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“I’ve continued to make music within whatever limitations my health provides” – An Interview with Soft Punch

Soft Punch is the project of Washington D.C.-based musician Rye Thomas and today sees the release of their debut album Above Water on Bad Friend Records. The record is full of bold, multidimensional arrangements that nod to a wide array of influences, from Björk to The Beatles, Frank Ocean to Elliott Smith. Above Water is an album about learning to live with loss, about looking for beauty and finding it in the most unexpected places. 

Rye Thomas’s life forever changed in 2013, when he acquired a mysterious illness that gradually left him homebound. Rye previously lived a full life as a writer and a musician, touring in bands like Pash and Tereu Tereu, freelancing for publications like Rolling Stone and The Washington Post. But after his health collapsed, he could no longer leave his house, and the simple act of turning on an amplifier triggered debilitating migraines. Despite this, Rye never stopped writing music — sometimes for only 30 minutes a day, in his blacked-out bedroom, with nothing more than a basic keyboard and a cassette recorder.

When Rye’s health finally improved enough to start recording a proper album, he had a hefty backlog of songs to pull from. With the help of his longtime boyfriend, Brendan Polmer, Rye outfitted his home studio with old tape and tubes for a more classic sound, and he called up old friends to add expert instrumentation. Some of the songs on Above Water started out as sparse, quiet sketches, written when Rye’s health was at its worst. The fact that they evolved into full, densely layered compositions speaks to Rye’s artistic dedication.

We caught up with Rye to talk about the album and how he adapted to his health issues to be able to make the record.

Hi Rye! How’s everything going right now?
Given the new album release, I’m both elated to get new music out and totally uncertain how it will be received!

What classic album cover art is your current mood?
Hunky Dory.

Your debut album “Above Water” is out on September 15th. When and where did you write and record it?
Most of the writing took place in my room, especially during 2018-2020, when I was particularly sick and couldn’t do much else. I recorded and mixed most of the album at home in late 2022. I have a decent studio set up in what would otherwise be my dining room, with a tape machine and an old mixing board, in addition to plenty of digital gear.

Your life changed in 2013 when you came down with a mystery illness which left you homebound. How are you doing now and what changes did you have to make in order to be able to continue to make music?
I’m still mostly homebound, and my energy is pretty limited, but now I hang out on the couch, rather than lying in bed. I’ve continued to make music within whatever limitations my health provides. At one time, that meant I could just gently play keyboard for about 20 minutes a day. Now I’m able to work with computers and recording gear to capture songs and ideas. I haven’t performed live since 2015.

If you could only listen to one record, what would it be?
This is an impossible question, but I think Revolver is a pretty good answer.

“Above Water” features quite a few different musical styles. Who did you listen to when you were growing up that influenced your writing style?
As a kid, I remember loving The Beach Boys, Paul Simon, and Miami Sound Machine. All three of those artists worked with a wide swath of sounds and rhythms, and I think that diversity always felt magical to me.

As a former journalist, do you worry/care about what is written about your music?
On the one hand, I have grown very thick skin. I’m unlikely to be personally bothered by negative comments about my music; I know every record isn’t made for every writer. On the other hand, I would love to see people genuinely engaging with the art. I do value music criticism, and it would be great to read an album review where the writer really “gets it.”

You were in a few other bands before you became ill. Which albums should we check out from your back catalogue?
I’m still proud of both Tereu Tereu albums. Quirky pop fans should check out the first one, All That Keeps Us Together, and noisy post-punk fans should check out the second one, Quadrants.

What would go on your signature pizza and what would it be called?
Pineapple and feta cheese. Call it Double Delight.

What do you have planned for the rest of 2023 and beyond?
I’m hoping to get this record to as many people as possible. Then I’ll start making another one!

You can find out more about Soft Punch by visiting their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram for all the latest news.

Feature Image Credit – Micah E. Wood

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