Artist Interview: Softcult

Posted: by The Editor

In the two years since twin siblings Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn have re-emerged as Softcult, they have continually made a conscious effort to be vocal about the various obstacles that women and femme-presenting individuals encounter inside and outside of the music industry. Drawing from personal encounters with misogyny, sexual assault, and mental abuse, they use their music as a platform to speak out. When they released their first single “Another Bish” in 2021 with artwork that depicted the top half of a woman’s head paired with a dog’s gaping jaw and chained leash, it was an unmistakable act of rebellion dressed in a well-crafted indie pop song. The metaphorical lyrics “I won’t sit, I won’t stay / Rollover, obey / I’m just another bish that you’ll never tame” gave listeners a mere glimpse of what Softcult would continue to do, and they have hit the mark in each and every release since.

Having previously written music together as the pop rock group Courage My Love, Softcult was born out of the desire to be their most authentic selves as they create dreamy and gritty shoegaze/dreampop songs that are more meaningful and poignant to them today. With biting lyricism that expresses their frustrations with greedy corporations destroying our Earth, the debilitating and lingering effects of non consensual acts, and confronting ignorant yet deeply embedded misogyny with scathing revulsion, their upcoming EP see you in the dark out on Easy Life Records on March 24th promises to be one of the best releases this year.

“We really just started writing with no goals in mind; we weren’t chasing a ‘radio single’ or a ‘focus track’ or anything like that, and the fact that we started out not aiming for those things and with no real pressure made a huge difference to what came out. I think a lot of the time when you chase those things you end up getting further away from writing songs that are authentic to you. What ultimately ended Courage My Love was feeling creatively stifled. We got into a situation with our label at the time where we were essentially shelved. We’d write so many songs and they kept getting turned down for one reason or another, and I think we just lost our way and our vision. But as tough as it was to let go of that project and start from scratch, I think it’s what needed to happen and I’m so grateful we made that choice. Everything worked out how it was meant to, and now we feel a lot more in control of our art,” Phoenix expresses as they reflect on the formation of Softcult. 

Drawing sonic and textural inspiration from bands like Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine, Softcult’s upcoming EP builds on their last two releases, evoking empathy and understanding while inspiring listeners to simply be more aware of how we move through the world and how we treat everyone and everything around us. It’s lush guitar rock that’s laden with emotive solos, exuberant drumming, and shared harmonies that draw from their years of musicianship together while creating music that has more depth and intensity than their past work. The title see you in the dark is based off of Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you” and suggests that people ought to take an honest look at themselves in order to bring about positive change. “There’s been a lot of conversations around ‘accountability’ and what that means, and to us, we think it starts with self awareness. As important as it is to hold others accountable, it’s also important to hold yourself accountable too. Real change starts from within, and it’s okay to recognize and admit when you aren’t being the best version of yourself, because that’s the first step to changing for the better. We think it’s worth it to take an honest look at ourselves and ask ‘How do I contribute to the things that make me angry? Why do I feel defensive? How can I be better?’” Phoenix shares.

The EP features songs that were initially meant for their second EP Year of the Snake, released in February of last year. In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for them to go a couple years without releasing music, but Softcult have been prolific as they have continued to be inspired by the new music they’ve been working on. “We don’t like waiting too long in between releases to put something out, so I think there was a little pressure to just keep writing while we still felt inspired and not take a break. I feel like after putting out our first two EPs, we were ready to try some new things and really push ourselves to go out of the box. We wrote and recorded everything in our studio in between touring last year,” Phoenix says of this EP. 

Alongside each track they release, they also create minimalistic grainy music videos that are edited and filmed by Mercedes for every single. Phoenix handles the production side of things as well as the engineering and visual artwork for their singles, EPs, and SCripture zines. From the music to the handmade zines, Softcult embodies self-empowerment through creative expression. Their SCripture zines take a closer look at the meaning behind their songs and highlights issues in society they feel compelled to shed light on. Cultivating a community with their fanbase, they also collaborate with their scene by including submissions of art and poetry from others and giving shout outs to organizations and charities that are important to them. Taking on this DIY mentality when it comes to creating their art, they are unmistakably inspired by the artists involved in the ’90s Riot Grrrl movement, and hope to continue passing on similar ethics while empowering anyone listening to them to do the same. 

“Even though it’s definitely getting better all the time, the alternative music scene hasn’t always been the most welcoming to women, queer people, people of colour, pretty much anyone that isn’t a typical white guy in a band. It’s also unfortunately been a breeding ground for a lot of mistreatment of women and femme presenting people, especially minors, which obviously isn’t okay. It’s important that we keep paying attention to those problems in the scene, and keep trying to make it a safer place for everyone. The Riot Grrrl movement resonated with us as people that always felt a little on the outside looking in and had a hard time finding our place in the industry. We feel it’s just as important today as it was in the ’90s, and in our own small way we want to carry the torch so to speak,” Phoenix expresses. 

Sometimes letting go and starting over allows us to move forward more freely and either reinvent ourselves or realize that growth isn’t exactly linear as we explore different facets of ourselves. In Softcult’s case, it’s a beautiful reclamation of themselves as artists and as women / femme presenting people. With the revival of heavy alternative rock that’s laced with thick fuzzed out tones and ethereal melodies, Softcult are making some of the most relevant and inspirational music out there. Their band name even stems from the idea that any group can be considered a “cult” and provokes listeners to think about what kind of soft cults they may passively be a part of. The best kind of music reflects on the world around us and asks us to question what we’ve known, sometimes serving up disturbing revelations about how we’ve been to each other or to the world. Softcult’s music is not purely self-indulgent as it seeks to reflect their experiences as people and the experience of humanity as a whole and hopefully in doing so inspires us all to move forward with a little more thought than before.

see you in the dark is out tomorrow.

Loan Pham | @senseofexile / @x_loanp 

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