BY SAMANTHA MULLETT
The Soft White Sixties have cut their teeth on San Francisco. Capturing the culture embedded into the city’s musical history while carving out their straightforward groove, the four-man band is buzzing under the radar. After assembling in 2008 and breaking out at Outside Lands’ Main Stage this past fall, the rock-pop group has perfected their R&B flavor with a pinch of soul.
The Soft White Sixties have their debut album ready to launch March 4th, produced by Jim Greer (the wizard behind Foster the People’s Torches). The highly anticipated record is supported by an upcoming show at The Chapel and a second trip to SXSW. We were fortunate enough to snatch Octavio Genera, the band’s lead vocalist, to chat about Chile Con Carne and the group’s artistic pulse.
The name of The Soft White Sixties pays tribute to lightbulbs and possibly other connotations – how’d you come up with this?
We were bouncing around some names when we first started out and we kept getting one, then we’d look it up – someone had it – couldn’t use that. We just kept on trying different names and it got down to ya know, “okay we have a show coming up; show coming up; show coming up!” Then a friend of someone in the band suggested The Soft White Sixties and I just started cracking up. I just liked it for some reason, it was so random. I wanted something that was a blank slate. Now it’s funny because I didn’t even think of the 60’s connotation. It was interesting cause I just thought oh light bulb- it works. It worked out, we’ve grown into it more and more.
What music has had the largest influence on you?
Ah me personally – I’d say a few soul singers. People like James Brown, Bobby Womack, Donny Hathaway, and then songwriting people like John Fogerty and Tom Petty. I’d say kind of a blend of those two different styles.
What about the band?
The band is pretty broad. Everyone in the band kinda listens to different styles of music. As far as what we’re into collectively – we’re really into R&B, for me I kind of pull vocally from R&B influences. Songwise we like to pull from T. Rex or Queens of the Stone Age – groups with a heavier guitar to it.
Has the Bay Area influenced your music at all?
Oh yeah, for sure. I grew up 80 miles from the city and went to school at UC Davis. I started playing music there and then I knew if I wanted to do music more – and just in a better way – I had to come to San Francisco. I mean SF has had a BIG history, especially since the 60’s. It’s a big influence, I think the city itself is very inspirational. It’s really diverse, it’s really pretty but at the same time it has grit to it. As far as venues go, there’s places like The Great American where you go in, and you know how many people have played there. It’s cool to have that in your backyard.
Definitely, you can almost feel the history behind everything.
Yeah yeah! I mean especially places like the Great American. You can just feel it right when you walk in.
You and the band formed locally, what have you learned in the last 5-6 years as you’ve grown?
The main thing, even from the start, is just don’t stop. We’re constantly writing, trying to play live, and trying to record. We’re not doing just one at a time. As soon as we had five songs we were playing live shows. I know some bands wait before a record but we started playing before we had a recording, before we had a record or anything.
We haven’t stopped since – one weekend we played 4 shows in San Francisco. We just play everywhere we can. Ya know someone has an art opening – alright we’ll play there. A band dropped off at a local bar – okay we’ll play there. Someone’s having a party – we’re there.
You guys have opened for the Hives at the Fillmore, Gaslight Anthem at the Fox, and even scored the Main Stage during Outside Lands. What makes a performance stand out?
It’s the whole thing all together. The Fillmore has that history. Everyone in the band has seen shows there but to actually play there is something else. The stage is cool, the crowd is great, and you just know how many huge bands have come through that place.
Outside Lands came as a surprise. We tried the year before and didn’t get it. Then we did but we didn’t know where we’d be playing. Finally we got a call saying that we’re on the main stage, and that was awesome to hear. It was a thrill just looking at the bands on the bill – the day before us Paul McCartney was on our same stage. The night we played the Red Hot Chili Peppers were there. It’s cool just to be apart of that. That was the biggest crowd I’ve ever stared at while playing a show.
Which song do you look forward to performing the most?
Ahhhhh, good question. I always look forward to playing “Better Way” because it’s a slower song and it’s got a lot of space in it, it’s from our EP. It breaks up our set a little bit and it’s a cool song for me to sing vocally. “Don’t Lie to Me” has great energy, it’s off the new record. The songs we dread playing, we’ve phased those out of our set haha.
Your full length album, Get Right, is set to debut March 4th – what sound can we expect from it?
There’s a good energy to it. The songs are written well, I like the overall feeling. We have songs that are energetic and songs that are slower. Some of the songs were ones we’ve had a year and a half, some were written right before. It’s really complete, song-wise and energy-wise.
Are there any themes on the record that derive from real-life occurrences or events?
Yeah, looking back I’d say a lot of it was relationships, whether it was mine or observations. Growing up I was influenced by soul music and R&B; those themes have always rung really true with me. Depending on where you are in your relationship or life, those songs can take on more meaning or lose meaning as time goes on.
I’ve always liked that – where a song doesn’t apply and then something happens and you listen to it again, and the song takes on a whole nother life because you finally identify with it. Common things people go through, you know – ups and downs. Times of elation where things are going perfectly well, and other times where things aren’t going well and you question, “what’s going to happen next?”
What would you do if you weren’t in the music industry?
Hah! If I wasn’t in music… I really like cooking. I know that’s hard as hell, that’s a hard ass job. But at the same time it has the same hours as being in a band as well. You work when people on are vacation, you work nights and weekends.
Any signature dishes?
I really like making Chile Con Carne. It’s a dish that I learned from my Grandma and Mom. I think that’s a big thing with me and cooking. It’s important to me, a lot of history with my family and stuff.
Well, we’re stoked to see you at the Chapel coming up, any last comments?
We’re so excited for that show! That’s our next show in the city since Outside Lands. We’re excited about Noise Pop, excited about the whole bill. And the Chapel – we’ve never played there but I feel like it’ll be the next staple of San Francisco. I love the area that it’s in. It’s in the Mission, right in the heart of foot traffic and it’s a cool area where I’ve always gone out anyways.
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