Soft Kill: A lot of punks and hardcore kids are getting into post punk and shoegaze

photo courtesy of Soft Kill
photo courtesy of Soft Kill

Soft Kill is an American post-punk band from Portland (Oregon). We chatted with them about their new single ant their upcoming album, Dead Kids, R.I.P. City.

Please can you tell us a bit more about your newest track, Roses All Around? I have read at it is about the opioids.

Tobias Grave: It’s not explicitly about opioid addiction, but serves as an introduction to an album that’s general focus is drug addiction. A lot of people in our country are battling two related epidemics: street drugs like heroin, crystal meth, crack, etc but also pharmaceutical equivalents like the various synthetic opioids, amphetamines, benzos (such as xanax) and so on and so forth. The gateway that the latter has opened to ending up on the streets battling the former is a huge crisis here.

„Roses All Around“ is about navigating through Portland, consumed by what we believe is as the disease of addiction, trying to chase a high. It’s one of the only songs on the record not about a specific person or experience but rather a generalized day to day in these streets.

You have recently released an entire album made of demos. How did this go?

We released „Premium Drifter“ because we weren’t sure we were going to drop „Dead Kids…“ in 2020. It was our way of holding folks over and giving them a glimpse of what didn’t make the cut. The first pressing of that record sold out in a day, which was pretty exciting. Our fanbase has been very dedicated and invested in us trying to navigate this bizarre music industry as a primarily independent band.

Is it just me or is there a big comeback of postpunk/coldwave stuff, music influenced by bands like Joy Division etc? If you agree… why is that?

I’ve seen this happen in phases a couple times but nothing like now. There are so many bands I can’t keep track. I think part of it is that people are just accepting that a lot of those more popular bands like the Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, etc made really remarkable, deeply significant albums, not just „80’s pop“ filler. But also I’m noticing that a lot of punks and hardcore kids are getting into post punk, shoegaze, etc as a natural progression from liking more aggressive genres. That doesn’t surprise me considering the basis of the name is AFTER PUNK.

That being said, I don’t consider us to be directly influenced by Joy Division. Every rock band owes something to Chuck Berry, so I acknowledge and love Joy Division, but it does seem like a lot of the blogs and websites that write about music pigeon hole bands like ours as being obsessed with them.

We are planning a live stream for when the album drops

Are you trying to do some live stuff these days, or maybe some broadcast?

We have a lengthy European tour booked for next year as touring in the States isn’t really a possibility right now. We are planning a live stream for when the album drops and we’ll have more info on that shortly.

I understand it is not likely you can support your new album release with a tour-anything to compensate for that?

This has been a really interesting hurdle. We sat back and watched other bands navigate the same terrain and it gave us a little insight into what to expect, but nothing can compare to supporting an album through live shows. Now that it’s exposed and out in the open I think more bands will see how little some of these label deals really offer them and that ultimately the money needs to be made by investing in yourself, running your own store, pressing your own records and not just relying on live shows. The acceptance of touring being the only time you make a few bucks is kinda criminal in retrospect. Whereas Europe is really supportive of art and music, it’s way harder here to get validation from local government or non profits. It still feels like the circus in a sense.

The music is most important but I also want it to be exciting to look at.

I have (very happily) noticed your vinyl releases of the new album are selling out so fast – you seem to like doing various interesting vinyl editions too, full of colour-is this important for you?

We’ve always tried to make it as interesting as possible to buy directly from us. A lot of bands end up on labels and phone it in, but we’ve tried to balance growing as a band and selling as many copies as possible while still making each edition feel special and limited.

I grew up obsessing over packaging, reading everything inside, folding the poster sleeves out or freaking out over stickers and other extras they’d include. The music is most important but I also want it to be exciting to look at.

You seem to have a BOARD GAME

We made a board game haha. We usually cycle through a lot of far-fetched ideas but this was one that stuck and our friend David Rugh just seemed like the prime candidate to make it happen. You play as one of four tokens: a bloody heart, a brick, a trash can or a syringe and try to make it from downtown to 82nd Avenue without falling victim to the perils of the streets. 82nd Avenue is a pretty notorious strip for debauchery and criminal activity but also where a lot of us lived when we were down and out.

It came packaged with a version of the record unique to that edition and was limited to 100 copies. We might do a second run, contemplating that now.

There is plenty of darkness and heavy moments, but overall the record feels more „new wave“

And how do you feel about the actual contents of the new album? What should we know about it?

I’m really happy with how this record came out. It’s definitely our most produced endeavor, but it has that 80’s soundtrack sheen that made movies like the Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink so incredible. There is plenty of darkness and heavy moments, but overall the record feels more „new wave“, sort of a nod back to our debut record „An Open Door“ without matching it’s purposely minimal approach.

Influence wise we pulled a lot from the Psychedelic Furs, Stone Roses, Johnny Marr’s contributions to the Smiths, Asylum Party, Ride’s most gazed out moments, Cleaners From Venus, Chameleons and Lowlife. Still just focused on who we are and building upon that a little every record so that it’s unique and not repetitious of what we’ve already done.

Is it possible to make a living as a band now (if you are not a 60’year old superstar with a huge bestselling back catalogue)?

I think it definitely is. I think most bands associate that with being MASSIVE, but by that point you’ve allowed a dozen different people to profit off what you’re doing so what you need to earn to actually survive seems more exaggerated. You can exist with or without management, but a great booking agent and good relationship with a distributor seem to be the only things that feel imperative to us. We have a local printer who does 90% of our merch and we do all mailorder and distribution of that stuff plus our smaller-run releases and back catalog. It is an epic amount of work that can feel completely draining at times, but at least it’s our own factory and not some other place we have to punch in and out of for peanuts.

An organic following lasts.

Best and worst thing about being in this band?

The worst part is letting the infrastructure of the labels, publicists and blogs get you down. It doesn’t feel like they write about what they enjoy anymore, it’s all just interconnected relationships based on money. I feel alienated from that, but also let myself get tricked into hoping for the validation it seems to bring.

The best part is washing away that shit and knowing that an organic following lasts, and knowing that your fanbase is the core of what’s important in terms of how you press and distribute your music.

What present(s) would you like to get this Christmas?

I want to go to Hawaii and decompress for a week.