make it as personal and direct as we possibly could. While I can’t elaborate too eloquently on Matt’s lyrics, I can say fairly that the songs are about where we live [Los Angeles] and some of the craziness that has happened in our lives as people, and as a band over the last few years.”
Self-producing an album is an arduous task, and their label Mexican Summer clearly have a lot of faith in the band to give them the reigns, which is both lucky and rare given the risks being taken. Matty elaborates on the process of creating Strapped. “We had much more freedom. Luckily, Mexican Summer, our label trusts us. On the last one [The Soft Pack], there was also this intense bit of hype to follow up on, which made us question our decisions way too much. This new album is the closest we’ve gotten to ‘us’ in years, I feel. We began demoing in our rehearsal space, and picked the best stuff. Then we booked time at a few studios in L.A. Our pals Drew Fischer and Rob Barbato helped out tremendously with engineering. Rob also produced the track ‘Bobby Brown’.”
Given that there was much more freedom this time around, the tracks have been allowed to unfold naturally, without the lyrics feeling contrived or the music forced. “We were influenced by some major changes in our band, mostly with who we had worked with, and no longer working with those folks. Also, coming away from a heavy touring schedule to suddenly having much more time for writing-that helped us find a few new directions to explore. We really wanted to make this one primarily for ourselves, and hoped others would enjoy it too.”
The Soft Pack spent a long time touring before the release of their debut, and again before they hit the studio again for the second record. The relentless touring was something which wore them down to the point of needing a break. However, it seems they’ve managed to strike a balance these days in order to continue enjoying being in the band. “We toured a lot a few years ago, and now we’re getting back to that a little more. Life was very hectic touring the last album, but we’re determined to even things out so we don’t get burned-out in the same way. There will be more balance between the band and our lives this time around. Maybe that also comes with entering your thirties?”
Matty’s come a long way since joining the band in the early days. “My first gig was nearly a year after they started. I’m sure I screwed up and probably dropped drum sticks. I’m also sure that our friends reassured us that we were ‘rad’, even if they were just being nice! I was a fan of these guys before I joined though, and they were great from the start.” Obviously, things are more precise and keeping hold of their instruments isn’t the only advancement they’ve made: They’re tighter than ever, able to perform flawlessly but still able to open Pandora’s box every once in a while. “It’s a lot more controlled. We’re getting better at playing together and focusing on that ever-important control aspect. There will always be the shows that are wild and sweaty.”
When they first set out, the bloggers and critics had a field day, scrutinising every aspect and salivating for the next snippet of music. Having a beginning marred by dizzying hype is difficult to adjust to. Some bands buckle, others thrive – it’s been a rocky road to travel for the band, but they’ve made it. “We’re a bit older and wiser about this whole music thing. I feel like we have pretty reasonable expectations about our band, but we always had those. Public Enemy were right when they said, “Don’t Believe the Hype”. Bands that buy into it too much tend to burn out pretty quickly. We only try to push ourselves and aspire to be our best. There’s just all that other stuff that will pull you away from your music if you let it.”
But even just living in L.A. is tough; there’s inspiration to be found around one corner, and danger lurking behind the next. All walks of life following the American Dream, stewing in a big melting pot of culture make an interesting city to live in. “L.A. is a strange place that is becoming even stranger all the time. The more we live there, the weirder we’ll inevitably become. Lots of violence and bad stuff around us, but we aren’t those kind of dudes. Stories about prostitutes on meth in East Hollywood pop up in Matt’s lyrics. Also, both Matt and myself don’t have cars, and public transit in Los Angeles is a wellspring of freaky happenings.”
The political climate of the USA is always on the mind of the world, and places like L.A. come across as hotbeds of political strife and activity. “Personally, I’m a very liberal person. Especially on social issues. I’m not very political, nor well-informed on all the issues I should be. Most English and European people know more about world affairs than myself… I’ll be voting for Obama again. We’re certainly not a political band though- for me, the two don’t intertwine. I’d really like to be able to marry my boyfriend someday – that should definitely be legalized. I guess personal freedom is a sort of message behind ‘answer to yourself’ from our last record.”
And how do they cope now with the stigma from the previous band name, The Muslims? It came across a bit political, considering their separation of music and state. “The old name woes: it’s not really relevant to who we are as a band these days. The name was simply that – a name – and there was no bigger meaning behind it initially. It really just became a massive distraction from our songs.”
So what can we expect from the next chapter of the band? Obviously there’s going to be a lot of touring this album and more campaigning. “We’re just gonna keep writing, and hopefully become a better band. Our tastes evolve all the time, and that will definitely be reflected in the music. I might go fully electronic with the drums so I don’t have to lug around the kit anymore. That’s my latest scheme I’m up to. We’ll see if the other guys go along with it…”
As long as they keep out of the path of the roaming meth addicts and crackwhores, we’re going to see a lot more from The Soft Pack. They trod a fine line between mental breakdown and word-on-everyone’s-lips for the last album, but it seems they have things firmly in their grasp for Strapped. Their label trusts them, they’ve chilled out – they’re liberated from the shackles of hype and are free to do what they want. Things are looking up for The Soft Pack, and now that their turbulent beginning is behind them, there’s no telling where they’ll go next.
Strapped is available now through Mexican Summer.