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Soft Tigers - Hello Big Kitty

Author: Tom Spooner
Friday, 19 October 2007
3D’s Tom Spooner talks ideas and being punk with cut n paste indie eclecticists Soft Tigers.

Canberra outfit Soft Tigers are on the prowl - their soon-to-be-released debut album Gospel Ambitions is a taut, intelligent, and funk-filled statement against debauched indie-dance bands everywhere. The album showcases a band unafraid to take a conceptual approach to music, filled with tunes so good that people will have to actually listen to what they have to say.

Formed in 2005, Soft Tigers are made up of close friends Neil, Bucky and Pal. Inspired by a love of the same records, Bucky and Neil got together in 2000 and started to make their own forays into music. Neil recalls that, “when we started with our friends, making music was just like playing computer games; that’s how it originally started but I think Bucky and I particularly wanted to explore songwriting… It went from monkeying around on computers to picking up guitars and writing proper songs and layering lots of different things on there.”

Over the years, Neil, Bucky and Pal, alongside a host of other musicians, experimented with different sounds and set-ups before they finally settled upon the unique dynamic of Soft Tigers. Neil explains that, “this band evolved naturally. We had about three different bands over the years, little projects and things, but this is the one where we said, ‘let’s record an album’.”

Soft Tigers’ long musical journey together and consequent maturation over time has resulted in them realising their high-reaching musical ambitions on debut Gospel Ambitions. “We’re into a lot of different stuff,” says Neil, “I was into electronic house music, like Chicago house. Bucky’s into collecting records and Pal is classically trained and into jazz… We really like to share music between ourselves.”

On Gospel Ambitions, they effortlessly combine their many influences without losing the impact of the ideas so crucial to the band’s ethos. There are elements of art-punk pioneers Devo and the intellectual lyrical panache of Barr in Soft Tigers' sound. There are also lush arrangements, an array of deft samples and old school hip hop funk that add unexpected textures to the album. But to describe the band in terms of comparisons is doing them a disservice, Gospel Ambitions succeeds in being both original and entertaining.

Soft Tigers deliver a breadth of ideas and influences with real vigour; each song is constructed around a traditional structure and then with playful and post-modern guile teased into a new shape that defies the expectations of the listener. “I think we are a conceptual band, which influences our music,” Neil says. “We start with a song and deconstruct it. But at the same time, we don’t want to disappear up our own bums.”

This punk aesthetic and willingness to rebel against the mainstream is Soft Tigers’ greatest asset. “We’re post-punk in approach…we’re an ideas band, not a dance band or anything,” Neil clarifies. “We’re not punk in sound, but our approach to recording is punk. You can be in the Wu Tang Clan and be a punk band.” 

Fortunately, the range of influences and ideas at work on Gospel Ambitions never become muddled or lost in pretentious musings. Soft Tigers want to work with the listener so that each song provides a unique listening experience. “When we were recording the album, we were into the idea of making a headphone album; something you could put on your iPod or whatever and get into a world of sound. We wanted to make something cinematic… for each song we try to create a certain world,” Neil says. 

Gospel Ambitions is also an album closely linked with Sydney, the band’s new home. There are references to biking down Bondi Beach’s backstreets, the Gaslight and Crown Street. Neil explains that, “we wanted to create a genuine document of being somewhere. When we write those types of songs, we want to tie things down to a place.”

The band are clearly inspired by the extreme contrasts that come about from living in a city like Sydney. Neil reminisces; “We were holed up in a really funny recording studio behind the city gym in Darlinghurst about two years ago. I was helping produce the Bumblebeez album and every night we would go in there and there would be junkies in the alley and you could hear people working out next door; that’s where we recorded Mr Icecream, which inspired us to go on and make the rest of the album.”

With the album being so diverse and aimed at an individual listening experience, it was always going to be difficult for Soft Tigers to reproduce it in a live environment. These difficulties were once an issue for the band, but Neil is confident that any initial stumbling blocks have been well and truly overcome.

“Live, we just try and re-imagine each song on the album. It’s like rerecording the album each time,” he says. “We’re also just discovering that we’re not a dance band…  The live music scene in Australia, Sydney in particular, seems to be about bands going out there on a Saturday night when everyone’s pissed and trying to make them dance. We’re trying to get away from that and make it more about listening to the ideas.”

Soft Tigers live are all about celebrating the creative freedom that is evident on Gospel Ambitions, the liberty to try something new and make it work. Neil encapsulates it as, “when you’re playing live, you want to have freedom, and do different things. Otherwise you feel like a robot and you’re not really able to express.” In valuing their ideas over making people dance, Soft Tigers may well kick-start a new musical revolution where intellect and emotion work side by side.

WHO: Soft Tigers
WHAT: Gospel Ambitions out through Below Par/EMI / Play Annandale Hotel / Play Trackside Festival in Canberra
WHEN: Out now / Tuesday 30 October / Saturday 17 November