Thursday, April 22, 2010

Desert Musical Oasis: Coachella 2010

EVENT: Coachella Music Festival
LOCATION: Palm Desert, CA
DATES: April 16 - 18, 2010

A recent festival junkie, I have traveled across the country to sample regional, rhythmic delicacies. From Rothbury in Michigan to Austin City Limits in Texas, each festival comes with their own breed of fan and their own breed of music. Though I was born and raised in California, AP testing schedules dissuaded me from attending Coachella in the past. However, with only the lurking doom of graduate finals, I manged to place responsibility on hold for the yearly event. And oh, what an event it was.

The highlight, beyond the musicians? The fashion of course. Women sported uber-chic cutoff shorts paired with leather boots and vintage sunglasses. The look was monotone and drowned in a pool of Echo Park cliches. Thankfully, Dita von Teese and her disco-influenced posse silenced the crowd with her
vintage appeal. Men, conversely, ignored the skinny jean and plaid button-up fad. Instead, hairless, shirtless bodies ran wild in the desert heat. Excuse me as I place my judgments on hold. Let's talk music. Each day featured a definitive highlight. LCD Soundsystem enveloped the nighttime drowsiness with a constant stream of persistent danceable beats. Even the shyest of folk jumped wildly. James Murphy, LCD alum and founder of DFA records, is not the average indie man. He does not weigh 40 pounds nor does he advocate cynicism. Instead, James Murphy is a legend amongst the average fellow. His normalcy highlights his exuberant talent. Though most stayed for Jay-Z, I was not emotionally prepared to sacrifice perfection with fame. So, as LCD still lingered on the tongue, I traced back to my hotel.

Words cannot express Day 2 of Coachella. Ignore The Gossip, or
She & Him or Beyonce sightings backstage as she searched for snacks. Day 2 was dominated by Die Antwoord. Making their American debut, the part trip-hop, part performance artists from the slums of South Africa disturbed the ill-informed crowd with their emaciated bodies and their music videos featuring the terminally ill...while those of us who know the brilliance stood their with mouths ajar and eyes watering. The audience began with nearly 200 members and dwindled down to half as each song became increasingly more aggressive and each beat became increasingly more indirect.

And as the event progressed, the temperature rose, and soon even the A-list celebrities wilted in the midday sun. Florence and the Machine gave an energetic and solid performance, while Orbital whisked the tent back to the days of nineties house. All sinfully pleasurable, my one complaint is the heat and the twelve dollar drinks...both of which avoidable with the necessary precautions.

In correlation with the festival, I had the opportunity to interview the San Diego band The Soft Pack. Four guys with the simple desire to play rock n' roll, their newness in the musical realm has not dissuaded their fame. Already a festival favorite, these four simply boys who have a keen admiration for improv, prove that pretension and fame do not go hand-in-hand.

(interview courtesy of

Courtney Nichols: Let’s talk about your recording process. This might seem silly, but a lot of artists have revealed to drinking while in the studio. Do you guys drink while you write?
Matt Lamkin: We don’t drink really when we record.
Brian Hill: Ideally, you go in and you’re totally clear headed.
Matt: For us we always wanted to go in and get out and hammer it out.
Brian: It doesn’t really worth all that when you are drunk and you want to add something because then you end up deleting it because you know it sounds really terrible.

Do you brainstorm at your house or in the studio?
Matt: We brainstorm at Matty’s garage and all mess around.
Brian: On our own time we all have guitars lying around. We come up with ideas and bring that stuff to what we will start recording.
Matt: We have pretty much everything written by the time we go in. There’s not much left up to chance when we go into the studio.
Brian: There’s always a possibility when you don’t have that stuffed nailed down that once you go into the studio it will drive you crazy.

How do you name a song? Is it typically lyric based?
Matt: Yes, usually lyric based. I try to come up with the simplest, main thread that runs through the song - something catchy and easy to remember.

So then music is created first?
Matt: Basically how it works, someone will bring a guitar or Brian will put something together and play a little thing and we will try it out. We will play with the band for however long it takes to hammer it out and once we get the song done I will write lyrics—
Brian: Or sometimes, he writes lyrics on the spot.
Matt: We’ve done a couple of songs where we have switched instruments. We were bored and frustrated and everyone would play another instrument and we would record it with a couple songs. I made lyrics on the spot for a couple songs.
Brian: And they never changed.
Matt: It’s pretty cool.

And your genre, how would you define that?
Brian: I always just say rock n’ roll because that makes the most sense to me.
Matt: But we are also kind of indie, alternative. I call it party angst.
Brian: Matt come up with power conservative, which I like a lot.
Matt: It’s just a concept.

So are your audiences as diverse as the genres?
Matt: Actually yeah. You get a lot of men and women who come to our shows. You don’t want to be grouped.

Different ages, sexuality—
Matt: Yep!

Now, I’m not going to ask why you changed your name to The Muslims, but did your past audiences follow you? Or do many now know that you are the same band?
Brian: There are some people still do not know it is the same band and some people don’t know it’s the same people—well at least Matt and Matty are the same people—so they’ll say, “Oh I liked them better when they were The Muslims.” But it’s the same people! All the touring we’ve done by this point has been as us. It’s just a name.

You’re from San Diego originally. How has that affected your music?
Matt: Growing up in San Diego, following all the San Diego bands. There was a really great scene in the nineties. Three Mile Pilot….all these bands with a really cool and creative atmosphere. It definitely shaped us.

Do you still follow any San Diego bands?
Matt: Totally, we just did a tour with The Breeders who are a really cool San Diego band.
Brian: El Mania, their alter ego band, is really great. It’s nice to know what’s going on in your hometown.

You live in LA now right?
Brian: We do. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be. There’s a lot of good, random comedy to see.

You’re comedy fans?
Brian: When you’re home and you were on tour for a long time, it’s kind of more appealing to see stand-up. When you are in a band the last thing you want to do when you got off of touring is hear somebody play really loud.

Where do you go in LA?
Brian: The Upright Citizen’s Brigade is really good. Is there one in SF?

No, but I always wanted to go to the Facebook Night they have in LA.
Brian: Oh! I heard that’s really good.
Matt: Jeff Garlin has a weekly show there. Sometimes he’s not there because he’s working on a show, but he’s really good. He has great guests. Robin Williams was there. And it’s always a dollar. There’s also the Hollywood stuff like Laugh Factory.
Brian: Yeah, Hollywood Improv has this thing—I don’t know what to call it—with these bizarro comics.
Matt: There are a couple good guys. There’s Joe King who is a big name in LA, and Rick Shapiro.

I feel like I’ve heard the name Rick Shapiro before.
Brian: He’s been on a lot of shows. He was on HBO’s Louis C.K. Show. He was the neighbor. He’s really funny.
Matt: Yeah, he’s a really cool guy.

Do you practice improv at all?
Brian: I have completely respect for anybody who does it really well. I don’t think I could do it. No way. It’s so scary to just get up there in a theater, in front of a microphone, with a crowd.

What’s the difference between that and being in a band?
Brian: You can rely on other people. I’m a drummer so I have all this stuff around me. I have this physical barrier between the people and me. I’m not really giving anything of myself except how I am playing. I’m not making up good stories so that people are laughing.
Matt: It’s a real fucking skill. It’s amazing. Dave Chapelle is my muse. He’s such a genius.
Brian: He’s such a good storyteller.

I’m sure comedians think this of musicians as well.
Brian: Yeah, I’m sure. Like Belushi got Fear on Saturday Night Live. He tried to get Black Flag on there too.

Do you guys have any other hobbies or do you just stick with the music realm?
Matt: Brian’s a record collector.
Brian: I haven’t done anything productive with it like turning it into a night where I get free drinks. I’m going to work on that. That’s the next step. I don’t want my records to just sit there.

Do you have a prized record?
Brian: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Nightmares in Wax – Pete Burns’ pre-Dead of Alive disco-punk band. I found the 12-inch. I’ve been looking for it for years. It’s all these homoerotic songs. The title track is Black Leather. So awesome!

Did you find it at a garage sale? Or online?
Brian: I found it on Ebay. I’ve been looking for it for years but it’s always really expensive. I found a torn up copy where the record was perfect and the sleeve was really torn up. I didn’t care. I had to have this record. That was Holy Grail record and now I don’t really know what I need. I go to record stores and I guess I don’t need anymore records because I don’t need anything that I have to tear through the rack to find.

Are there any record stores in LA you can recommend?
Brian: Of course there is Amoeba, which is great. There’s a really cool little one called Territory that used to a BBQ place / record story but I think the BBQ side of it is closed now. Territory is in Silverlake and in Los Feliz there is Vacation Vinyl.
Matt: All around awesome place.
Brian: The people that run that are really cool.

So you are signed to Kemado Records. They are very community oriented. How did you get involved with them? Their ideas behind co-op music shops are so utterly unique.
Brian: We just met the guy. A friend of ours, Paul introduced us to the guys who do the label and we just hit it off with them. We thought they were really cool. A few months went by and we did CMJ and they still wanted to work with us.
Matt: They were the first to give us a deal. They were the longest to maintain interest.

Have you met the other bands on the label?
Matt: Dungeon is really cool.
Brian: They’re putting out a record by this girl named Cameron and her backing band is really cool. A hardcore band. They got them reunited to be her backup band. It’s really cool music—kind of indie-ish and current.
Matt: The Sword.

I ask because many bands haven’t met or even heard of the bands on their record label.
Brian: Sometimes bands put out such a variety that they wouldn’t get a chance to play together.
Matt: Children are pretty good.
Brian: They are cool. Kind of like Metallica.

Old Metallica or new Metallica?
Brian: Old! Like Master of Puppets.

Well, let’s finish off with a question of sexuality. Brian, you are out and proud. Do you think that is necessary in the music world?
Brian: I wouldn’t put it on anyone else to handle it any one way. Whatever is right for you. It’s definitely more beneficial the more people that come out and are public figures or are in any kind of media position. It helps anyone who is younger or people like me who didn’t have a gay role model while growing up and didn’t know what it meant to be gay and be an adult and function in a cool way, not living this life that was less then what you wanted. Not like it was that hard when I grew up.

So did you create the name of The Soft Pack. It has gay written all over it!
Brian: You’re only the third person who has gotten it! I’ve been saying it a lot more. I don’t think it hurts anybody. But then again, I wouldn’t tell anybody about how to discuss their homosexuality. For me, now that I’ve been out, I never want to be closeted. Why? I feel so much better about myself.

And that has affected your confidence on stage?
Brian: Totally! I don’t think I could do this if I was doing two things at once. I would probably work in an office and not talk to anybody.

Soft Pack tour dates and awesome polaroids can be found here:


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