Mercedes Arn-Horn on making Softcult sound better with loud amps on stage

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Mercedes Arn-Horn on making Softcult sound better with loud amps on stage

Softcult 2
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Mercedes Arn-Horn is one half of grungey, shoegazey outfit Softcult.


Softcult will be landing in the country in a matter of days to play New Bloom Fest up and down the east coast of Australia on the weekend of March 15-17.

More often than not with a Jazzmaster strung across her shoulder, Mercedes sings and plays guitar, while her twin sister Phoenix is bashing away on the drums at the back of the stage. Live, they’re supported by friends Phil and Brent.

Mercedes Arn-Horn

“We actually do have a full band live. Phoenix and I, we do write and record everything ourselves and do everything in the studio ourselves, but we wanted that live atmosphere.”

“There’s a lot of guitar layers and stuff going on, so we needed more live members. The sound has really evolved actually since getting to jam with them, like the live versions of the songs are kinda different from the record.”

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We love to hear it! I agree here, saying that a lot of bands opt to use tracks or backing sound, which is fine, but Softcult’s dedication to making it work live is admirable.

“I didn’t wanna go that route. It’s not that I’m a gatekeeper with tracks and stuff, I understand.” she begins. “But I just feel that the atmosphere we want to create is a really ambient atmosphere and it’s not a ‘canned sound’ on stage.”

“It sounds better with loud amps on stage and an ambience. [With] the live arrangements, we still play the songs, we just take more liberties with making certain sections longer so we can jam and we’re almost in a trance with it?”

Mercedes goes on to explain that even though Brent and Phil don’t write in Softcult, they’re good enough musicians that live is where they get to shine. In her words, they get to put some of their sauce onto the songs.

“It’s a cool chemistry on stage.” she smiles.

Mercedes acknowledges that riding the line between a truly unique show and a choreographed performance is tough, explaining that Softcult with often trying something live and having it work out, and wanting to do it again the next night. Softcult don’t want a script on stage, or choreography.

We pivot here to writing for the live show, and I ask whether Mercedes has the band in mind while arranging and writing.

“In the beginning, we weren’t thinking about live because we started this band in lockdown,” she starts. “So there was no live music. We actually didn’t play our first show until we had already released two EPs.”

“But since getting the chance to tour and play more shows, it has affected the way I write because I noticed that those moments in the set where it gets more jammy, those interludes, the vibier parts… I notice that the audience gets really into it. We all get on this frequency.”

“A lot of the newer songs we’re writing now, I keep that in mind and write parts that are groovy and will come off well.”

I agree, saying it can be easy to overindulge an arrangement when working at home on a laptop, but live you appreciate the feel of a simple riff over a simple drumbeat. It’s more fun.

“Yeah! Like we were saying before, you can play off your bandmates. I like parts of guitar and bass with a lot of moving parts. They’re all doing something different but they fit together like a little puzzle.”

I press the songwriting process for Softcult here, asking whether they’re jamming in a room or it’s a back and forth email exchange between the twins.

“Phoenix and I write together a lot. We live really close to each other, we used to live together. We were writing every day.”

“Sometimes, now that we don’t live together, we’ll write on our own and bring each other the start of an idea. But it’s never finished until we both work on it.”

Mercedes shifts here, explaining that it’s really tough to get an idea across a digital medium, i.e. sending ideas via email, and she much prefers to write with her sister in a collaborative effort.

“I’m not the most technically-savvy [person],” Mercedes says with a grin. “Phoenix is the producer of the band and we’ll record in our home studio. Phoenix is honestly the one that brings the ideas to life in the studio.” she explains. “It’s a lot more productive for us to work on things together, and she can take an idea of mine and run with it.”

So it’s a very collaborative affair, but what is it like working with a twin? Someone you’ve spent your entire life with?

“I’ve actually never known anything else, I don’t know.” she laughs. “Being twins, we have a unique connection that is hard to describe. We’re generally on the same page, especially creatively, that’s where we communicate—through music in a lot of ways.”

“I think it can be a little daunting when other people try to work with us, and that’s why we almost exclusively like writing with just the two of us.”

“It’s not for lack of wanting to collaborate, but Phoenix and I are so in sync on stuff, it’s difficult to get that with someone else.”

Mercedes goes on to explain that because they’re siblings, there’s a lot of trust, but there’s not a lot of worry of hurting the other person’s feelings. “We can be kinda blunt, and honest, and it’s not gonna affect our relationship.”

New Bloom festival

With New Bloom just around the corner, how does the equipment Mercedes uses live compare to the studio?

“So my pedalboard is the same, I kinda have two pedalboards and swap out different pedals for the kinda sounds we want. We try to do most things very analogue, as much as we can even being in a home studio.”

“The only real difference is we don’t mic things, we don’t have a good live room, we just use an Apollo Twin, and I can put my board directly into the interface and that’s directly into the DAW. It’s really easy, we still get that sound, we’re using the same effects and pedals live, it’s just without a cab!” she explains.

We pause for a moment to laugh about how far digital guitar sounds have come, Mercedes referencing old GarageBand guitar sounds and I mention the Line 6 POD series.

Speaking of guitar sounds, I shift here and ask Mercedes if there’s any pieces of equipment she’s always using.

“I love Jazzmasters. I’m using a [Fender American] Professional II, and I use a lot of different pedals but right now on my board, the ones that never leave my board, I have a lot of Walrus Audio and Earthquaker. So my go-to, always there pedals are the Slow Reverb by Walrus, the Juliana Chorus, the Ages overdrive, those three are always there. And then I use the Hizumitas Triangle fuzz, one of my favourite pedals of all time.”

“It [the Hizumitas] cuts through, like in a chorus or something.” Mercedes says, swishing with her hand like a sword. “Sound guys hate me because it’s so loud, but…” she laughs.

“That’s fine!” I agree.

“Oh and another weird one, I have the Boss Multi-Overtone, it’s an MO-2 pedal. And it can give you a high octave, but you know some octaver pedals can get glitchy? This one just makes the overtones a high octaves, so you can play it on like shoegaze-y choruses. It’s sick, you should check it out!”

Mercedes goes on to say it’s almost embarrassing how many Earthquaker pedals she has, and I mention my penchant for the Afterneath; an octave reverb thing.

“Yeah! I do have that one, it’s not on my live board right now but I’ve recorded with it.”

Mercedes closes by saying that Softcult have an EP in the bank, with a few singles already out now and a few more to come. They’re touring heavily for the remainder of the year, including stops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. After all that they’ll take time to focus on writing and recording a full-length album.

“Even when we have new stuff on the horizon, whenever we’re home we try to get as much writing in as new can, to keep moving things forward.”

Softcult appear with Citizen, Movements, Touch Amore and more at New Bloom Festival, on Friday 15th March at Brisabane’s Fortitude Music Hall, Saturday 16th March at Sydney’s Roundhouse and on Sunday 17th March at the Melbourne Pavilion, Melbourne. Tickets and more info can be found here.