Justin Roth’s mother always wanted to name her son after Justin Hayward, the leader of the English classic rock band The Moody Blues.
But Roth almost wasn’t that person.
Several years before Roth was born, he said his mother was pregnant with a son, but later suffered a miscarriage. Roth said he owes his life — and his name — to that unborn person.
“If that kid had lived, that kid would’ve been Justin,” said Roth, a sophomore media studies and production major. “That’s the only reason that I’m here.”
In March, Roth’s band Soft Idiot released a new album, “stillborn,” which Roth dedicated to his mother’s miscarried child. On April 14, Soft Idiot will perform at a release party for the album at Trash House, a student-run DIY music venue on Diamond Street near 18th. Cassette tapes of “stillborn,” which is also available digitally on Soft Idiot’s Bandcamp page, will be sold at the show.
Soft Idiot is a four-piece band comprised of guitarist Roth, bassist and junior media studies and production major Mike Whalen, keyboardist and sophomore film and media arts major Sagar Vasishtha and drummer and sophomore media studies and production major Cullen Quinn. Roth describes the group’s sound as “bedroom pop,” a style of music characterized by the use of lo-fi home recording techniques.
As early as ninth grade, Roth said he began composing and recording music in his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Though his only method of recording was a “wacky” stereo recorder without a proper microphone, Roth said the process enabled him to develop new music constantly, free from the hassles of booking professional studio time.
“If you’re not on tour, why aren’t you always making something?” Roth said. “[Bands are] like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going in the studio, couple months it’s gonna come out,’ and I’m like, ‘Do it at home and put it out tomorrow.’”
Although Soft Idiot performs live as a full band, Roth recorded the majority of the instrumentals for “stillborn” by himself.
Vasishtha said he still isn’t used to performing live. Like Roth, he began recording at home as a high school student. He started by rapping and producing beats under the moniker Bumsweat.
“I never really imagined myself as playing keys in an indie rock band,” Vasishtha said. “I’ve always made music in my bedroom and now transitioning to a live show for a lot of people to watch, if I mess up … that’s like a real thing.”
In addition to their work on Soft Idiot, Roth and Pat Chabot, Soft Idiot’s manager and a sophomore media studies and production major, recently founded their own micro-label, Sock Puppet Records, to produce cassette tapes. With “stillborn” as the label’s first release, the pair said they plan to publish more tapes throughout the year, including Vasishtha’s upcoming rap album.
Roth said he feels cassette tapes offer both a “warmer” sound and a satisfying tactile experience unmatched by more advanced digital technology.
“There’s something about holding the tape and the way it shakes around, and it makes like a noise,” Roth said. “It’s like the lowest fidelity audio possible, but sometimes that’s what you go for.”
“It’s like a cool experience to actually have your name on something and put out a copy,” Chabot said.
Chabot added that “stillborn” is a “basic Philly emo album.” But he said Soft Idiot’s next project will likely incorporate more distinctive elements — like the banjo and fuzz effects present in the song “Love Like” — into the band’s overall sound.
“I’m very excited to see where Justin will grow as a songwriter,” Chabot said. “I think him having a full band now will make the creative process better and more fulfilling because he’ll have so many other people contributing to the music.”
Ian Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ian_walker12.