The New Classic Sounds of Soft Science
Sacramento, CA’s Soft Science return with Maps, their first album in four years The band first caught my attention earlier this year when they were included in The Blog That Celebrates Itself’s Soft as Fire In The House of Love compilation with I Don’t Know Why I Love You and with Breaking on the Violet Colors Compilation from early 2017. Soft Science‘s combination of timeless pop arrangements with swirling synths, textured guitars and Katie Haley’s sweet vocals thrilled these ears. Soft Science wisely released two singles, for Sooner with the HOL cover and Undone with Northern Picture Library cover Paris as B-Sides, whetting appetites for what was to come. Now we have Maps, the band’s first full length album since 2014’s Detour, showing a band fully embracing a sound they’ve been seeking since starting Soft Science.
When did you start as a musician and what was your first musical experience?
I was in choirs and played the clarinet in school band as a kid. My first real experience was when I started singing with my brother who played guitar as a teenager. This band eventually morphed into a band called Holiday Flyer. For several years I sang and was the percussionist in that band.
Your sound evokes timeless pop arrangements. Who are some of the acts, singers, songwriters and producers who have inspired you throughout the years?
Timeless pop arrangements….I like that! Inspiration? Oh wow, so many….well, we have been getting several Lush comparisons recently, which as an influence cannot be denied, but there are more: Jesus & Mary Chain, Ride, Stone Roses, The Sundays, Elliot Smith, Teenage Fanclub, Catherine Wheel, and The Pixies just to name a few right off the top of my head.
How has the band evolved over the years?
Matt, Ross, and I were in another band together prior to starting Soft Science which was indie pop but perhaps in a more traditional sense. When we started Soft Science we decided that we wanted to take our pop songs and give them more of a dreamy and sonic edge. I feel like our first album Highs and Lows was us trying those shoes on so to speak. There are a couple songs on that album like Closer to Me that I think reflected the direction we really wanted to go. Making Detour helped refine our sound even more but was still a bit experimental. Maps felt more purposeful. We wanted our next album to be full of sonic, dreamy, pop songs but also reflect some of our live sound a bit more as well. I guess refining our focus from album to album has been our evolution over the years.
Katie, your vocals are so warm and comforting. What has been the feedback from friends, family and fans that has made you realize the importance of what you do as a singer and a person? Same for the rest of the band.
Thanks, glad you like my vocals – that means a lot as I really do love to sing! However, I actually don’t see my vocals/voice as much more important than any other instrument in the band. I kind of just view it as what I bring to the table. It is a an important part of our sound but if you don’t have a good song to sing the quality of your voice is kind of lost. Essentially, it all has to work together. I do think my kids really find my singing voice comforting as I often sing to them before bed. Keep in mind I am often asked to stop singing by the same small people as well, so there is that.
Are you all full-time musicians? Is that even possible these days? I’m sure a few of you have families. Was there a time you were able to get around the country and play live most of the year? How does the band fit into the lives of its members? I’m just happy to hear such fun music!
I have often joked that there is no middle class in music anymore. But I actually don’t think it is a joke now. When I realized that many of the members of my favorite bands still had day jobs, that put things into perspective for me. Doing the band as my full-time career would be a dream. The reality is that we will all likely keep our day jobs and just play as many shows as possible. We’ve never been a band that was able to tour for weeks or months on end, mainly due to other life commitments. Currently, we actually have more shows in the works than ever before, which I am excited about. Making it all work with our day jobs and families is a bit of a challenge but we are making things work. This is a moment in time and we are going to do our best to make the most of it.
Are there some performances or songs on Maps that you especially enjoy? I like the pitch-shifting synths (guitars?) on Undone and the galloping drums on Know, as if I’m listening to a song from the early 80’s like Running Up That Hill or Stand And Deliver by Adam & The Ants. And Paris gets me misty-eyed.
Yeah, the Paris cover (Northern Picture Library) was fun to sing because not only is the melody so brilliant but the lyrics are so melancholy too. I was feeling it. I love that you mentioned Kate Bush‘s Running Up That Hill. Just the other day, I was listening to that song and Know on Maps did come to mind. I had actually not put the two together before. I think you are right, it’s the drums and the song kind of has a similar mood. That is alright by me. That Kate Bush song is amazing, it speaks to me. Regarding performances or songs on Maps that stand out for me, I have to say that I love Matt’s guitar lead on Apart. Diverging is one of my favorite songs on the album as well. And regarding the bendy/pitch-shifting synth part on Undone that Ross conceptualized near the end of mixing, I really like that too. I actually think that part kicked that song up to another level. I can’t imagine the song without it now. I know it has a My Bloody Valentine vibe but I like to think that the inspiration of that sound was taken in, put though our filter, and then transformed into something else. Kind of in the spirit of that quote from Jean-Luc Godard, “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
You’ve done a few covers, that’s how I learned of your band. What are a few bands you’d like to cover? What is it about the bands you’ve covered so far that made you want to put your own stamp on it?
It has been really fun doing the House of Love cover and the Northern Picture Library cover. Both of those songs, while very different, are just fantastic pop songs. In both cases we were asked by the Blog That Celebrates Itself to do covers for the compilation series (House of Love and Tribute to Sarah Records). We did get to pick the songs and I am really happy with the ones we landed on. I have always loved the House of Love so it was hard to choose but we went with their biggest hit and decided to put it through our filter. I have seen a bit of feedback stating that people like hearing that song with a female vocal. I think that is kind of cool. As far as choosing Paris, our drummer Tony actually suggested that one while I was trying to find us a Field Mice tune. But Paris won the day and I am glad it did. I am just such a huge fan of anything written by Bobby Wratten! It was great to do that song and have it released. I hope our covers makes people revisit the original versions. Two fantastic groups with amazing song catalogs for sure! As far as more covers go, I think we might be taking a break on covers for just a bit and focus on writing some new Soft Science songs. Or we might just change our minds and become the indie-dreampop-shoegaze cover band we have joked about becoming during practice, I guess time will tell ;-).
Will you be playing live any time soon? Maybe a West Coast date?
Our next scheduled shows are in Seattle at LoFi with New Age Healers and Fotoform on August 10th, and Kirkland Summerfest on August 12th. Then, amazingly enough, we are heading to France to play Paris Popfest on September 22nd. We may also have a few shows in Spain the week after Paris Popfest – those dates are being firmed up currently. Later in the year we hope to head to LA, and then hit a few cities in the east like Chicago, Boston, and NYC, we will have to see what happens. We will be announcing all of our shows through Facebook and Twitter.
I’ve been playing your songs on my music show for a few months now and hope to continue doing so for years to come. Thanks for the great music and the ID!
Thank you so much for playing us on your show. There is a vast sea of music out in the world. If any songs we make end up resonating in someone’s heart or mind we are happy.
(by Bret Miller)
Katie Haley – Vocals
Ross Levine – Keyboards
Mason Demusey – Bass
Matt Levine – Guitar
Tony Cale – Drums
810/18 Lo-Fi, Seattle, WA (With New Age Healers and Fotoform)
8/12/18 KEXP Presents: Kirkland Summerfest, Kirkland, WA
9/21/18 Paris Popfest, Hasard Ludique, Paris, France