Sarah Kinlaw and Bryan Wade Keller Jr. didn’t launch their experimental art pop band SOFTSPOT for the sake of world domination. They just wanted to explore the world on a budget.
“We started SOFTSPOT as a means to travel and not be broke. That’s essentially why we hurriedly finished up our first release. We just put something to tape or CD and took it as ticket to travel,” explains Kinlaw, six years and three albums later. “When you roll into a bar or venue and you show work, it definitely initiates conversation after you’re done. You already got the weird stuff out of the way and you just immediately dive into these really intense conversations. Some shows you don’t make very much, some shows enough, and you take that money and you hold your $40 in the air and say, ‘I’m getting gas!’”
The Brooklyn-based duo expanded into a foursome, adding drummer Blaze Bateh and Jonathan Campolo on synths, and are currently preparing to release their untitled third full-length album. So far the single “Abalone” has surfaced, marked by its dreamy production and jagged rhythm, with Kinlaw’s warm, ghostly vocals suggesting a distant relation to Julia Holter’s.
The crafty beginnings of SOFTSPOT suggest this is a band that doesn’t mind taking it upon themselves to satisfy their own creative ambitions, like experimenting with the boundaries of space in a music venue or exploring the relationship between music and movement. That lead to Kinlaw creating and curating the Living Library show series.
The inaugural edition took place on October 15 at Elvis Guesthouse and featured a blend of live music, poetry, performance art, and dance. SOFTSPOT and local singer Ziemba performed, though music was only part of the experience. The French fashion and culture magazine Purple was in attendance and the photos captured show the East Village venue redefined with India Menuez taking on the role of her performance art persona, Chibi Cherrry, before she was doused in soy milk outside the club’s door and poet Alexander Iezzi reading as the persona “The Furnace.”
“I’m really interested in that sensory exploration and I’d like to continue to push it even further,” says Kinlaw, who co-runs the Otion Front dance studio in Bushwick and drew heavy inspiration from the medium. “Dance and performance, if you will, have utilized space in a way that always feels new to me. I’m really interested in different types of storytelling and performances happening in different areas throughout a room, which is something that just can’t happen with a band at times. You are, in some ways, tethered to your equipment.”
Living Library returns on November 15 for Vol. 2 at Baby’s All Right with both Menuez and Iezzi back on the bill. For music, SOFTSPOT headlines with D.C. slowcore punks Cigarette, opening but the line between music and movement will continue to blur, in particular, through a performance by choreographer Juri Onuki. Known for choreographing dances for the likes of Blood Orange and Chairlift, Onuki will join saxophonist Danny Meyer for a multi-medium display. Vol. 2 will also feature fellow Otion Front Studio co-runner Sigrid Lauren and a collaborative dance piece heavily reliant on restraint and weight distribution by Jerome Austin Bwire and Jillian Siegel.
Kinlaw is aware that certain performance art – such as Menuez’s Chibi Cherrry – can appear foreign and unusual to unsuspecting attendees, but she thrives on witnessing the walls breaking down.
“I personally enjoy watching boundaries dissipate as performance art happens. It happens in a non-traditional setting where there’s really no clear line where the performance begins and ends,” she says. “The feeling of walking into a room and seeing someone bent over in a beautiful shape with packets of soy milk spilling off their body, people don’t really know where it’s going to take them. There’s an activeness that I appreciate. I like seeing people becoming more engaged and aware. They seem to be more attentive than what I’m used to in typical music shows.”
So far, both Living Library shows have occurred on the 15th of the month leading to wonder if a Vol. 3 is in the works for mid December. “I’m going to wait it out and see,” says Kinlaw. “We’d really like to break into more atypical spaces like churches and more gallery-orientated spaces. I’m hoping that as these events continue, more opportunities will open in terms of space.
“The flexible, fun nature is what I need. I’m not going to say ‘This is what New York needs’ because I know that this hodgepodge of art is nothing new – I realize that – but what I do realize is that it was lacking in my life and I wanted to see it happen.”
The Living Library Vol. 2 takes place on Sunday November 15 at 8 p.m. For more information, click here.