Essentials… with Softcult’s Mercedes Arn-Horn
Each week, Essentials allows Canadian music industry figures to share the things that have helped them get through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them. Here are the choices of one-half of a fast-rising rock duo.
By Jason Schneider
Each week, Essentials allows Canadian music industry figures to share the things that have helped them get through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them.
Softcult is the new band fronted by twin sisters Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn, formerly of the Juno-nominated alt-rock outfit Courage My Love. Since releasing its debut EP, Year Of The Rat, in April 2021, Softcult has quickly connected with a new audience, mainly through the goth/shoegaze approach the Arn-Horn sisters have taken with their new music, as well as the strong feminist stance of their lyrics.
Softcult has just released a second EP, entitled Year Of The Snake, which continues to see the band praised as carrying on the spirit and message of the original Riot Grrl movement. That grew out of what the sisters have described as their experiences dealing with misogynistic messages they received for being young females in the music industry ever since they formed Courage My Love while in high school in their hometown of Kitchener, Ontario.
The six songs on Year Of The Snake further explore these important issues, and in choosing the symbol of the snake for this record, they also take aim at corporations and politicians that make ultimately empty promises about addressing issues such as poverty and climate change.
As they stated when Year Of The Snake was released in early February, “Our goal is to raise awareness with music that makes people think. We want to expose people to realities that they may not have ever been aware of before and speak out on issues that matter to us. Most of these songs are meant to challenge people’s perceptions, but also come from very personal places based on our own experiences. If there are people out there that can relate to our lyrics, they’ll know that they aren’t alone. They are part of a movement that is demanding action.”
Softcult’s Year Of The Snake is available now through the U.K. label Easy Life Records, and the band is scheduled to hit England on a seven-date tour in May. Get more info at softcult.band.
Essential Song: The Cure, One Hundred Years (from Pornography, 1982)
At the moment I’m really into goth rock and anything that sounds dark, haunting, emotional, and melancholy. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths, and of course deep-diving into The Cure, specifically Pornography. One Hundred Years in particular has me bewitched, and is heavily influencing my current guitar playing and the tones we’ve been choosing. I can’t get enough of the screeching, bleak guitars. I love riffs that use dissonant semi-tones and unexpected minor chords where major chords technically should be, and this song does exactly that.
In the studio, Phoenix and I are challenging ourselves to arrange music that perfectly portrays the emotions in the lyrics. The two go hand in hand. I think this song achieves that perfectly. I respect the songwriting so much. To me, One Hundred Years perfectly captures the complex emotional palate of “sadness,” “longing,” “hope,” and simultaneous “hopelessness.” It makes this combination seem so natural and simple and captures how I’ve felt for most of the pandemic. It accomplishes what I think all good music needs to do during rough times: making the listener feel less alone and more understood. Right now to me, it’s the perfect song and I really wish I wrote it.
Essential Spoken Word: Lydia Lunch, Conspiracy Of Women (1990)
I feel that I’m late to the party, but I just discovered Lydia Lunch recently and I’m obsessed. I’m inspired by what she has contributed to feminism, the liberation of women from sexist gender norms, defying misogynistic expectations of how women should behave, educating on sexuality and what it means to be an empowered sexual being. Most of all, I admire her ability to use her art and poetry to not only process the traumatic events in her life but also channel them into something impactful and meaningful to others. Her art raises awareness and makes powerful statements the same way Softcult aspires to do with our platform. She is an empowering figure for anyone who has experienced abuse. A flawed, imperfect, human icon. There’s just so much to unpack. Since discovering her through the documentary The War Is Never Over, I’ve been reading and listening to poetry excerpts from her spoken word album Conspiracy Of Women. I’m about to dive into So Real It Hurts and her other published works next.
Essential TV:Servant (Apple TV+, 2019-present)
Lately, out of morbid curiosity, Phoenix and I have been binge-watching Servant by Tony Basgallop. It might be one of the darkest, most uncomfortable shows I’ve ever seen. The concept gets steadily more twisted the more it reveals itself. I’m a huge fan of slow burn, psychological horror. The storyline is on point, the cinematography is on point, the soundtrack, acting, everything. I don’t wanna give too much away, but if you haven’t checked it out yet and you’re into creepy stuff that explores the dark, vulnerable aspects of the human condition, then this show is for you.
Essential Movie:Promising Young Woman (2020)
This one messed me up in the best way. I think it’s an important movie that everyone needs to see at least once. I love seeing more female directors making art like this and getting the acclaim they deserve. I admire how it speaks so honestly on the issue of gender violence and sexual assault yet does not show any gratuitous violent imagery that I find extremely upsetting and triggering. Maybe that’s a nod to Emerald Fennell’s superb concept and directing. It unapologetically describes what is unfortunately all too often the female experience. I think more movies like this one need to be made and praised, not just by survivors and allies of survivors, but by anyone with a shred of empathy and humanity. It profoundly moved me. It’s been a huge inspiration when it comes to executing art that speaks on dark truths about society, yet is relatable and gets its vitally important and intended message across unmistakably.