Vocalist Tobias Sinclair also gave an insightful interview about the hard road of addiction and recovery after the show.
On Thursday, April 7th the Portland, Oregon band Soft Kill performed at the Columbus Theatre in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. They had support from the bands House of Harm, Topographies, and Alien Boy. This was their 22nd stop on the massive 38 date long tour – and potentially the most unique.
This sold-out show was not only packed with people, but listeners were forced to sit in seats that were mere feet away from the stage. This made for a different experience for both listeners, and each band performing. However, this did not deter fans from dancing in the tiny and cramped space between the stage and front row of seats. Vocalist Tobias Sinclair of Soft Kill commented about the venue's set up during their performance by saying it felt, “Incredibly weird. Take a seat.”
The night began with the Boston based post-punk band House of Harm performing at 7:30pm. Afterwards, the San Francisco based post-punk/shoegaze trio Topographies took the stage at 8:30pm. Unfortunately, due to a tech mishap the trio had to cut their set short and the Portland, Oregon band Alien Boy performed at 9:10pm. During Alien Boy's set, the guitarist and songwriter Sonia Weber stated, “We haven’t been in Providence since 2017.” At which point the drummer Derek McNeil chanted, “Coffee milk, coffee milk, coffee milk.” Fans could hardly be kept in their seats when the band performed the songs, “The Way I Feel,” “What I’ve Always Wanted,” and “Somewhere Without Me.”
Finally, Soft Kill began performing at 10pm and played through the songs, “Wanting War,” and “Build Your Prison Walls.” Before their third song, Sinclair said, “We have a new record coming out, this next song is new and called ‘Magic Garden.’” The band then moved through other tracks such as “Swept Away” and “Missing.” Prior to the band performing “Selfish Love” Sinclair stated, “This is weird. Never again, I love it here, but it’s just weird. Yo, what day it is, Thursday? So everybody went to work today? So this is pretty good, you all get to sit back, I respect that. Oh fuck I’m bombing, this is my first stand up. Anyway, this song is about when relationships just aren’t … good.”
After performing the songs “Trying Not To Die,” “Press Play,” “Death In The Family,” and “Wake Up,” Sinclair gave a heart-to-heart speech to the audience. He began, “These last two years have been crazy, during that time we self-released two records instead of using a label, which was really hard and a lot of work. But it was an incredibly rewarding experience because we got to connect directly to the people who cared about the band, and this is the tour that is supporting a record called Dead Kids R.I.P City. If you bought that record it means a lot to us, it’s why we’re here. I just want to give you some context about that record in this next song in particular. So, I grew up an hour and 50 minutes north of here in the seacoast of New Hampshire. At the age of seven my dad worked on the road, then he left and my parents split up. My mom being working class delivered papers for the Boston Globe. It also meant that I was under the care of babysitters who took advantage of me, molested me, and put me through the ringer.”
He continued, “When I was in the 7th and 8th grade, I started connecting with my first circle of friends. I didn’t know how to keep friends, I acted out, I didn’t know how to be myself; I didn’t feel safe. I started to find little pieces of myself by going to places like the Rat and the Living Room, and just blending into this bigger thing that was happening. But I was trying to fit in so hard that I was trying to be whatever anyone wanted me to be. It took a long time for me to realize that who I was, was an incredibly broken and fucked up kid, that had no real social skills, no self-confidence, and no way to escape it.”
Sinclair confessed, “So I ran away to New York City, I tried cocaine and heroin for the first time and all of the weight of everything I just talked about, was gone. I just felt this incredible peace. It was powerful, I wanted to tell everybody – I did. I went to my mom and was like, ‘I tried this shit called heroin, it’s incredible.’ And she was like, ‘What the fuck? Do you have any?’ that’s the type of household I grew up in. I thought my mom was cool because she wanted to get high with me. The next 20 years of my life I was homeless, I went to jail a bunch of times, I went to prison, I destroyed all my relationships, I flushed everything down the toilet and didn’t know how to be honest. I didn’t know how to keep promises, I didn’t have any integrity. My whole friend circle thought I was a complete cluster fuck and they were right. When I got out of prison and I came back, all those same friends were addicted to Percocet and I started watching them die one after another. Close to four years ago I went to rehab finally, and I was done. But when I came home from rehab, I realized that I couldn’t really connect with anybody based off of music or art – because that had not been my life. I had made records, and recorded songs with some of these people, but I didn’t know what the fuck any of this was about. I just poured my pain into that and just went back to it.”
“What breaks my heart right now is that this debate about the disease of addiction being so prevalent – it’s a real fucking thing. Doctors already decided it, so you don’t get to have a fucking opinion. But I want people to be safe with it, I believe in needle exchanges, I believe in harm reduction. But what I mostly believe in is the one thing I took from punk rock, and going to these places, and that’s that all we have is one another. The Criminal Justice System and all these other people don’t fucking care about us. People like me were totally different four, five, six, seven, even two years ago. This is all I have. My mom just came home from her fourth stay at rehab, she’s been 90 days clean. I had to drive her to rehab, and then I flew to LA and we made our new record, and now we’re on this tour. It’s all starting to make sense to me, I’m starting to realize the things you care about, you have to nurture. You have to pour love and emotion into it, you have to be honest with those you care about. If I’m going to be honest, Dead Kids is a really hard record to perform. It’s really hard to revisit people that we lost. But I get to have them here with me. This next song in particular - I wrote this the day my dear friend Zach died. He was one of the most coldblooded, psychotic, criminal minded, beautiful souls; and this song is about him overdosing on New Years Eve. I fucking beat the life back into him, and I held him, I had him for a little bit longer, and then he was gone. A couple years later, he’s here right now and that’s an amazing thing. So this next song is called ‘Pretty Face.’”
The band closed their set with their song “Whirl” which sent the audience into a tailspin full of crazy dance moves, and people trying to dance from their seats.
After the show, Sinclair discussed in an interview what it was like to create their album Dead Kids R.I.P City,and new music the band has coming out.
Dead Kids R.I.P City has been out for nearly 2 years, what inspired you to title the album as such?
“So it’s a play on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. My inspiration besides that it’s a very heavy record subject-matter-wise, I wanted there to be a playful element to what is a rather grim story. I love rap – that’s mostly what I listen to - I thought it would be a nice nod to that, and I knew that it would get under people’s skin to some degree. They want our records to be called ‘Savior’ or something. But the thing was, as proud as I might be for some of our older stuff, I was so far gone on drugs that those names – they’re so fitting but so uninspired in a similar way. It almost felt like an afterthought.”
Would you consider Dead Kids R.I.P City to be a concept album?
“100%. Each song is a story about someone that died.”
How do you feel the songs have aged or matured since they were released two years ago?
“I am the happiest with this record, it’s the first record I wrote clean. I think that this tour in particular, I’ve been able to understand and articulate what they’re about better, than when they’re initially written. There were a lot of emotions flowing that it felt like a big open wound, that wound is still open but it’s been great to see how well those songs have been received. For years the new records were coming out, and people were still there to listen to specific older tracks, and now people are here to hear all of it.”
Can you explain how you came up with the artwork for the album?
“So Vanessa and Megan are the only people that are part of the record that are alive. Those are friends of my partner Nicole’s social circle growing up. They’re very young and they’re very high in that picture, and the concept of that photo is to not only inject a little bit of light - because they went through their own trials and tribulations but made it - but also to show that bridge from innocence to going into a darker place. There’s a Facebook group called ‘I Raved in Oregon in the ‘90s’ and she was part of it. When she was 14 or 15 years old, dealers would fill her bra or underwear with Ecstasy and she would go in unsearched and then they would get it out and sell it. So she was in there for that reason to see different posts and flyers that she had gone to, and she saw that picture and went, ‘Oh my fucking god, that’s the album cover.’ We hit those people up, the person that took the photo, and we met, bought the photo, and got everyone’s permission. As time went on they saw how many people connected with it and they went, ‘Oh my god, this is actually bigger and more important than we thought it would be.’ They were happy and stunned, it was a rewarding thing to celebrate them and where they’re at in life, in the same way that we celebrate the people we lost.”
Did they have any songs dedicated to them on the record?
“No, so people that are a part of the record like Matty Rue, Zach DeLong. The first verse of ‘Oil Burner’ was about a guy that Nicole met in Hooper Detox, which is Portland, Oregon’s detox before you go to rehab. She never made it fully through rehab, but she’s been 11 years clean. It was a real cast of characters when you’d go to Hooper Detox, I never went, I went to a different facility. The second verse is about me coming home from Lakeside Milam which is the rehab I went to in Washington. It’s kind of a call and response, and there’s a lot of it on the record where Nicole and I collaborated on a lot of lyrics.”
The new album featured talented artists like Adam Klopp from Choir Boy on “Matty Rue” and Tamaryn on “Flood Gate.” How did you know you wanted those artists to be on the record?
“Both of them came organically. They are both family, we love them. We took Choir Boy on their first U.S tour in 2018 and they’re a really important band to us. Adam is a really important artist to us. I wanted to share this with people regardless of their own personal investment in the story. Every time I’ve collaborated with Adam in some way, he’s done something completely removed from what my mind would have done. And that was important, Tamaryn was a similar thing. These people sing way better than me so the melodies they added into it was really beautiful.”
How did you know that you wanted the band to be independent?
“With Dead Kids we talked with some sizable labels that we were really excited to work with, and then the pandemic hit. Then all of their perspective on it was that we had to stall it out, and that it would’ve been a really strange time to put out a record. We agreed and then something hit, and I wish I could really pinpoint what that was, but we realized that it needed to come out. We ended up doing it independently and we’ll never go back. This is the best experience.”
Soft Kill has released a ton of merch, even going so far as making a pop-up shop in Portland. What was the idea behind creating your own store?
“We do everything ourselves. We find artists, or we design something ourselves. A big part of being independent has been that we stay creative. We started doing a lot of merchandise and really thinking outside of the box, especially for what people in this genre would expect us, or our shirts to look like. So we were having a lot of fun with it and we’re inspired by streetwear and sneaker culture. We would drive by this one spot on Greely – which is a street in North Portland – and we said, ‘When that is available, we’ll rent it.’ It was kind of a dare, and then one day the For Rent sign was there. We called and had it within 48 hours. We did that for about a year and then we had to sign another lease, but we had outgrown the space and we’re now currently moving it to a different place still in Portland.”
The band has a bunch of variants for Dead Kids R.I.P City, do you collect vinyl yourself? What is your favorite variant that has been pressed?
“I collect vinyl in a pretty lackadaisical level compared to in the past and shit. Through punk rock, I’ve always liked limited weird versions of records. My favorite color variant is the candy splatter, but in terms of weirdo covers I loved the Oregon Ducks edition. We all love sports, which is another unorthodox thing about us. A lot of people have let us know that we’re – somebody called us ‘Jock Goth’ as an insult, and we went ‘Oh hell yeah, that’s what it is.’ I would never call our band that, but it was someone trying to hurt our feelings, and pinpointing something deeper. Sad rock, doom pop, these playful things that we came up with to describe it as post-punk or goth, or whatever else people try to pigeonhole it as.”
In “Ducky” you sang, “And I aimed my gun today, shot outside the frame and loved the taste.” Could you explain what you meant by this?
“Honestly, I was in the streets as a total criminal and it was a very literal statement. The feeling of a gun going off was like an exciting, intense thing. Loved the taste of crime, it’s a metaphor but it’s literal too. I ran with some characters and I think it might be downplayed in certain circles, because a lot of people use drugs. But I was on drugs for 20 years and everybody that I was really around went to prison or was in some shit that was way deeper and darker than I think people would think would be part of our story. It’s very normal to be far gone living as an addict. But that’s one of my favorite songs from the record.”
After the 2011 release of An Open Door, you took a hiatus from the band. What happened to make you do so, and how did you know you wanted to continue making music?
“I didn’t want to come back at all. Everything that was made, like Circle of Trees, were just little glimpses of what I was going through. I create just to create and when it was demoed, I was appeased. My wife really pushed us in 2016 to do something and got us with Profound Lore, and I didn’t have any intention to do any of this. I didn’t see a future in it, I didn’t understand how it would be sustainable, I didn’t really feel that this was my peer group. I love music, but I didn’t really give a fuck about what anyone else was doing, that felt like a prerequisite to being part of a scene. That isn’t an arrogant or dismissive thing, I was just really detached. That hiatus was just life, in 2016 we just gave it a shot and we kept going. I’m really happy. It’s therapeutic, I have a very realistic view of life; it’s a lot of good and a lot of bad. You’re not supposed to feel stellar as a rule. I’m not supposed to be super self-absorbed. Peace of mind doesn’t just come from obtaining things that you want, so that was a big thing I had to learn. As an addict it was definitely about filling a hole. When I got clean I kept trying to fill that hole and now I don’t really care about owning anything. The lyrics are just true, what we talk about is autobiographical and observational. There’s nothing unique about being an addict, we all have a very similar story, whether you went to prison or not, the disease is the disease.”
Speaking of autobiographical, when are you going to write a book?
“It’s been talked about recently. It feels a little … invasive in a weird way. I have not felt a great deal of empathy leading up to this tour, I think people with my story have been written off as sociopathic. I definitely had a lot of ups and down, trying to find my place and how it fits into all this. Especially how it fits into this transparent and honest part of my life. I do think that it’s something that’s come up quite a bit.”
You spoke very inspirationally tonight before you performed “Pretty Face.”
“I say something of that caliber every night. It changes a little bit, but the underlying message is the same. Some nights I’ve cried on stage, and other nights I’ve been a little shorter and more concise about it. Tonight was interesting because I’m from here, I’m from New England. The Living Room, As220, this is all part of my story.”
You released the singles “Cicero” in 2021, and “Press Play” earlier this year. When can fans expect to hear a new album from the band?
“I don’t know. It’s done though. It’s recorded and finished. It exists. The artwork, most of the concepts are there, the layout and vibe of it are there. A new version of ‘Cicero’ is on the record. ‘Press Play’ is not on the record but is recorded by the same producer as the new record; so it’s kind of a glimpse. If you dig into ‘Cicero’ a little and decipher what the song is about then it’s a glimpse of what the record is about. It’s a concept album, they all will be. I think they all have been unbeknownst, Dead Kids might have been the first literal, but yeah each one has a very underlying theme that’s hard for me to shake.”
What advice would you give to artists in this music scene that want to create, but aren’t motivated to do so?
“I wouldn’t say anything on that level because it’s like you likely shouldn’t do this. You should create for sure, if you want to do music for a living, the only reason that it’s worked for us is because we’re 100% self-sufficient. We’re that invested, we don’t want a loan, we don’t want money from anybody. We don’t want to compromise. We fund our own records, we release our own records, we don’t ask for permission. We don’t utilize press, if we do interviews it’s organic. It’s not because we paid a publicist. It’s hard for me to force that onto other people, but that’s the only tried and true way - outside of the core of it being that you’re creating something that people want to invest in – to make it. Don’t get a manager, find a good booking agent if you need it. You don’t need a record label, the music industry collapsed and died a million years ago. Spotify is not this ulterior reality that labels are scratching their heads at, they created this. This is the sum of artists never having any value, and the corporations making all the money, and us being puppets of it. It helps get the music out and I utilize it, but I can respect it and understand it only because I know what percentage of it equates to physical sales, how much of it equates to merch sales, and we as a band and business know how to capitalize on making the most amount of money off what that is. We let streaming be what streaming is, which to me is promotional.”
What new music are you currently listening to?
“We listened to the new Duster album today and it’s great. We listen to a lot of rappers like Wallie the Sensei, Shordie Shordie, MO3 who just passed away not too long ago. The last Corbin album I really loved, stuff like that. Southside Hoodlum, all of Big Tex Johnny’s production, we’re collaborating on some music right now. We’re just gonna keep doing whatever the fuck we want to do.”
Are there any hints you can give for the name of the new record?
“Two words. It starts with a ‘C.’ Coming Soon.”