Interview by SARA D. SATÀN
Photography © PRIMO EDDIE TORRES, JULIA KUGEL, SCOTT MONTOYA
Soft Palms is the brainchild of wife-and-husband duo Julia Kugel (The Coathangers, White Woods) and Scott Montoya (formerly of The Growlers). Their self-title debut album, released July 31st on Everloving Records, is a feast of rich sounds and simple, comforting melodies threading together sock hop rock n' roll, scrappy dream pop, and ethereal torch songs into sultry, spacey, and sublime journey towards brighter horizons.
The album gives off an aura of intimacy while also creating a broader, pastel colored world —a duality achieved through Montoya’s unique and meticulous recording process at the couple’s home studio the Centre Of Mental Arts (COMA), and the magisterial mastering job by longtime friend and collaborator Mick Boggis (Pogues, Mötorhead, 12 Monkeys, Joe Strummer).
How are you guys? Has the recent quarantine changed much of your plans this year and what, if any, opportunities emerged from it?
Great Thanks! Our experience through this has been a positive one. Pretty much everything in our lives revolves around concerts, tour, school and studio work. The Coathangers cancelled a couple tours, we cancelled our annual music fest Happy Sundays, cancelled all recording session at our studio. We had already finished the record and were fortunate enough to sign with Everloving a couple weeks before the lockdown, so we’ve been able to give the proper attention to the release, videos, etc. without the deadlines of all our other endeavors hanging over our heads.
What's the scene like nowadays in California?
We live in Long Beach, and have been continuously impressed with the way local government and local locals have been handling this. The mayor is making his decisions based on facts and information, and the community has been calm, supportive of each other and respecting the situation.
So tell us how Soft Palms were born?
Julia has been writing songs her whole life. She’s released a couple singles under White Woods, and we had been working on recording those songs. Julia enjoyed success from the singles, but it turns out there is four or five other “White Woods” bands out there. We figured a name change would be a good move since we have been writing new songs that are a combination of both our styles. One day we were driving home from the beach and “Soft Palms” just popped in there! I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the spot it happened.
Do you feel having both a background in previous bands plays a part in how you approach things as Soft Palms?
This has been a dream project for both of us. We have supported each other with our other bands, know each other’s strengths, and work really well together. We both know exactly what we need, when, why and how to do it. We don’t have to answer to anyone or compromise creatively and can’t blame others for any challenges. Living in an environment with such a talented person where all ideas and possibilities are explored and nurtured is an amazing experience and I’m grateful for every second of it.
Is there an overall concept or theme behind the new album?
We decided that anything we put out in the world should be inspirational and pleasing to hear.
Tell us a little bit about the home-recording and mixing process..
The album was recorded using Pro Tools, and Julia and I played majority of the instruments on it. The exceptions being Violin on “Not Love” and lap steel on “Oh Then Then”. Those were played by Laena Meyers-Ionita and Jimmy Delgado, respectively.
What gear did you use?
Julia used her Fender Mustang and VOX AC15 along with the most beautiful vocal cords in the world. I still have the 1977 Fender Antigua Precision bass and CC drums I used while recording and touring with The Growlers, and used those on this album. We also have a nice collection of percussion instruments we picked up while travelling (mostly in Mexico), so we used those all over the place.
Our personal mic/mic pre collection isn’t huge but AEA Ribbon Mics was nice enough to let us use some of their amazing mics and mic pres. Majority of this record was recorded with their equipment. We used an N22 on bass, KU5A and an sm57 on guitar (mostly), and Julia sang through an old Altec 639B using the AEA RPQ2 mic pre. We used AEA R84 on overheads using the Glyn Johns technique (thanks Mick!), D112’s on toms, Shure Beta 52 on the kick drum.
Julia, your idea to “create something that sounded like a mental hug” stuck with me. Has this record served as a sort of healing process for you?
Absolutely. A healing and a learning process.
I wanted to touch on the amazing work you guys are doing through Studios for Schools, could you shine a light about what this project is about and how one could support your action?
Thanks! Studios For Schools is a nonprofit that helps put recording/production studios in high schools. We feel it’s important for everybody to have a creative outlet, and want to give students exposure to this creative medium.
It started when my dad asked me to help build a recording studio in a broom closet at his old high school. Tina Heiland, who teaches film and heads the after school Young Filmmaker’s Society, was trying to give the students a sound stage to work on their projects. To raise money, we auctioned autographed records, merch bundles, anything we could get our hands on and eventually decided to apply for tax-exempt status to make it easier for people to donate. We finished our first studio at Santiago high School last year, and I go in every couple weeks to teach the students the basics of recording.
We have a website that has more info. It’s a grass roots operation, run by Julia and I. As a Soft Palms merch item we are selling handmade instrument and mic cables (made by me), and $10 from every sale goes towards Studios For Schools. We also have pins available. We’re always open to suggestions and donations so if you have any ideas let us know!