Inspired by their love of 90s alternative music icons Bikini Kill and Smashing Pumpkins, Ontario-based duo Softcult blend atmospheric guitars, energetic percussion and bittersweet vocals to create their hazy, antagonistic sounds. Formed of twin sisters Phoenix and Mercedes Arn Horn, Softcult cut their teeth playing live shows in their local town of Kitchener, before moving on to bigger audiences on the North American tour circuit.
Their experiences of playing and working within a male-dominated music industry formed the foundation for their current sound, which is born from the desire to resist and relieve the pressures of existing in a patriarchal world. We caught up with Mercedes (guitars, vocals) and Phoenix (drums, production) to talk about their debut single ‘Another Bish’, their last gig before covid-19 hit, and what their dream festival line-up might be…
Hello girls, how are you both doing? Are you in lockdown in Canada at the moment?
Mercedes: We’re doing alright, we’re locked down like you guys are in the UK. It’s a lot of time to focus on music and writing and recording, so we’re very lucky that we have a home studio right now. I feel very blessed right now, because for some people I know, being in lockdown has meant they’ve been very unmotivated and unable to write, whereas that hasn’t been our experience at all. We’ve been writing and recoding loads and it’s been a God send to us, it’s kept us sane and active and motivated.
That’s good news! Let’s start at the beginning, who or what originally inspired you to start making your own music?
Mercedes: We’re twin sisters and we’ve been making music together forever. We’ve been in different bands over the years playing and getting some experience, but for this project we felt motivated by everything that’s going on right now. Having been in the music industry already for some time, we’ve experienced misogyny and sexism. At this point, I feel like this band has been put on this planet as a voice against abuse, or for people who don’t feel seen or feel like they don’t have a voice. A lot of our songs are about that.
We speak to lots of women who have unfortunately experienced misogyny in the music industry. Do you think your experience of it is somewhat heightened because you’re twin sisters? I only ask because I have younger sisters who are twins, and when we’ve been on nights out together before people have made inappropriate or creepy comments towards them without any hesitation…
Phoenix: Only another person who really knows twins would ask that, and it is so true. There’s a weird fetish around twins and it’s very creepy.
Mercedes: We find a lot of the time there’s insinuations about incest and weird stuff like that. I know a lot of women in bands who aren’t even related who have experienced that. Heart are a good example actually. The sisters in that band are constantly being pitted against each other and I think that happens a lot with women and siblings in the industry and it’s just so weird. It’s a definite downside to being a twin, but there’s also an up side too.
Phoenix and I have such a close connection and that helps a lot with our music. She’s always a step ahead of me, or finishing my sentences creatively for me. She handles all of the production side – everything we make is recorded and produced from our home studio. Then I handle all the stuff on the video/visual side of things and it just makes for a good team. There’s a closeness and and understanding and an empathy that we have from being twins, it’s not all just creepy dudes!
That’s true! Talk to me about your debut single ‘Another Bish’. What’s it about? How did you put the video for it together etc.?
Mercedes: The song is about misogyny. Phoenix and I hate the word “bitch” so we couldn’t even put it in the title, we literally felt skeeved out writing it down! The lyric “I’m just another bish that you’ll never tame” was supposed to be aimed at that typical misogynist dude who thinks all women are the same, and they’re there to be controlled and conquered. The song is from the perspective of the woman who’s sick of it and feels like the dog who’s finally going to bite its owner. It’s about fighting against that but also owning it. We noticed the type of guys who often say “she’s such a bitch” are just saying that about women who they think are outspoken. They just label them as “aggressive.”
For the video, we used paper cut-out clips of different women’s facial features – eyes, lips, nose – which we replaced with dog mouths. The dog mouths reflect the feelings of those guys who think that when you speak out about sexism you’re just some yappy dog who never shuts up. They’re also supposed to be a comment on how there’s so many double standards for women, not just in music but in the beauty industry as well. Women are having to basically try and be something that’s unattainable and if you’re not that thing, then they make out like you’re not trying hard enough. So we took those themes and put them into the video.
Are there any women in music at the moment who you admire who are standing up for themselves and not taking any sexist bullshit?
Phoenix: Laura Jane Grace from Against Me! – big time. We were just little teeny boppers when we first found out about Against Me! and we were obsessed. She’s a huge icon for a lot of reasons, but something I’ve always admired about her is that she is really outspoken about who she is. It’s so brave to go through the transgender transformation when you’re in a very male dominated space in a very male dominated music genre, and just rebelling against all expectations and being yourself. That’s a huge inspiration.
Do you remember the last gig you went to before Covid-19 hit?
M & P: Yes!
Mercedes: It was another music project that we in at the time and it was at this dive bar. It was in March (2020), right after the stay-at-home orders happened and we were trying to play our way home, but we realised we had to cancel everything because it was just not responsible to have shows. So it was our very last gig and the vibe was very depressing.
Phoenix: People obviously didn’t show up, quite rightly, and we just wanted to go home.
Mercedes: We actually ended up staying over at a girls house. Up until then we were just crashing on floors on the tour, we didn’t have hotels booked or anything like that. So this girl kindly let us stay at her place and made us pizzas.
Phoenix: We were like “are you sure you still want us to stay? It’s totally cool if you don’t, we can sleep in the van!” but she still let us crash.
Mercedes: Her Dad had all these cool guitars so we just had a jam session with her. So after a kind of depressing show, we had this jam session in her living room and it was probably the most uplifting thing ever. That was probably the last real hang time we had with anyone outside of our house since lockdown started.
When we can all hang out properly at a festival again, who would be on your dream line-up?
Mercedes: I keep watching all these old videos from Reading & Leeds festival and wishing we could play that somehow…one day!
Phoenix: We’ve watched the Reading & Leeds Veruca Salt set a million times!
Mercedes: We love the UK. Every time we’ve been there we’ve had such an amazing time. I think the scene for music in the UK is sort of unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. The fans are so in to the music. They know the lyrics, they know about the meaning behind the little pieces of art on your albums covers – I feel like they’re really into it and that’s really cool. Our dream line-up would be a dope festival somewhere in the UK and we’d have Bikini Kill, Veruca Salt, Against Me! playing…
Phoenix: …and Radiohead, they’re one of my all time favourite bands.
Mercedes: We’ll play the opening slot at 11am so that we can watch all the other bands.
Good decision! Finally, if you had to describe your music in three words, what would they be?
Mercedes: Rebellious would be one, empathetic might be another. It’s not all just angry stuff though, sometimes it gets pretty feelsy and sad.
Phoenix: Fuzzy? (laughs). On the production side, people always think that distortion and fuzz are for loud music, which typically they are, but you can also make super dreamy, fuzzy distorted music and we try to do that as best as we can.
Huge thanks to Mercedes & Phoenix for answering our questions!