Interview: Soft Grid

Soft Grid - Photo by Sara Perovic

Soft Grid – Photo by Sara Perovic

Soft Grid is a band that came together by chance. Jana Sotzko and Theresa Stroetges first knew one another peripherally when their musical paths would cross at shows (with the former fronting The Dropout Patrol and the latter commanding her solo project, Golden Diskó Ship). Eventually, they decided to collaborate and went on to form an improvisational group, Epiphany NOW.

As for how Soft Grid grew out of this, it all started when someone they knew from their studies at Universität der Künste gave them the opportunity to record in a unique location.

The spot? An abandoned children’s hospital in nearby Potsdam where a studio had been built but was rarely used, which is why the friend offered it to them in the first place.

Additionally, a horror film had been shot there, and Stroetges recalled how the weekend they recorded it rained the entire time and there were fake red handprints throughout, creating a somewhat eerie atmosphere.

“But it was cool; it was like a playground,” she said.

Part of that had to do with the fact that they had free reign of everything. No one was around to monitor them and there weren’t any time constraints, which meant the two could work freely and without any pressure. They brought their own instruments, but there were also other instruments laying around, so they passed the time playing around, writing lyrics, and recording the results.

Though there weren’t any plans beyond seeing what could come from nothing, the duo emerged from the weekend with sketches for five songs, all of which appear on their debut cassette, “Stingrays.” They then finished them in a rehearsal studio, had them mixed and mastered, and released them.

But even up to this point, there still weren’t any grand visions of what Soft Grid could become. And then Sam Slater entered the picture.

Slater, a producer from the UK, was recruited to perform with Soft Grid when they received an offer to play their first show at Torstrassen Festival in 2015, which was the push they needed to solidify the band.

“He’s just a really really good musician,” Sotzko said of Slater. “It’s hard to find somebody who’s a good drummer or good at some classical instrument but at the same time [is] really into experimenting and has a sense of melody.”

Unlike many other groups, which have a predetermined sound and direction, all three members agreed that the laid back, no expectations approach that Soft Grid was born out of was the best thing about it, and something they should work hard to preserve.

“Personally, I think this is how the best ideas [are born], when they just come through without you wanting them to be something particular,” Stroetges elaborated.

Not only is the organic nature of the band one of its key features, but another philosophy they all try to stick to is not dismissing ideas on the basis of being too cheesy or too loud or too pop or too whatever.

“I think we have to watch ourselves even to stick to that mentality,” Sotzko admitted, citing a few examples when each member had the tendency to label something as, for example, “too math rock” or “too kraut.”

“Obviously it’s not forbidden to dismiss an idea; you have to dismiss ideas,” she said. “But not on the the basis of [being] too something before you’ve even tried it.”

And as is the case with any collaboration, each member has different contributions and ideas, “but somehow so far, we’ve always found a solution that everybody is happy with,” Sotzko shared. “It’s really easy to fall into this pattern [of] ‘it should sound like this, it shouldn’t sound like that,’ and that’s not a good thing.”

For all the talk of how naturally and unplanned the band’s genesis was, the recording process for the full-length, “Corolla,” which came out Oct. 14 on ANTIME, was the complete opposite.

“When Sam joined, we started to completely rearrange the songs and they really became something else,” Stroetges explained, citing how they took elements of the originals, added new parts, sampled stuff, made them longer, and then redeveloped them into a live set.

But although it was a 180 from what they loved about their start, all three felt it was nice to see that they could work both ways: either freely, or in a more structured and disciplined manor with a fixed budget and time.

Once the recording was done, the trio thought they’d send it out to a few labels and see if anyone was interested, and if not, they figured they’d put it out on their own.

“We do everything on our own…it’s a big part of the band,” Sotzko said. “We were also thinking, ‘What do we need a label for these days?’ And the only reason was distribution and press work and some general sort of support, and that’s what [ANTIME offered].”

She continued: “They’ve completely welcomed us into their network, which is a super different network from any network I’ve been in in Berlin. I mean, there’s so many different scenes, and this is one I’ve had pretty much no touching point with, but it’s really interesting.”

“The best thing about ANTIME actually is they really have such a nice feeling,” Stroetges chimed in. “It’s like a team, and everybody has so much enthusiasm and excitement.”

As Soft Grid considers itself somewhat of an anomaly, there are both positives and negatives that result. For one, the band’s lineup isn’t traditional and the three members aren’t tied to their instruments, so it makes them much more versatile.

However, that “also means that everybody has an opinion about everything,” Sotzko said.

But she said it makes them all more aware of the different instruments and parts and the interplay between them all.

“For me personally, compared to other bands I’ve been in, this is the most open band musically. That’s something I’ve been wanting for so many years,” she said. “I’m not bound to an instrument. I’m not bound to a role. It’s not fixed in any way.”

As for Stroetges, as someone coming from the background of being a solo artist, the band thing is still relatively new to her, and something she’s finding joy in.

“I really enjoy the process of shaping music together with these two people who I just think are really awesome,” she said. “I really appreciate their ideas.”

Soft Grid plays tomorrow night at Kantine am Berghain in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00.

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