But if you google Soapland, you’ll find band information as well as the original definition of the word: It was an alternate description for a particular type of Japanese brothel.
“It’s all Jay’s fault,” lead vocalist Amy Jo says in the courtyard of the Northside Tavern, ratting out bassist Jay McCubbin.
“There is an irony to it,” guitarist Steve Metz says “Dirty and clean at the same time.”
That duality extends to Soapland’s debut four-song EP, The Inflatable Real, recorded at Ultrasuede by Brian Niesz. The quartet of tracks represents a small taste of what the band has been dishing out locally since assembling in 2009.
The band started when Metz and drummer Bill Bullock, former bandmates in Roundhead and veterans of many local outfits, got together for some informal sessions after a Roundhead reunion show. They invited McCubbin, who was and remains the Wolverton Brothers’ bassist and had done (in)camera with Bullock, and the trio turned out homemade recordings that were good, but they recognized something was missing.
Bullock knew vocalist Amy Jo through her stint with Viva La Foxx. After a conversation at a downtown club, they invited her to a practice. Expectations that she might be slightly intimidated were without merit; she insinuated herself into Soapland with lightning speed and hurricane force.
“She was a quick fit,” McCubbin says. “We thought she might be timid, but she jumped right in.”
“I came in and started bossing them around,” she says with a laugh.
“Then I thought I came on way too strong.”
“We rehearsed two songs with her that weren’t really songs,” Metz says. “One of them was ‘Bones,’ which remains one of our best songs. The vocal part she came up with is still intact, it works perfectly with what everyone is playing and she made it up on the spot. There was no decision to be made from there.”
“We were all really excited,” Bullock says. “Finding someone to sing was good, but then we felt like, ‘Holy crap, we just got lucky.’ I remember saying to these guys, ‘I hope she comes back.’ ”
Amy Jo was clearly the catalyst for Soapland to take everything up a notch, as the songs and the band’s Electronic/Indie Rock sound evolved quickly.
“My taste has progressed toward Electronica over the past 10 years, but I like music that has an organic element factored in,” Metz says. “I don’t like music that sounds like its been fed out of a computer, but I like that influence layered with guitars and interesting natural sounds. We had an abstract idea of what we were trying to do, and when Amy was factored in, it solidified. From that point on, I knew what we were going to sound like.”
Beyond the wild range of their influences — Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips, Wire, Genesis, Tuxedomoon, Cabaret Voltaire all get referenced — a big part of Soapland’s sonic evolution is the diverse musical aptitude that each member brings to the whole. Metz plays both guitar and keyboards and utilizes a laptop, and Bullock has a number of sampling and manipulation devices at his disposal within his drum set-up. It makes for a complex and voluminous stage presence.
“I wanted something that deviated from the typical lineup of guitar/bass/drum/vocals, and we still have all those things in Soapland, but I think we’ve adopted a different approach,” Metz says. “I’ve got a tower of technology that I use — three keyboards and a laptop that I run instruments through — and Bill uses samples and Jay has a unique approach to bass playing that often doesn’t even sound like bass, so I think we break from that local Rock band mold.”
“Between Steve and I, we have enough to be The Chemical Brothers,” Bullock says. “We want those options.”
With The Inflatable Real freshly released, the quartet is thinking ahead to more recording, possibly a full-length in the fall. Until then, Soapland will be raising their profile locally (its slot Saturday at the Northside Festival and its June 17 MidPoint Indie Summer gig on Fountain Square with Maps & Atlases, for starters), regionally and beyond.
“I think this definitely challenges all of us because none of us have really played this type of music before,” Amy Jo says. “Everything I’ve done as far as bands is scream a lot and crawl on the ground, but now I’m pulling out some of that vocal stuff I developed growing up singing Gospel. I’ve got some pipes and I get to use them.”
Soapland’s ultimate appeal lies in the chemistry between its four members and the audible shifts when the formula is adjusted. The band’s malleable energy is its secret weapon.
“It’s fun because we get to change
roles, which I never got to do before,” Bullock notes. “Jay might play
something a bass player wouldn’t play and Steve will cover the tonal
area of the bass, and then I play samples and work off Amy. We push
ourselves and make weird things but find something common about it, so
the common person can shake their butts to it.”
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