They say there are a million stories in the Naked City. Well, Portland, Oregon, doom-poppers, Soft Kill’s new album, Dead Kids, R.I.P City, tells the stories of ten people who lived their lives on the outside of polite society in the “old” version of Portland. These are people Soft Kill vocalist Tobias Grave knew at various points in his life. It’s a 10 song remembrance of the fierce souls he met during a certain period in his life.
“I can only speak for me, but I spent close to seventeen years of my life finding new bottoms. Descending into different rooms of hell that left me numb to my self destruction, and in these rooms I met people who showed me the brutal truths of that world, but also shared art, music, stories and experiences as we navigated these blocks living a life of crime,” Grave says.
“There is something that I cherish, that I find uniquely beautiful about living completely outside societies norms even if it meant spiraling into the abyss. You see the true core of people hidden behind the mask they aim at the rest of the world. Losing those people to overdoses and suicide places this world of guilt and regret onto your back which kept me crawling through life due to its weight. Telling these stories and proudly remembering so many of these incredible people is my way of finally standing up straight,” he finishes.
But, don’t call it a concept album per se. It’s more like a sonic book, with each song, basically a chapter, concerning a specific person. It’s his way of honoring his past and the people he met during this certain time in this life.
“I don’t know that I’d even explicitly call it a concept album even though that’s been thrown around. All of the lyrics have been incredibly honest and autobiographical from the start, but this particular record was about people, places and things from a specific period as told through my partner (and band member) Nicole’s (Colbath) lens and mine. The concept if any was that we pulled those stories from specific chapters of our lives here in Portland from 2000 up until early 2012,” Grave says.
These are stories that are important to him. The truth had to get out there. It It’s just like with the rest of their albums, in that it doesn’t deal with lightweight subject matter. It’s a matter of Grave going against the certain “rules” of the genre the band, which also features, Conrad Vollmer (everything, but drums), Owen Glendower (everything, but drums), and Daniel Valadez (drums), gets put into.
“The genre we get lumped into is plagued with bands singing about nothing. The voice becomes a droning instrument, something I used to hide behind as well despite singing about things I was dealing with,” Grave says.
“I think it just felt obvious that we needed to be saying something if there was going to be any lasting impression made. It feels like it could have been a seventy song box set to really scratch the surface of those experiences.”
The new album’s title is a morbid play on Portland’s nickname of “Rip City”, which is in connection to the city’s basketball team, the Trail Blazers. Once again, it’s Graves way of referencing his city, as seen through his filter.
“We just started referring to this place as R.I.P. City due to all the friends we’d lost. To a lesser degree it’s about the changes this city is going through. It’s hard for me to speak on it with any entitlement because I’m not from here but it’s been one of my homes since the early 2000’s. It feels so different now, inhabited by those who never cared about what was truly beautiful here,” Grave says. “It was just a cheap place to invest and grow ideas and visions that feel foreign and contradictory to what makes this city so great. I don’t see any gain from it but I’m gonna keep pushing. This is where I’ll spend the rest of my life raising my son.”
The music also had to fit the grand concept of the lyrics. They wanted to break free from the confines of “lo-fi” and deliver an enthralling sound for the listener.
‘(This is) a complete and total rejection of the lo-fi, one dimensional production quality of so many records influenced by the same eras of music,” Grave says. “We wanted something that grew and bloomed as the album progressed. It had to feel cinematic… like the soundtrack to a film. So much time went into finding the right sounds so that nothing felt redundant. The track listing had to accurately lay out the landscape that the stories took place in. Dave Trumfio did a great job of making that happen. ”
In addition to giving the listener a choice sonic and lyrical experience, they decided to do something outside the box in order to enhance a person’s interaction with the album. They created a boardgame. It ties into the stories and themes explored on the album. They collaborated with artist David Rugh, on this endeavor, because he shares a similar background.
“David has the same story as Nicole and I and subsequently ran with one of the people “Dead Kids…” is based around but at a different time than I did. We connected through our love for that person and it seemed right to involve him in this project,” Grave says “The board game was a way to add this playful contrast to an album that’s so dark and crushing to me lyrically. I think the idea of people being able to actually PLAY the album literally was something we came up with and had to explore and Dave took it beyond our wildest dreams,” he finishes.
The rules of this game are simple. Survive.
“In short: you have to get from downtown to 82nd Avenue whilst navigating through all the perils of day to day Portland. We have a few of the second edition left and then it’s gone for good, but, if you get a chance to roll the dice you’ll see what I mean,” Grave says.
All this adds up to one emotionally resonant album. While there might be a million stories in the Naked City, Dead Kids, R.I.P. City, tells 10 of these stories with honesty and feeling. Now, with the album out, Soft Kill have to focus on the realities of life during the pandemic.
They are making the most of this terrible situation, by keeping busy and creative.
“(We are) writing a lot of music. Got the next couple releases coming together already,” Grave concludes.
Photo by Sam Gehrke
Buy the album here.