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In a bright corner of a downtown St. Paul coffee shop, Taylor Nelson and Alaine Dickman are smiling, maybe a little self-consciously. "This is the first time we've ever had a sit-down interview," offers Nelson, who does most of the talking for the next half-hour. He's tall and broad-shouldered, with a surfer's mop of blond hair, and he and the petite Dickman make up the popular new experimental-electro band Wiping Out Thousands.
Ever since their second-ever show this past February, a fateful opening slot for YACHT at the 7th St. Entry, Wiping Out Thousands have built a reputation for progressive electronic music with a vibe refreshingly different from the more organic artistry trending right now in the Twin Cities.
"A lot of people have to base what they're doing off what the industry is doing. I would rather sit down and write a song that I'm not influenced by," explains Nelson. "What sound can I create here, and what can that turn into? What can we do with our website and the videos that we're doing that is different, or that we just think is cool, that we magically discovered on the spot?"
Wiping Out Thousands play a release show for This Came First on Friday, November 2, at 7th St. Entry; 612.332.1775
It's that unabashed desire to do something different that has led Nelson and Dickman to something of a breakthrough. There's a specific energy, a pulsing, agitated rhythm to the music of Wiping Out Thousands. Most of the songs on the duo's debut full-length album, This Came First, approach or go well past the five-minute mark, which could be treacherous territory without deft execution.
There are touches of early-'90s atmospherics and bits of pop-funk scattered throughout This Came First, along with some traits echoing the Knife, Radiohead, and Nine Inch Nails. It's an eclectic, downright weird album, but unlike so many in its genre — electro-pop, electroclash, electro-whatever — it's an addictive, likeable, and powerful listen. Not bad, considering the bulk of it, with the exception of vocals and guitar, was crafted in Nelson and Dickman's basement.
"The cool thing about [This Came First] is that, like with [our debut EP] Reaction Machine, it was just, 'Let's get together and record some songs and see how it goes,'" says Nelson. "With This Came First, we've been able to play shows and actually play the songs as we record them. We wrote it essentially live, and we're bringing more of that aggressive live sound to the album."
Nelson and Dickman seem to have a natural ear for delicate nuances, and This Came First does sound aggressive at times. But the exquisite closing track, "As We Sink a Foot Deeper Into the Earth," it retreats into a gloriously vulnerable state. The lyrics are otherworldly — or, perhaps more accurately, are starkly of this world. Dickman, who has never considered herself much of a vocalist, sings with an unnervingly crystal-clear voice in "Below Tripping" about idyllic neighborhood streets, as though providing the soundtrack for a dystopian future wrapped up in tense electronic beats and purposefully tucked away in the reverb.
It's fitting, then, that such a unique album is released with a semi-political credo. The duo are adamant in their views on giving away their music: "It's not a product, it's our art," goes a statement from their Facebook page.
Nelson has the slightest tinge of social anarchist about him when it comes to getting the Wiping Out Thousands music heard. As he discusses his views on releasing This Came First as a free download, his shoulders rise slightly, his hand gestures tighten, and he leans forward, very focused, very articulate.
"We have no right to charge anyone for something that we're making that we want them to hear. We have the ability to give it to them, and while we can do that, we will," he insists. "It's that old mindset, the 'starving artist' mindset, that if you're not making money, you're not succeeding. If the band can support itself — and not get money into our pockets — that's all it needs to be right now."
Gone, now, are the early self-consciousness and nerves. Nelson speaks passionately, a man with a vision, and Dickman nods along, alert and eager.
"I want to influence other people. That's my sentence," offers Nelson resolutely, responding to a question about the "ultimate goal" of Wiping Out Thousands. "Because when my parents call me and say, 'You need to sell your music! What are you doing?' I think that mindset is from generations past. Who cares what we're doing? I want people to realize that you can do whatever the hell you want, and as long as it's something that you're interested in, it doesn't matter what the outcome is."