The Soft Pack just gets it. With a simple agenda -- to create rock 'n roll -- these San Diego natives have secured a diverse and loyal following. Originally named the Muslims (they changed their name after deciding it was too controversial), the Soft Pack has been utilizing the festival circuit to exhibit their retro and often happy sound.
We chatted with lead vocalist Matt Lamkin and their out-and-proud drummer Brian Hill amongst a backdrop of garbage cans and a radiator at Coachella last month to learn about the recording process, stand-up comedy, and the gay origin of the band's name.
Out: Lets talk about your recording process. This might seem silly, but a lot of artists have admitted to drinking while in the studio. Do you guys drink while you write?
Matt Lamkin: We dont drink really when we record.
Brian Hill: Ideally, you go in and youre totally clear-headed.
Lamkin: For us, we always wanted to go in and get out and hammer it out.
Hill: It isn't really worth all that when you are drunk and you want to add something because then you end up deleting it because you know it sounds really terrible.
Do you brainstorm at your house or in the studio?
Lamkin: We brainstorm at Mattys garage and all mess around.
Hill: On our own time we all have guitars lying around. We come up with ideas and bring that stuff to what we will start recording.
Lamkin: We have pretty much everything written by the time we go in. Theres not much left up to chance when we go into the studio.
Hill: Theres always a possibility when you dont have that stuffed nailed down that once you go into the studio it will drive you crazy.
How do you name a song? Is it typically lyric-based?
Lamkin: Yes, usually lyric based. I try to come up with the simplest, main thread that runs through the song -- something catchy and easy to remember.
So then music is created first?
Lamkin: Basically how it works, someone will bring a guitar or Brian will put something together and play a little thing and we will try it out. We will play with the band for however long it takes to hammer it out and once we get the song done I will write lyrics --
Hill: Or sometimes, he writes lyrics on the spot.
Lamkin: Weve done a couple of songs where we have switched instruments. We were bored and frustrated and everyone would play another instrument and we would record it with a couple songs. I made lyrics on the spot for a couple songs.
Hill: And they never changed.
Lamkin: Its pretty cool.
And your genre, how would you define that?
Hill: I always just say rock 'n roll because that makes the most sense to me.
Lamkin: But we are also kind of indie-alternative. I call it "party angst."
Hill: Matt came up with "power conservative," which I like a lot.
Lamkin: Its just a concept.
Are your audiences as diverse as the genres?
Lamkin: Actually yeah. You get a lot of men and women who come to our shows. You dont want to be grouped.
Different ages, sexuality --
Im not going to ask why you changed your name from the Muslims, but did your past audience follow you? Or do many not know that you are the same band?
Hill: There are some people who still do not know it is the same band and some people dont know its the same people -- well at least Matt and Matty are the same people -- so theyll say, Oh I liked them better when they were the Muslims. But its the same people! All the touring weve done by this point has been as us. Its just a name.
Youre from San Diego originally. How has that affected your music?
Lamkin: Growing up in San Diego, following all the San Diego bands, there was a really great scene in the nineties. Three Mile Pilot -- all these bands with a really cool and creative atmosphere. It definitely shaped us.
Do you still follow any San Diego bands?
Lamkin: Totally, we just did a tour with Beaters who are a really cool San Diego band.
Hill: El Mania, their alter-ego band, is really great. Its nice to know whats going on in your hometown.
You live in L.A. now right?
Hill: We do. Its a lot better than I thought it would be. Theres a lot of good random comedy to see.
Youre comedy fans?
Hill: When youre home and you were on tour for a long time, its kind of more appealing to see stand-up. When you are in a band the last thing you want to do when you got off of touring is hear somebody play really loud.
Where do you go in L.A.?
Hill: The Upright Citizens Brigade is really good. Is there one in S.F.?
No, but I always wanted to go to the Facebook Night they have in L.A.
Hill: Oh! I heard thats really good.
Lamkin: Jeff Garlin has a weekly show there. Sometimes hes not there because hes working on a show, but hes really good. He has great guests. Robin Williams was there. And its always a dollar. Theres also the Hollywood stuff like Laugh Factory.
Hill: Yeah, Hollywood Improv has this thing -- I dont know what to call it -- with these bizarro comics.
Lamkin: There are a couple good guys. Theres Joe King who is a big name in L.A., and Rick Shapiro.
Do you practice improv at all?
Hill: I have a complete respect for anybody who does it really well. I dont think I could do it. No way. Its so scary to just get up there in a theater, in front of a microphone, with a crowd.
Whats the difference between that and being in a band?
Hill: You can rely on other people. Im a drummer so I have all this stuff around me. I have this physical barrier between the people and me. Im not really giving anything of myself except how I am playing. Im not making up good stories so that people are laughing.
Lamkin: Its a real fucking skill. Its amazing. Dave Chapelle is my muse. Hes such a genius.
Hill: Hes such a good storyteller.
Im sure comedians feel the same way about musicians.
Hill: Im sure. Like Belushi got Fear on Saturday Night Live. He tried to get Black Flag on there too.
Do you guys have any other hobbies or do you just stick to music?
Lamkin: Brians a record collector.
Hill: I havent done anything productive with it like turning it into a night where I get free drinks. Im going to work on that. Thats the next step. I dont want my records to just sit there.
Do you have a prized record?
Hill: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Nightmares in Wax -- Pete Burns pre-Dead Or Alive disco-punk band. I found the 12-inch. Ive been looking for it for years. Its all these homoerotic songs. The title track is Black Leather. So awesome!
Did you find it at a garage sale? Or online?
Hill: I found it on Ebay. Ive been looking for it for years but its always really expensive. I found a torn up copy where the record was perfect and the sleeve was really torn up. I didnt care. I had to have this record. That was Holy Grail record and now I dont really know what I need. I go to record stores and I guess I dont need anymore records because I dont need anything that I have to tear through the rack to find.
Are there any record stores in L.A. you can recommend?
Hill: Of course there is Amoeba, which is great. Theres a really cool little one called Territory that used to be a BBQ place / record store but I think the BBQ side of it is closed now. Territory is in Silverlake and in Los Feliz there is Vacation Vinyl.
Lamkin: All around awesome place.
Hill: The people that run that are really cool.
You are signed to Kemado Records. They are very community oriented. How did you get involved with them? Their ideas behind co-op music shops are so utterly unique.
Hill: We just met the guy. A friend of ours, Paul, introduced us to the guys who do the label and we just hit it off with them. We thought they were really cool. A few months went by and we did CMJ and they still wanted to work with us.
Lamkin: They were the first to give us a deal. They were the longest to maintain interest.
Have you met the other bands on the label?
Lamkin: Dungeon is really cool.
Hill: Theyre putting out a record by this girl named Cameron and her backing band is really cool. A hardcore band. They got them reunited to be her backup band. Its really cool music -- kind of indieish and current.
Lamkin: The Sword.
I ask because many bands havent met or even heard of the bands on their record label.
Hill: Sometimes bands put out such a variety that they wouldnt get a chance to play together.
Lamkin: Children are pretty good.
Hill: They are cool. Kind of like Metallica.
Old Metallica or new Metallica?
Hill: Old! Like Master of Puppets.
Well, lets finish off with a question about sexuality. Brian, you're out -- do you think that is necessary in the music world?
Hill: I wouldnt put it on anyone else to handle it any one way. Whatever is right for you. Its definitely more beneficial the more people that come out and are public figures or are in any kind of media position. It helps anyone who is younger or people like me who didnt have a gay role model while growing up and didnt know what it meant to be gay and be an adult and function in a cool way, not living this life that was less than what you wanted. Not like it was that hard when I grew up.
So did you come up with the Soft Pack? The name has gay written all over it!
Hill: Youre only the third person who has gotten it! Ive been saying it a lot more. I dont think it hurts anybody. But then again, I wouldnt tell anybody how to discuss their homosexuality. For me, now that Ive been out, I never want to be closeted. Why? I feel so much better about myself.
And that has affected your confidence on stage?
Hill: Totally! I dont think I could do this if I was doing two things at once. I would probably work in an office and not talk to anybody.
The Soft Pack tour dates and awesome Polaroids can be found here: http://thesoftpackofficial.com/