Softee Rocks

“Really” by Softee, from Babies from the Lair:

Former Girl Scouts have a certain campfire ditty about BFF-dom ingrained in their noggins forever. Make new friends, but keep the old/One is silver, and the other’s gold/A circle’s round, it has no end/That’s how long I’m gonna be your friend.

If the cuddlecore popsters in Softee had a credo, this would be it.

Forged out of friendship six years ago, the band comprises four 30-something Hallmark employees who have just started making blips on the local music radar.

Getting a song on local label OxBlood Records’ First Blood compilation CD helped the band get instant exposure, as did smart use of MySpace. And Softee got a little help from some new friends in rock and roll, too.

I caught up with the ladies during a Monday night practice at the Fairway home of bassist and lead singer Sarah Anderson.

Wolfie, Anderson’s black ragamuffin dog, nestled under my feet as Softee rocked the rec room with some new tunes. On “Apple With a Face,” Anderson, buoyed by cellist Flora Gee‘s doleful strings, lamented those long-lost toys of youth. I won’t grow up! she promised.

“Apple,” like just about all of Softee’s songs, reflects the winsome, childlike attitude that has helped make its members’ fantasy of being in a band come true.

“I’ll be on my deathbed on a respirator — I’ll be a grandma with my family surrounding me — and I’ll remember how it [Softee] began,”Anderson said.

Anderson, Gee and guitarist Steph Allen met in Hallmark’s children’s division. They dreamed of starting a band, but they couldn’t find a drummer. Four years later, Alabaman Mimi Mangrum transferred to Hallmark. Anderson was her training coach. One day, Mangrum commented on Anderson’s singing voice.

“Meems said to me, ‘You have a great voice — you should be in a band,'” Anderson recalled.

“I had always wanted to play drums,” Mangrum said. “It sounds like some maudlin pauper story, but I would ask and ask for a drum set and no one would buy me one.”

All four ladies went to Musician’s Friend and bought Mangrum a kit, then celebrated with brunch at Denny’s. After a few shaky practices, they got their bearings. They wrote their first song, “Sugar Vendor,” the way high-schoolers playing M.A.S.H. might. “We’d write lyrics on index cards and pass them around,” Allen explained.

Inspired by a friend who drives an ice cream truck in California, the simple, crunchy gem recalls 1990s girly power-pop bands such as Tuscadero and Cub.

Softee posted a demo on MySpace, which caught the attention of jangly, fun-time pop group It’s Over, which invited Softee to hop on a bill.

OxBlood Records boss Robert Moore also liked what he heard, so he played Softee on his KCUR 89.3 radio show, Sonic Spectrum. Soon after, he selected “Sugar Vendor” to be on the First Blood comp.

The positive exposure allowed Softee to play out more often. Softee would funnel its cut from the door into a band fund, using it to finance the just-released EP Babies From the Lair.

Recorded by sound wizards Paul Malinowski and Justin Tricomi at Run Riot Studios, the short and sweet four-song disc comes in a sleeve that’s decorated with pink line drawings of bunnies, kittens and bears. Sonically, it bubbles over with flirty, honey-tinged songs about cheering up your buds, having crushes on male catalog models and being in the throes of a budding romance. Only the tellingly titled “Mean Song” elicits any sort of bad feelings.

Now, Softee’s looking at its biggest show yet.

In October, the band is slated to perform in front of 15,000 screaming females — Girl Scouts, that is.

An organizer for the concert, which celebrates the joining of all 80 counties under the Kansas Heartland Council, found Softee on MySpace and invited the band to play the celebration in Emporia.

“We’re really excited about it,” Anderson says. “We’re calling the show ‘Make New Friends, Melt New Faces.'”

Stay sweet, Softee.

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