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Nine Lives

Soft Cat’s Neil Sanzgiri returns to music on innovative nonprofit label

Photo: Christopher Myers, License: N/A

Christopher Myers

Profits from online sales of soft cat’s album will go to Whitelock Farms.


Soft Cat’s first record, Wildspace, takes its name from the pockets of wilderness found in cities. This is an apt metaphor for Soft Cat’s music. In a city filled with rough edges, most music that sprouts up leans to the heavy or the manic. In contrast, Soft Cat exudes calm.

“I want to make music that’s warming, that you listen to and you immediately feel comforted [by] and wrapped up in a big blanket,” says singer-guitarist Neil Sanzgiri. Sanzgiri, a Texas native, has a dark complexion and a scruffy baby face. Sitting in a Remington café, his small eyes light up when talking about his music, which he admits he loves to do, and he often smiles while poking fun at himself.

As Sanzgiri talks, it becomes clear that for every thought that makes its way out of his mouth, there are several more left unsaid. The busyness in his thoughts is reflected in his life: He helps run the Open Space Gallery (along with City Paper designer Jasmine Sarp), works full-time, curated the Spiral Cinema film series, and plays in Soft Cat.

This energy is also reflected in the title of Soft Cat’s second album, Lost No Labor, which came out April 9. “The idea of having lost no labor [means] constantly working, constantly being at your best, and never giving up,” Sanzgiri explains.

Sanzgiri’s energy is so boundless that only five minutes into the interview he is already talking about the next record. “I’ve written about half of it already,” he says. “We’re playing together more as a string quartet at this point, where it’s two violins, cello, and classical guitar. We stripped it down real specifically and that’s forced us to write a whole new set of material that, at this point, is almost all instrumental.”

The songs for the future album are inspired by minimalist composer Michael Nyman and the chamber jazz ensemble Penguin Café Orchestra. The material promises to be different enough that Sanzgiri muses about changing the group’s name. “I love when bands can reinvent themselves on another album. I also love when people take bold moves in different directions, even if I don’t like the direction they go in,” Sanzgiri says.

There was no such drastic change between Soft Cat’s first two records. Both were arranged and recorded piecemeal in the studio, with a rotating cast of supporters, including members of Secret Mountains, Weekends, and Small Sur, among others. Both feature lush arrangements full of strings and reverb. “The first album was totally just an experiment, just to see if I could do it, to make the music I’ve always wanted to make,” Sanzgiri says.

Lost No Labor is a refinement and maturation of the aesthetic formed on Wildspace. The album flows better, the songs are catchier, and the arrangements are more focused. However, Sanzgiri was unsure of continuing with music after Wildspace.

“The whole process of Wildspace was kind of frustrating because I had been approached by two different labels. One was a digital label that just completely fed me empty promises; the other label said they were going to put it out on vinyl and print a full-color booklet of my photographs, and that dude—just cold turkey—just stopped emailing me, wouldn’t answer my calls,” Sanzgiri explains. “I was really heartbroken by the whole process, and I kind of swore it off and became very disillusioned by the music world. I was kind of being a little bit of a diva in retrospect. . . . There are other ways to keep on making music and enjoy what you do without being signed to a label,” Sanzgiri says.

Sanzgiri took a year off from music to focus on finishing up his degree in sculpture at MICA. “I realized after I graduated that [music is] what I wanted to do,” he says.

The difficulty in dealing with labels led Sanzgiri to put out Lost No Labor on a not-for-profit music label out of Philadelphia called Human Kindness Overflowing. All the online sales of the album will go to Whitelock Community Farms in Baltimore.

“I find [sustainable agriculture] not only to be one of the most important things in a community but also one of the most beautiful aspects of life that I’m not directly capable of myself,” Sanzgiri says, expressing frustration at his black thumb. Farming is also a theme that comes up in the albums lyrics. “I created this fictitious setting [about] this family living on this farm, going through their daily struggles of working the land,” Sanzgiri says.

“I have so much respect for what Whitelock does and want to support them. Not only does it work with the concept of the album, but it works in line with what I would like to contribute back to the city.”

The release show for Lost No Labor will be held in a Hampden backyard on April 28. The event will feature Daniel Bachman from Sacred Harp, Tommy Mayer from Bosley, Amanda Glasser of Silent Whys, food, and fire. For more information, email softcatbaltimore@gmail.com.

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