Soft Kill photo by Sam Gehrke
Interview with vocalist/guitarist Tobias V.H. | By James Alvarez
The sorrowful post-punks in Soft Kill have endured a lot in recent years. Especially, frontman Tobias V.H. Years of battling drug addiction, homelessness, and stints in prison took its toll on V.H.’s creative outlet, forcing Soft Kill onto the back burner after their 2011 debut album, An Open Door. After relocating from Portland, Oregon, recruiting new members, and grabbing life by the horns, V.H. and Soft Kill bounced back with 2015’s Heresy. “Due to ups and downs and conflicting emotions towards the music scene, I was pretty much done when I moved back East a couple years ago,” he explains. “Somewhere in that pocket of time, we collectively demoed a good deal of material that didn’t really sound like anything else we’d done before and, at the very least, seemed worth pursuing.” That’s where Choke—the band’s gloriously haunting new album, released Nov. 4 on Profound Lore—comes in.
Choke finds Soft Kill reaching new sonic highs while exploring dark and stormy emotional lows. Songs like “Frankie,” “Wake Up,” and “On the Inside” conjure infectious and evocative post-punk in the vein of icons like The Cure, Joy Division, and V.H.’s heroes, The Chameleons—whose Mark Burgess guests on the record—executed with Soft Kill’s authentically tortured delivery. Choke sounds like a gorgeous nightmare, striking the perfect balance between ominous and serene.
The album also benefits from the band’s new collaborative writing approach. “I wrote all of Heresy besides ‘Violent Mind,’” V.H. says, “which was our first time writing a song as a band. That opened up the door to [guitarist] Conrad [Vollmer], [synth player] Owen [Glendower], and I collaborating a lot—just jamming at O’s house—and we came up with more than half the album through that process. ‘Frankie’ was riffs Owen had demoed, a synth line I came up with, and Ben Greenberg, [Uniform guitarist and producer], assisting on arrangement ideas. I guess the main difference here is that I was living in Portland during this period, and we were able to really write an album instead of piling a group of demos into iTunes and trying to see if there is a cohesive flow to it all.”
As for the band’s dreamy new sound? “The guitar tone is thanks to Fender, Gretsch, and Peavey,” V.H. shares. “We both got new guitars, and it really just changed everything. Conrad is one of the weirdest players and I’m one of the worst, and our sessions where we’d just turn guitars up really loud and jam led to shit we’d never even tried before. We always joked about doing an upbeat pop album as a follow-up to Heresy, and I don’t think we succeeded, but we definitely scratched the surface.”
Despite their great sonic achievement with Choke, it’s still not all fun and games in Soft Kill land. The dark underbelly of life still manages to infect and inspire V.H., even in this forward-moving chapter of his life. Take Soft Kill’s new album for instance: “Its title is in reference to my friend, Dominick, hanging himself,” V.H. reveals. “I played the all-too-stereotypical role of ignoring his calls that day because I was too depressed to deal with someone else’s shit. The record as a whole is just about how fragile we are as people and how quickly the world can collapse around you.”