Nat: "Things [in our music] can be heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time and I like that.
Dead Soft Won't Stop
If Vancouver's grunge-inspired rockers don't keep going, they'll be crushed like a bug
Vancouver’s grunge-leaning punk pop trio Dead Soft is one of the hardest working bands in Vancouver. Last year, you couldn’t escape Dead Soft’s ear-protection-required shows. It seemed like they were everywhere and this helped them helped build an incredible local buzz. Real recognize real—I had to feature these upstarts in this space. I chat with all three members of Dead Soft, Nathaniel “Nat” Epp (guitar/vocals), Keeley Rochon (bass) and Graeme McDonald (drums).
Scott Wood: I’ve heard that Dead Soft started as a duo, but soon you added drummer, Graeme McDonald. Can you tell me the story of how you met him and knew he was the "right one" to add to the mix?
Keeley: We were never a duo, actually. We had a few great drummers throughout the first couple years who played our first string of shows and made our first recordings possible. We needed someone to be with us full-time and who was ready and available to work on all of the new songs and tour extensively. Someone who would stick for good and had no other major life goals—just like us. Haha. Graeme was that person!
Nat: He seemed like a nice guy who wanted to play music seriously. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut.
Graeme: Dead Soft had actually been around for almost two years before I joined. I was in a band in Victoria that started up at around the same time, coincidentally with a very old friend of Nat’s. I was introduced to Dead Soft music through him and other mutual friends of ours that I met there. The music grew on me very quickly and soon enough I was attending every show they played in Victoria. I might have been one of the biggest fans of the band! After one show in particular, we struck up a conversation about our music, our aspirations and our struggles, which ended up lasting until we got kicked out of the venue. Sometime during that talk, one of them spontaneously tossed into the conversation the suggestion that I could move to Vancouver and drum for them. I spent a little time staring at the wall and realized fairly quickly that it wasn't a question of whether I was going to do it, but how I was going to tell my own band. And Dead Soft had actually never heard me drum before at all!
Scott Wood: You guys were a Victoria band and moved to Vancouver to become one of the Vancouver local free weekly paper's favorite bands of 2014. What's one tip for other bands to move to a new city and thrive in a strange new scene?
Keeley: We were lucky enough to have played our first handful of shows in Victoria with some really wonderful people from the mainland, who were encouraging and enthusiastic about our music, namely Darren, Warren, Nick, and Jill, formerly known as the Jelly Boyzzz. What luck! They hooked us up with a lot of our first shows in Vancouver and the surrounding area, and then we just kicked it into full throttle from there on out, I guess! My advice would be to keep working and not slow down for even a minute, Vancouver has a dense and ever-changing scene and peoples' memories are short. If you drop off the grid for 6 months, you might as well start from scratch (especially if you are a super new band with no connections like we were.). I would compare it to rolling a giant boulder up a very steep hill, if you stop, it will roll you over and crush you like a bug! Sometimes it is a lot of work just to hold the sucker in place. I think fundamentally if you can keep your shit together on an individual level as well as with your bandmates, and always play your best and be grateful, people will notice and help you out. To be honest, I feel way too green to be giving advice, ask me again in 10 years and my answer will probably be very different. Haha.
Nat: Just keep at it! Do a good job, be cool, be kind, and you will slowly work your way in, one show at a time.
Graeme: Although I wasn't around during the start, I'd say try not to be a stranger. Listen to as much local music as you can and don't be afraid to talk to people. Easier said than done sometimes, but that's how you meet people who will help set up shows and play them with you. Hearing people you know make music that you love is also incredibly inspiring. A bit of friendly competition is a great motivator as well. Just don't take it too far.
Scott Wood: You describe what Dead Soft does as "Doom and Sweetness." Listening to your music, it's pretty easy to see the doom: the heaviness in the music the themes of death. Can you point me towards some of the sweetness?
Keeley: I would say the sweetness is in the balance. The lyrics can be about death or misery, but if you layer some sugary-sweet harmonies on top, it creates something brutally catchy that will get stuck in your head. We really put a lot of stock in having a pop sensibility. No matter what turns the band takes in the future artistically, I think that will remain a constant for us.
Nat: I think it's a constant back and forth, in the melodies, music and the overall feeling. Things can be heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time and I like that.
Graeme: The sweetness lies in the melodies. It’s true that the songs are presented in a pretty heavy way, but, in the case of a lot of them, a different arrangement would make the softer side much more apparent I think. The song “Come Back” is pretty sweet in my opinion.Keeley: "I still plan to be rocking hard at 40 though, believe me! It might just look and sound a little bit different.
Scott Wood: With your self-titled debut full length, your music has gotten even harder. Let's assume Dead Soft becomes a career. Not everyone can remain that heavy forever. Most long-lived acts mellow with age. Paint me a picture of your more subdued self at 40?
Keeley: Hopefully evolving consistently and not just honkin' out the oldies in our pleather pants or something. Haha! I still plan to be rocking hard at 40 though, believe me! It might just look and sound a little bit different. Better even!
Nat: We don't really aim for anything in particular. We just listen to the songs and do what feels right. I'm already into the mellow stuff, man. I think if Dead Soft was still a band when we hit our 40s, we definitely would have been all over the spectrum by then. Who knows? Maybe we would have already hit the mellow stuff and would be heading back into the heavy shit. It’s fun because we're all open to anything and we just do what we feel is real.
Graeme: Already, the songs that are taking shape for our next album aren't looking as heavy as our first. Being heavy isn't really a conscious goal of ours though; it's just how a lot of those ones worked out. We just want to write good songs. It would be no surprise to me if an album that far down the road was lighter on the distortion and easier on my cymbals (but I kind of hope not). 40 is so far off it's almost impossible to picture. I could see us spending more time with multi-part vocal harmonies and experimenting a little bit with the instrumentation, maybe even to the point of being quite comfortable with it. Who knows?Nat: "I don't know how to explain why our music ends up sounding the way it does... I enjoy turning my amp up really loud, plus I'm still pretty angry.
Scott Wood: I read a great review of your record that said your music "should be heard in pizza delivery boy car stereos." Hilarious line. It's fitting that Dead Soft has opened for The Pizza Underground which is the Velvet Underground cover band fronted by former child star actor, ex-boyfriend of Mila Kunis and former Michael Jackson sidekick, Macauly Culkin. Did you get to meet him? As a diehard music fan, what the hell was that show like?
Keeley: He was a hyper and kindly guy, very generous with his fans. It was overwhelming just standing near him though, with the seemingly endless line-up of people wanting pictures and autographs and the whole nine-yards. I don't know how famous people can deal with that all the time. As a huge Michael Jackson fan, I couldn't help but think "I just touched a hand that Michael Jackson touched!!!"
Nat: It was a little bit strange, but really fun! It's weird how one of the biggest shows we have ever played wasn't even with a rock band that would be comparable to us in any way. It was with Macauly friggin’ Culkin's comedy/art band, which was very entertaining! But yeah, sort of a strange experience, which is great. Also we did meet him and he was super funny and nice.
Graeme: We did meet him! Well, Nat and Keeley more than me. I felt like keeping to myself that night. He kind of seemed like a regular guy, albeit on the slightly eccentric side. But a lot of people have this idea of him as being totally weird, and he wasn't. Going into the show, I thought their band was kind of silly. I wasn't sure what to expect. But they definitely know what they're doing. I get the impression that most people out there think they take it way more seriously than they do (I was no exception), but they're in on the joke and they're having a great time with it. I respect that a lot.
Scott Wood: One diehard fan (and music blogger called Dingus) describes Dead Soft by saying you guys combine "the greatness of the early surf rock movement with the greatness of the early 90’s indie." Since you are all in your mid to late 20s, you were all wee tots when 90s grunge was at its height. How did you get into this music?
Nat: In some ways I kind of got into music and bands chronologically. Starting with stuff like the Beatles when I was a kid, then progressing through classic rock, then into metal, and then metal started sounding kind of hokey, and I was a teenager, and there you have punk rock and grunge. Then after that, good just becomes good, and you get all pretentious and have arguments and stuff. I love pretty much all types of music and I don't know how to explain why our music ends up sounding the way it does, it's just fun I guess. I enjoy turning my amp up really loud, plus I'm still pretty angry. Haha.
Graeme: I relate to the mood and lyrics of songs from that era more strongly than most others.
Scott Wood: Because Dead Soft has played so many local shows, a local music magazine has described you as "one of Vancouver’s hardest working bands." Keeley has said, “I think the fact that we played shows like, three to five times a month for a couple years really paid off.” Music industry experts advise local bands to monitor how many local shows they play, so they don't overtax their fanbase. What is your take on this?
Nat: But first you need a fanbase to overtax! So in the beginning when nobody knows who you are, I would say that playing a lot of shows is the best way to master your craft and to get your music out there. I guess you have to be smart about it and make sure you're not always playing to the same crowd and stuff like that. But if you keep playing lots of shows and people don't seem to have that look on of their faces like they're being overtaxed, then you know you must be doing something right!
Graeme: Those experts aren't wrong, but if people don't know who you are, no one will care in the first place. Spreading the word in the beginning is important, and playing shows is the best way to do that. After you have a fanbase, you can start reigning it in and making each show more special. It’s hard to turn down shows though.
Scott Wood: Nat from the band has said, "I think we grew a lot from the combined experience of touring and then going into the studio shortly after.” What's one thing the touring taught Dead Soft about what it does?
Nat: Yeah I said it. Planning and executing a tour is some hard ass work. And so is recording a record. So after doing those two things back-to-back, we learned a few lessons. Namely that this is some hard ass work and if you want to do it properly, you better be up for some hard ass work.Graeme: "Even though we were pretty exhausted after each x-Canada tour, it is encouraging to know that it isn't going to get tougher than that.
Graeme: For one thing, we usually played too fast, so we're more conscious about that now (but it did make us good). It was sweet to learn that we don't get sick of playing night after night very easily. Also, touring across Canada is one of the most difficult tours you can really do, due to the long distances between cities you want to hit. That means very early mornings after long nights, and a lot of money towards gas. Even though we were pretty exhausted after each x-Canada tour, it is encouraging to know that it isn't going to get tougher than that. We can pretty much do anything now, short of Russia.
Scott Wood: I've heard a rumor that Keeley and Nat are a couple, but don't want to talk about it in band press. If this is true, I can understand why you’d want to keep this under wraps, but I'm sure you guys can understand how fans would be interested about how this works in a creative working situation!
Keeley: Nathaniel and I have been musical collaborators for a decade or so. There is a special intimacy that we share as friends and partners that perhaps inadvertently presents itself in how we approach music at this point, but I think more than anything it helps us get a lot of work done as communication is second nature to us. We are both fiercely competitive too, so it is a good thing we are on the same team.
Nat: What she said!
Scott Wood: Thanks for answering my questions, guys. Please introduce your favorite Dead Soft video!
Keeley: "Everything" because it had a trillion dollar budget and yet it still ended up looking like crap!
Graeme: Out of all our music videos, my favourite is “Everything” too. Unless you count live videos. “Never Forever” from our Pizza Underground show looks gorgeous.
Find more about Dead Soft online:
The Interview Show is everywhere.
www.cjsf.ca (Vancouver, BC, Mondays 4:30-5pm PST and Wednesdays 12:30am PST)
www.ckdu.ca (Halifax, NS, Saturdays 1:30-2:00am AST)
www.radiocfxu.ca (Campus Community Radio, Antigonish, NS, Fridays 11pm-12am AST)
www.cfru.ca (University of Guelph Radio, ON, Tuesdays 3pm EST)
www.umfm.com (Winnipeg’s Hit Free Radio, Fridays 6-6:30pm CST)
www.caperradio.com (Cape Breton University Radio, NS, Wednesdays 3-3:30pm AST)
www.localfm.ca (Campus Radio Saint John Inc., NB, Tuesdays 11:30am and Fridays 3:30pm AST)