Softcult Are Drawn To The Gothic Spectrum Of Grunge

Softcult tour Australia March 2024 as part of inaugural New Bloom Fest.
David James Young is a music writer and podcaster, working in Wollongong on Dharawal land.

If you're a creative, there's a good chance you've had to have 'the talk' with your parents.

No, not the one about the birds and the bees – the one where you break it to them that you're going to actively pursue your creative field, potentially in lieu of further academia or more stable employment. It's a common trait, but there are rare exceptions.

Case in point, the Arn-Horn twins. The two siblings, who make up Canadian alternative rock outfit Softcult, have counted themselves lucky to have always had supportive parents in their corner ever since they were kids.

"I think they were very open to the concept that not everyone has the same path," Mercedes Arn-Horn says – the singing, guitar-playing half of Softcult. "If you're drawn to something, then you should follow that inspiration.

"Despite not being musicians themselves, they were very happy to put us in music classes and art classes and stuff like that. I think they were actually pretty stoked that we ended up going this route – they maybe thought we would end up as classical concert pianist or something boring like that."

Mercedes and her sibling Phoenix formed their first band, Courage My Love, at the age of 16. Several EPs, two albums and extensive touring of their native Canada ensued.

However, to borrow a biblical phrase, the Arn-Horns put away childish things in 2020 and ended the band at the ripe old age of 26. Softcult followed quickly thereafter, and the duo have effectively been non-stop in their output ever since.

Their first EP 'Year Of The Rat' arrived in April 2021, its follow-up 'Year Of The Snake' followed in February 2022, before their third EP 'See You In The Dark' dropped in March 2023. . . and you'll never guess what the duo have planned for the first quarter of 2024. "We're always in the middle of something," Mercedes says.

"I think it's because we started writing for Softcult originally in the pandemic, when everybody was just at home. We had nothing but time to work on music, and it was a great way to survive that time.

"Because we've been touring and actually getting these projects out into the world, any downtime we have at home now is pretty much spent in the studio. We have a new EP coming out, that's already done, but we're starting on music for the release that's after that."

While the sound of Courage My Love was largely indebted to the pop-punk of the time, Softcult goes both deeper and darker sonically.

A blend of grunge, shoegaze, alternative rock and indie – all with its own gothic tinge – has made the project one that constantly shifts in sound and scope. One minute, they're layering harmonies and guitars on the dissonant, ghostly jangle of 'Gaslight'; the next, they're covering Nirvana.

When queried on the nature of Softcult's sound, however, the frontwoman reasons it's all natural to both her and Phoenix. "We don't really sit down and talk about it all that much," she says.

"It all comes about very organically, and I find that really rewarding. The growth you see across these EPs is a lot more gradual, as opposed to waiting three years between album releases – which is sort of crazy to think about now, but was the norm for so long. The progression you're hearing in the songs we wrote five months after the last songs. . . that's more natural to us.

"Sometimes, as an artist, it can feel like you need to ask permission of yourself to go to weird places. You're scared to, in a way. That's when you need to push yourself, and make what you're doing a little riskier."

The next adventure for the Arn-Horns will be hopping a plane from Toronto to Australia, where they will perform next month as part of the boutique emo mini-festival New Bloom Fest. They, along with Fleshwater, are the debutantes of the festival; each playing locally for the first time.

For Mercedes, it's a literal dream come true. "Coming to Australia has always been a bucket list thing," she says. "The line-up is so good, and to be invited to play alongside all these bands we genuinely love and have in high rotation is just about the coolest thing."

New Bloom Fest 2024 Tour Dates

Fri 15 Mar - The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane)
Sat 16 Mar - Roundhouse (Sydney)
Sun 17 Mar - Melbourne Pavilion

New Bloom Fest 2024 Line-up

Touche Amore
No Pressure

Brisbane Only

Eat Your Heart Out
Bad Neighbour

Sydney Only

No Brainer
Peace Ritual

Melbourne Only

Born Free
Better Half
Post Heaven

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