THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One member of the local hip hop community and six questions. For past editions click here.
The Physics had the best Seattle hip hop album of 2013 — by this website’s estimation, anyway — with Digital Wildlife. And that record wouldn’t have come together as well as it did without the musical talents of the group’s two vocalists: real-life couple Malice (given name: Crystal) and Mario Sweet. Their R&B harmonies with The Physics generally act as subtle but vital backdrops to the crew’s deep hip hop roots, and the natural chemistry they share with rappers Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith, and producer/rapper Justo, makes for the most appealing collaborations in Seattle rap.
Malice and Mario stepped out on their own with 2011’s Happy 2 Year, a celebration of both their love for music and second wedding anniversary. H2Y was followed in July of 2013 by Enjoy Like Love, an upbeat collection of original songs unapologetically inspired by R&B/soul from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as pop culture touchstones from those decades. For those of us born in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Enjoy Like Love feels like an audio love letter written just for us.
Malice and Mario jumped on THE SIX to answer questions about their backgrounds in music, what it’s like performing and touring as The Physics, and what their musical futures might hold.
206UP: Talk a little about your singing and musical background. When did you fall in love with making music?
Crystal (aka “Malice”): I started singing for people when I was in middle school. They would encourage me to pursue music but I never took them seriously. In high school, I joined a singing group with two other girls and we called ourselves Full Vocal Control. Our first big performance was at Pista Sa Nayon, a summertime Filipino Festival in Seattle.
I moved on to singing hooks for friends and competing in talent shows, but it wasn’t until I started singing with The Physics in 2006, that I realized I could really sing and moved on from recording hooks to rocking stages with my talented homies. I continue to fall more and more in love with music as I push myself to write and sing. I’m just getting warmed up.
Mario: My singing background really isn’t that extensive. I honestly never wanted [to be] or thought about being a singer, as my first love has always been production. My love for music truly started because of my infatuation with melodies. Song melodies have been playing incessantly in my head since I was a child, so music has been a huge part of my life since as long as I can remember. At nine years old I would record myself beat boxing on my little boom box, then over dub it like four times to add other sounds.
It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school at O’Dea where I connected with a fellow classmate, Justo of The Physics, and began to really get into the idea of purchasing production equipment. Once I bought my first board, a Roland JX-305, I thought I was all set to becoming the next Battlecat. At that time, I would only sing quietly to help write hooks and arrange songs, but I never saw [singing] as my lane. It wasn’t until I went away to college where I began to become more comfortable with the idea. Ironically, a chorus I sang for on an early Physics mixtape was the first time my future wife ever heard my voice.
Pop culture touchstones from the ’80s and ’90s are all over Enjoy Like Love. Did those references come about naturally, or were you going for a particular concept by incorporating them?
Malice: We were both heavily influenced by the ’80s from our childhoods. We were both born in 1980, so our memories are fairly similar. The beats we selected from the producers we chose to work with were clearly retro, so we started brainstorming ’80s themes for our songs. The conceptual process was super fun!
Mario: Both, honestly. Melodies, for me, just seem to surface at random. They are usually triggered by the production, but are never forced. My motto with music is: if it feels right to me, don’t question it and just let it flow. Conceptually, once the feel was there, we went through a process to connect certain ideas and to play off of others, hoping to create a sentiment of nostalgia. I hope all the music aficionados catch the references and enjoy them, because they are meant to pay homage to songs that have inspired us throughout our lives.
The music on both of your albums feels very honest — like there’s no preconception to what you’re singing about, no hidden agendas, everything is coming from the heart. Are you ever tempted to assume different personae in your music, perhaps sing from perspectives that are not actually your own?
Malice: It’s far easier to write and sing from your own life’s perspective. We strive to stay true to who we are. People seem to enjoy us singing about love, and particularly our love. People have told us it gives them hope in their own quest to find love. But if a song concept feels right, I think we’d be down to write or sing something from another perspective.
Mario: All the time. Before Enjoy Like Love was released, we actually recorded a project that was going to be pretty dark. It was still very honest, but took a stark look at love and relationships. We really wanted to release it as our follow up to Happy 2 Year but decided it was more of a growth project and tabled it — for the time being. We may revisit some of the ideas because they’re still really dope, in my opinion, and would be an honest depiction of the subjects [but] from a different perspective. Other than that I tend to want to go completely left field musically, but it probably wouldn’t fit the scope of Malice and Mario at all.
What’s it like touring and performing with The Physics? Are you guys a turnt up crew backstage, or is everyone playing it cool?
Malice: It is an incredibly fun, surreal experience to tour and sing with The Physics! Tour life is addictive — like the best high ever. I think we all feel like, “Wow, people in other states are here to watch us rock.” We are a real humble crew. Backstage we are usually pretty low key; lots of laughter, a few brews and excited banter.
Mario: Performing and touring with folks I consider family is the most humbling and awesome thing ever. I have moments on stage where I stop and look around and cannot believe the people I’m on stage with, or that people came out to see us do what we love. In truth, everything is just so natural between all of us.
Could you ever see yourselves putting out solo work?
Malice: Yeah. That’s pretty inevitable, purely for the sake of individual artistic development. I think if [and] when we release individual projects, we’ll have more to bring to the table on the next Malice and Mario project.
Mario: Somewhat — just not sure in what capacity. I’d really like to do another Seattle’s Best Free Compilation-type project, but haven’t had the time to focus on it. I’ve also thought about producing an entire project for someone else, perhaps another vocalist. Not [many] people knew I made production until “Play It Off” from Digital Wildlife dropped. As far as vocally, I’ve honestly always thought of Crystal as more of a solo-type artist than [me]. I think a solo record from her would be crazy dope!
What’s up next creatively for the two of you?
Malice: In 2014, I’d love to shoot a video for at least one of our Enjoy Like Love songs, and it would be great to release some new songs as well. Between our full-time jobs and parenting we strive to make time to tap into our creative sides. But it’s nice to know we are not on any particular timeline. Our music process is really organic and we would like to keep it that way.
Mario: More music, God willing. We’ve stayed actively recording since Enjoy Like Love so we’ll see what that brings. Other than that, just to stay connected to why we create [music] in the first place: for the love.