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Get Lost in the Scrappy Pop Melodicism of Soft Covers

Melbourne trio Soft Covers tangle through sinewy garage pop minimalism with an infectious warmth and nostalgic haze on their long-awaited debut LP Soft Serve. Following the release, we caught up with bassist-vocalist Laura Marsh and guitarist-vocalist James Southey to discuss how the new record came together and how its playful tales expand upon the group's effervescent palette.

One of the biggest surprises of 2023 was the tumultuous earworms and shaggy pop smarts of Melbourne newcomers Soft Covers. Somewhat under the radar since the release of their debut EP Permanent Part Time in 2020, the trio of bassist-vocalist Laura Marsh, guitarist-vocalist James Southey and drummer Daniel Sergiacomi returned last fall with the release of their long-awaited full-length debut Soft Serve (Little Lunch Records and Hidden Bay Records). Recorded by Cam Smith at Incremental Studios in Brisbane, the debut album is deeply rooted in the approach to deceivingly simple pop songs that are ramshackle, rippling, and perfectly catchy. This is a sound that has taken Melbourne by storm the last decade with bands like Terry, The Shifters, and The Stroppies. With jagged treasures like "Every Week," "Coming and Going," and "Same Place," the eleven songs across the debut thickens the trio's exploration to pure pop classicism as both foil for experimentation and conduit for personal reflection. Following the release, we caught up with Marsh and Southey to discuss how the new record came together and how its playful tales expand upon the group's effervescent palette.

What's life been like lately for you? Also how did the recent run of shows go for you? 

Laura Marsh: The shows were great. We played with some of our favorite bands in Melbourne and Brisbane. In non-band news, James and I had a baby in March, so it's been a big year for us. It was nice to hang out like old times, albeit with a much earlier bedtime!

James Southey: It was great to play with old friends and make some new ones. We also had our good friend Maddie [Keinonen] from Renovator's Delight join us on keys for the shows. It was nice to bring our live set in line with the album.  

What's it like having this new album out and were there any challenges during the recording process?

JS: Our previous EP was recorded in a practice room in a day, so it was nice to have a bit more time and pedals on hand. The challenge is always the same, trying to capture on record what's in your head. On the album coming out, the biggest feeling is probably relief! We've been chipping away at this for many, many years, so it's good to finally have it out and about — the response has been gratifying and a little surprising.

LM: Recording was lots of fun, it was my first time in a studio! Cam Smith who runs Incremental Records was very open to trying out different sounds, instrumentation, and was somehow able to interpret my novice way of explaining what I imagined the songs would sound like. He is also, like us, a huge believer in the hand clap. 

How exactly did you all meet and form Soft Covers? Also, were you playing in bands before?

LM: We are lucky to have been friends for a long time before starting Soft Covers. Daniel [Sergiacomi] and James met at university. I am the unofficial official #1 fan of James' other band, Dumb Things. 

JS: Long time friends, first time bandmates! Daniel and I had played in heaps of parallel bands over the years, but for some reason we had never overlapped. When we found ourselves with a spare afternoon and a free practice room, we decided to play through some spare songs I had lying around. That went surprisingly well, so we twisted Laura's arm to join us and the rest is history. 

You released your first tape Permanent Part Time through Little Lunch Records in August 2020. What has the progression been like over the last three years as a trio?

LM: I think we have progressed a lot since that first EP. Personally, I feel my bass playing has come a long way. And then as the words and ideas got better we really wanted to level up again, which is where the keys came in.

JS: For me, the biggest thing has been Laura writing a lot more of the songs. Then obviously, her key parts feel like the missing, secret ingredient. She has such a unique approach, writing these very personal, almost concept songs.

Going back to the new album, talk to me about how it all came together. 

LM: James and I moved to Sydney in 2019 and started writing some songs at home. From there we would make rough demos with drum tracks and send them to Daniel who lives in Brisbane. It was definitely a lengthy process, with a big Covid-shaped hole in the middle. But it gave us the time to write new songs and re-write the old ones.

JS: I think we did almost three different versions of the album before we finally recorded it. Is there a theme or thread lyrically that links these songs?

LM: It's probably a lockdown album. Not literally, but I think it's pretty nostalgic, references to lost time and the past.

JS: It's not consciously a lockdown album. It's quite personal, a lot of the songs are based on stories about our friends, our family, going to work, and then there's two songs that are just about characters from our favorite films. 

What's your preferred way to write a song?

JS: I usually start with a phrase or an interesting combination of words, then try to get a melody working on guitar and go from there. Laura does this thing where she comes up with an idea for a song, then sits down at the keyboard and half an hour later a finished song emerges. It can get annoying, I have to chip away at mine for months!

LM: I like to hear it all at once in my head, the words and music together. Usually that first line will reveal what the song is about and I go on from there with a specific story in mind.

What is one of your favorite moments on the new record? Can you give us a little insight into it?

LM: There is a bass synth line in "Coming and Going" that I love. Cam suggested it, we are so lucky he did. There is also a wonky Mellotron guitar pedal in "The Real Housewives of Porpoise Spit" which I think is beautiful. And all the handclaps.

JS: The snake-charmer synth in the second verse of "Every Week" is one of my favorite parts. It was one of the last parts we added to the record. 

One of my favorite tracks is "Coming and Going." Can you tell me how that one came together? Sounds a bit like the early pop sounds of The Chills and Pastels which I really dig.

JS: I had the guitar part and that first lyric for a long time, but could never work out how to finish it. I brought it to Laura and she added the keys and the bridge bit. The Chills are one of our favorites, so while it wasn't overly conscious, their influence runs pretty deep through most of my songs. 

LM: When I was trying to come up with a keyboard line I was mildly obsessed with The Cars and trying to make the cheapest kids' Casio sound like a proper synth. 

Another one of my favorites is "Every Week" which was one of the first singles. How exactly did this one come about? 

JS: That was one of the last songs we wrote for the album. It was one of the only songs of mine that came together easily. It was me reminiscing about life in Sydney, we always seemed to have parakeets flying by and had a pretty nice view of a McDonalds sign from our apartment.

Really keen on the artwork for the album and the singles! Who designs those and how do you think they match the songs? 

JS: Laura does all our artwork. I think they match the vibe nicely, charming, but a little scruffy!

LM: The album title came early, so we were pretty locked into the ice cream motif. The biggest challenge was trying to think of something I could actually paint! I am really chuffed with how it came out, it looks so cool on the record.

What's the rest of the year look like for Soft Covers? 

JS: Hopefully a few shows, a little rest and relaxation, then we'll dust off the cobwebs and start working on LP #2

LM: Hopefully some new songs are on the cards!

What have you been listening to a lot lately? Who are some bands people should check out within the Melbourne scene? 

LM: Renovator's Delight's album Bark All Night is always on rotation. We caught The Toads a while ago, they were excellent, as well as Parsnip. My music listening habits have definitely changed since having a baby. He seems to enjoy The Beatles and Talking Heads, something to do with the melodies and funky instrumentation (I think). And, of course, The Wiggles. 

JS: I've had R.M.F.C.'s new album on repeat. As for Melbourne bands, there's some great outfits getting around. Think About You, who played our album launch, put out a lovely, disheveled album last year. Gavin! are another band we played with who have put out some great songs. The Small Intestines new album Hide In Time was one of my favorites from last year. Dipper's Clastic Rock and Hot Coppers' self-titled album were also some recent highlights. 

Soft Serve is out now on Little Lunch Records and Hidden Bay Records.


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