They’re Not Rock and Roll Animals, They’re Rock and Roll Athletes: The Soft Pack Interview

Relaxing before the big game.

This is shaping up to be a very busy year for Los Angeles based the Soft Pack (formerly the Muslims). They recently signed to Kemado Records, are about to embark on their first European tour — where they were invited to play England’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, being curated by the Breeders (whom the band toured with this past year) — are recording their debut record for their new label, and will be touring the US extensively opening for Friendly Fires and White Lies.

This is all the more remarkable considering they have only been in existence for two full years. The buzz is deserved, after witnessing them open for the Ravonettes recently at Bimbo’s in San Francisco, I saw plenty of converts by set’s end. The set was blistering; showcasing the wit, intelligence, and musical economy, that make them a band to keep your eyes on in the coming years.

I ran into the founders of the Soft Pack, singer/guitarist Matt Lamkin and guitarist Matty McLoughlin, at a bar up the street. They were relaxed, focused, and truly genuine. After bonding with McLoughlin over our fanatical devotion to the Replacements, he agreed to an interview with me.

Give me a little bit of a background on how the band came together? I think you mentioned that you went to high school together?

Matt and I started the band in January of 2007. There was a rotating cast of drummers and bassists for a year. Dave and Brian joined in January of 2008 and finalized the lineup of the band. Matt and I and Dave went to the same high school but never really hung out until afterwards. Brian previously played in bands with friends of ours, we have known him for about five years or so.

How would you like to have your music described?

I really don’t have a preference. It’s just kind of a rock n roll band. Catchy.

Who would you site as influences and inspirations?

We all like comedy a lot. A lot of the books that get passed around in the van are comedian biographies. Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor. Big fans of Kids in the Hall. I get more inspired to write tunes after seeing/reading something that makes me laugh. When it comes to musical influences everyone grew up listening to different stuff, but I would say the big ones are Roy Orbison, the Fall, David Bowie, the Replacements, Modern Lovers, Bob Marley, Iggy Pop, James Brown, Pavement. Guys who have a good sense of humor are badass.

What is the music scene like in San Diego?

Well we moved to Los Angeles about a year ago but the San Diego music scene is doing well. Kill Me Tomorrow is a band we’ve been fans of for awhile. Our favorite band the Sess broke up but those guys are getting new projects together that are good. We like the Night Marchers.

How important is where you grew up and began playing to your sound and development?

We were all big fans of San Diego bands in the ’90s like Drive Like Jehu, The Blackheart Procession, Hot Snakes. I’m not really sure how growing up there has affected us. We are laid back but there aren’t any Spicoli’s in the band really. No one did too many whipits in high school, no wrap-around shades.

Seems like things have moved pretty fast for you guys, is that weird or has it been difficult?

Nothing too weird. The shows have gotten bigger. Besides that everything is the same. We have been able to open for some bands that we were huge fans of growing up. Meeting those people can be a little intimidating. People that changed the way you went about your business. But they all have been very cool and nice.

I think you mentioned you don’t have to work day jobs anymore?

Yeah. We are going to be on tour for awhile, had to quit the day jobs. This is our job now.

You recently signed with Kemado Records. Why were they a good fit?

We really liked the people at Kemado. We got along really well and felt like they got what we were about the most. Also, they were one of the first labels to talk to us and show a genuine interest. Long before all the CMJ hype stuff.

Do you see the songwriting moving in a different direction, after all the touring you’ve been doing recently?

Well the song writing has changed since Brian and Dave joined the band. Now someone comes to practice with a riff or chord change and we all work the song out together. The first record was done by Matt and I. Things are much more collaborative now. Touring has made the band much tighter. The band has gotten stronger sounding because of the touring.

The cover of their EP release

under the name the Muslims

Your self-titled record under the old band name was pretty stripped down, production wise…Do you envision this changing with the new record you’re currently working on?

We were trying to make the first record more “hi-fi” but that’s the best we got. I’m proud of that record but I don’t feel it captures us as a live band. We sound a bit tougher than the record indicates I think. We want the next record to have better sound quality but nothing too glossy or lame. We want it to be better sounding, more exciting sounding. Just want to make a better record.

How did you decide on the new name?

We had been trying to change it for a year but all of the names we came up with horrendous. Then Brian came up with the name The Soft Pack around Thanksgiving and we all liked it.

Are you working with a specific producer?

We are going into the studio to record with Manny Nieto in a couple weeks. He has a great studio in east Los Angeles.

What are some of the themes you like to work with lyrically?

Matt writes all of the lyrics so you’d have to ask him. But my take is that they are about just everyday stuff.

So how is 2009 shaping up? I know you mentioned going to Europe to play some festivals, is this your first time going there?

We are going to be doing a lot of touring and will be recording our record. We are going to the UK in couple weeks. Then we are doing a tour with White Lies and Friendly Fires throughout the US. Then we have some festivals in Europe around the summer. I have never been to Europe so I’m really excited. Busy, but all stuff I’m looking forward to.

What are some of the challenges up and coming bands face with the changing musical landscape?

Gas prices were a big problem for us but they have gone down so that’s good. Any money we made before went straight to the gas tank. Other than that I think you can do whatever you want. You can release your own records, set up your own tours. If you are willing to eat Doritos or a banana for dinner you can get whatever you want out of it.

How important do you feel sites like Pichfork, Stereogum, PopMatters, etc. are to a band’s success?

That’s how the majority of people hear about bands now. Read about bands on a website, then check their MySpace to hear the music. Then go to YouTube to see if they are good looking or whacky or something.

Are social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook still useful tools, if so in what way?

Yeah with MySpace you can instantly hear a band, see what they look like, communicate with them. As a band you can set up shows with other bands, a tour, a rivalry.

What would you like people to know about you guys that they may not know?

That we are athletes, that we don’t care.

Any good road stories?

There hasn’t been anything too far out there lately. Last year we got thrown in the back of an immigration truck at the Arizona border because the drug dog went crazy on our van. They detained us for about an hour, didn’t find anything, and drug dog ate Dave’s burrito. I met Lebron James on our way home from tour. We didn’t speak for very long but he was a great guy. Charismatic as sin.

What do you find yourself listening to on those long drives?

Steely Dan, Curtis Mayfield, The Breeders, Metallica, Warren Zevon, a bunch of stuff. Whatever anyone brings on the trip or we buy at truck stops. Oh, Steve Martin’s “Get Small” album. Sometimes talk radio or nothing. Nothing can be relaxing.

What would be a dream bill to play on (bands can be either current or past, alive or dead)?

R.E.M., Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Stones, Women, Jonathan Richman, Mika Miko, Spiritualized. There is alot. We are down4whateva.

Any bands you’re excited about?

We all really liked this band Women that we saw at CMJ. They are from Canada. We are playing with them in England and are really excited about that.