The Soft White Sixties’ Working Class Soul

TSWS Main
(Andrew Braswell)

One of the defining characteristics of the Bay Area is its overwhelming diversity. Diversity of race, ethnicity, region of origin, country of origin, socio-economic status — it’s all here and it’s all vibrant. The Soft White Sixties is a band representing a microcosm of this diversity, a fact that has played a huge role in the group’s early success.

One look at Octavio, Aaron, Ryan and Joey will tell you that this crew brings influences from a range of backgrounds. The band’s music has a skeleton of rock and roll whose muscles, tissues and veins are filled in with punk, pop and a whole lot of soul. The “working class soul” that The Sixties create is reminiscent of “American” cuisine. It takes a little from here, steals a little from there, and ends up with delicious morsels that almost everyone will enjoy.

The multiplicity of genres and inspirations that come across in the band’s music can be directly traced to the array of music they were introduced to as children. The boys each credit their parents’ record collections with sowing the seeds that have grown into what they write and play today.

“My Pops was really into Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa… and my mom was into Tom Petty big time,” bassist Ryan Noble informs me. Ryan’s mother also introduced him to strong female pop stars Stevie Nicks and Pat Benatar.

The Soft White Sixties performing at The Fillmore.
The Soft White Sixties performing at The Fillmore; photo by Mat Dunlap

Vocalist Octavio Genera shares a similar story — Tom Petty as his first live music experience.  However, Octavio also boasts a unique influence. “I grew up hearing a lot of Motown, Creedence Clearwater, Rolling Stones and Mexican corridos,” Octavio tells me, showing just how diverse the makeup of his band really is.

Guitarist/keyboardist Aaron Eisenberg owns the most unique first concert story, having witnessed The Grateful Dead at Stanford in 1988 at the ripe age of three months. The band’s motif of diversity rears its head once again when Aaron reveals to me that the first song he learned on guitar wasn’t “Casey Jones” or “Truckin,” but “Dammit” by Blink 182. “I still got it,” he adds.

Drummer Joey Bustos brings a punk rock element to the group, having been introduced to, and falling in love with, the genre at the age of 11. “I bought a drum kit for $70 when I was 13, started a band soon after and was playing shows around the Bay Area at 14,” he recalls.

Photo: Mat Dunlap

Joey is the sole Bay Area native in The Soft White Sixties, having been born in San Francisco and raised in Richmond. While not a native, Ryan is a veteran of the area. He moved to Oakland in 2001. Aaron and Octavio are more recent additions to the Bay’s ranks, both having relocated here back in 2008.

The band originally came together through what they describe as “a serendipitous series of run-ins.” This seems to be a pretty standard band formation story. The members’ previous groups break up, there is a fateful meeting, ideas are exchanged and bonds are forged. From the beginning, though, the guys knew there was nothing standard about their new alliance. They felt “a real brotherhood, [with] songs that felt good to play and a mutual focus on doing something big.”

Big is what The Soft White Sixties are on the verge of becoming. After selling out their record release show last year at The Independent and their recent Noise Pop performance at The Chapel, it’s not such a stretch to see them headlining and selling out much larger venues in the near future. The band is certainly no stranger to large venues after gracing the main stage of Outside Lands in 2013. The guys point to this event as a surreal moment of their journey thus far. “It was a dream come true for us and we realized that something very special was starting to unfold,” Ryan divulges.

Photo: Karen Goldman

The Sixties’ noteworthy live shows aren’t alone in creating anticipation for even greater success. The band’s debut album, Get Right, is littered with hooks and riffs that are polished yet wonderfully raw. Octavio Genera’s vocals are simultaneously sugary smooth and spicily gritty. These are juxtapositions that the band seems to embrace warmly and readily.

Jim Greer (of The Rondo Brothers) is credited with producing the record and took his duties seriously. “He would come to practices and listen to the songs over and over, then we would discuss arrangement options,” Octavio tells me. “The band already had the songs about 90% there, but Jim had some really cool ideas that ended up making the cut and, we believe, making the songs better.”

For the more discerning listener, Get Right reveals that The Soft White Sixties is comprised of unabashed tone nerds. “I was always the kid at shows that would go up and check out bands’ pedalboards after their set,” Aaron concedes. He goes on to tell me, “Tone is the most important element, in my opinion, when it comes to defining a band’s genre. Most of my favorite players are favorites because of the sounds they made more so than their technical prowess. My process is just a lot of trial and error and experimentation.”

Photo: Mat Dunlap

Tone, talent, allure, desire — it’s all there for The Soft White Sixties. The band hopes to continue the trend of successful hometown shows this Friday, April 25, when it headlines Slim’s. The guys will have just ended a jaunt on the road that took them through Texas and the Southwest, so expect them to be on top of their game.

The Soft White Sixties play Friday, April 25, 2014 at Slim’s in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit slimspresents.com.

Author

T.J. Mimbs

T.J. Mimbs is a freelance writer, songwriter, musician and recording engineer based in San Francisco by way of Athens, GA. T.J. fronts Bay Area band, Surf Bored, works with other local bands as an audio engineer and has an addiction to live music. He is a disciple of the open-minded yet still a Southerner at heart.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor