If you’re going to brunch in Hollywood on a Saturday morning, expect to wait about an hour for a table. But we got #blessed while interviewing Mike Kruger and Charlie Cosser from the band Charming Liars when we went to the Belmont on La Cienega and it was totally empty. Thank you Coachella. We chatted to them about the band, moving to Hollywood from London, and their new startup branding agency SOAP.
Mike, Charlie and their best mate Karnig Manoukian, have been a trio within bands since they were 15-years-old. Aiming to always have a five piece band, they auditioned musicians around Los Angeles after moving here. Being in a band is kind of like marriage. It’s a big commitment and not something you want to rush into. You want music tastes and personalities to match - finding people with the same amount of weird. Eventually they found that perfect balance in their American members Nick Krein and Zack Riel.
Myspace enabled a new generation of kids growing up all over the world to experience the same pop culture. From the bands we listened to, to the styles we liked, to our childhood idols - kids from Japan to London to small towns in Minnesota were experiencing teen angst together in a new way. Now that we’re older, that similar evolution of music taste, cultural influences and social media use links us all together, and enables these multicultural, international working relationships and friendships.
“Once you discover music, there’s so much of it out there you’re like ‘Give me ALL of it.’ Over time we went through different phases, the pirate phase, there was a cowboy phase, then there was a Power Ranger phase… I dabbled and dazzled. But we were all consistently surrounded by music from when we were very young. At first it was just noise, but it was subconsciously influential. And then there’s that moment of clarity, that epiphany when it just clicks. We all realized and decided very young that music and performing is what we wanted to do.”
Having read album credits listing LA producers since they were kids, they always imagined that if they ever were to make an album (although they didn’t necessarily expect it to be their first!), that it would be with a producer in LA. So when things in the UK were not moving the way they wanted - distracted by university and jobs - there was an opportunity for them to record demos with Bob Rock (Bon Jovi, Metallica, Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe) and John Fields (Jimmy Eat World, Switchfoot, Rooney) in LA through Warner Brothers. They were freaked out, but stoked at the opportunity.
“I remember getting into the studio and laying down a vocal for the first time within a week of being here, and thinking to myself, there was no way I was going back to my accounting module.”
For them, the idea of moving to the US took it’s time. They’d been a band for almost ten years, and were at a point in their lives where they had to decide if they were going to put the band aside and get regular degrees and jobs. Ultimately they felt they owed it to themselves to make the move and seriously pursue music, all or nothing. Getting out of London allowed them to write songs and record, and focus on being a band.
“If you’re lucky enough to identify what your passion is, then you’re doing yourself a favor to follow it. No matter how long it takes or how financially irresponsible or reckless it is. You’ve seen all the bloody TED Talks and Steve Jobs or whatever, you owe it to yourself to pursue it and the rest will work itself out. We’re using that thinking, we’ll let you know how it goes.”
It took them a while to really develop their network. They were co-writing, working with different producers and ended up becoming friends with the people they were collaborating with. But there was a period of time where it was like I Love You, Man. “We didn’t have a hard time making friends with girls, but we were like, ‘Where are the good guys!?’ And so we would meet guys and be like, ‘He likes Every Time I Die! He’s cool, he’s on our level!’ So there were weird man dates that we would go on.”
They started to build their creative network organically through their work. From photographers, videographers and graphic designers... talented and like-minded people that all made the choice to move to LA. Eventually they looked at their phone book and realized there was something unique in their network. They identified the attitude of our creative generation - a willingness to work hard and execute projects differently. Realizing the value in their solid network of artists and friends, Mike and Charlie created SOAP.
SOAP is a media production house that offers content on demand. Anything from videography and photography to graphic design, motion graphics and animation. They recognize that brands need a constant stream of high quality content. Some of it might be disposable media that goes out every day, or some might take a viral life of its own. Their job is to engage, acknowledge and really learn the voice of a brand, band or whatever it may be, and connect them with the right creative talent to produce digital content.
They took most of the responsibility in branding Charming Liars, and somewhere in between briefing graphic designers and negotiating budgets they realized they were pretty good at it. Through personal experience, they recognized that a lot of what’s wrong with the current state of mainstream marketing and entertainment is how long it takes to get things done. Record labels and brands need someone to just say, "Here’s the guy for the job and here’s how it’s going to happen." SOAP was created to spend the time and energy in the right places to make sure that stuff is done on time.
“Our job is to basically make that shit happen.”
They realize that creative minds aren’t necessarily business people looking for clients, and serve as a bridge between the two. They strive for constant communication between the brand and consumer. They emphasize the need for smaller consistent conversations between brands and consumers - stepping away from the gravitas of a 15M super bowl ad, and allocating time and money in more efficient and effective ways.
“We’re beginning to see the shift in budget allocation to more digital creative content all the time rather than spending $100,000+ on a video that people only watch once. Whilst I’m a huge fan of the traditional $1M music video, what’s the follow up? What are you going to do on a daily basis to keep people a fan of the video or keep them engaged? It’s not just retweeting a video everyday, it’s a performance video, it’s a lyric video, it’s social media and brand engagement - it’s content.”
“Whether it’s an artist or brand, content is constantly given away for free. No one pays to see videos, no one buys music anymore. Today music is not the most important part about music. You see lots of bands out there that are very successful with mediocre songs because their marketing has been done very well. To see any return on investment, artists need to treat themselves as brands. Artists can sell authentic advertising based on their influence. Hopefully it feels authentic, but the reality of the situation is that the only way to keep doing art is to keep creating high quality content that helps you develop a following, so that you can monetize your social reach.”
Brands need artists to tell stories in order to make profits. They have the money that artists need. It’s a business model that seems to be working. There used to be hesitation from artists about “selling out,” but today that feels like less of an issue. There’s a whole younger generation that don’t know what paying for music is. All they’ve known is streaming. They understand the necessity for advertising and brand integration, and sometimes even rely on it as an endorsement for the music or art.
Everyone needs content, and there’s so much you can do with it. Our generation’s advantage is that we don’t feel bound to traditional marketing models. Being young eliminates boundaries on creative thinking. The limit does not exist. SOAP is at the forefront of that attitude.
SOAP moved into their new offices in February and are keeping busy. They have a network of contributors spanning from CA to the east coast, London and are now moving into Canada. They are working on both music and non-music related projects. “Being busy is better than not being busy.”
LYKA was lucky enough to be a part of one of their first projects creating a lyric video for the pop punk band The Downtown Fiction. Check it out here:
What’s your favorite brunch spot?
Laurel Hardware. We only go to Laurel Hardware.
Favorite LA venue?
Charlie: Troubadour. I like going down to Bootleg sometimes. The sound at the Echo is amazing.
Mike: Unfortunately the Strip is not where it should be in my opinion… the history is there, talking about brands I want to fuck with, the Strip between La Cienega and Doheny. If we could do the marketing for that, hahaha they’re missing a trick there.
L: Favorite drink?
Charlie: I’m drinking tequila all of a sudden… tequila, honey & lime. I have a weird thing for mimosas, they make me so happy. Really happy.
Mike: Just Jameson. I’ve got quite a lot of it in me still.
Favorite branding trends?
Charlie: I’m a Helvetica Neue boy.
Mike: I like it sleek and monochrome.
What are you listening to right now?
Charlie: Swedish band with an Australian singer, Kate Boy. New Politics… we’ve toured a lot with those bands.
Mike: I was listening to Beware of Darkness on the way here…When you tour with bands and see them everyday, whether you like them or not, they turn you into uber fans. I know every lyric to every song these bands play. We’re listening to the new Charming Liars EP.
Favorite guilty pleasure music?
Charlie: I’m not ashamed. I loved Ashlee Simpson’s first album, it was so good. Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan all had these albums with really really good, well-written pop songs so I’m not even ashamed to say that.
Mike: I love Michael Buble.
If you could re-brand any company or campaign, who / what would it be?
Charlie: I would love to see a Spotify festival. They need to present themselves in the physical world not just digitally. I’m not sure why we haven’t seen that yet.
What are some of the biggest challenges of being a start-up company? Biggest challenges of being musicians / a band in LA?
The challenge lies in making your initial vision a reality. It requires a huge amount of focus and drive and aspects of your initial concept will be tailored and altered depending on circumstances in the market place. It’s a lot of work but it’s also the fun part. And trying to be creative as much as possible. As a musician anywhere, you don’t conform to strict 9-5 routines like most other people. Our job is to make sure we remain creative and write as much as possible even when deadlines and labels aren’t breathing down our necks.
Where do you guys look to for creative / artistic inspiration? Websites? LA spots? Events? Art?
I could hark on about the Annenberg Space for Photography or the Arts District in DTLA, but it’s really just BUZZFEED.