In case you have missed the 2011 music memo, there’s a synth pop revival going on. Among the myriad of bands, though, Portland’s Soft Metals stand out. Whether it is down to Patricia Hall‘s detached and melodic vocals or Ian Hicks‘ building of tracks using a carefully additive layering and repetition, their songs sound less like a nostalgia trip and more like a further exploration of the genre with an utter modern feel. Their debut album – unsurprisingly released on Blank Dogs’ Captured Tracks – is a stunning collection which absorbs influences spreading from the early ’80s till the more contemporary electro and house and infuses them with an almost cinematic feel. We caught up with Ian Hicks to discuss post-punk, vintage machinery and the couple’s balance.
Would you like to introduce Soft Metals for our readers?
Soft Metals started in 2009 as a collaboration between Patricia and I. I had been collecting analog synths, drum machines, and sequencers for a couple years and when I moved up to Portland I heard a track that Patricia had sung on, I asked her to work on some vocals for a few sketches I had been working on, we found that we worked well together and we just took it from there.
Soft Metals formed as a meeting of a musician and a poet. In the following two years you have become a couple and recorded your debut album. Would you say the roles are still the same or have changed?
Our roles have definitely evolved as the project has progressed. Patricia has really come into her own as a singer and has really stepped up her skills in songwriting and synth playing. I feel like I’ve really learned a lot about and improved in production, sound design and just general music technology. Our studio is always in a state of change so I really get into figuring out different ways to hook all the instruments up etc.
I have read the first song you played together was Red Light by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and you have recently covered Throbbing Gristle’s “Hot On the Heels of Love”. Is post-punk a shared love and influence? What other music (or books or movies) influences Soft Metals?
Post punk is definitely a shared influence. I actually bought the Simon Reynolds book “Rip It Up and Start Again” for Patricia a while back, great read. I’d say musically we are influenced by late 70s/early 80s industrial music and minimal synth, Chicago house and Detroit techno, little bit of 90s shoegaze and synthesizer work by artists like Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler. As far as books, I love reading stuff about futurism a la Ray Kurzweil, I wouldn’t say that I completely agree with everything he plays out but it certainly makes for an interesting read. I also love Michael Wood and Carl Sagan documentaries, stuff about astrophysics and the beginning of recorded history is always good.
The 80′s synths sound has recently become fashionable again. Soft Metals music incorporates that sound yet it represents an exception, refusing to sound nostalgic. Would you agree?
The sounds that we use are from synths, drum machines and effects that are of that era so there is bound to be some similarity. Our recording and production processes are pretty modern though, I think the fusion of the two helps to define our sound.
The album combines an impulse to dance with a dreamy and hazy melodic feel. Was it a result of the recording process, or you prefer the bedroom to the disco?
We didn’t specifically set out to write dance songs, but we are inspired by the palette of sounds that are are present in house and techno music. The structures of the songs aren’t as produced as dance tracks. We employ a more stream of consciousness approach to songwriting which probably gives it a dreamy, hazy feel.
What’s next for you?
We just moved to LA in August and have been loving it so far. I’m going to be starting graduate school this month so we’re going to have to wait until winter break to tour. We have that in the works right now and hopefully we’ll get something planned out for spring and summer breaks too. We’ve been working hard the past month getting our new live show worked out, our good friend Brian Foote will be joining us on synths. The new set up is sounding really good so far.