Soft Blue Shimmer. A phrase that might describe the afternoon sun glancing off a calm ocean or a new nail polish I’d love to wear is the name of one of LA’s best up and coming bands. True, the guitarist is one of my closest friends from college, but I promise you that my praise for this trio is born from as little bias as possible. In short: Soft Blue Shimmer is really something special.
Composed of bassist and lead vocalist Meredith Ramond, guitarist, vocalist and Pasadena native Charlie Crowley, and drummer Kenzo Cardenas, Soft Blue Shimmer sounds like lying in the sunshine or walking through Los Angeles if the city only existed in some sweet, lingering dream. The technical term for their sound is shoegaze (also known as “dream pop”), which accurately captures the floating, warbling vocals, distorted guitar riffs, and exhilarating melodies that populate this dazzling record.
To get the stories behind their unique song titles, the inception of their debut album Heaven Inches Away (represented by labels Disposable America in the US and Galaxy Train in Japan), and just learn more about SBS as a unit, I got to catch up with the band.
Soft Blue Shimmer! Thanks so much for doing this interview with me. I guess I’ll start at the start: where did the name “Soft Blue Shimmer” come from and what do you want people to feel when they come across it?
Meredith: I thought of this the other day; I don’t know if Charlie remembers, but we were talking about names and I liked the word “Iceblink” (Cocteau Twins) and I had been painting my nails this icy shimmery blue which I felt truly embodied that word. So I told Charlie I wanted a name that embodied that color, and I think that may have been a subconscious factor in its formation.
Charlie: I totally forgot about “Iceblink” until now! I think that was definitely in my head. I really liked the movie title Heat Shimmer Theater and that feeling of heat and shimmer. This like, metallic warmth…like reflective metal surfaces in the sun. Then we were also thinking of the movie title Blue Is the Warmest Color. I really liked that feeling of warmth in a cool color, and I think the coolness of “Iceblink” definitely influenced that. I just wanted our name to evoke a feeling. I have a feeling in my mind, but I hope other people have their own.
Kenzo: It is a really cool band name! I love it.
With such a unique name, it only makes sense that your song titles are equally interesting. Can you tell me a story (or stories!) behind some of the song names? I know Miyazaki and anime fans will recognize a few of them.
Meredith: All the songs were brilliantly named by Charlie. “Space Heater” is a cute one—we were demoing the songs in Kenzo’s cold garage in the winter, and all we had was this space heater to keep us warm and it kind of became this little symbol of hope for us. Charlie jokingly(?) said that’s what we’ll name the intro, but we were all really into that.
Kenzo: Charlie comes up with the best titles.
Charlie: Naming things is one of my most primal passions. LOL. But for real, I love titles. Title stories… “Adore the Distance” was definitely meant to play off of the title “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. And “Emerald Bells” is a chopped up reference to The Memory Police, a novel by Yoko Ogawa.
So many tracks on the album sound so soft and light wrapped in Meredith’s lovely vocals, the upbeat drums, and the buoyant guitar riffs, but when you listen to the lyrics, they’re a lot more somber than one might expect, exploring themes of loss, loneliness, disorientation, and change. What influenced these songs? Can you give me an overview of the writing process vs the recording process?
Meredith: Writing songs can be a good way to explore and express feelings. For instance, I started writing “Musubi” out of hurt and frustration about a friendship and it was a very one-sided story. And then I realized as I was writing it that I was being just as emotionally unavailable to them and it really helped me be able to deal with those feelings and eventually work on repairing that relationship.
The recording process is kind of tricky for me: bass, because I’m still fairly new to it, and vocals, because I have a very quiet, soft voice. But luckily our producer, Corey Coffman, is so great. He creates a comfortable, fun, and encouraging environment. He’s especially good at getting the best out of and capturing a soft voice.
Kenzo: I usually just focus on the instrumentation and structural aspect and never listen to the lyrics until there is an actual recording of it. I enjoy Meredith and Charlie’s lyrics very much, as they are very important to the emotion of the songs. Writing the songs can be stressful because I feel like a perfectionist. I am not particularly writing any melodies, but I try to be as musical as I can with the drums.
I see it as very four-dimensional: quiet and loud (dynamic), slow and fast (rhythm), the timbre (sound), and the pitch (note). That holds a lot of feelings, and recording is a whole other challenge. It gets intense, like the feeling of almost crying at times because you are literally giving 110% while trying to be perfect.
It reminds me of a time when I was 12 and my basketball team was down by two points. Coach Spino called a timeout with eight seconds left and he looked at me and said I was taking the final shot. My teammates looked at me with puppy dog eyes. I was nervous but had to keep my composure. I made the game winning three-pointer at the buzzer and everyone jumped on me. I actually thought about that moment while recording drums— it keeps me in check. I love it.
Charlie: The songs are really influenced by big feelings for me. I wanted the guitars and keys to all talk a lot to each other and collaborate towards a feeling. Each song was written in a very different way.
A thing that was very consistent across writing was our collaboration—I remember bringing bits of songs, half-written stuff, melodies, or guitar riffs to Mere and Kenzo. They’d pull it all apart and we’d put it back together. We’d completely scrap stuff, slow other things down, zoom in on parts and add beats or change time. Sometimes writing the songs felt like doing a puzzle together. It was so much fun and I loved it.
Recording was for sure a different beast. Corey really helped us draw the truest nature out of the material we brought him. He helped us to elevate parts and really be ourselves in a more intense, much more honest way. I was constantly rubbing CBD on my wrists [to keep up with the physicality of it] haha. I loved it.
While I love the whole album, my two favorite songs are without a doubt “Sunpools” (track 4) and “Adore the Distance” (tack 9). Any behind the scenes facts on their development?
Meredith: “Sunpools” was an amazing song by Dthcoba, one of Charlie’s projects. We reimagined it in a key that I could actually sing and it kind of became its own song with different arrangements and Kenzo’s drums and Charlie’s new guitar parts.
“Adore” was birthed from some noodling Charlie was doing on guitar and I said, “Wait let’s record that.” I record everything just in case, plus I like to come up with stuff with a lot of repetition so I don’t subject them to playing everything hundreds of times.
We showed Kenzo and he had a vision—Kenzo and Charlie are really great with envisioning songs and their structures. Then I come in and sprinkle some glitter on them and that’s how “Adore” came to be.
Kenzo: “Sunpools” is great; it is one of my favorite tracks off the record. It was the first song that we worked (revamped) for the record. I love playing simple and slow.
Charlie: “Sunpools” is really close to my heart. Kenzo and Meredith really made it so much deeper and fuller that I ever could have imagined. “Adore the Distance” still kind of confounds me. I was thinking of Coldplay a lot when we wrote that HAHA!
There is a marked change in the album’s sound following “Sunpools,” but “Adore the Distance” brings it back to the light, diaphanous realm of openers “Space Heater” and “Emerald Bells.” As far as the album’s sound progression, what sort of story are you trying to tell? What do you hope your listeners will feel during and after?
Meredith: I hope that if people resonate with our songs they feel however they need to feel. I like that music can allow listeners to have their own interpretations and meanings, and people can explore their feelings and perspectives as they like. Or maybe it’s an escape from thinking. However they interact, if they enjoy it, that is great.
Kenzo: Yeah what Meredith said. When I hear a great song or record, I think to myself, what went on during the song writing process for the band? Like, I love wondering what emotions they went through. For example, some songs off our record were written at 11am, while other ideas flowed at 2am in bed. Art is cool. I hope listeners feel inspired and look forward to their day. On a different note, I am a fan of a good track-list order. It has to feel right, start to finish.
Charlie: I think Kenzo and I think about track listing in a similar way. It’s so much about feeling and flow. We didn’t write the songs to necessarily tell a specific lyrical story as you progress through the album, but I think each song is connected and they can all speak to each other.
But I do think the song order we came up with has a very emotional pace. We really wanted to create a flow and an even listening pace as well. I think “Emerald Bells” is the only song we wrote with placement in mind…we wrote it knowing that it was probably going to be the first song after the introduction.
While you already have an EP under your belt (Nothing Happens Here, 2019), the world you’ve released Heaven into is vastly different from the one of Nothing Happens. How has covid-19 disrupted your plans for the band and your music? Has it helped in any way?
Kenzo: Ideally we would love to play some shows. We do not meet up as much, so that’s unfortunate. All in all, though, we are thankful to be able to put this record out and share it with folks.
In a perfect world, where would you be and what would you be doing right now to promote Heaven?
Kenzo: Honestly, I want to just practice with my friends and talk about how our week went. Maybe get some good Mexican food. Maybe tweet about that.
Charlie: I just want to play music and do all the things Kenzo just said. It’d be really nice if we could safely meet up to write like we used to. But yeah, touring is where we would be probably.
Thank you, Soft Blue Shimmer! I think I speak for many when I say I dearly hope I get to see you and hear these masterpieces live real soon.
While we don’t know what 2021 will hold, we can rest well knowing we have Soft Blue Shimmer and their gorgeous sounds to “hold us in the warm.” ?
You can stream Heaven Inches Away now on all streaming platforms as well as purchase the album (as a record, cassette, or digital download) and SBS merchandise from Bandcamp.
Happy Holidays and a Blessed New Year to you, dear readers! Stay safe and well.