By Eric Evans
Soft Metals are right there on the edge. All the pieces are in place: the dark but danceable synth, the slinky vocals, the live performance chops. Even their label—Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks, home to Blouse and Perfect Pussy—is cool. Poised to release their third album in 2015, it’s a safe bet that members Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall continue their ascent up the electro-pop ladder.
The band spoke to Black on the Canvas from their rehearsal space in Portland, Oregon a few days before their one gig of the new year (so far). Rehearsing for the stage and working through material for the new album, it’s clear that Soft Metals are on their way.
Word is you’ve got a new album planned for 2015. How has your sound evolved over the time you’ve been recording?
Patricia: Yes, we’re writing and recording our 3rd album now. We hope it will be out this summer. We’re taking more time than usual with this one as we want to make it more complex and more focused thematically. We got some modular gear that sounds unlike what we have been using previously and you’ll hear it on the new album. We were encouraged to be as weird as we want to be by Mike Sniper, the founder of our label, Captured Tracks, so we won’t be holding anything back this time. It’ll still be us, but hopefully more sophisticated, captivating, and unusual. I’m really excited about this one.
Ian: Like Patricia said, you really learn a lot through experience and each release has been building on the success or learning from the mistakes from the one that came before. I feel like we’ve improved A LOT from a technical recording stand point when I look back at some of our old work.
I saw you open for Xeno & Oaklander at the S1 Gallery in Portland—great show. It’s clear you place a good deal of importance on the strength of your live performance. How does performing live relate to your songwriting and recording, and vice versa—how does what you write and record inform your performances?
Patricia: We really enjoy seeing people dance and lose themselves at the shows. We want to make dance music that can startle, lull, suspend, hypnotize, energize, enchant, transfix people with strange noises, unusually beautiful melodies, and unexpected timing. That’s a challenge we still face. Since the summer of 2013 we have toured extensively throughout North America and completed a 35 date tour in Europe. You learn a lot about what effects certain types of music and physical expression have on people and can take a lot away from that. Our hope is to let what we’ve learned inform our current and future songwriting and stage shows to really make our ideas penetrate.
How involved are you in the visuals—record covers, stage projections, etc.?
Patricia: Eva and Brock from Experimental Half Hour/Sporay created analog video art for us that we used as projections our live shows since our last album. It’s really beautiful and abstract, hypnotic, and timeless morphing geometry that I think works well with our music. Our friend Craig Drake designed our debut EP and 7”. With the album artwork, we have choose the photos from stumbling across them on the internet and licensing the images from the artist. Captured Tracks handled the layout. For the next album we want to break away from the “prelude to a kiss” sort of theme that occurred on the previous albums. What’s next visually is yet to be determined as it will be informed by the music. Ian just bought a video synthesizer so we will probably make our own visuals for the next tour. I want to experiment with making our own music videos and band photos.
Please talk a bit about your influences. Who were the artists that you listened to in high school and beyond? Which artists informed what you do, whether musically or otherwise?
Ian: In high school I listened to a lot of early idm and industrial music, mainly artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy.. I was aware of techno but didn’t fully appreciate it until I was in college. It’s hard to pinpoint one or even a few artists that have a direct influence on work I’ve done but I definitely respect and appreciate the work of people like: Brian Eno, Coil, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, Cevin Key. This by no means is a final or complete list, I feel like anyone who creates art is constantly learning about and being influenced by new material, methods and people.
What three records would each of you recommend to someone as a foundation for contemporary electronic music?
Ian: Polygon Window’s Surfing on Sinewaves; Drexciya’s Harnessed the Storm; Coil’s Horse Rotovator.
Patricia: Chris & Cosey’s Songs of Love and Lust; Liaisons Dangereuses s/t album; Broadcast’s The Noise Made By People.
Would you say there’s an electronic music community in Portland? If so, what’s your place in it?
Ian: There is a smaller but devoted electronic music community in Portland. A lot of it is centered around live hardware performance at dance parties like Odyssey or more the more dark/noise/post punk/experimental leaning Past Haunts or S1 Gallery. The modular and DIY electronics scene is also huge here… there are two modular/synth focused shops (Control Voltage and the Muffwiggler Store) and few companies like 4ms and Malekko that are producing modules and pedals. We kind of walk the line between all of these facets and have enjoyed being involved in every one.
Tour plans in 2015? Festivals?
Patricia: We definitely want to tour again this year, but don’t want to schedule it until we have the record turned in. Hopefully we can make it over to Asia and Australia next!