Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to Rose Melberg—who’s released records on K with Tiger Trap, the Softies, and by herself [Homemade Ship (KLP211)]—about her songs, the Softies reunion shows, and the dynamics between her bands. The Softies are going to be coming to the Northwest to play the Folklife Festival in Seattle. When we were talking about looking forward to the festival, Rose said, “[My music] really grew up in the Northwest. It was born in California, but it grew up in the Northwest.”
Why did you decide to start playing with Jen [Sbragia, Softies bandmate] again?
It was really just that she was willing to do it. We stopped playing because we had children and had all these other obligations—Jen has two twins at home—but we were asked to play Chickfactor and I thought that Jen wouldn’t say yes, but she did and it was so exciting. It was really brave of her to do that.
What’s it like revisiting older songs? Has the meaning changed at all over time?
I don’t think so. I feel a lot of tenderness for those songs—they’re so intimate and emotional, and it’s nice revisiting those thoughts and feelings. I mean, I’m older and wiser and a hell of a lot smarter, but I’m still the same person, and the songs are still just as meaningful and fresh.
How much of a collaboration was songwriting with the Softies?
It was pretty formulaic; I’d pretty much write a song and then take it to Jen, and then we’d write her guitar part and harmony together. We’d never collaborate lyrically. One person would write, and so it was never super collaborative, but that extra guitar brought so much. Sometimes we’d actually write Jen’s part note by note by note. Like, I would point to the fret board and say, “That one!” because there was one specific note that I wanted to hear right at that time. Sometimes it took a while, because the parts were quite complicated and weird, seeing as they were just a series of notes. But I love her sense of humor about it. I know how difficult it must have been for her to deal with me trying to get these specific notes, so I appreciate that she can laugh about it now.
It seems like you started out with this sort of punk rock, full-band kind of thing, with Tiger Trap, but then it seems like you slowed down a bit.
I continued working with Go Sailor during the Softies, but when I started out I just wanted to play really fast. And some Softies songs are quite fast, too. When Tiger Trap ended, I wanted to do something different, and the Softies was more about our friendship, and we didn’t want to bring other people in. The Softies was really this special thing; we were making the sound of our friendship, because we were just so stoked on hanging out together.
Has your approach to production and arranging songs changed over time?
There’s not a lot of intent to what I do. It’s really that I’m at the mercy of whoever we’re recording with at the time, because I don’t care that much. For me, it’s really about getting the songs recorded. During the beginning of the Softies, our rule was that if we couldn’t recreate it live, we didn’t do it on the record. I hate the production end of songs, and a lot of what I do is more accidental. On the last Softies record [Holiday in Rhode Island (KLP119)], we made a conscious decision to add more things, but it was really just for fun. That continued with my solo stuff, but still I really just want the songs to be recorded.
Have you been writing or recording lately? What can we expect for the future?
I put out a record last year with Brave Irene on Slumberland, but mostly throughout the last year I’ve been enjoying playing with other people’s bands. I started playing drums in bands again, and bass, and so I’m enjoying taking a break and being valued for my skill as a musician. It’s fulfilling in its own way. But I am writing, and I think there’s a few Softies songs still in me.
Interview conducted by Eric Williger