Ever since Sonny and Cher, every boy/girl musical duo has invited the question, "Are they dating?" Even in a highbrow indie elitist lies an inner Us Weekly reader who secretly, frivolously wants to know. "Oh, we are," says Wiping Out Thousands' Taylor Nelson, gazing at his paramour/partner-in-song Alaine Dickman at Keys Cafe in St. Paul. "We weren't at the beginning. I guess the music brought us together."
That statement evokes a girly "Awww" from the diminutive Dickman, who's perched at a windowside high-top across from her bandmate/beau. Kinda sweet, right? For the locally (and literally) buzzing electro-pop couple, it all started in 2010 with an innocuous Facebook message from one McNally Smith College of Music student to another. Nelson was seeking a female singer with a penchant for Nine Inch Nails and Portishead for a new project, originally devised as a more rock-oriented quartet.
Weeks after Dickman signed on, she and Nelson discovered a connection deeper than an affinity for electronic '90s acts, and their courtship began. Bandmate Adam Tucker and two different Wiping Out Thousands drummers became busy with other gigs, and the lovebirds opted to fly tandem.
"The allure was that we could do more and control more if it was just us with electronic instrumentation and then whatever we could do live," said Nelson, WOT's producer/guitarist. As organically as their affections grew, so did the duo's unorthodox, gut-gyrating sound that quickly began turning heads last year and landed them a slot at First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2012 show Friday.
On their year-old introductory "Reaction Machine" EP and the follow-up "This Came First" album, the two pull off a patchwork of squirmy synthesized sonics that feel surprisingly fresh and fluid. Nelson said the largely computer-generated variegations -- which play like a CGI summer flick with substance -- are often built like a "house of cards" off a singular sound base. Each track's keystone is culled from the limitless aural library that digital composing permits.
"When you're electronic, you don't go into it with a set instrument in your hand like you would a full-piece band where a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player get together in a room and play a song," the 26-year-old Nelson said. "[With a band] you're coming in with the same arrangement every single time."
When swerving from the carbonated future-funk on "Feed" to the quaky guitar roars and robotic gear-shifts on "Creation," keeping a consistent feel could be challenging. But even these hard right turns don't feel erratic. Nelson credits Dickman's vocals for serving as the string through their Fruity Looped (well, technically Logic Pro'd) necklace.
Singing wasn't the small-town Wisconsin girl's first love, though. Hailing from a "tone-deaf" family of five kids, Dickman grew up a percussionist, fantasizing about being a touring drummer as early as third grade. Although still committed to the drums, by high school the Regina Spektor fan was ditching class to take advantage of a snowbirding neighbor's house to stretch her pipes. "In the winter she would fly down South to live with her siblings," recalled the once-covert canary. "Rather than going to my first class I would pop into her garage and just sing."
Shortly before starting at McNally Smith in 2009, Dickman decided to take her singing more seriously, switching her major to vocal performance. But the soft-spoken 21-year-old, who occasionally tugs at her sweater sleeves and glances out the window when talking about herself, never took to the program and left early, as she did high school.
One lasting lesson from the school, however, was learning to find her "primal voice." If Dickman's re-enactment is accurate, the process sounded more like a pixie impersonating a gorilla than the beaming-to-digi-fogged frontwoman heard on WOT's recordings. But the exercise reminds her to stay true to her own style.
"I don't ever have to worry about being too weird," Dickman declares. "I don't think I really care anymore as long as I'm sounding like myself."
As Wiping Out Thousands hope to start devastating other cities with their throttling experimentations, Nelson and Dickman's lives are increasingly intertwined. Aside from their musical marriage (whoa -- they're still unbetrothed in real life) the two work at the same Apple store and share a downtown St. Paul apartment. But Nelson notes that being "in tune" with each other's personal lives makes finding time to work together easier. After all, adjusting your schedule to a girlfriend/bandmate's is easier than adjusting to a girlfriend and a bandmate.
"For both of us music is such a huge part of our lives that to not be romantically involved at the same time ... would put a big wall between it [the band]," Nelson said. Meanwhile, Dickman points to (surprise!) keeping an open line of communication as a secret to their synergy.
Luckily, it sounds like Wiping Out Thousands are so creatively compatible that any constructive criticism won't land Nelson on the couch. This thing might just work out.