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Definition Dilemmas 

The Soft White Sixties don't fit in the neat boxes of genre categories or the sound of the decade in their name

Like all new bands in the mid-to-late 2000s, The Soft White Sixties were faced with a particular dilemma: describing their music according to the MySpace format.

The band's word choice, tossed off at the time, not only had a certain prescience, but cuts to the essence of the music they've been playing ever since: World Class Soul.

"We had to pick three words and that's just what we came up with to complete the page. Step one done, cool, but there was never too much thought to it," says Aaron Eisenberg, who plays guitar and keys for the San Francisco quartet.

Mixing garage and soul, deep grooves and some gritty fuzz, powerful and catchy melodies, The Soft White Sixties luckily hit their mark.

"The whole working-class aspect of it is just about relatability. The songs that we write and the lyrics are meant for everyday people. We're not trying to write anything you need a dictionary to figure out," Eisenberg says. "It's working class in the sense that it's relatable to a lot of people, like classic soul records are. You listen to a Bill Withers record or Otis Redding or Al Green, if they want to tell a woman they want her, they say 'I want you.' They don't create some long-winded metaphor."

The band released their full-length debut in March. Produced by Jim Greer (Torches, Foster the People), "Get Right" combines a host of influences and styles and finds a broadly appealing rock-and-soul middle ground. But in the years since the band formed, they've never plotted a particular sonic destination.

"We've been on the road so much recently, meeting other bands. A lot of people will say it's 'this band' meets 'that band,' like they're going for a Black Sabbath meets Prince thing," Eisenberg says. "We never really had that conversation. We just got together and started playing music and what came out is what the band sounds like. It was never a conscious decision genre-wise and I think that comes through on the first record. It's not a one-speed kind of thing. Different styles come through."

The band's rhythm section—Ryan Noble on bass and Joey Bustos on drums—began playing together in punk bands when they were teenagers. Singer Octavio Genera grew up listening to soul, Mexican-American bands and everything where those two traditions collided, like War. Eisenberg grew up listening to the classic rock canon, bands like the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

"We're not locked away trying to recreate the past. We always try to be up on what's going on today too," Eisenberg says. "It's a pretty organic sound. It's never been too conscious. It's more about just what feels good to us."

While the 1960s vibe comes across clearly in the band's style, that aspect of the music has no relation to the band name.

"We were kicking a bunch of names around and it came down to the wire. We had our first show booked and we just had to decide on something. One of Octavio's friends had suggested it. He'd seen a 60-watt light bulb somewhere and said it would be a funny band name," Eisenberg says. "The whole 1960s element of it never really crossed our minds until people started attaching that to it as well. When the band first started, it didn't have any '60s thing going on. It was almost more of a Britpop vibe in the very beginning. That just developed over time, some of those influences being present."

After putting out an EP in 2011 of the first songs they wrote together, The Soft White Sixties took their time working out material for the proper debut.

"A lot of the songs on "Get Right" we'd been playing for almost two years before we got around to recording them properly and releasing it," he says. "For us, that's a really big part of the songwriting process now. A song never really feels finished until we play it live. You can write something in a room with your friends, but playing it in front of a crowd of people, things can jump out and we know we need to adjust sometimes."

The last two years have been ones of heavy touring for The Soft White Sixties, which was named as one of Paste Magazine's Top 25 Shows at SXSW 2013. Still, like any up-and-coming band, a lot of their touring has been as the opening band.

"These last few tours (as an opening band), it's been nice to have a blank slate every night of 500 or more people who don't know our music at all. We could see on a base level what resonates with people, regardless of whether or not they know the song. We're definitely taking that into consideration a lot on the next record," Eisenberg says.

More by Eric Swedlund

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