To the average ear, Soft Opening is actually rather hard.
The band's pounding psychedelia, laden with feedback, ambience and echoey wails, undoubtedly falls on the heavier side of the musical spectrum. But it's difficult to say exactly where it lies.
On first listen, it would be easy to lump in Soft Opening's drone-y and ominous sound with doom metal or stoner rock, but the band is more like a first cousin to those well-established genres, occupying a space slightly slower and decidedly more melodic.
Frontman Jamie Hepler is aware of this distinction. There was a time when Soft Opening's approach was considerably more aggressive and did fall within the boundaries of the aforementioned categories. But over the past year he's made a conscious effort to move away from the trappings of those labels and into a place that better represents his own tastes.
"I've taken the tempo down a lot and made it a little less heavy," he explains. "I just got tired of that. At some point it completely stopped making sense to me. Like, 'Why am I doing that?' I like heavy stuff, but it's really not anything I'm so passionate about that I need to be making it myself."
Then, acknowledging that "heavy" lies in the ear of the beholder, he clarifies: "It's not tough guy. I'm not a tough guy, so that didn't make any sense.
"I feel like that genre, like lots of other genres, has been kind of capped and is now getting to be pretty redundant. I really wanted to explore something more varied while retaining the patience and inherent psychedelia of that sort of music."
That shift in direction is showcased on Soft Opening's forthcoming LP, its first full-length since forming in late 2008. Recorded at High-Five studios in downtown Asheville, the project was a six-month endeavor that encompasses material from throughout the group's two-and-a-half-year tenure.
Hepler, who put the band on a brief hiatus while touring with local shoegaze outfit Ventricles, says that he, drummer Tony Plichta, bassist Patrick Jordan and organist Patrick Kukucka began writing new material almost immediately following Ventricles breakup in late 2010, but discarded most of that in favor of reworked older songs.
"The last track on this LP is actually the second track we wrote when we started," he recalls. "Another one of the songs was on a record that we mostly completed and scrapped; then we decided to stretch it from an upbeat three-minute track to a super slow and doomy eight minutes. Some of the other stuff is brand new. It's really all over the place."
If it seems odd that Hepler refers to the tracks by their order rather than by name, it's because they don't actually have names. Sure, he says, there are "joke names" the band uses, but printing those "would be ridiculous" and "the concept of renaming them for everybody else, I don't know, I just didn't see a point."
Instead, the album will be void of all titles, save for the band's name, and while Hepler acknowledges that the concept is rather unusual, he refuses to invent meaningless names just for the sake of the identification.
"One of the guys that's putting the record out was kind of confused by the fact that there's no names," he remembers. "He was like, 'Well, what are we going to call the song?' And I said, 'I don't know. That's not my problem," he says with a laugh.
To celebrate the release, Soft Opening is inviting Asheville to a free (that's right, free) show at the Grey Eagle, where the album will be available exclusively on vinyl, featuring hand-printed artwork by the Xpress' own Drew Findley.
Fans and curiosity seekers take note: it could be the last chance to catch the band for a while. Though they're by no means reclusive, Hepler says Soft Opening has made a point to avoid overexposure, limiting their local gigs to one every few months.
In addition, the band will take to the road for a series of weeklong mini tours after the release, starting with a jaunt to Florida. And while Hepler is excited to get the material out, he also admits to a certain level of apprehension.
"You never know if you're playing at a cool bar," he says. "Is it going to be The Get Down or is it going to be Hannah Flanagan’s? It's really hard to say. And you don't want to end up in Hannah Flanagan’s trying to psych out for half an hour."
— Dane Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Soft Opening, with The N.E.C. and Knives and Daggers
what: LP-release party
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Saturday, May 28 (9 p.m. free. thegreyeagle.com)