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Soft Metals

Synth-pop Cinema

Aug 08, 2011 Soft Metals Bookmark and Share

As what now could be considered an electro-pop power couple, Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks have been making music together as Soft Metals since 2009. He was looking for someone to add vocals to his catchy synth tracks, while she was writing songs in need of music. A prosperous relationship quickly bloomed, both creatively and romantically. Drawn together by a mutual love for early ’80s synth-pop and retro film scores, Hicks uses vintage gear to create rich soundscapes that are at times both addictively danceable and darkly cinematic, acting as the perfect backing for Hall’s airy vocals. Their self-titled debut LP, Soft Metals, is now available from Captured Tracks.

The band took some time to talk with Under the Radar about the new record, their origin story, their favorite film soundtracks, and their recommended reading list.

Austin Trunick: You’ve described Soft Metals as “the synth-pop romance of Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks”—what are some of the benefits of collaborating with a romantic partner?

Patricia Hall: Ian and I know each other really well and completely trust one other. That makes expressing ideas, no matter how weird, a lot more comfortable. The process of writing music is a lot faster and more varied and interesting since you don’t feel you need to keep it “safe.” It’s counterproductive and frustrating to feel like you have tiptoe around someone or struggle trying to make sense to someone who just doesn’t get where you’re coming from.

Ian Hicks: The similar interests and tastes that brought us together as a couple also translate well into a collaborative artistic project. It’s nice to be able to work with someone who can have a good read on your intuitions and abilities as a musician. I think that it also allows you to be very open with communication about the direction of the work.

How long did it take for a creative endeavor to develop into something more?

Patricia: We knew each other as acquaintances for a couple of years through friends and I saw him DJ once while he was visiting Portland. When he moved to Portland a year later from San Francisco he found out that I was starting to sing and beginning to make music. He contacted me about getting together to work on a song. When we met up to do that, it was the first time I had really spent any quality time with him. I was really excited about the music we were making together and enjoyed spending time with him. It took about four months to start seeing each other.

Ian—how and when did you get into making music with vintage synths? And Patricia, what led you to start writing your own songs?

Ian: I was really interested in synthesizers from about the age of 15. My parents bought me a Korg Poly-800 and later I bought a TR-505. I played around with these instruments in a few high school bands but it wasn’t until I lived in Chicago that I got really into collecting vintage gear. In 2006 I had just bought a SCI Prophet 600 and a friend in Chicago invited me to his studio to jam. He was using an 808 to trigger sequencers and arpeggiators in various synths, we recorded a few songs, ended up playing some shows together and I was totally hooked. When I moved to San Francisco in 2007, I made it a goal to get an 808 and continued to write and record sketches.

Patricia: I had been DJing for a few years and was starting to get the feeling that it was time to make songs of my own. Synthesizer melodies would just enter my mind or I would find them on a keyboard. An idea would emerge and lyrics would follow. I wanted to get those ideas down, but it wasn’t until I met Ian that songs actually got finished.

Can you describe the songwriting process for the new record? Were you still splitting up the music and lyric-writing duties, or do you now work on both aspects together?

Patricia: The music writing is a shared responsibility. Our songs start out from improvised sessions. Ian begins with a beat and a bass pattern. From there we both contribute more layers on various keyboards. We modulate the sounds, play around with effects or change the notes to explore variations on a theme. Everything will morph around for a while in those sessions. We listen back to the recordings and take what we think are the best ideas and develop a song from there. The music will conjure up a feeling or concept and I put that into lyrics. Then we start to restructure the song if necessary to fit with the lyrics. On the instrumentals, those are improvised jams that we really liked as they were. We wanted to keep some of the songs in their raw forms and give the listener the freedom to interpret what they heard without being led somewhere specific with words.

You’re moving headquarters from Portland to Los Angeles this summer. What will you miss most about the Northwest, personally or musically?

Patricia: I will really miss my friends here, getting around on my bicycle, cheap rent, cheap good food and drinks, the trees, everything being so close in and easy to get to.

Ian: I’ll miss my friends and family and the laid-back pace of life.

What are you looking forward to the most about L.A.?

Patricia: The sun, the warmth, the anonymity of a big city, hanging out with my L.A. friends, meeting new people and discovering new places, gardening year round, cheaper flights out of the airport, seeing how the city influences and inspires our music.

Ian: I’m really looking forward to the weather, living in a bigger city again, going to school and meeting new people.

Hollywood seems like an appropriate setting for the Soft Metals sound. You’ve cited films as being a big influence on your songwriting. What are a few of your favorite soundtracks?

Patricia: There are so many great ones, but what first springs to mind are A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Malá Mořská Víla, Profondo Rosso, Escape From New York, Twin Peaks, and The Warriors.

Ian: So many that I’m into. I love synthesizer soundtracks, stuff like Terminator, Maniac, most of John Carpenter’s work, [Giorgio] Moroder’s and Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack work, Goblin, Blade Runner. Also [Ennio] Morricone, the Chinatown soundtrack—I could go on and on.

If you were to pair Soft Metals scores with any filmmaker’s output, who would be the best fit?

Patricia: Hard to say. I think Luc Besson or Danny Boyle would be nice fit.

Finally, some songs on the new album were informed by writers such as Ray Kurzweil and Carl Sagan, and documentarians such as Adam Curtis. Do you have a recommended reading or watching list for listeners interested in learning more about where you’re coming from in these songs?

Patricia: By Kurzweil I recommend The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity Is Near. “Always,” “Celestial Call,” and “Eyes Closed,” are in part informed by Kurzweil’s philosophy and predictions of the future. For Adam Curtis, I highly recommend The Living Dead, especially the You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough episode. The song “Psychic Driving” was directly inspired from that documentary. I also recommend Curtis’ The Century of the Self. From Carl Sagan I recommend watching all of Cosmos.

Ian: Patricia hit a lot of them. I’d add Kurzweil’s Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever, I Have Nothing to Say and I am Saying It—the documentary about John Cage, Transcendent Man, and [Stephen] Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.




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Dub Turbo
August 23rd 2011

Love soft metals!  thanks for the interview with them

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