(UPDATED 4/13 with thoughts from members of Fruition and Quixotic)
From my brief time with him, I can't imagine Gavin Soens—who rapped and produced music under the name Gavin Theory—using any cliche cancer phrases about himself. He wasn't "a fighter" or "a trooper." He was, in his own mind, a guy who was blessed with great friends, a supportive family and a supportive music community here in Portland. I never saw the guy in bad spirits (those who played ping pong against him, where he was brutal, might say something to the contrary) and I was always blown away by the immediacy of his onstage persona and by his offstage humility and realness. He was a funny, immensely creative and talented guy making music well outside the Portland norm for audiences who consumed that music with a rabid appreciation. It was a beautiful thing to watch and he was a fascinating guy to spend time around.
We weren't close, but I admired Soens very much. It was hard not to after meeting him and hearing his story. And there is one cliche that I think applied to him very well: He took life as it came. I think it's safe to say he had an immense appreciation for life and that he knew the value of a day.
Gavin Soens died Tuesday morning at 27 years old. It's hard not to be pissed off when someone this young and bright dies, even if it's someone you only knew from a distance. What I've noticed about Gavin's friends and colleagues, though, is that they're all using his death as an excuse to be more open-hearted and more creative. I really can't think of anything cooler to leave in your wake than that kind of inspiration.
Here are some of those friends and fellow musicians talking about Soens' life, his music and his passing. (Also, a celebration of his life is scheduled for Thursday, April 19 at Taborspace on 55th and SE Belmont. More details when we get them.)
"The growth I’ve experienced in the last nine years of making music as part of Hives Inquiry Squad has been immeasurable. Gavin demanded the most out of those around him as artists and, even more importantly, as people. He wouldn’t let you lie to yourself. He asked questions to help you get to the core reasoning behind your behavior and actions. He challenged every single line to be impactful, no filler whatsoever. Many times, he was my mirror, showing me to myself and helping me learn to be a better person.
Gavin was an artist in the truest sense of the word. Music was his lover, his God, his child. He exalted great music that was simultaneously grimy, funky, insightful and honest. He was sickly offended by bad music that showcased none of these qualities. I, with full bias recognized, believe he is one of the best producer/emcees that has ever existed. His beats and writings were fantastical combined with the swagger of your hardest lyricist. To me, Hives songs (especially the new ones we never got to record) were like sitting with the ones you loved in a tree house on the edge of the forest while watching a metropolis burn in the distance. If you find that image to be solemnly beautiful, you’d truly understand his soundscapes.
The two of us have always been extremely competitive with each other. Sometimes, it brought the best out of both of us. Sometimes, it was to our detriment. I can fully admit though, that there was never really any competition, just me trying to chase the shine of a man that I saw as the guiding light through the tunnel. We’ve never been religious or believed in an afterlife, but if there is a fairy tale journey to be taken once our physical fails us, I’ll be looking for that shine, letting him lead the way once again. Peace and love to my brother. Rest in Power Gavin “Theory” Soens."
—Lucas Dix, Hives Inquiry Squad
"I was focused on my own musical endeavors, out on what was Fruitions' first tour (or detour as we called them) mostly playing on the streets in CA. When we got back, I was completely broke and happy, as usual, but wondering what exactly I was doing with my life, and if it would ever get to be a substantial form of living. When I got home, I was told by a friend that these 2 guys moved in across the street from us, and that they were in this amazing hip hop duo. The next day or so we had a party, and Lucas and Gavin came over and introduced themselves with a six pack of tall boys (PBR). We instantly hit it off, and became good friends. Me being a folk/rock n roller kind of guy, who wasn't very into hip hop, was reluctant on the hype around how good they really were. The night I met those two, Gavin gave me a copy of his solo album saying " It hasn't been mastered, and it still has some work to be done on it". The night went on, we got drunk, and the CD was left in the pile by our CD player.
I used to run an open mic at the Pub at the End of the Universe, and the next week Hives Inquiry Squad was on the list. When they got up and performed I was blown away! The lyrical prowess, and passionate "not give a fuck" energy literally pulled me from my seat and onto the dance floor, with maybe 3 other people. I went home that night and put the CD in, and it never came out!! It was sooooo good, that I couldn't believe that this guy lived right across the street from me, and was just as broke. From that point on, Hives had become the perfect yang to the yin that we needed in our family, and played CD release shows for all three of the bands I was in at the time (The Villains, The Bellboys, and Fruition) among many other shows with them.
Gavin showed me that the life I was living was worth struggling over. He confirmed my belief that it was better to do what you love and be broke, than be a rich man with no purpose. He took one of my songs "Misty Night" remixed it, and with the help of his partner Lucas DIx, made it sound better than I ever imagined it could be. He Inspired my song writing as I believe I did his. Amazing that a hip hop man, could influence this singer/folky/rocker/songwriter. The passion and love he had was a gift to anyone who was lucky enough to get it. And I knew that way before I even thought about the possibility of him being gone.
And now, after he has shown his autumn colors, spring time feels more like winter than ever before. I miss him terribly. I would not be the man I am today without Gavin. He was a working class revolutionary, and a prophetic poet. A master composer, and a stand up man. It's an honor and a pleasure to be one of his friends/peers. It's not just the good that die young, sometimes it's the great.
R.I.P.(reveling in intergalactic perfection) Gavin Soens."
—Jay Cobb Anderson, Fruition
"We moved to Portland from the Midwest right around the same time as Hives did and were introduced through mutual friends from the Twin Cities. We both played one of our first PDX shows together at Ash St. and from that moment on, I was a fan. As I got to know both Gavin and Lucas there was a definite drive musically, but also an underlined quality to just enjoy life one day at a time. I remember shortly before he lost his leg, just how accepting he was of it. He wasn't afraid, he had made up his mind that this was happening and it was just gonna push him to be stronger and better. Whenever you would go to his house he always had a fresh new beat for you to hear and would just nod his head along with it, with a little grin on his face knowing that it was the shit.... And it always was! He was an amazing musician who was constantly pushing himself and the people he worked with to make the best music possible. Beyond music he was a very caring, funny and positive person, determined to make his mark....and he did in so many peoples lives. I am really gonna miss Gavin, and even though time didn't allow for any new finished songs, the beats and lyrics he left us with will live on forever."
'G Theory always reaching for that sunlight'"
—Jordan Miceli, Quixotic
"There are so many great stories to be shared about Gavin, each one of them encompassing his honest and raw spirit. I've never met a person more full of determination, perseverance and bravery. I was so lucky to get to work and tour with him, and learned so much from his endearing personality. He always said what he meant, and he always made sure you knew how he felt. His attitude towards music is unmatched by anyone. He knew just how awesome he was, and always took his time in perfecting each verse and each beat. We developed a friendship I will never forget. He was full of sharp wit and his humor had me laughing all the time. Each moment of life was important to him, and that's a lesson we can all learn from."
"I put music aside when it comes to life. As a human being I was humbled by Gavin's story from the day I was introduced to him. Cancer has taken the lives of more people I know than any other form of finality. Gavin's perseverance intertwined with his willingness to live is inspiring."
"Gavin Theory was a revelation to Portland's music scene, and a blessing to all who came across his talent and smarmy charm. I met Gavin when I headlined Hives Inquiry Squad's first big Portland show at Mt Tabor. Other than drawing a huge crowd and a wildly rabid fanbase, Hives ended up delivering one of the most moving and exciting performances I had seen in my long 'career'. The room was packed and everyone knew the songs and I was floored. Who were these talented jock/nerds from Wisconsin and why wasn't i hanging out with them more? On top of music, Gavin and I shared a love for all things sports, and though i was not as conversant in English Premier Soccer, he schooled and learned me, and now I am as avid a fan of English Footie as I am of my beloved TrailBlazers. Gavin was probably the most competitive ping pong player i have ever come across, even on one leg, he was a man without limitations. He spanked me thoroughly on my home ping pong court. In front of friends and also lovers. I love this man. And all who came in contact with him were lucky to have been made stronger in his passing. Its a sad day for the beautiful people."
"I drank your milkshake, kid, I drank your milkshake." - Gavin Theory
And, via telephone:
"It sucks, man, it just really, really sucks.
When I first started hearing about Hives Inquiry Squad, it was cool because everybody I was hearing about them from wasn't normal hip-hop heads. When we finally got to work together, it was a few days before the show and Gavin sent me this long email and he's, like, apologizing over and over again that they can't do the show. And then he's finally like 'Yeah, I got cancer and I have to have my leg removed.' And I texted him, 'Dude, don't ever apologize to me again for everything.' And it was crazy: Six months later, he was on one of my shows, and just going crazy, hopping around on one leg.
Just to see Gavin's drive and his work ethic, it made me want to work harder. It made me want to push his music just as hard, because he believed in it so much. And his production, man! Phew!"
"The very last time I saw him he was really sedated and he wasn't really super-cognitive, but he was there. When he saw me he lit up, his smile was so big. Right away he thought we had [to practice for] a show. He said 'I can't believe we are doing this three minutes before the show,' he thought we were on typical Chicharones schedule. But then he settled down and he played me some of his new songs, his new beats. Even in his last moments he was still inspired and still wanting to push on and make more music. His spirits were good. He wasn't in great physical condition, but he was still trying to produce and create music. I hope I could be as gallant and as true to my art as he was, man. I honestly hope that I can even be a fraction of that.
He reminds me of one of those supernovas. He's a really bright star that shined bright and burnt fast but you can still see the light a long time after that star burns out. I really feel like Gavin never got a chance for the world to hear his music, and that he had a lot to offer our community and anyone who took a chance to hear what he has to say. I love him, man. He's going to be missed as a person and as an artist, man. He's an incredible artist. In my heart I want to say a lot more but then I get choked up and I can't think of what to say. I'm going to miss him."