If there is one track you need to hear today, let it be “Floodgate,” the third single from Soft Kill‘s upcoming Dead Kids, R.I.P. City LP. Not only is the track a haunting, cinematic piece of textured post-punk beauty, the song itself is a homage to someone lost in the ether, an allegorical tale and rallying cry of remembrance for Portland’s lost allies and friends who are no longer with us. This story, and nine others, are embedded within the lyrics of Dead Kids, R.I.P. City, due out on November 20th. Various editions of the LP (including a limited edition board game variant) have sold out already, a testament to Soft Kill’s enduring power and popularity.
Listen to “Floodgate” below:
In addition, we’re honored to premiere the video for “Floodgate” as well as share an interview with Soft Kill’s frontman Tobias Grave, but first, we’d like to share a personal essay from Tamaryn, who contributed guest vocals on the song and worked with Grave on the video:
Our friends are gone. I went to that part of town searching for them but honestly, I had a hard time looking anyone in the face long enough to see if I knew them. Would they even recognize me if I did? What can you say to someone who’s chosen oblivion? I looked down and then away from the hopelessness. But if I can’t face it I’ll never understand why this happened to people who were so cherished. They were stars to us but now the sky is blanketed in apocalyptic shades of red smoke and it’s almost as if they never existed.
Purdue Pharma is on trial as I write this and I am reminded of when Oxycontin was pretty new and my friends were laughing while puking their brains out on Morphine. It did kind of seem glamorous and innocent for a brief moment but every year that passed one by one they were swallowed into the void.
It’s not glamorous.
I’ve known truly celebrated people become all but forgotten in a few years, their undeniable potential and record deals pawned out for annihilation. The songs, books and legends they leave behind can sometimes draw us in but I hope that they are received as warnings. Burroughs wasn’t promoting a lifestyle he was documenting one in all its grotesque torturous shame. Maybe Kurt Cobain misunderstood, I know all my friends who worshipped him did. Because now they’re gone. Dead or lurking so deep in the abyss that I can’t find them and neither can their families, friends, lovers or fans.
I know from experience there is comfort in surrendering all hope. Falling on purpose into the womb of isolation. But the mind is a shared space and we’re all in here with you. A great song is a transmission not a diary entry and you don’t have to be a drug addict to know how it feels to be other. Loneliness is universal and therefore doesn’t actually exist.
I peer from underneath a thousand dreams
A voice that follows free
Of all the things I deemed were down to punish me
I lay broken on the ground
The gates are open. The underworld rises and now we all know the rich want us dead. Not just the fringe outsiders and junkies, all of us. Fuck that.
Dead Kids, R.I.P. City
A tragic story in reverse. Out of the abyss, singing the names of those that were lost along the way because they mattered. These aren’t siren songs to join them, they are hymns to survival.
Tamaryn for Soft Kill 10.25.2020
Dead Kids, R.I.P. City is an extremely powerful record; an homage to all those you’ve lost over the years. Was it a difficult record to make?
It went in phases. Initially it was difficult to channel a lot of those stories and experiences and capture them in demo form, which felt cathartic as well. When we got into the studio and had to put so much emphasis on re-listening to stuff over and over again it was a second wave of facing a lot of stuff I’d mostly kept buried within. My partner Nicole wrote a chunk of the lyrics based off her own experiences but I felt transported to those situations as well. I found myself mourning the loss of people I did and did not know since the circumstances were the same. I think all in all the processing of so much tragedy that’s far from unique to us and an epidemic in its own right will always be my experience listening to this record. The goal was to just scream their names which I think we accomplished, though.
Was the record initially conceived to tell these stories, or did it take shape a little further into the writing process?
The first three songs written were “Pretty Face,” “Crimey,” and “Tin Foil Drip”, the latter of which came out on a split 7” with Portrayal of Guilt. It was then that I think a discernible theme had been established and I came up with the album title which initially, I don’t think everyone was too stoked on, but definitely felt thematic in a very literal sense. I morbidly have joked that to tell everyone’s story we’d have to make a five record box set.
It’s extremely important to note that the album doesn’t glorify or glamorize drugs the way some music has over the years… As someone who went through hell and back and has been very honest about your experiences, is there anything more you’d like to share about the record?
Yeah, anyone who thinks there is a shred of glamor in these stories and their conclusions has a screw loose. I lost myself to this world for a decade and a half, convinced I wasn’t an addict and that this was part of being on and off the streets… that something was just internally wrong with me that I would never be able to pinpoint. In running from dealing with that I stepped on a lot of toes, burned many bridges and hurt some remarkable people. I used moments where I was in the right to handle things the wrong way. If you told me after that many years that I’d be able to look at myself differently than the shame and self hatred that was definitive of my existence I’d have laughed in your face. You can get clean, you can repair your self worth and how most of the world looks at you. There will always be repercussions for your mistakes and things you can’t fix, but a huge trap within the disease of addiction is running forward into the abyss due to belief there’s nothing to turn back to.
I think the main point here is that there’s no redemptive beauty in telling these stories if we didn’t grow and learn from our losses. I’ve seen addicts get clean and become the most inspirational and powerful people in my world. I want that for everyone willing to fight for it.
What were you listening to when making the record? Any particular songs or records you were inspired by?
At this point I’m listening to as little stuff categorized as “darkwave” as possible when writing. To me putting different influences through our filter is more interesting than sticking to the blueprint and not growing which seems to be the norm for all genres lately.
Forever by Cranes still crushes me and reinforces my belief that minimalism equals the most, if that makes sense haha. Lick by Lemonheads, Galaxie 500, specific Replacements tracks, Beaches & Canyons by Black Dice, Gang Gang Dance, Cleaners From Venus, For Against, Asylum Party… so a lot of the normal stuff you’d expect plus revisiting some more left field shit to kinda cleanse the mental palette. I listened to records that I thought we’re tonally perfect, or that had a cinematic progression. I went back and listened to guitar players whose approach was exciting to me like Ace Frehley, Glen Buxton from the Alice Cooper Band, Mick Ronson, John McGeoch, Reg and Dave from Chameleons. We take pride in being a true guitar band and translating ideas and approaches that aren’t the norm into what people expect from this type of music is important and fun for us.
Do you think the guitar has taken a backseat these days? As someone who loves both guitar-driven AND synth music, I’m getting a bit burnt out on purely-synth bands, personally…
I feel like you’re setting me up to talk shit haha!!! I’m definitely over it. I have an appreciation for dark techno stuff and definitely love specific artists and records, but the monotonous drum machine / synth sound that most “dark wave” or “minimal synth” projects embrace is way too one dimensional for me. My approach to making music will always be guitar based having grown up listening solely to punk. Being completely free of what I consider organic elements like guitar and bass only goes so far for me before I get kinda bored and ultimately it seems like the more popular this side of music gets the more comfortable bands are with emulating instead of exploring.
There’s plenty of exceptions to these rules but I’ll take a live drummer and cranked guitar over anything else as a rule.
I feel very similarly. On that note, I noticed you were also releasing a 7’’ that covers both sides of Blitz’s iconic New Age 7’’ – what inspired you to do that?
Blitz was one of my first favorite bands once I got into punk at 12. Our local heroes the Bruisers covered “Nation on Fire” which sent me down the rabbit hole of trying to find their records. I wanted to do “New Age” as if Violent Femmes or Go-Betweens wrote it, and people seemed to either love it or cry like obsessive little babies which is usually a sign that it’s solid. I never expected Mark Rainey from TKO / Cascade Record Pressing to call wanting to do it on 7” and it was his idea to replicate the 7” with Jerry A singing. Then he gets Mackie from Blitz on board to do the art. I started to just assume this was the most elaborate April fools joke but I’m totally obsessed with how it all came out. Childhood dream come true.
Soft Kill has always been a prolific band, and I love how much material you’ve released over the years. What’s the driving factor behind your material?
There have been many periods in my life where sitting down to write was a part of each and every day of my life. If I had the resources to create, I at least attempted putting together riffs and ideas. Programs like GarageBand and Logic are so simple to navigate and I think I’ve excelled at the limitations of those paired with a bass and a guitar. Lately that’s evolved into Conrad and I mostly writing together, kind of sparring with guitars till something clicks and then building from there with drums and bass. It’s no secret that I’ve suffered from a significant battle with addiction over the past decade and a half and admittedly I think that same obsessive mindset gets directed towards creating music.
Can you speak to your songwriting process? How do your tracks come together?
Occasionally I’ll just strum a guitar and sing a melody, but mostly I program a beat and start layering ideas. There’s something unique about laying the bass line down last. It sort of holds it all together like normal, but the approach to where notes fit is different than it being the initial element. With upcoming material it feels like we’re still doing it that way but laying down the bass / drum foundation or writing out chords and vocals yields much different results that seem imperative to work into a record to mix stuff up.
Tell us more about the guest collaborators on Dead Kids, R.I.P. City – Adam Klopp from Choir Boy and of course, the incredible Tamaryn. Is this the first time you’ve had guests on a record?
Mark Burgess guested on a track called “On The Inside” from Choke, but yeah this isn’t something we’ve done a lot of. I envy rap music’s format of constant collaboration. I guess jazz is the same way. Outside perspectives of how things should sound or play out is always unique and something we can’t tap into obviously, so to me it adds another layer of depth to those songs. Adam is family and comes from a totally foreign school of thought re: music than I do. Anything you hand him comes back different than you’d imagine, even in the case of singing a simple harmony. Tamaryn is a legend and took that song to another level. It made me realize how much I love the sound of two voices dueting over the entirety of a song rather than switching back and forth.
The video for “Floodgate” reminds me a bit of late night television, something that I would see when up past my bedtime, flipping channels and watching with wide-eyed fascination. How did it come together?
Big, slick videos would be cool but because we self financed this entire project we tried to make everything ourselves. I like when shit is raw and lo-fi and despite how produced this album is sonically, we tried to keep the visuals grimy which is cool cause I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.
Late night television is totally the vibe. 120 minutes buzz bin nonsense that never blows up. Public access absurdity is my fucking shit.
And to be real, bands sign away their records and go permanently in debt over shit like over-the-top videos that may or may not sell records. I can never tell.
Let’s talk about the board game edition of the record – what’s the scoop on that?
We wanted to do something deluxe for a limited version of the album and initially I had the idea of the jacket folding out into a game. That snowballed into a triple gatefold that hit a couple roadblocks after we had our friend Davey Rugh draw up the entire thing, which meant there was no shrinking it down or turning back without throwing away all of his work. Instead of doing a cheap poster we decided to just commit to doing an actual game board and it took the concept to another realm of insanity. We’re always trying to outdo ourselves and make it fun to be a fan of this band, I guess.
The game itself is laid out across the streets of the Eastside of Portland. It’s a morbid yet light hearted take on the dark reality that is a definitive element of the album’s subject matter. The cartoon imagery adds this interesting contrast to the whole project that I personally love.
I know you’ve been missing live shows the most lately – do you see any value in playing live on Twitch or any other live streaming site?
It definitely isn’t the same but I’ve adapted to it being a part of our reality for the near, and maybe even distant future. We have something special we’ll be announcing soon.
It’s amazing to see all these separate pressings of the record selling out before the album is even out in the world, congratulations on that! Are you planning any special editions? Are there any leftover tracks from the sessions that might see the light of day?
Selling the entirety of the first pressing day one was shocking. My goal was 300 copies or else I’d feel like it was a failure. To do over four times that actually brought me to tears. There is a record release edition that is pretty unique and special that will drop next month in conjunction with the “live stream” we’re doing, alongside some other special merch. It feels necessary to say that the support and patience from our fanbase has made this otherwise terrible year a big success for us artistically and as a business.
No leftover tracks! All ten songs made it onto the record and the demos that didn’t came out as the “Premium Drifter” LP. That being said, we’re going back into the studio next month to record another project that isn’t a full album but features mostly songs Conrad and I have written during quarantine and the guitar interplay on those tracks is absolutely bonkers. No news on when to expect that, though we’re planning something fun for how that drops.
Soft Kill- Dead Kids, R.I.P. City
1. Roses All Around
2. Wanting War
3. Matty Rue (feat. Adam Klopp)
4. Floodgate (feat. Tamaryn)
6. Pretty Face
9. Oil Burner
10. I Needed The Pain
Purchase physical edition of the LP here.