Not to paraphrase Monty Python (we’ll leave that to boring people at parties the world over), but what exactly did the Sixties ever do for us? Baby boomer music critics and one-time rock icons will collectively scurry to tell us that it was the single greatest period in all of human history, but did the rest of us really miss out on that much? There seems to be an overhanging cultural consensus: that anyone born after 1970 missed the party in the private treehouse club.
Yet … one can’t deny that the Sixties had something. An oomph. A verve. A kick-out-the-jams aesthetic that the decade has come to define as its own, no matter how wet and wild pop culture has become in the ensuing years. That’s why the Soft White Sixties are so perfectly named.
It would be misleading to label this San Francisco four-piece a ‘retro act’. While their storming, groove-laden R&B does channel many musical elements that evoke a knee-jerk association with the Sixties, it’s more about the attitude of that decade than anything else. That whole ‘we’ve got guitars and anything is possible, so fuck you and dance’ feel.
And is there anything the modern era needs more than that?
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Just as their sound is purpose-designed to cut right down the line and stimulate your dance glands, there’s a similar no-nonsense story behind the get-together of these four young gunslingers (Octavio Genera on vocals, Joey Bustos on drums, Ryan Noble on bass and vocals and Aaron Eisenberg on guitar and keys). “Octavio met Joey at an afterparty in the Haight,” they recall. “Joey called up Ryan, and they found Aaron at a show.” A simple, straightforward start back in 2008 – and due to their remarkable sound, their rise to success has proven to be just as linear too …
… but more on that later. Let’s get back to the maternity ward for a second; strap on our scrubs and see what made this band tick in the first place. Firstly, where did that name come from? “There was actually a soft white 60 (light bulb) in the band room,” Ocatavio explained to Paul Freeman at the Mercury News. “I really liked the idea, because I didn’t want to be too serious about it. I’m a firm believer that a band makes the name and not the name makes the band. So we went with it.” And their sound? “We just started out trying to write music that we would enjoy listening to,” he continues. “Over time, it’s become more focused. We concentrate on rock ‘n’ roll with more of an R&B feeling. We really like the groove of that, the melodies of soul music. But we like the energy and looseness of rock ‘n’ roll, as well.”
They’re more comfortable discussing their contemporaries than specific influences – indeed, harkening back to that notion of the Sixties being an entity in itself, they list their stylistic forbearers as simply “60’s RnB, 70’s rock ‘n’ roll … wear it a lot, wash it a little.” When pushed, though, they’ll kick ass and take some names: “in the interest of those readers that like hearing bands talk about other bands, some of the bands we admire are Wilco, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dr. Dog, the Dap Kings, the Black Keys, Delta Spirit, and the Raconteurs.”
This is not to neglect another primary influence – the swirling, esoteric musical heritage of San Francisco itself. “For one thing, the situations or experiences we sing about have happened here in the bay,” Octavio mused to Michelle Broder Van Dyke at the San Francisco Chronicle. “Perhaps more importantly, we have played the majority of our shows here. The Bay Area – and San Francisco in particular – is where we have cut our teeth as a band.”
The thing is – a lot of people were paying attention while they cut those teeth …
The Soft White Sixties have worked hard since their inception. It’s certainly been a learning process. “As we have become closer friends and play together more, our sound has become more groove-oriented and tighter overall,” they explain. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We each bring unique qualities that contribute to the success of the band.”
At the same time, however, it’s been a baptism of fire. Actually, scratch that – it’s been a full-on christening with a flamethrower. Even before they had officially released anything (bar a demo tape and rare – future collector’s item, we’ll wager – vinyl cut) the band had been building the kind of slavish live fanbase usually reserved for those acts who are three albums deep into their careers.
They blasted their way through sold-out shows at The Bay Area’s best-known venues such as Cafe du Nord, Bottom of the Hill, The Rickshaw Stop, The New Parish, The Independent, and The Great American Music Hall. The crowd lapped them up at music festivals, gawked at their rockstar readiness via prime-time TV appearances and followed them around a whirlwind West Coast Tour from Seattle to LA. A major SF radio station labeled them one of the ten best bands in the Bay Area. Feedback was, as ever, glowing. “There wasn’t a dull moment within their set,” enthused The Owl. “The band won over the moderately amused and turned them into full-fledged fist pumpers.” Oh – and did we mention this was before they had actually released anything? We did. Cool.
A release did come eventually, by the way. 2011 saw their much-awaited debut EP – the self-titled ‘The Soft White Sixties’ – hit the shelves. Containing studio versions of the huge-sounding rockers they’d previously debuted to live crowds: tunes like ‘Better Way’ and ‘Queen Of The Press Club’, which, as startling mission statements from a relatively new band, can surely nestle alongside a ‘This Charming Man’ or a ‘Psycho Killer’. Seriously. They’re that good.
Aaaaaand so to 2013. The boys have finally put together their first full-length effort, ‘Get Right’. It’s the culimination of everything they’ve worked hard for so far … and describing it would be a futile effort when we could just present you with a couple of tracks (live, as the guitar gods intended) from the beast itself.
This is one of the most thrilling things about being a Soft White Sixties fan right now: you’re getting in on the ground floor. Lots and lots of newcomers are going to start hopping on that elevator in a couple of floors, but you can stake your claim to owning that place. You called it first, and it was a very, very, very good call.
The band would back you up on this. While they’re in no way arrogant or complacent, they also realize that false modesty is for suckers. Why lower your expectations when you’re reaching for the stars? While they may not have achieved their dream gig of “opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Fillmore, or opening for David Bowie on a moon base”, they have plenty of defining moments under their collective belt so far. “We all agree that our show at the Great American Music Hall back in January was one of the highlights thus far,” they recall, “as well as the release of our first record at the Rickshaw in April 2011”.
And let’s not forget their BAMM performances, both in-house and at our now-legendary 2011 SXSW showcase sets. We can’t get enough of these guys, and – in a happy turn of events – it seems that they’re big fans of us too. “BAMM.tv is awesome,” they enthuse. “We had a great time playing at their showcase at SXSW ’11, as well as in their SF studio. Everyone there is kind and devoted to doing great video work and creating a unique atmosphere for their presentations. BAMM is on the cusp of the future of music webcasting and broadcasting.”
So. Have you boarded that elevator yet? The door is open.
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