Katie Haley and Ross Levine of Soft Science have seen a lot of flux in the Sacramento music scene, but both are here to stay
Once upon a time in the early ‘90s, Ross Levine and Katie Haley were two record store clerks at The Beat, where they bonded over Buddy Holly and Lush albums. They played shows with their respectable indie bands at the Cattle Club and Malarkies in a time when, “There was indie and punk, and then there were the Deftones.” In proper Sacramento fashion, they even jammed together in their own group, California Oranges.
Almost two decades later, Levine and Haley, along with Ross’ twin brother Matt Levine and Mason DeMusey, joined forces to become the indie/shoegaze/pop group Soft Science. The members come from backgrounds of indie, punk and pop.
A lot has changed since those two Beat record store clerks last performed. The Beat is a depressing, stripped-down carcass of what it once was, music venues have come and gone and this town is known for much more than the Deftones.
“There are so many changes in the music landscape here,” said Haley, “but that’s not a bad thing at all.”
This year, Soft Science is releasing Detour. An album that almost instantaneously reminds me of The Breeders, a hard edge with a Surferosa mellowness. It has tendencies of dark moodiness, and undeniable pop undertones that say, “Well, this is kind of sad, but we will just dance it off.”
“Lyrically, the album explores the fragility of everyday life, drawing on some very personal experiences in the band members’ lives during the new piece’s gestation,” reads the band’s bio. All members started families and new jobs, and had highs and lows. While writing the album, Haley gave birth to twin girls 28 weeks early. She would visit them in the hospital every night for five months in the NICU. Soft Science and creating music brought her much-needed solace in the darkest time of her life when there were no guarantees. The album was completed with a “Painstaking labor of love,” where core-pop sensibilities were used to evoke dark emotions that can be felt through Haley’s indie vet vocals.
Detour was self-recorded and engineered and produced by Ross Levine. The group recruited the help of Hans Munz to add texture and depth to the songs using his electro-minded skillsets. To weave it all together, they sent the tracks to engineer Eric Stenmen (AWOLNATION, Tokyo Police Club), who mixed and mastered the record at Redbull Studios in Los Angeles, according to Test Pattern’s (the band’s label) website. Tyler Kinney, who also directed music videos for Arts and Leisure, helped the band create the video for “Feel,” which offers a psychedelic impression, and is visually reminiscent of watching a fuzzy screened wood box television with rays of electric color.
“I’ve been in many awesome bands that I am so proud of,” said Haley, “but I can honestly say that I’ve never been happier with this group. It was like we have been friends forever just to come together at this point and create. I feel like all of the visions we had are finally coming to life.”
Detour perfectly describes the art direction and progress of Soft Science’s new album. “There were so many changes both in the art and personally for all of us,” said Haley. “It all really helped pull everything together into what is now the final product. Having children and living a life while progressing in age only helped to make it more real. We were just stoked that it was lyrically and sonically everything we could’ve hoped for.”
The album took years to finish, “But there was no doubt we would finish,” said Ross, “We have this obsessive nature to keep creating.”
The band hoped to create pop songs in a more indirect way. They wanted to separate Soft Science from past musical endeavors like California Oranges. The point was to hit the pop notes in a more indirect and artistic way.
With the completion of the album, the band is preparing to perform once again.
Surely, with the closure of beloved music venues and harsh entertainment regulations, it would seem that trying to play music for an audience is more difficult than ever. “People are way more creative now. You have house shows and all-ages venues like Luigi’s that we didn’t before. You have vast genres and people willing to support them,” said Levine.
Haley added, “You have people dedicated and fighting for their art. What I love about this new generation is that many of these artists are homegrown. They can truly say they are from Sacramento and that makes them participate in its growth and sustainability.”
“It’s sad and nostalgic at the same time to see things like The Beat go,” said Levine. “But like lots of other things, it’s a sign of the times.”
“To be honest, it was a miracle The Beat lasted as long as it did,” added Haley, “It’s just hard to get people to buy stuff, especially art.”
Ross said the old Cattle Club is where he frequented shows in the ‘90s and says after that closed, he went to the Distillery and Old Ironsides. “Of course when [venues close], it’s devastating. It’s so important to offer a platform for musicians and a place for an audience to take it all in. It’s so hard to sustain, and so much respect goes out to all of the people who work to keep it alive,” he said. The band noted Luigi’s Fungarden and Bows and Arrows as prime examples of dependable all-ages venues that were exactly what the city has needed for years and years.
Being on the music scene for decades, Ross and Haley agree, “Music is a passion that people don’t have to stop.” Having seen the vast changes in Midtown with people, bands and venues, Haley says, “There is a lot more room for participation and acceptance. People will always fight for their desires to create no matter what tries to get them down.”
Soft Science will be having their record release party at Luigi’s Fungarden on Feb. 15, 2014. Desario and Celestions will also perform. The all-ages show is just $6 and should start at 8 p.m. For more on Soft Science, go to Facebook.com/softsciencemusic.