The Soft Pack on Bob Odenkirk, the saxophone, and David Lee Roth

The Soft Pack on Bob Odenkirk, the saxophone, and David Lee Roth
Photo by David Black

After a two-year break from recording, San Diego indie-rockers the Soft Pack have returned with their new album Strapped. The record's glossy production, complete with synths, horns and dance beats should come as a shock to fans of the punky-garage sound the group had previously been known for. They'll be testing the new material Saturday at the Turf Club with openers Heavy Hawaii.

Gimmie Noise reached lead guitarist Matty McLoughlin by phone in Washington D.C. to talk about their radical new sound, living like Diamond Dave, and the almighty power of the saxophone.

Gimmie Noise: You're originally from San Diego, home to a lot of really great punk groups like Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes. How did coming up there affect your sound?

Matty McLoughlin: We're huge fans of Drive Like Jehu and Rocket From the Crypt and Hot Snakes, those were big influences on us, for sure. L.A'.s been good, there's just a lot of bands, and the bands in the music scene we're in are all great and pretty nice, and we've made a lot friends which is good. In terms of our sound, I guess it has. It's a grittier place. We live in shittier neighborhoods than we did in San Diego so, maybe that has an effect on it but nothing I'm truly conscious of.

GN: You seem to have take a really different tack with this record, changing your label imprint and electing to self-produce it. Why did you decide to go that route?

MM: I guess we decided to self-produce it because we wanted all the responsibility; if it wasn't going to be good, it was gonna be our fault that it wasn't. We all kind of had a clear idea of what we wanted to do and trusted ourselves. We hooked up with a really good engineer named Drew Fisher, who helped us get the sounds on the record, but we all had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to do with this one. And we wanted to save money.

GN: You recorded a lot of demos while you were working on Strapped. Is that a new approach for you?

MM: Well, for our The Muslims EP we recorded like, 10 songs and those were the 10 songs that were on the record. For the self-titled, our last one, we had 12 songs, and 10 were on the record and 2 were b-sides, so we've never really written a large amount of material to kind of pick from. So we really wanted to take our time, and just have a lot more to select from, and kind of allow the things we were listening to to come out naturally. It was kind of freeing to be not so attached to one idea, if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Just let it go and keep writing!

Each member is constantly kind of making demos or working on stuff, I know Dave's been working on a lot of electronic things at home, and Matt's always working on stuff, and Bryan's been messing with drum-machines, and I'm always kind of writing. Everyone always likes working on music and wants to bring as many quality ideas to the band in the hopes that it will be on the record, I think.

GN: How do you decide what demos make the cut?

MM: When we started the record we kind of had this "mixtape" idea -- even though it didn't really turn out like that. We really didn't care about whether the record had continuity at all, we just wanted it to sound sonically more interesting than the last one. And not really be as garage-rock-y. We kind of wanted to break out of that. So we're like "what ever sounds interesting goes on the record," whether it's a demo, or a recording in GarageBand or something we did in a night studio, whatever we thought was cool was going on.

We kind of always went back to this one David Lee Roth quote: "If it sounds good, it is good." That's what we kept on saying over and over again. You know, we've made songs before where the demo version is fucking way better. Like, I love that Replacements song "Can't Hardly Wait," but if you hear the demo version they recorded during Tim, the demo version's amazing. So we've gotten burned before where we go back and listen to stuff like "Aww man, the demo version's better than the version we put on the record!" And we didn't really want to be burned by that, so we decided "Okay, it doesn't really matter what the fidelity is, it doesn't really matter if it really fits in with like a whole album concept. If it sounds interesting, put it on." I feel like it's an enjoyable listen too, it's not like we went out made Metal Machine Music, or anything crazy, it's all pretty catchy.
GN: This record's a lot thicker-sounding and you guys use some really interesting textures like sax and psychedelic synths. What's been influencing that change?

MM: The sax, we just got our friend Tony to come in and he just kind of played on that. A lot of those choices were just made by switching instruments and kind of seeing what came of that. We recorded everything in practice and would go back and comb through stuff like "oh, that's cool" or "that sucks" or whatever. But we wanted cool moments, and ones that sounded different than the last record, but songs like "Bobby Brown" and "Saratoga" came from us switching instruments and stuff like that.

GN: How has that change affected your live show? Do you guys bring more musicians with you now or is it still just the four-piece?

MM: We added another member live who's playing saxophone and synth for us so, yeah. It's been fun as hell playing live, especially with that aspect to it. We were just pushing hard the whole time, and now can kind of relax a little bit on some things, you know, have a push and pull in our set? And plus, everyone loves Saxophone. Like, anytime a Saxophone is played, people freak the fuck out. It's like the easiest trick in rock 'n' roll (laughs). It got Bill Clinton elected! Saxophone will open fuckin' doors for you, I promise.

GN: The promo video you guys released with Bob Odenkirk is hilarious, where did that idea come from? Is he a fan?

MM: Yeah, that's kind of how it came about. We were playing friend of ours' brother's... this guy Dana Carey, who's written on The Simpsons and Letterman and bunch of shows, has this party ever year where bands play and there's an auction for schools for music. There's a bunch of comedy people there, basically. Bob came up to Matt, our singer after our set and started talking to him, and they kind of kept in contact and we sent Bob the record, and then he had this idea, which was amazing. I mean, we're all fans of his, I can't even overstate, huge fans. It's gotta be one of the top three things we've done as a band that has nothing to do with music. It was just areally fucking cool day, and he would just riff for 20 minutes and we were sitting there laughing and laughing. He's funny onscreen too, but when you're that close to it it's a different deal!

GN: What's up next for The Soft Pack after this tour?

MM: We're going to the U.K. and Europe in January, and then we'll probably come back and do a U.S. tour, we'll be touring for this record a pretty good amount. Hopefully writing more songs and putting more shit out!. We can't wait for our Turf Club show, our buddy Har Mar Superstar (Sean Tillmann) will probably be there. Last time we played the Turf Club we heard Grant Hart was there but didn't stick around to see our set. So if you could put the word out, Grant Hart should come out to the show!

The Soft Pack. With Heavy Hawaii. 21+, $10, 8 p.m. Saturday, October 13 at Turf Club.

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