softcult AP&R
[Photo courtesy: Softcult]

Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn are the yin and yang to one another—and it has absolutely nothing to do with their coincidentally dark and light hair colors.

The twins credit a creative “synergy” while working in tandem and have forged their own musical journey reminiscent of their influences, but with a more confident and optimistic perspective in relation to their output and creativity. Of course, as all siblings do, the pair will “fight every once in a while,” according to Phoenix. However, Mercedes coolly explains that she thinks it’s “part of our process.”

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Finding inspiration in artists such as Kurt Cobain, who passed away the year the twins were born, Mercedes and Phoenix fuel their production elements, music videos and writing process from their love for ’90s style and a DIY attitude.

Previously creating and releasing music with their band Courage My Love, which the pair formed when they were approximately 14 years old and inked a record deal before they had even hit their 18th birthday, Softcult are a 180 departure from the former indie-pop trio. The duo toe the blurred line between grunge, rock and alternative lo-fi.

On their latest release “Spit It Out,” the pair craft misty grunge, oscillating between breathy, honest verses with punchy chorus lines and brain-melting instrumentals. The accompanying visual sees the pair playing in a dark room interspersed with scenes of what appears to be a cult meeting. From there, things spin out of control as a blonde woman who stands out from the others in the group sips from a chalice and immediately chokes up a dark substance.

Mercedes shared in a tweet that “Spit It Out” marks a new era for the band. The evocative and mysterious music video was made possible with help from Iced Out Visuals and Courage My Love‘s Brandon Lockwood.

Now, quarantined together for more than a year in their Kitchener, Ontario, home in Canada, at the heart of everything Mercedes and Phoenix are creating through Softcult, they want nothing more than their fans to feel empowered by their music.

What was it that originally drew you to want to be musicians? 

MERCEDES ARN-HORN: Thinking back, I guess it was just the path. There was other stuff we were interested in, but growing up, it just seemed like it was a magnet that pulled us to it. And we were pretty much always just focused on music. From the minute we learned our first instrument, there was nothing else. 

It must have taken a lot of guts for you to be able to take something like Courage My Love, which you had been working on for many years, and go in a different direction with Softcult and start releasing music under that name. What was that process like for the two of you?

PHOENIX ARN-HORN: With CML, we started it when we were really young. So a lot of the things we were writing about are things that teenagers write about. With our record deal with that band, it was a little bit more confining, so there are a lot of things we always wanted to do, more DIY style, but when you’re working with a major record label, there are just a lot of processes you have to go through. 

MERCEDES: And because we got signed when we were 17, we were so young in this environment with people that have way more experience than us. And we never really felt like we could stand up for our ideas or if we weren’t necessarily comfortable with something or [if] we weren’t really vibing with something. It was really hard to take the reins as artists.

So as much as we’re so glad that Courage My Love happened and we had so many amazing experiences in that band, it was almost a lesson in trusting yourself as an artist and speaking up when you feel like something isn’t going the way you want it to or when you have an idea and you really want to fight for it. And that’s something we’re able to do now with Softcult because it is so much more DIY. We’re signed to a label, but it’s a small DIY label with a team of two instead of a team of 20. If we have an idea and we want to try something, we just do it. And we don’t really need to ask permission or fight for it. We can take control. 

Do you have plans to continue making music under Courage My Love and Softcult, or have you completely shifted your focus and efforts to Softcult? 

PHOENIX: I think we’re definitely open to making music under CML because we write all kinds of music. So I feel like if we wrote a song that was more CML-style, we’d probably still put it out. Right now, we’re just super jazzed on what we’re doing with Softcult, so that’s what we’re focusing on. 

MERCEDES: Softcult, to us right now, feels like us. It feels more like who we are, what we’ve always wanted to do. And I guess that’s what we’re really focusing on right now. I think for the time being anyway, it’s going to be the main focus.

Where do you draw your sonic inspiration and inspiration outside of music from? 

PHOENIX: Sonically, we’re really into shoegaze. As a guitarist, there are obviously lots of cool guitar tones in shoegaze music. I really like grunge just from growing up. I was a ’90s kid, so I definitely got into grunge. 

MERCEDES: We literally were born the year Kurt Cobain died. It’s definitely nostalgic, but in a weird way because we weren’t coherent in that ’90s scene, but it is something that we love, and [we] keep referencing that time. And then the older we get, we became more and more obsessed with ’90s music [and] ’90s aesthetics. And then also, the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s is a huge driving force in this band. They were championing the third-wave feminism movement, and I think Softcult is really championing the fourth wave.

So that’s a huge inspiration in terms of lyrics, ethos [and] subject matter. We do have a physical and digital zine that we do monthly, and it tackles more social and political issues. And it’s been sick. We get some submissions from fans—their art, their poetry, stuff like that. Now we really want to carry that torch and make it more of a movement than just a band.

What are you hoping that your listeners will take away from your music? 

MERCEDES: That you can do it yourself. Empowerment might be the word of the day. Because [it’s] the two of us, we do everything ourselves with this project. Like we keep saying, it is all written by us, recorded by us, produced by us. All the videos, I edit them, and I direct them, and I filmed some of them.

So if you have a dream or if you have a goal, don’t let society’s expectations or assumptions stop you from achieving that, no matter how you identify, your gender, your race, your class, in society. None of that should be a factor that holds you back. And while we can keep trying to fight to make that a reality out there, you have to make it a reality here, too. Be that change for yourself and for your community as well.

You can read the full interview with Softcult in AltPress issue 395, available here