Oda Egjar Starheim and Øystein Monsen are the Norwegian born, Berlin-based duo behind Soft as Snow. Their music has been variously compared to Fever Ray, on the softer side, and Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire on the icier side – all great reference points in our book.
But the truth is that Oda’s vocals set their music apart from pretty much anything else out there, as does their production ethos, which is less about software and more about creating imperfections within a perfect digital world.
The band’s debut album, Deep Wave, was released in 2018 to wide acclaim and support from the likes of Radio 1, BBC 6 Music. Follow-up Bit Rot was released this year and has already been described as “startlingly original; a hugely powerful record”.
To further cement their leftfield image, the duo have produced videos and a live A/V show with 3D modelling artist Guynoid, and created “a special latex suit made to wear while performing” with AGF Hydra, whose previous collaborative credits include Björk, Arca and the late SOPHIE.
Tell us how you got into music.
Øystein: “I started off as a drummer in Oslo’s noise rock scene, and was also a part of several bands before first getting into more electronic music.
Oda: “Before SaS I worked mainly with performance and visual art. Our first collaborations were noise improvisation sets inside my installations.”
What is your production philosophy?
O: “Ever since we started working together we’ve had no respect for genres. We tend to like things that deal with imperfections, keeping unintentional errors, raw takes etc.”
When did you discover the computer music route to music production?
Ø: “I first got into making music with trackers on the Amiga as a kid and was involved in the demo scene. With SaS we use the computer more as a tool for recording and playing live, less so as a creative element.”
Tell us about the gear in your studio.
O: “Our studio is built on a lot of hardware: analogue synths and drums machines but also cheap digital synths and effects.”
What are your favourite plugins?
Ø: “Since most of our music is made on hardware, we don’t really use that much plugins. But a friend sent us the Roland D-50 plugin which we like.”
How do you tend to start a track?
O: “Usually with a drum pattern/sample or synth riff. We jam a lot in the studio and often work for a long time on the instrumental parts before any vocals are added.”
How do you know when a track’s done?
O: “This has a lot do with feeling. Sometimes a track gets finished super quick as we often like it rough. Other times it can be a slow and sticky process. It has also happened a few times that we’ve completely redone the vocals in the middle of the mixing process, as it just hasn’t felt right, like a constant itch you can’t really put your finger on. That said I’m more for putting things out there and moving on rather than keep grinding.”
Ø: “The track Always On from our latest album was reworked for a long time and went through a lot of different versions. We were never really happy with it, but also didn’t want to scrap it. The track that ended up on the album is just a small part of the song, the rest got cut out. But I feel this is the more rare extreme cases, usually it goes really quick and we feel a track is in the right place from the start. I think the best ones are like this.”
Do you have any production tricks?
Ø: “With most of the tracks, at some point something gets run through our old Fostex mixer for a little extra grit. We really love analogue sounds, but are not strict about it. We often like to contrast those nice analogue sounds with more harsh digital-sounding stuff like the Kaoss Pad KP3 for instance.”
Have you been involved in any collaborations for the new album?
O: “With our album we’ve been collaborating with several visual artists. The cover art is made by our close friend Camilla Steinum and features the double-sided tongue sculpture Vulnerable Lingual. Together with 3D artist Guynoid and AGF Hydra, we’ve also produced an A/V show for the album tour, exploring the fluidity of body and identity when the digital and the physical fuse as one.”
What is on your studio wish list?
O: “We’ve been working with the old TR-606 for a long time. We love it, but it’s quite limited. A modern drum machine like the MFB Tanzbär would be nice.”
What advice do you have for playing out live or DJing?
O: “I think it’s good to be clear about your setup and the sound you want. I’ve met so many sound engineers and technicians trying to explain to me how I should do my music. From questioning my vocal effects setup to showing me how to adjust the microphone stand (as if I don’t know?).”
And studio advice?
Ø: “Back up often.”
And any more general advice from the music industry as a whole that you can pass on?
O: “Don’t listen too much. Do your thing. There’s always an audience.”
Plug time. Tell us about the album and any live gigs?
O: “We’ve released our second album Bit Rot on the Mexican label, Infinite Machine, and are touring around Europe with the new A/V show. The first music video from the album was also just released.”
What else do you have planned, music-wise, for the future?
O: “We are currently working on some new EPs: one is improv/noise-based and another instrumental/minimal that we started writing during a residency in Marseille. We are also finishing a third EP which is more of an extension of the latest album.”