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Soft Metals: True Romance And A Drum Machine

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Photo by Minh Tran

Romance and the production of music. Is it chocolate and peanut butter… or crazy glue and a toothbrush? Normally I’m just not interested as to whether bandmates are bringing one another roses, doing the nasty or watching Oprah; however, that Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks met at a ’09 audition and have since put together and, on July 19th, released an album, Psychic Driving; this while other couples of similar duration are still debating as to whether or not they’re “ready” to purchase “together” a pair of season passes to Magic Mountain… well it tripped some trigger of respect deep in my pitted soul and I sought them out. Recently down from Portland, my girlfriend and I invited them to dinner at La Boheme in Santa Monica—rumored by many to be the most romantic restaurant in the universe. And we talked without pause through that enchanted evening. The gods blessed us that night, with clear, sweet-smelling skies dappled with the fire and gold of a perfect Pacific Ocean sunset. We spoke, the four of us, of many things. Of long, breathless nights spent by the fire. Sunset wanderings on beaches, tropic. Of Byron, Shelley, Yeats and Keats. Our favorite types of rugs on which to… listen to their music: the type of intelligent new new wave to which one can both dance and play chess. Probably not at the same time, no, but tis’ is good stuff and they’ve got a future. It’s simultaneously referential—industrial, shoegaze, ‘80s synthpop—and original, melding vintage synths with modern sensibilities and software. But let me introduce you, dear reader, to the couple with whom my girl and I will be bowling with every Monday this fall. If they accept my invitation, which I must admit, I am loathe to offer for fear of rejection

At this point in the evening I had just ordered an entire key lime pie for dessert, turned my DAT recorder on—I found one recently on ebay—and suggested they introduce themselves.

Soft Metals "Psychic Driving"

Patricia: We're Patricia and Ian, a female and male who like to make music together with electronic instruments and the human voice. Lately we've been spending a lot of time in our studio getting prepared for shows and working on new material, getting packed for our upcoming move to LA. We listen to a lot of synthesizer music at home like minimal synth, synth pop, early industrial, techno, house, etc , but also krautrock, psychedelic rock, shoegaze, world music, folk, and classical. We love to travel and meet new people.

Mark von Pfeiffer: And… good food.*
*I gesture to the remains of my key lime pie at this point.
Patricia: And good food.

Where’d you get your skillz?
Ian: I don't know that I was born with any skills other than to eat and defecate. I took piano lessons at age of 4 at a strange Yamaha owned/sponsored class. I specifically remember learning a keyboard part to "Pink Panther" that we played as part of an ensemble performance. After that I took lessons from the teacher at Yamaha.. When I moved to Portland, I took more lessons from a sort of burnt-out ‘80s pop musician when I was 15.I went on to study composition, theory and piano in college.
Patricia: I was never classically trained on any instrument, but from my own experimentation and experience as a DJ have picked up a few things about song structure on my own. I've always had a knack for writing melodies and timing. Ian has taught me a lot about using synthesizers. I just began studying voice this past year.

Discuss a musician or an era which has influenced you. When and how did you come upon what moved you?
IAN: I know this probably comes off as cheesy but one of the moments that really defined my musical inspiration as a young person was going to a record store and putting on Throbbing Gristle's 2nd Annual Report and then in the same pile of CDs Assume Power Focus. I was just so amazed with the sounds, texture and aggressiveness of it. It totally changed what I thought of recorded music. After that I had a few similar experiences with Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do and then while studying music in college I was really inspired by 12 tone and serial composers like Schoenberg, Webern and Stockhausen.
Patricia: I would have to say the 1980s and ‘90s since I grew up listening to that kind of music on the radio and MTV. My favorite films as a little kid were The NeverEnding Story, Legend, The Princess Bride, Flight of the Navigator, Tron and Labyrinth which all have pretty cool soundtracks. That probably really shaped my taste in music.

Speak about the hierarchy of skill (craftsmanship), style (your unique aesthetic) and emotive content in your work—and/or in the work of those you admire.
Patricia: It's hard to say because Ian and I take different approaches to songwriting, but together we make something that feels complete and complex. For me it's always born from emotion first, then skill (trying to make real with your skills the ideas and sounds you have in your head), and I guess style, although this is not too important to me. I kind of hate the idea of purposely creating a certain style of song although I can see how people would think of us as stylized. I want to have the freedom to work outside of any genre or style constraints.

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How would you describe your sound to a deaf person?
Patricia: A heavy thump in your chest that moves your body in passionate ways and echos your emotions regarding fear, romance, conflict, wonder. The setting is a hostile world, but a feeling of hope for the future prevails. The synth sounds are crystalline, some polished and gleaming, others hidden beneath layers of jagged ancient rock but intertwining in a beautiful way. Sometimes there is conflict in the music and those intertwining sounds collide to make a spectacular show like fireworks in the night sky or the aurora borealis. The voice in the songs is like a kiss from someone you love who tells you about her philosophy and observations of life gently and with poetic language, but also not too vague.

Heavy. Regrets? Anything? Kind of early for that I suppose.
Ian: I think that we would try to make sure that it was easier to re-create our songs live... or at least come at the recordings knowing that a live show was down the road.
Patricia: In response to that, we are starting to figure that out now and work more on making the live aspect to our shows more interesting. Now that we're really comfortable with writing together, I think it would be cool to have some talented guest musicians perform with us live or work with us on a song to see what direction that takes us. For us it's all about exploration and experimentation on all fronts and that's a lot of fun.

How did you spend a typical day as a kid?
Patricia: I grew up in the country so exploring the surrounding woods and fields was my favorite. I would follow the river near my house as far as I could go with enough time to get back before the sun set. I still love to be out in nature. We just went camping this past weekend in the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge with some friends.

How will you feel six months after your heart stops beating?
Patricia: Hopefully wise and at peace with everything.
Ian: I really hope to have left a positive impression into at least one persons life.
What’s the hardest lesson you’ve ever learned? How did it make your life easier—or more difficult?
Ian: I feel that rejection is one of that hardest life lessons that you have to learn. I hope that people understand that when and if they are rejected it’s not so much about them, but about the force that rejected them. I really feel like you can use rejection as an indication to refine and hone yourself to meet your goals.

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