Joined at the hip

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2013 - 3:49 PM

Musical/romantic duo Wiping Out Thousands ride their electro-pop to First Avenue's Best New Bands showcase.

Wiping Out Thousands: Taylor Nelson and Alaine Dickman.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Ever since Sonny and Cher, every boy/girl musical duo has invited the question, "Are they dating?" Even in a highbrow indie-rock elitist, there's an inner Us magazine 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 evokes a girly "Aww" from the diminutive Dickman, perched across from her bandmate/beau. Kinda sweet, right?

As organically as their affections grew, so did the duo's unorthodox, gut-gyrating sound, which quickly began turning heads last year and landed them a slot at First Avenue's Best New Bands of 2012 show Friday.

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 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, 26, the band's producer and guitarist.

On their year-old introductory EP, "Reaction Machine," and the follow-up album "This Came First," 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, 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 -- with that, you're coming in with the same arrangement every single time."

Keeping a consistent feel can be a challenge when swerving from the carbonated future-funk of "Feed" to the quaky guitar roars and robotic gear-shifts of "Creation." But even these hard right turns don't feel erratic. Nelson credits Dickman's vocals for serving as the connective string.

Singing wasn't her first love, though. Hailing from a "tone-deaf" family of five kids in the central Wisconsin city of Merrill, Dickman grew up a percussionist, fantasizing about being a touring drummer as early as third grade. But 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 in 2009, Dickman switched her major to vocal performance. But the soft-spoken 21-year-old never took to the program and left early. One lasting lesson, however, taught her to find her "primal voice" -- a process that sounds more like a pixie impersonating a gorilla than the beaming/digi-fogged frontwoman heard on WOT's recordings.

"I don't ever have to worry about being too weird," she said, laughing. "I don't think I really care anymore as long as I'm sounding like myself."

As Wiping Out Thousands plans to start devastating other cities with their throttling experimentations and devote more time to music, Nelson's and Dickman's lives have become increasingly intertwined. They work at the same Apple store and share a downtown St. Paul apartment. Being "in tune" makes it easier to find time to work together, Nelson said.

"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," he said. Meanwhile, Dickman points to (surprise!) keeping an open line of communication as a secret to their synergy.

Luckily, it sounds like the two are so creatively compatible that any constructive criticism won't land Nelson on the couch. This thing just might work.

  • FIRST AVENUE'S BEST NEW BANDS OF 2012

    With: Wiping Out Thousands, Strange Names, John Mark Nelson, Eleganza!, the Chalice, Bomba de Luz, Actual Wolf.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Fri.

    Where: First Avenue,

    701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

    Tickets: $7. www.etix.com or www.first-avenue.com.

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