Interview with vocalist/guitarist Tobias Grave | By Tim Anderl | Photo by Jacki Vitetta
While returning home from a long-running tour in support of Soft Kill’s November 2016 release, Choke, frontman Tobias Grave faced a series of events that threatened to destroy everything he held dear.
At eight months pregnant, his partner Nicole Anne Colbath—who runs Cercle Social Records—began to bleed out in the van. The band were en route from Los Angeles to Portland and miles from the nearest medical facility. They raced through the night to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where trauma center doctors worked to save Colbath and their unborn child. Although the surgery was considered a success, Grave’s son, Dominick, was born unable to breathe on his own. Later, his lung collapsed, and he flatlined on the table while Grave watched doctors and nurses struggle to revive him with blood transfusions and breathing and feeding tubes.
“He essentially died and was hooked up to a lot of machines that made his little lungs function since they wouldn’t on their own,” Grave recalls. “The doctors and nurses did not sugarcoat what was happening, confirming that he was very sick with no guarantee of surviving this horrific ordeal.”
Grave admits that, in years past, his safety net in stressful situations was drug use, and facing the uncertainty of whether his son would live led his thoughts toward breaking his sobriety—until he realized he had another coping mechanism.
“I coped with what we were facing by writing and demoing material in the hospital instead of giving into the urge to use drugs,” he shares. “It was one of the purest and most emotionally draining experiences of my life. A good chunk of this album finds me really analyzing my relationship with substances, namely crystal meth. I’m exploring what led me to that drug and why. Obviously, there are elements of both survival and fatherhood, but [the theme that informed the record] was the realization that things were going to change in my life forever from that moment forward.”
The result of Grave’s writing is Savior, out via Profound Lore on May 11.
“[I was] also digging into something that seems fairly taboo to admit, but I explored the helplessness I felt as I realized how badly I needed my son to make it, so that I’d have him as a guiding light,” he continues. “All that digging through my mind and soul made me really believe that I needed something to pour my unselfish and undivided attention into in order to stay clean. People say the trick to sobriety is you have to do it for yourself, and I never felt confident in accomplishing that on my own. When that [guiding light] was almost taken away from me, I didn’t know that there was hope for me.”
With Savior, Soft Kill—whose lineup also includes guitarist Conrad Vollmer, bassist Owen Glendower, and drummer Adam Bulgasem—have created a flawless pop-laced record that transcends being pigeonholed in just the post-punk genre and is arguably the band’s strongest to date. They have already spent months on the road in 2018, previewing material from the record during a tour with their comrades in Choir Boy.
“The Sound, Chameleons, Asylum Party, and The Cure will always influence tones and textures within my songwriting,” Grave admits, “but [for Savior], I pulled heavily from U2’s Joshua Tree, Miami by The Gun Club, The Replacements, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, and The Stone Roses, to name a few. I have gotten more confident in my singing and took a lot of chances on this album, most notably returning to the vibe of [2011’s] An Open Door in the sense that I’m not doubling up my voice and not burying it in effects. That confidence also helped me accept that my voice is a huge part of what defines this band, and no matter what we bring sonically, my singing makes it cohesive with what we’ve already done as a band.”
While Grave anxiously anticipates Savior’s release as preorders roll in and celebrates an already successful tour with sold-out dates in Los Angeles and New York, neither of these things overshadow his pride in his son, who fought hard, got healthy, and is now thriving.
“He’s perfectly healthy and turns a year old [in March]. He will likely celebrate by destroying more of our things,” Grave jokes.