text by Takahisa Matsunaga
photo by Marisa Suda

Interview with Softcult about “see you in the dark”

―You both started in Courage My Love and formed this group in 2021.Were there any changes in how you make music since starting Softcult?

Mercedes : To be honest, everything changed. We decided that we wanted to do it all ourselves. Phoenix produces everything and recorded all in the home studio, so it’s a lot more DIY. I’d say the entire environment changed because Courage My Love was signed to a major label. They had a lot more control over the look and the sound. When we did it ourselves we did pretty much everything so we had a lot more creative freedom. We learned how to do things we didn’t know how to do before.

―This freedom must have changed the sound as well.

Mercedes : Yes, definitely.

―Aside from your music, you’ve been producing your videos as well. Do you have any aesthetic rules or guidelines when making them?

Mercedes : It’s not necessarily rules, but we both like certain things so we agreed that we are going to try to have our vibe and aesthetic rather to switch around too much. In the past, we tried to go outside of it.
If it works we will go with it. Aesthetically we are inspired by the nineties and zine culture so automatically our colour palette is black and white. It’s about photocopiers and zines. Sonically, we love to dream of pop and shoegaze. So we always run it through reverb and delay and chorus. I don’t know if it’s rules, I think we found things we like and our sound. Those are like the staples of that.

―Do you follow the same rules when making your music?

Mercedes : Yes, I don’t know how we fell into those rules, Phoenix just naturally picked up producing and recording. When we picked up this band it was in the height of the pandemic. Everything was locked down at home. We wanted to record but we couldn’t go to a studio or be around other people. So we did a lot of recording at our house ourselves. We liked it so we kept doing it, same with the videos.

Phoenix : I had a camera, and I have always loved cinema and movies. We both naturally gravitated towards those roles. It just worked out that way.

―You are inspired by shoegaze and grunge. Even though those genres can be loud and aggressive, we noticed you mixed some dreamy sounds to balance it out. Do you have any bands you are inspired by?

Mercedes : The influences all make sense but they are pretty diverse. We love the Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Deftones and strangely we are quite inspired by the ethics of Riot Grrrl, like Bikini Kill and Ratmobile.
Guitar I am a big Kevin Shields fan, but I also love the Smashing Pumpkins and Veruca Salt. It’s all in the same world. In the nineties and eighties. Each one has its flavor and they all influence us equally.

―These are quite old bands, how did you get to know them?

Mercedes : I don’t know, I think we are all in this place where we are yearning for this nostalgia. Going back to things that feel more tangible and real. Vinyl, cassettes, zines and handmade stuff. Switching to digital from analogue, we are all appreciating the textures and how unique those things are. We naturally gravitated towards that music cause it had that edgy sound. Also because there is this softness and subtlety to it. It reminded us of like the time we were born, our childhood.

Phoenix : The aesthetic of the photos and everything just makes me feel nostalgic.

Mercedes : You always feel like certain times are better than the ones you are living in.

―Your lyrics are about frustration and emotions that aren’t usually expressed or discussed. What was the reason you decided to face this topic?

Phoenix : The short answer is, that is what art is always for. It is for self-expression, it is an artist interpreting their world or feelings into something that other people can hopefully relate to. In that way, it’s something that is more cathartic and naturally comes out. Also, the artists we are inspired by all have politics in their music. They are talking about social issues and nowadays those issues feel more relevant. Things that are going on politically, especially when were writing these songs Trump was still the president of the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement and George Floyd and Brianna Taylor. All of that was going on and we were stuck at home. We would see about this every time we went online. There is this feeling of frustration of being unable to do anything and unable to make a difference. We took that and put it into music because that’s the one thing we can do.

Mercedes : We felt very strongly about it. We got more inspired to write about those things than to write about love, for instance.

Phoenix : Nothing else felt the same, it didn’t seem to be relevant to what we were collectively going through at that time.

―Songwriting can be quite difficult for some artists because they have to face frustration or anger. Meanwhile, other artists find it therapeutic and making music heals them.

Mercedes : I think it’s cathartic for us. I think we are both grateful that we have a way to get those feelings out. A lot of people do have to seek therapy for those feelings, it’s good for everyone to do that but we do have an opportunity to get those feelings out. I think it’s healthy.
Do you know how people journal and write their feelings down? I don’t feel the urge to do that because we do it already through music. Sometimes we will write a song and we don’t know what it is about until the song is done. It becomes clear at the end. It does feel like we are venting in the song.

―So it makes the most sense to you when you hear the finished music. We felt that the music is quite emotional, yet the vocals are subdued. We find this contrast very interesting, is it an important element of your music?

Mercedes : A lot of bands when they make emotional music, they scream and yell. Our way to get people to listen is the opposite. If you whisper, you have to listen a little harder. It forces people to pay more attention to you. That’s how we do it.
Maybe this is less intentional, but there is a balance. Shoegaze feels like that as well, the instruments are so loud and there is a roaring sound yet the vocals are so soft. It is feminine energy as well to have both, rage and softness. Their band is like a feminist band, I think it is a natural way of doing things instead of being in your face the whole time.

―You names your latest EP is ‘See You in the Dark’. What was your thoughts behind this title?

Mercedes : We were trying to think of a name and were looking for something that would apply to all the songs and sum up what the EP was about. The title just popped into my mind, because it is referring to a literal person that you see following you down a dark alley. Metaphorically speaking, we wrote it more about confronting our issues and acknowledging that there are things we all could change about ourselves to change our society for the better. The other songs in the EP are also about that, it’s about climate change and cooperate greed. There is a song about consent, insularism, and mental health so they all tie in together. We felt that the title is the best way to express it and take accountability for it. It’s about not being afraid to speak about them.

―The first half is emotional, second part feels dreamy and innocent. Is there anything you discussed when planning, and what were the sounds you wanted to explore for this EP?

Mercedes : I think accountability is the main theme. It can be holding governments or cooperation accountable for corruption, greed or big decisions. It can be holding individuals accountable for their toxicity, or learning toxic behaviour from the society that raised them. Instead of continuing this cycle of ‘pretending it doesn’t exist’, acknowledging that it does exist and breaking the cycle to change things for the better. That will be the main theme but it applies to every song. Each song has a different vibe and discusses different topics.

Phoenix : The hard softness is something we like. The dichotomy of those things, we made it heavier at the beginning and lighter at the end. We wanted to catch people’s attention from the beginning and by the end lure them into this dreamy trance.

―Do your music videos share one big image or concept?

Mercedes : This time around I was trying to make them more cinematic and storytelling. For the first two EPs, I was focused more on aesthetics, vibe and getting the feel of the band across. For this EP, I wanted more focus on the lyrics of the song. I wanted each video to be a short film. So my intention was about going into it, I was hoping the visuals were pairing to help people understand the songs. That was our thinking behind it.

―How about the other visuals, like the album cover and posters?

Phoenix : I don’t do the video but I do the artwork. I just really love college and I have been doing it since I was a kid. It was cool to do that for our zines, our artwork and posters. I was also really inspired by the art of Black Flag. They have an intense look with dark black. You see their artwork and you can tell it’s them. It’s iconic. For me that was something I wanted to get into, finding a style and inspiration so that you could tell it is a Softcult album.

Mercedes : The cover is dark and it’s like an eye looking into the darkness and I feel that it works with the title or a literal interpretation of it.

―Now that you finished your new EP, do you have a new vision?

Mercedes : When we go home, we are finishing the new EP. We already have new songs, and we just have to finish writing them and record them. It might be too early to tell at this point, but there is something specific about it that is different. I do feel it in each work, we are trying new things, we are growing and we are getting more comfortable with our identity and also comfortable with pushing ourselves to see how far we can go.

Phoenix : So we will see.

Mercedes : Our musicianship as well. Every time we get more adventurous.

―What kind of band do you view yourself to be in the future?

Mercedes : I think our goal would be to live a life of a real musician that does this all the time. Currently, we are both working different jobs and doing stuff on the side to go on tours. We would like it if we can just tour full-time and make music. So that’s the dream. Honestly, from there we just want to do what we do already.

Phoenix : We could keep doing this but on a bigger scale like being able to tour the world. It’s already a dream of ours to do what we do now. Our first Asian tour, meeting people we never thought we could meet on stage, so hopefully continuing this but reaching more and more.

Mercedes : Getting to go to different places.

Phoenix : We just keep grinding.

―It must be so different playing in small and big venues. Even if it is small, it is intimate and a special experience.

Mercedes : The energy at this moment is very good.

―Once you get here it would harder to go back as well.

Phoenix : That’s true, we have to appreciate it while we are here.

Mercedes : Even if this is the biggest it ever gets, we already feel so fulfilled and so proud of everything. I would be happy. I don’t think anyone else from Kichn, Ontario that we know of would have been able to tour Asia, Europe or the UK. I think it’s a big accomplishment.

Phoenix : We are happy and we aren’t taking any of this for granted.

―How was it performing in Japan for the first time?

Phoenix : It was amazing. As we said, it’s like a dream come true. Being able to see people and meet people that know the lyrics even if they are so far away from Canada.

Mercedes : Some sing in their language.

Phoenix : It’s been surreal. We love the culture, we love the food. Everything about it has been great. We learned what we experienced, we don’t want to go home.

Mercedes : We were here almost ten years ago with Courage My Love. So it feels special that we get to do this again.

Phoenix : Ten years is a long time.

Mercedes : It is a long time. We never knew we could come back.

―Have you made any good memories here?

Mercedes : Every day we try and wake up early and stay out as late as we can to experience.
Last night was really fun, we went out to a bar and got ramen at this tiny ramen shop. It was just the best ramen I’ve ever had. Just getting to meet people and having that experience is great.

Phoenix : Being at Shibuya crossing and Station, I’ve never seen anything like that before. It’s like a lot of really cool stuff we only see in movies. When we see it in real life it is like wow it’s crazy.

―What do you want your Japanese listeners to feel when listening to your music?

Mercedes : I hope that whoever is listening feels empowered or feels received. No matter what song they relate to, I just want our fans to feel that if they want to start a band they can do it too. Whether they want to start a zine or get into politics or activism, they can do it. I want them to believe in themselves and not become complacent. If they are unhappy with the way things are, in their personal life or society, just keep trying and pushing for better. I also hope they know that if they feel alone, other people feel the same as that. We are bonded by that feeling.

Phoenix : Yes, they are not alone. I hope they feel like they are part of a community. With this band and people all around the world feel the same way.

photography Marisa Suda(
text Takahisa Matsunaga

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