No Pretentious Master Plan: An Interview with Tobias V.H. of Soft Kill

Profound Lore Records Choke, the new album by Soft Kill on November 4. A departure from the sounds that have come to define Profound Lore – avant metal bands like Portal, Krallice, Leviathan, Pallbearer, and Subrosa – Soft Kill is one of the most outstanding new post-punk bands of today.
Mixed by Uniform guitarist Ben Greenberg, whose recent production credits include recordings by Sacred Bones Records bands like Destruction Unit, Choke puts forth a perfectly crafted, early ’80s sound, melancholy yet wired. Minimal guitar hooks and the haunted vocals of frontman Tobias V.H. set a lush, saturnine scene, as bone-shaking drums drive forward insistently toward the edge of something. Soft Kill sets this tension and lets it ride, conjuring emotion by way of repetition rather than peaks and valleys. Casual listeners might hear hints of early The Cure, early U2, and Joy Division. Fans more clued in to the genre will pick up on influences like The Chameleons, The Sound, and Lowlife – the song “On the Inside” features guest vocals by none other than The Chameleons’ Mark Burgess, of which V.H. says, “having one of our main influences take part in the album was pretty life-changing.”
Soft Kill was founded in 2010 in San Diego, California by Tobias V.H., then a member of acclaimed post-punkers Blessure Grave and going by the name Toby Grave. Soft Kill resurfaced in 2015 in Portland, Oregon with a new lineup, including veteran drummer Maxamillion Avila, known as a member of doom band Atriarch and an ex-member of screamo godfathers Antioch Arrow, freak-grind supergroup Holy Molar, and electro-punks Chromatics. 2015 saw the new, revived Soft Kill tour with The Chameleons and release the Heresy LP. One year later the band follows up with the masterful Choke and a slew of upcoming toudates  a bright spot on a long, detoured path. Choke was engineered by Jason Powers (Grails, The Mountain Goats) at Burnside Recording in Portland, mixed by Ben Greenberg, and mastered by Blake Bickel (King Dude, He Whose Ox Is Gored).
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Tobias V.H. to discuss the band’s sound, touring and controversy surrounding the band.
Have you always been a fan of and been influenced by ‘80s era goth and post-rock sounds? What is it about that genre and era that appeals to you as an artist?
I didn’t get into that world outside of Joy Division and Killing Joke until about 2003 when I was living in NYC and first strung out on dope.  My uncle gifted me the knowledge of Play Dead, Bauhaus, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and others because I was fairly obsessed with Eno and Bowie and didn’t know where to go from there.  The melodic interplay between guitar, synth and bass really grabbed me and it was impossible to ever look back.  Nowadays I still feel drawn to that sound, but rarely listen to any of these bands anymore.
I’m actually an old friend of Conrad Vollmer’s (guitarist). How did you come to meet and collaborate with him?
We both played in shitty no wave/noise rock bands and ended up touring the west coast together in 2005.  We bonded over our shared appreciation of Cam’ron and Lydia Lunch and have been friends ever since.  In 2014 when Soft Kill started gaining momentum again I reached out to him about being a part of it, and as a band we collaborated on “Violent Mind” and it was a perfect fit.
When did the band begin writing Choke and what were your primary goals for the record?
Demos started coming together right after the Chameleons tour at the end of 2015.  We didn’t have any goal but to write another record. It’s almost entirely Owen, Conrad and myself jamming and being friends, no pretentious master plan.
What was it about Jason Powers that made him the right engineer for the endeavor?
Jason was incredibly patient and easy to work with, open to any and all ideas we had and an all around great guy to create a record with. Conrad and he had recorded the Warm Hands EP together and Connie couldn’t speaker higher of the guy so we took a chance and it was an awesome experience.
Also, you are a graphic designer, correct? If so, is all the art related to the band his work and where does that inspiration come from?
My graphic design is called The Rope you can find my work on Instagram @learntolovetherope I do a lot of design work for the band as well, including t-shirt designs… pretty much everything that isn’t a record cover.  The inspiration originally came from drug use but now it just comes at random.
The band has not been without controversy, from your past issues with drug addiction, time in prison, and allegations leveled against you for abuse. Do you care to address the allegations?
Nicole Anne Colbath: Tobias thought maybe it would be best if I fielded this one, I am Nicole, Tobias’ partner, first I want to say I am a person in recovery with many years clean and sober. I am immensely proud of the work that Tobias has done to get and stay sober. Most of us end up dead or rotting away in prison, and for people like us it is the most difficult thing we will ever have to face in our lives. As recovering addicts we also understand that there is a ton of work ahead of us in cleaning up the wreckage we created while using.
This is definitely true of Tobias, and the recent allegations are more to do with people judging and hating him for issues of his past. I can unequivocally state that they are not true and are completely unfounded and slanderous, I reached out to a friend for help due to a tough time emotionally and had that person betray my trust by fabricating a rumor that there was physical abuse. At the end of the day I think the most important thing to take away from this is, believe women.
Does it make it hard to want to maintain a public profile, and further, sobriety, when these things come up?
I’ve never really wanted to maintain a public profile.  Being a social member of the scene stopped being a priority to me almost a decade ago, and while it didn’t help to have strangers discussing rumors and stories all over the internet, I’ve maybe once or twice in my life had someone actually address anything to me face to face.  People gravitate to drama and love to watch people fuck up.  They love spreading rumors and making judgments based off 1/10th of the story. I call it the gotharazzi, message boards are basically the TMZ of punk rock.
Profound Lore is typically a metal label? What was it about Soft Kill that might have attracted them?
I think we presented a great record to Chris in demo form and he got behind it.  Most metal heads secretly or openly love the Cure.  Metal is looked at as the darkest and heaviest form of music but the lyrical subject matter is almost always laughable, one troll or forest elf away from being a Game of Thrones episode.  Bands that talk about being anti-human, but tour constantly with four hundred shirt designs hungry for money and craft beer.
A December West Coast tour is in the works in support of the album, right? Do you have tour plans beyond that? Are Europe and South America still in the works?
We’re going out with All Your Sisters in December, one of the best current bands.  Europe and South America are still definitely in the works for 2017.  Most of the people who’ve supported us have been overseas, we’re looking forward to finally seeing them face to face.
Was there anything you learned on your Summer headliner that you’re hoping to implement to make shows or the travel better?
Don’t allow cranky assholes in your band.  Visit more waterparks and play more shows in Florida.
(Visit Soft Kill here: