So, in recent months I've gotten serious once again about doing my musicologist thing, and let me just say that since I got back into it, this is the one act I've spent the most time with on my headphones. Soft Cactus makes music that makes me feel happy when I'm listening and that's no easy feat. What I first noticed about them is how the songs don't have a standard structure but seem to build from an organic place. They play and sing so well together, and I seriously can't think of a single band EVER who packs the same kind of male and female vocal punch in one outfit. When I first heard them, I went around online telling everyone about this new spectacular band I heard, got in an argument with one guy because I called them a soul band. That fits well though, because this music has soul coming out of its pores. The band is so tight, yet the vox are so freeflowing, it must be a joyful experience to play music like this live. Anyway after I found them, I eventually came upon their videos (btw there's a couple on their IMP page), and these live performances filmed in their guitarist's mother's living room are magical, I do not overstate it. I was particularly enthralled by watching Melissa Mills, the female part of the singing duo. She eminates this intense immediacy in her performances, the best way I can describe it is that she strikes me as someone who can only truly unleash herself onstage, and it's like she's still maybe holding back, it's like you can tell there's more voice there that could further explode at any time. The white Aretha? ok, that crossed my mind but I will say this, from my vantage point she puts to shame the Rihannas and Beyonces on Top 40 radio. I've listened to the Soft Cactus song Orange Grove sooo many times! Then you turn around and I'd be negligent if I didn't mention that Max Nickou is easily one of the best male singers I've ever heard in my life, as well. The rhythm section of course is the perfect backbone of this great sound, with David DePari on drums and Joseph Dunajski on bass. So are they a soul band? Well after I got into that argument, a bunch of people chimed in to agree with me. The genre doesn't really matter though when it comes down to it, their music draws from many sources. I'd selfishly add that their song Am I Awake? is currently #5 and rising on the Kayak Big 25. You may think I'm dishing out superlatives here but that's just what their music inspires me to do, finding an indie band this fucking good is what I live for. I was also happy when they agreed to answer some questions for Spotlight.
Soft Cactus (in case you want to listen while you read)
_______________________________________________________________________________________Scott: Okay, let's start with this one. What is the songwriting process for the band?
Melissa: It seems that every song we write comes together in its own unique way. In some cases the song is almost completely done when lyrics are added to it. Other times the lyrics come together before other instruments have even heard the song. In some cases we decide who will provide the lyrics for which songs, but in other cases lyrics are written right there during practice. The inspiration for how we create songs is always changing, and it's exciting for us to keep changing the process.
Scott: Soft Cactus features a couple really good singers, what is the background for them, when did they start singing and how did that continue, in what situations along the way?
Melissa: I have been singing for as long as I can remember, and began taking lessons when I was 11. Singing is something I have always loved, and always known it's what I'm supposed to be doing. Until I got to college the idea of being in a band had never even crossed my mind as a possibility. Now that I have been with Soft Cactus for four years, I can't imagine doing anything else. I have entered countless singing competitions and talent shows and have dealt with a great deal of ups and downs, but being with Soft Cactus has always been the perfect challenge.
Max: I started singing in high school when my buddies and I wanted to be more than an
instrumental jam band. To be honest I had no idea what I was doing and to some extent I am still in the same boat. However my voice really started to change when I watched Casey Herlihy lay down vocal tracks in an old band I was in, Flake. I sat next to him in the studio and just watched in awe for about 4 hours. It was my first real man crush, the kid has serious pipes and an intense technique that until that point I didn't know was possible. Since then I have been trying to hone in those jaw movements and man growls and turn my voice into what it can be. Along with this man of a man Melissa has been very helpful with teaching me everything from breathing to vowel pronunciation. Owe them both for where I have come today, Love!
Scott: I kind of consider you to be a soul band. Did early 70s soul influence you a lot, and if so, who in particular?
Joseph: I know that 70s soul and lots of Motown music from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were a big influence on me during college, heavily because of James Jamerson, but also because of there great arrangements and songwriting. While I think that these artists are influences on us, these are certainly not the only influences we draw on, and we are by no means trying to be a nostalgia act. We don’t want to be a band that sounds like we could have been a band from the 60’s or 70’s but rather build on what those artists did and create something new, something that has to do with our times.
Scott: It looks like you do a lot of live shows. Which are you more about, your shows or your recording? Any interesting show anecdotes? :)
Joseph: At this moment we’re more about playing live. Right now playing shows has been the best way to get our music out to people that probably won’t otherwise hear it. Playing out also gives songs time to see where they’re going to go. A lot of our songs evolve after we play them out a few times. Even our latest EP In The Living Room is just a live recording in the studio.
Scott: What's your attitude in regards to the possibility of emerging successfully amidst the glut of music artists on the web?
Joseph: There’s a lot of bands out there, a lot of good bands. There’s a lot of bands that I find out about that have been out there doing it for a while, and I had no idea who they were for the longest time. There’s also a lot of bands out there that I will probably never hear of that are doing it full time. So I think that there are more possibilities to be able to do this full time if you really put in the work.
Max: I grew up on Napster, something that Dave and Joe (finding out now) will forever shun me for. However now a days the majority of people don't listen to albums because of shortened attention spans. I want to make an album in the future where each song is so entirely different and unique that the audience will be too sucked in to use up their skips on spotify. People are changing and I believe in order to be successful we need to create a disc with ten genres, ten sounds and enough stimulation to compete. The future will be profitable if we can grab attention through hi-stimulation and colorful consistent changing sounds of Soft Cactus.
Scott: In a lot of cases, when there's a woman in the band, there are interesting interpersonal relationships? Is that true in your case? Is your band chemistry volatile or sturdy as a rock?
Melissa: I have a great relationship with the guys, and I feel that we are all very comfortable with one another. We are all easy going people so there isn't a lot of butting heads or getting under each other skin. Of course we don't always agree with each other, but we are always respectful of everyone's opinion.
Scott: Anything you care to share about your band name? Did you have any previous names / false starts on that?
Joseph: Just a name that you can remember.
David: Limp Bizkit was already taken.
Scott: Are you awake?
Melissa: Such a tricky layered question. Being awake in one sense can still mean you're asleep in another. This song asks "Am I Awake?" asking us if we are conscious and aware of what is really going on around us. In the second verse the lyrics "I am one with you, connected by the truth, I hope you feel it too" asks the listener to realize that we are connected by something far greater, and there is no isolation of life. When we live 'awake' and we live with an awareness that the vast amount of energy around us guides our lives, we are able to manifest so much more into being. Awakening
your mind to the possibility of being one with something far greater than ourselves, is a humbling experience.
Scott: I get a sense that you pay a lot of attention to details and arrangement of your songs. Are you satisfied with the popular music of this era and does it ever frustrate you that some of the more well known acts don't seem to care as much about the quality of what they put out there?
Joseph: Thanks, we try to focus on our songwriting. There’s a lot of pop music out there that sucks. There is also a lot that doesn’t. I think no matter the year there are going to be artists that are innovators and original and those that are just cookie cutters. It’s not called the music industry for nothing. Once something sells, there is going to be a lot following, making what sold and making it quickly to be able to hop on what is selling at the time.
Scott: This is a question we ask all who we spotlight. Have any members of your band had any experiences of high strangeness, UFOs, the supernatural, that sort of thing?
Melissa: I tend to be prone to the bizarre. I find myself daily in the hands of the strange. Deja vý is a common occurrence in my life, happening at least once a week. It is not uncommon for me to sense things before they happen, as well as being susceptible to various levels of telepathy. I pride myself in the strange and use a pendulum to better understand the flow of energy. Pendulum work has lead to the most incredibly weird situations, and caused me to feel some of the most intensely beautiful energy. I am fascinated with the fact that we are made out of the same elements as the universe, and are essentially 'star stuff'. While more often than not it is difficult for people to understand these strange and intangible ideas, I find myself becoming excited and overwhelmed by
Scott: What is your ultimate musical dream, as to the aspirations of your band?
Joseph: As of right now, being able to live solely off of playing music.