Twins Phoenix and Merecedes Arn-Horn are the core of Softcult. Their EP See You In The Dark was released in March via Easy Life Records. It’s their third, following Year of the Snake (2022) and Year of the Rat (2021). Keen to learn more about this grunge shoegaze DIY band I put some questions to Softcult as they prepare to tour the UK beginning in Glasgow on 8 June.
You were previously in the band Courage My Love. By way of introduction could you share how Softcult came to be?
Mercedes: We started writing music for Softcult in the summer of 2020 during the lockdown era. I think it was a perfect storm of political and social tension, as well as being confined to our homes with not much else to distract us from the world seemingly falling apart around us. The project took shape naturally in our home studio, and became a vessel for us to get things off our chest: how we feel about capitalist society and the problems we are all currently facing, how misogyny and sexism impact our lives on a daily basis, the aftermath of abusive relationships, etc. We poured ourselves into our music. It was very healing and cathartic. Now it’s become just as much about the activism as it is about the music, which I’m personally very proud of.
The title of the EP is inspired by Nietzsche’s famous quote: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”. Can you expand on why you decided to take this as inspiration?
Mercedes: The EP is really about accountability. We’re realizing how important it is to hold people in power accountable for their actions, public figures, politicians, millionaires, and corporations. Accountability can so easily be dismissed as “cancel culture”, but that’s not what it means to me. I don’t think accountability means pointing the finger at everyone around us and blaming everyone for the problems of the world. I don’t think it’s productive to have this impossible standard of perfection that no one can realistically attain. To me, accountability means not only holding the people around us accountable, but also holding ourselves accountable for our actions. It means admitting to our mistakes, learning from them, growing, and changing for the better. It means challenging ourselves, asking ourselves if we perpetuate the things that make us angry. Do we unknowingly contribute to the problems we’re trying to solve? Are we a product of the society we are trying to change? What do we need to learn in order to grow and become better people? We have to look ourselves honestly in the mirror and not avoid the darkness we all have in order to do that.
You have an extraordinary DIY approach and work ethic with Phoenix working on production, engineering, and artwork and Mercedes directing/editing the videos. You both write lyrics on the themes of self-empowerment amidst social, political, and environmental collapse. You create and produce your own zine called SCripture, currently on Vol. 24, and are active participants in your Softcult Discord server, a safe online community for your fans. Do you approach Softcult as a creative whole? Has it evolved to this point and do you enjoy juggling all the various aspects of it?
Mercedes: We knew from the beginning that this project would have a DIY ethos, because it’s all about empowerment. When you learn how to do things, like art or music production, videos, etc, it empowers you, as an artist and as a human being. We value the opportunity to create our art and execute it how we envision it instead of leaving it up to someone else to interpret, or misinterpret. That’s why Softcult is such a personal project, because literally everything about it comes from us. Sure, it’s a lot more work to do multiple aspects of the project ourselves, but at the end of the day it’s rewarding for many reasons . It’s 100% authentic.
I saw you at SXSW and was particularly moved by the song you wrote in response to the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer. You called out this out before playing the song. Do you want to highlight such horrific stories in your songs, to shine a light on appalling behaviour in society?
Mercedes: I think it’s important to call it out. We read about it online or see it on the news and in a way I think it’s easy to feel removed from it, like it doesn’t happen all the time. The truth is, only a margin of these instances make the news or make it to our timelines. It’s an epidemic that happens every day, and it happens to real people whose lives are never the same again IF they are lucky enough to survive. It could happen to us, or the people we love. It already has. That’s why we can’t continue to avoid talking about it, even though it’s uncomfortable and unsettling. I’m glad that song and moment in the set stood out to you and impacted you, because it is supposed to. We all should be angry and horrified when we hear about stories like Sarah’s. We should all be aware, and we should all demand better from people who abuse their power. They can’t be allowed to get away with it, because they will and then they’ll become emboldened to repeat that behaviour again and again because they feel untouchable. Stories like Sarah’s should never be forgotten. We need to learn from them.
Photo credit: Julia Mason
You are about to embark on a run of headline dates in the UK, EU and then onto Asia. What does it mean to you to play live? Have you played in Asia before? Do you notice a difference in the response of the audiences in different countries?
Mercedes: It is honestly so wild to be going to other countries to play our music… I’m still not used to the idea that we have fans all over the world who know our songs and want to see us play. It’s something I’m going to have to get used to, but I don’t know if I ever will. It’s an honour! I think every part of the world, even every city, has its own unique flavour. It’s hard to really describe, but it is definitely noticeable. I’m very excited to return to the UK and to Thailand again. It will be our first time playing in some of those EU cities and the rest of the Asia tour. It’s a big milestone for us.
If I looked in your fridge right now what would I find?
Mercedes: Hot sauce, oat milk, cilantro, and tofu.