The Soft Pack
This is the true story of The Soft Pack, one of the most exciting young bands in America. It’s the tale of how they came to deliver a stone-cold classic debut album, the best rock-garage-pop-punk debut of the year. Yes, the best. We know that before the year has even started.
A brief synopsis of their meteoric rise: a duo writing songs in California at the dawn of 2008 goes on to supporting The Breeders, Last Shadow Puppets and Bloc Party as a quartet, and releases two attention-grabbing singles, “Nightlife” and “Extinction”, that same year. They were the toast of CMJ in 2008 and South By Southwest in 2009, then toured alongside Franz Ferdinand, Phoenix, White Lies and Black Lips in 2009, and delivered the limited edition 12 inch Muslims EP to much chatter in March 2009. They signed deals with Kemado Records in the US and Heavenly Records in the UK, and crafted that afore-mentioned debut album alongside producer Eli Janney in Brooklyn, New York during the late summer of 2009.
Like all great stories, it begins with two friends called Matt and Matty. Matty McLoughlin played guitar obsessively, Matt Lamkin also played guitar but fancied himself as a singer/wordsmith too. Both Matt and Matty were frustrated music nuts who decided that they’d had enough of all the bands in their hometown of sunny San Diego dressing and sounding like chilly English new wave bands from the 1960s/70s/80s. “We wanted to start a band that played simple, catchy, smart rock songs,” says Matt. “There weren’t many bands in San Diego doing that at the time. So we did.” That band for the first year or so was McLoughlin and Lamkin alongside a revolving cast of drummers and bassists. They called themselves The Muslims.
As they initially played shows in their hometown, there was no problem with the name. As they honed their sound “The Modern Lovers meets The Fall meets The Velvet Underground meets The Ramones: you know, the good stuff” they were just focused on becoming a decent local band. Unfortunately, they became an exceptionally good local band, whose work posted upon their myspace page became a must-stop, shooting them to the top of the Hype Machine, and whose limited edition singles and EP (all recorded by the two Matts alone) became prized assets of collectors on both sides of the Atlantic. By CMJ in October 2008, The Muslims were a quartet having recruited Dave Lantzman on bass and San Diego drumming legend Brian Hill, and they were also the buzz unsigned band. As the press sniffed around them, people started asking: hey, what’s up with the name? Some comments were offended, others offensive. So The Muslims changed their name to The Soft Pack.
Newly christened, the band’s tale picks up incredible speed. And not just because The Soft Pack have spent the time since becoming The Soft Pack sitting in vans driving back-and-forth across the USA and Europe, touring constantly and refining their chops: swiftly becoming the tightest they could be. It was on these long tours that they molded The Soft Pack’s musical philosophy too. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about music,” says Matty.
Armed with this conviction and a fraternal dedication, the band returned to their adopted home of Los Angeles in the summer of 2009 to write songs for their debut album. Working long days, they fashioned songs as a quartet. “Four equal parts making four equal contributions,” say Matt. They then decamped to New York to work with Eli Janney, once of 90s alternative behemoths Girls Against Boys but latterly an in-demand producer and mixer, at Saltland Studios. Work was swift thanks to the ground-work laid in LA and Janney’s intuitive understanding of what the band were after: the classic 30 minute debut album.
Highlights include the perfect one-two punch of the first two singles, “Answer To Yourself” and the rallying call, “C’mon,” The Vaselines-inspired “Down On Loving” (“written in a day,” says Matty, proudly), live favourite “Parasites,” and a slew of songs written towards the end of the summer. Songs like “Tides Of Time,” “Flammable” and the hypnotic sway of Mexico, the only song on the album where the pace drops from a sprint. This was the first song the band had ever written from a jam, as well as the first directly paying its respects to The King. “Matt was listening to Elvis’ Blue Hawaii album when we wrote this,” recalls Brian. “That’s where that laid-back croon comes from.” But perhaps the most arresting song onboard The Soft Pack arrives when “Pull Out” loads. This is the song that young boys in bedrooms will play on repeat when dreaming of forming their own perfect punk-rock-garage-rock band. They wrote it while playing each other’s instruments (Matty on bass, Brian on guitar, Dave on drums). When Matt walked into the rehearsal space and heard the glorious noise his colleagues were making in a lop-sided fashion he started ad-libbing lyrics on top and hey presto! A pearl was crafted.
Normally at this juncture the band bio implies that the act will soon be the biggest and best in the world. We’ll not do that. Just slip The Soft Pack on. The evidence is there. Or as Matt more modestly puts it, “I think we’ve laid some good ground-work to be able to do this for a few more years.”
Amen to that.