Softcult: “We feel a responsibility – almost a desperation – to change things before our time is over”

From hard-hitting lyrics to their very own zine addressing important topics, Softcult have already started making an impact. And as sisters Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn continue building momentum, soon there will be no stopping them…

Softcult: “We feel a responsibility – almost a desperation – to change things before our time is over”
Eloise Bulmer

How do you build a community when everyone is so far apart? That’s the all-important question that Softcult – made up of sisters Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn – found themselves asking when they began sharing their self-described ‘grunge shoegaze dreampop indie’ with the world last year. “It’s a really weird thing to have never really played [live], but then still feel connected to a fanbase,” begins Mercedes, reflecting on the tight-knit kinship they’ve already managed to naturally construct so far with listeners.

The band had made their intentions clear when they released their debut single, Another Bish, in January 2021 (‘I won’t sit, I won’t stay, roll over, obey’). With a message people could sadly relate to, Softcult’s ethos of addressing important topics while empowering their fans was evident from the off. “Day in, day out, when you’re interacting with misogyny and getting used to living in a very sexist world, it can wear down on you,” Mercedes sighs. “It’s turning something bad into something good, I guess.”

Dig even deeper and you’ll find that this goodness extends to more than just Softcult’s music. Mercedes and Phoenix are determined to protect and uplift the new generation – whether that’s those who are struggling with their identity or relationships, or women in the music industry in general. “Even if we haven’t met, we feel connected by this common cause,” nods Mercedes.

On that latter point, having previously played together in pop-rock outfit Courage My Love, the sisters are no strangers to the complicated politics of the music industry. While in previous projects they may have erred on the side of people-pleasing, though, this time they’re here to speak out. In turn, it’s empowered their fans: from joining in the discussion themselves, or having the courage to speak up about other issues. “When we started writing for this project there were moments when we were like, ‘Ah we can’t say that…’ and then it’s like, ‘Yes, you can!’” says Phoenix proudly.

No topic is too difficult or personal for the duo, either. With songs about gaslighting in relationships (Gaslight) and male privilege (BWBB), they’re ready to be heard, and it couldn’t come at a better time as alternative music makes more space for new and varied voices. “Taking this stance and raising awareness, using our platform to be that voice, was just way more fulfilling for us,” affirms Mercedes.

Their conversation also extends to a monthly Softcult zine entitled SCripture, which includes submissions from fans as well as pieces by the band (the latest edition explores LGBT rights, including info on the Don’t Say Gay bill and the Texas Heartbeat Act). “Some of [the submissions] have been really personal and really heavy… we find that really inspiring,” says Mercedes. “A really powerful part of this project that I’m proud of is being able to have those conversations and have this common ground where we stand in solidarity together. It’s really cool to see how artistic and creative, introspective and powerful the people that are listening to our music are.”

Put simply, it makes for an all-encompassing experience that extends both ways. “We’ve been daydreaming about what it would be like to take these songs on the road and bring our zines, too, and try to reboot feminist art, zine culture within the scene and everything,” enthuses Mercedes. “We’re hoping more people will come and submit stuff-” she adds, before Phoenix cuts in: “-or start their own zine!”

On a musical front, things are growing in equally interesting ways. Spinning webs of distorted guitars and vocals, Softcult are big on tones and pedals in a way they couldn’t embrace previously. “We were being told, ‘Guitar doesn’t make it on the radio,’” frowns Mercedes, thinking back to their previous band. “It’s almost self-indulgent now,” grins Phoenix of their present-day situation. “It’s like, ‘Let’s add more guitars!’” As a result, the pair are totally in their element now, experimenting freely without being told what to do, or what will sell.

And, looking ahead, things are only getting more interesting. “With every release, we get a little more comfortable in our creativity, and we get less afraid to be weird,” Mercedes smiles. “We’re unlearning this pop writer mentality of, ‘You have to write a radio single!’ That’s not what Softcult is about.”

This release of pent-up energy is also evident in their move towards shoegaze and grunge, with even heavier sounds on the way, too (“We’re experimenting with some more industrial vibes…”). These new soundscapes seamlessly complement Softcult’s lyrics, lending an edge to their words while still giving people something to sing along to. But, crucially, that message will always be leading the way. “We do feel a responsibility – almost a desperation – to change things before our time is over,” shares Mercedes, while Phoenix adds: “It’s our time to take the torch and hopefully make things better for the generation after us.”

Ultimately, whatever Softcult turn their hand to, you can be certain that it’s exactly how they want it.

“We’re just authentically ourselves,” concludes Mercedes. “That’s such a big part of what Softcult is. We’re really just trying to promote that, and empower the people that listen to our music.”

Softcult tour the UK in May – including a stop at The Great Escape.

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