Over the Summer of this year, Portland postpunkers Soft Kill embarked on their first headliner tour of the US. The dates with Vancouver-cum-San Diego postpunk act Underpass were a huge success, and the band debuted new material off their upcoming LP, Choke. (That album will be released in November, 2016 on Profound Lore.) Choke is an eight-song long player that features the Chameleons’ own Mark Burgess as collaborator and singer on at least one track, “On the Inside” (one of the standout tracks on this upcoming album, to be sure).
It’s hard to believe the band has been around for 6 years, even if some of that was spent on hiatus. So far, the band has three LPs and about half a dozen singles and EPs, and they’re one of the higher profile bands in what some call either the underground postpunk revivalist or “postpunk continuum” movement – meaning, postpunk never died, it just continues on, of course. Singer Tobias Sinclair’s former work with goth band Blessure Grave informs a lot of his vocal delivery – somber, disaffected, and echoey vocals complemented by a deep and atmospheric guitar. Add in the powerhouse drumming of Maximillion Avila of bands as diverse as Atriarch, Antioch Arrow, the Chromatics, and Final Conflict, and you have a recipe for an incredible live performance – something I’ve been able to witness myself, multiple times now. Good stuff, those Soft Kill live shows. Choke is an incredible tour-de-force of dark and moody postpunk that will prove to be one of the best albums of 2016.
Below, I got to ask singer, founder, and guitarist Tobias Sinclair about the direction the band is taking with its new LP, as well as how the band started and where they are going to go from here.
Tobias Sinclair of Soft Kill was interviewed by Oliver in late July, 2016.
Tobias, for folks that may be reading about you for the first time, let’s get some basics out of the way: When did Soft Kill start, and who all is in the band now, and what do they play?
Tobias: Soft Kill started in 2010 and then were inactive for a period. Currently, the band consists of Conrad Vollmer on guitar (Warm Hands), Maximillion Avalon on drums (Antioch Arrow, Atriarch, Get Hustle, Chromatics), Owen Glendower on synth and Bass 6, and myself on vocals and guitar.
Can you explain how Soft Kill arose from your previous band, Blessure Grave, and how the new band’s name – Soft Kill – was chosen, what it means, and how it relates to the band’s sound?
Tobias: Blessure Grave revolved mostly around lo-fi home recordings. It was a legitimate goth band. Soft Kill was always the pursuit of a more high fidelity sound, a very guitar-based sound a la Magazine and Wire. They’re very different projects. A “soft kill” is a term that means “an attack to disable, but not kill, an enemy.”
How would you describe Soft Kill’s sound? “Goth pop” and “based goth” are mentioned on the Last.fm page – do you agree, and did you coin the “based goth” term? What does it mean?
Tobias: The term “based goth” came from Lil B. He named us that after corresponding with him and going to meet with him. Lil B had released the “ambient rap” LP Rain in England on Sacramento label Weird Forest. We went to see him in west Oakland and then sent him music and he called us “based goth,” so we put it on a shirt – and everyone took it way too seriously….
You have a new LP coming up, “Choke.” When can listeners expect to be able to buy that? When was it recorded, who produced it, and what label will it be on?
Tobias: We recorded Choke in June of this year (2016) with Jason Powers. It was mixed by Ben Greenberg (Uniform) and will be coming out on the incredible Profound Lore Records the first week of November, 2016.
Actually, I’ve been listening to the new LP a lot, and although the production and songwriting seems to be getting stronger with every LP so far, this one, I think, takes it to a new level – there is a dreamy and atmospheric feel to a lot of the songs, and the vocals seem especially well done. Were you trying to do anything different on this LP that you haven’t been able to do on past LPs? Is there a particular direction you feel like the songwriting is going, and what has been influencing that?
Tobias: Well, Choke is eight songs, and two of the songs were demos that were written five years ago, in 2011. They were songs I’d forgotten I had ever even written. The rest of the songs were highly influenced by listening to The Sound, but also Spacemen 3 and Cocteau Twins, especially the dreamier elements. A big change was some of the songwriting came very organically via Conrad and myself just playing guitars together. We occupy different spaces without even really trying.
The eight songs are:
3. Wake Up
4. On The Inside (feat. Mark Burgess)
6. I’m Beside You
8. Feel of the Knife
Overall, what bands do you think have exerted the greatest influence on Soft Kill’s sound? A lot of reviewers will mention the usual suspects – Joy Division and earlier Cure stuff. Do you think that’s just lazy music journalism or are they right? Who have been the primary influences on Soft Kill’s sound, in the beginning versus now?
Tobias: Anyone who compares us to Joy Division is a bored and sad human. That is ridiculously tired. The Cure is my favorite band, so I know they sneak in from time to time. Our foundational influences are Chameleons, Sad Lovers and Giants, Lowlife, Cocteau Twins, Asylum Party, and Krautrock in general. The usual suspects, of course, but we’ve never sought out to emulate any of that.
On one of the tracks on your new LP, “On the Inside,” you have Mark Burgess of the Chameleons appearing. How did that collaboration come about and what can you tell us about the impact the Chameleons have had on Soft Kill, and what was it like touring with them last year?
Tobias: Chameleons are one of our biggest influences, and touring with them was one of the best experiences. To connect with one of our favorite bands was truly unreal. We reached out to Mark to see if he would be interested in collaborating. He was. The result was absolutely incredible and organic; his part on the album is otherworldly. We could not be more in awe of him and his contribution.
You recently went on a tour with Underpass (above graphic). How did that tour go and do you have any particular, stand out memories of any shows or events that happened on tour? What were they?
Tobias: This Summer 2016 tour was actually our first US headlining tour, and we went to places we had never been. It was an unbelievable success. We had so many standout shows it is so hard to choose, the reception was overwhelming. Florida, Texas, Denver and LA all stand out – not to discredit any place, though! The entire tour was great.
Now for a question I try to ask everyone that I interview: If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have 5 LPs to last you for the rest of your life on that island, and had some magic means to play them and only them, what 5 LPs would those be, and why?
Tobias: Mobb Deep – Murda Muzik
DJ Screw – Sentimental Value
The Cure – Head on the Door
Darkthrone – Goat Lord
Tollund Men – Autoerotik
In reality, I probably wouldn’t listen to records. I would just lay down and die after befriending inanimate objects, Castaway-style.
Is there any other news regarding Soft Kill you’d like to touch upon? What’s coming up for the band, and where can folks go to check out what’s up with Soft Kill these days?
Tobias: The amazing European label Weyrd Son Records is releasing a super deluxe version of 2015’s Heresy that will be up for preorder soon. We will be touring extensively in support of Choke, which includes Europe and South America dates in the Spring of 2017. We are also working on a collaboration with Primitive Man which will be absolutely savage.
If there’s any thing else you’d like to plug or give a shout out to – here’s your chance! Thanks for the interview!
Tobias: We’d like to thank Chris Bruni of Profound Lore, thanks to Nicole for putting us in his hands, and go buy the He Whose Ox Is Gored record The Camel, The Lion and the Child. Also, I’ve been doing a lot more graphic design work and focusing more on my art: you can check it out on Instagram @learntolovetherope.
Soft Kill will be touring the US in support of their new LP in December.
Soft Kill has a Facebook page here.
You can listen to their new LP, Choke, in November, on Profound Lore.