Soft Hills' European Gambit

How an unknown Seattle band found a home in the Eurozone.

Reading reviews for the Soft Hills' new album, The Bird Is Coming Down to Earth, you'd be forgiven for not understanding a single word. That's because most of them are in German. Or Italian, French, or Dutch.

After the Seattle band finished recording the album, singer Garrett Hobba sent hundreds of e-mails to labels and A&R representatives. Not satisfied with generic submission addresses, he went down elaborate Google holes to find actual e-addresses for people who worked at labels, and sent each of them a download of the finished record.

"He's very motivated," says drummer Randall Skrasek. "Obsessed," interjects bassist Brett Massa. Brittan Drake, responsible for keyboards and guitar and the band's quietest member, merely smiles into his beard.

But Hobba's obsession paid off: Several labels expressed interest, and Soft Hills ended up going with Hamburg-based Tapete Records, which took over the band's booking, distribution, and marketing. "We really lucked out," Hobba says. "There's a ton of great bands that don't have labels, and a lot of labels that love their bands but don't have a lot of money to invest."

The Soft Hills' brand of space-country-psych fits comfortably in Seattle; the laid-back meanderings of songs like "Purple Moon" and "Phoenix" are perfect for a sunny day tripping at Golden Gardens. Press comparisons to Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear abound, but in conversation it becomes clear that the band draws more influence from sounds of the past than from their contemporaries, aiming to combine the "pastoral, troubadour elements" of Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn with the heaviness of a '60s-era Neil Young.

Hobba quickly points out that he also loves post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Do Make Say Think. The result interprets the classics through a new lens, though Hobba worries they may have their feet in too many genres to attract any one listener: "People want to hear a new sound, not a jack-of-all-trades. But then I think of a record like Led Zeppelin III, and they'll have a heavy song next to a folk song."

Hobba once heard the advice "Always be writing new songs," and took it to heart. Even before The Bird was released, on Feb. 14, the band was already working on a follow-up. It's heavier, Hobba says, and even more '60s-leaning. They're also looking forward to touring Germany, Switzerland, and France in the spring. Skrasek and Hobba have been learning German, showing off phrases like "Guten tag" and "Noch ein Bier, bitte." "Karl Blau says Hamburg is the music capital of Europe," Hobba says with a grin. "We're all really excited to play there."

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