TREMORS// Softcult have finally found their voice and now they’re louder than ever

TREMORS// is our monthly new music long read with an artist making waves. This time, Tyler Damara Kelly meets Softcult – AKA Canadian twins Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn – to talk about breaking free from the confines of a major label and finding their true voice

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When Canadian-native twins Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn began writing as Softcult, there was only one mission in mind: to cultivate a community that gets to the root of an issue in order to promote change. Their debut single, ‘Another Bish’, was an indie-pop number that spoke directly about being underappreciated and underestimated as young women in the music industry. Quite simply, Softcult had decided that there was no time to be submissive. 

Having spent their formative years as Courage My Love, after signing to a major label at the age of sixteen, the duo had found themselves trapped in a cycle of neglect and were met with resistance any time they tried to push back. We had a hard time feeling like we were taken seriously in our old band. We felt like we had to jump through a lot of hoops or had to listen to other people’s influence,” Phoenix reveals. “We couldn’t really express our own ideas or our own passions – the things that were important to us. It always felt like there were other people trying to tell us the right way to do something or how to do it better.” 

Since their inception in 2009, Courage My Love went on to release four albums, were tipped as one of the ‘Top 100 Bands You Need To Know’ by Alternative Press and toured over Europe/UK with Halflives and As It Is. Despite these successes, the duo steadily became unhappy with the path they were going down. What originally started as frenetic and confessional pop-punk akin to Alexisonfire and Mayday Parade, eventually transformed into polished synth-pop along the lines of PVRIS and Anavae. 

“We started Courage My Love when we were so young, and we put 10 years into that band so there’s a lot of great memories, but towards the end it was just not a great experience for anybody. We were so burnt out and it had already changed so much from what it was in the beginning that we just fell out of love with it. We’re so passionate about Softcult because we finally feel like we’ve got our voice back,” Mercedes says. “A lot of what this new project is, is just us doing what we want and what we wish we could have done [in Courage My Love],” Phoenix adds, seamlessly finishing the sentence of her twin in that sixth sense kind of way.


We’re so passionate about softcult because we feel like we’ve got our voice back

Softcult

The catalyst for Mercedes and Phoenix having the confidence to separate themselves from their label was a documentary about Kathleen Hanna. Mercedes – who is wearing a Bikini Kill T-shirt as The Forty-Five meets the band over Zoom – says that discovering Kathleen Hannah’s 2013 documentary, The Punk Singer, changed her whole life. There was a “lightbulb moment” in realising that the sexism they’d endured wasn’t actually part and parcel of the industry, and is something they shouldn’t let slide. “We were lucky to have the friends that we did in the music industry, and the bands that took us under their wing, but looking back as an adult, I can safely say that it was a very toxic scene,” she elaborates. “We were naïve and went into it quite unaware. We got taken advantage of, and toughened up as a result.”


We were lucky to have the friends that we did in the music industry but looking back as an adult, I can safely say that it was a very toxic scene.

Softcult

Taking inspiration from the ethos of the Riot Grrrl movement, as well as the “overall attitude of those artists looming large as women in the music industry who were setting a standard for how to be a role model to other women”, Mercedes and Phoenix set about creating an entirely new world in which their antagonistic and educational messages could reside. Infusing their lived experiences with the visceral instrumentation of bands such as Nirvana and Deftones and the dream-pop undertones of My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins – Softcult was born.

Their debut EP ‘Year of the Rat’ discussed the double standards of gender roles and heteronormative pressure (‘Young Forever’), the natural inclination to want to please those around you (‘Take It Off’), and the emotional baggage that follows you when you’re in the chokehold of depression (‘Gloomy Girl’). Despite its poignant messages, the nostalgic shoegaze guitar tone acts almost as a softener to the blow; to ease the listeners gently into understanding Softcult’s modus operandi. But in its artwork, which was created by Mercedes, the message is clear – amongst a sea of rats, be the one who stands out and goes against the grain.

On the other hand, forthcoming EP ‘Year of the Snake’ directly holds a mirror up to the oppressors and abusers. Softcult are baring their teeth. Mercedes’ guitar lines feel more urgent and emotive than ever before, and Phoenix’s production seems to be rooted in intensity. The artwork features a coiled snake that is broken in pieces, and insinuates that they’re trying to break the cycles that we find ourselves in. “Sometimes, dealing with a lot of these issues feels like a cycle. It’s just a maze that you can’t really navigate your way through. The maze is made by past generations and the patriarchy. It’s sort of a formulated thing that we find ourselves in, but we can break those patterns, and we can see outside of the confines of the walls that we’re in,” agrees Mercedes.

With its heavily grunge-influenced sound, ‘Spit It Out’ speaks to rejecting harmful ideologies that we’ve accepted as normal, whilst ‘Gaslight’ and ‘BWBB’ are as on-the-nose as their titles suggest. The latter – standing for Boys Will Be Boys and written as a response to the harmful gender roles that were brought to light during the Sarah Everard case – is a battle cry for women to find their girl gangs and destroy the patriarchy. “It must be nice for you to feel safe when you walk down the street/but if you lay a hand on my sister again you might lose some fucking teeth,” they seethe. If you think they’re pointing fingers, you would be mistaken. By writing candidly on topics that are based around their own experiences, they’re creating awareness and inspiring conversations so that everyone can avoid repeating mistakes.

“Some people might feel attacked based on the subject matter of a song. I don’t think we go into it trying to tiptoe around things because I don’t think it is possible to make your point without pissing someone off or making someone feel defensive. If someone does feel defensive, it’s a great opportunity to ask why?” Mercedes suggests. “We’re not trying to demonise people. We’re trying to make them think, ‘Do I do this in my relationships? Did I realise I was doing it? Once you define what that is and you can self-analyse, you can realise those patterns in your own life and stop doing it.”

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“We’re not trying to demonise people. We’re trying to make them think, ‘Do I do this in my relationship? Did I realise I was doing it?”

Softcult

Softcult are trying to foster a community where everybody can have a voice “no matter what they look like, where they come from, or how they identify”. Mercedes believes that the scene wasn’t inclusive as it could’ve been, and whilst she calls it her “spicy take”, it’s one that sets the foundations for what Softcult truly stands for.

“[Riot Grrrl] was started to make a more inclusive scene; to bring feminist art to punk, but on some level, when there’s a lot of hurt and pain, it’s easy to put walls up and box out certain people from a community because you have certain connotations,” she explains. “We want to make it so that everyone feels as though they’re a part of it. Everyone should be able to call themselves a feminist, no matter who you are… If you’re representing for that community and not going away, no matter how many times people try and put you down, it will make a difference for future generations.”


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