Who: Malachi Graham (vocals), Ryan Linder (synths, guitar, production).
For fans of: Sylvan Esso, Lady Lamb, Patsy Cline backed by synths.
Sounds like: Staring at a pine forest from your bedroom window at night with the sounds of someone else's party coming through your floor.
When Ryan Linder and Malachi Graham of synth-pop duo Small Million first met, at a Holocene disco party in early 2013, they weren't exactly on the same page. He was an electronic producer, and she was a roots-indebted singer-songwriter. Collaboration seemed unlikely.
"I respect what you do, but that's never a genre I thought about being involved in," Graham remembers thinking. Linder, however, had been looking for a female collaborator since relocating from L.A. He looked up Graham's music and later went to see her perform. "I loved Malachi's voice," he says, "because it was different from the type of music that I was making."
Linder approached Graham after her show, and the two decided to see what they could make out of their opposing styles. Meshing together their very different backgrounds took some trial and error. But a turning point came with the melancholy "Six Feet," which was featured on the 2014 PDX Pop Now compilation. In the sparse synths and deeply emotive vocals, the duo found a universal language in their shared love of melody and emotion. "It didn't matter what type of music I was making, as long as it provided something for Malachi to make a beautiful melody," Linder says. Graham says the shift in genre moved her toward writing more vulnerable, personal lyrics. "I think there's something so raw and emotional about the instrumental tracks that Ryan's creating," she says. "I felt like I had to really tap into something."
The result is Small Million's euphoric debut EP, Before the Fall. You can still hear the Americana-steeped virtuosity in Graham's voice on "Nightblooming" and "Sleep Long," but even at its twangiest, it seems right at home among the twinkling synths and rhythmic loops. As it turns out, Graham and Linder helped each other realize what they were both searching for as songwriters, and it transcends genre conventions. "I'm picking up the pieces that make me feel the most," Linder says.
SEE IT: Small Million play Secret Society, 116 NE Russell St., with Mothertapes and Leo Islo, on Saturday, June 4. 9 pm. $8. 21+.