Soul Music Duo Malice & Mario Sweet Travel With Speed of Light
The Seattle soul duo celebrate their love and life together through music
Crystal and Mario Sweet, a married couple, better known as Malice & Mario Sweet, are the yin to each other’s yang. Their affection can be compared to that of Kindred The Family Soul as they incorporate a classic sound reminiscent of those 80's grooves where funk and soul collide. Natives of Seattle, Washington – a city most proud of its legendary alternative rocks bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains – the two met briefly during their college years, then being reunited through music several years later, they entered a courtship that blossomed into musical and marital bliss. Mario, a longstanding member of Seattle’s prolific underground rap group, The Physics, who are likened to the golden era in hip-hop, soon carved out space for Malice to provide melodic backdrops to The Physics tracks.
As the couple approached their second year wedding anniversary, they drummed up with the idea of doing a project to commemorate the milestone. Happy 2 Year, their first EP together as Malice & Mario Sweet was released in February 2011 and contains all the elements of their happiness, friendship, and appreciation of life’s gifts, with a sound that awakens love and positivity through a mixture of up and down tempo tunes. “Speed of Light,” the lead track from the EP, is this hard hitting drum arrangement, where their harmonies glide over the song in a melody that will have you moving and grooving. Happy 2 Year displays their effortless ability to create music to remind us that love is the universal language.
Loop 21 had the opportunity to talk with the couple just before the holidays about their sound, the Seattle music scene and how they balance their music with their marriage.
Loop 21: How would you describe your sound?
Malice: It’s pretty much happy R&B, for the most part. Particularly if you were to describe the sound of our EP. It's a celebration of our second year wedding anniversary and we just thought to do something to celebrate us but in a musical form and see if anybody sticks to it. It was pretty much a test run but at the end of the day, we kept telling ourselves if nobody likes it, and if nobody digs it, then as long as we like it, we’re happy. It just kind of evolved from the beats we got from some of the local incredible producers, and it inspired the sound. We really wanted to keep it positive throughout the project and was like, there were no cuss words in it. It’s family friendly, and it poppy and genuinely comes from a place that we were at as we wrote it.
Mario: The positivity piece, we were both very adamant about. From just looking around, you hear a lot of struggle, everyday, and it can be draining and daunting on a person’s spirit and I think that music is one of those things that can really help to motivate and inspire and we wanted to do that – celebrate us, celebrate life, tell people to smile.
Loop 21: How long have you known each other and how long have you been working together?
Malice: We’ve known each other for about 7 years. We actually met briefly in college but then reunited again 7 years ago. I basically was boasting outside a nightclub after one too many spirits, that I could sing which is quite unusual for my character to be a bragger. I had heard Mario singing on a friend’s album and thought he had a great voice. I was up for the challenge to do something musically with him. We actually wrote a song the first time that we ever really hung out together. We are also a part of a group called The Physics.
Loop 21: What is your relationship to The Physics?
Mario: The Physics have been friends of mine since early teen years. That’s where Crystal initially heard me singing. We’ve [The Physics] always been fairly close musically; we all went to school together. We’ve been kind of riding that wave for most of the last four years.
Malice: And we started to do a lot of the background vocals, being more contributing members to the band.
Mario: I’ve always been involved with them. We were realizing we wanted to contribute a bit more, and kind of do things outside of The Physics, and we started to get recognition for doing a lot of good stuff with those guys, but we wanted to have our own creative freedom. We’re really democratic with the dynamic of The Physics, but six people involved and voting? Happy 2 Year, the concept, made sense. We just kind of wanted to do something outside with no expectations. It was a surprise that people liked it as much as they did. We just wanted to makes some tunes we could look back on, just me and Crys.
Loop 21: Tell me about the Seattle scene. It is renowned for being a rainy place. No one really thinks of it as place with a vibrant music scene.
Malice: It’s probably the most flourishing its been since the early 1990s grunge scene. It’s been just amazing as there are so many other hip hop artists from Seattle who have been doing international tours in Europe, and all over nationwide. It’s difficult to describe the sound. Seattle really is like a big small town. It’s barely six degrees of separation; it’s probably like one degree of separation. But at the same time, people are really happy for each other.
Mario: I don’t know if it has always been like this but I can definitely say, that right now, people are being recognized by the music they’re doing and the city is behind them. There seems to be this momentum that’s building on its own. And this is not only happening in the hip hop. The soulfulness that’s coming out of here – the Allen Stone, and Choklate, and here comes Malice & Mario Sweet on a soulful front. It’s really just opening a lot of people’s eyes who aren’t from here. Like you said, people’s perception of Seattle is all rain, and it is, but there’s definitely something going on in our city right now. We don’t know what it’s going to look like or who will “make it,” but we’re all just moving as a unit in a cohesive group and it feels good.
Loop 21: How did you get to work with Detroit producer, Tall Black Guy?
Mario: This is one of those stories that you look back on and are just glad things worked out. I saw Tall Black Guy at a beat battle in Seattle, at the Red Bull Beat Tunes.
Loop 21: Didn’t he win the contest one year?
Mario: The year we saw him, he actually didn’t win. He was in Seattle for the semi-final. You know, beats don’t lie to me. I don’t care what you look like, how much you dance, when he pressed play, the sounds that came out of the speakers when he played his music I was like, “Oh wow...this guy is really talented!” After his set, he came through the crowd passing out his CDs and he was standing right in front of me and I thought he was going to pass one to my wife or me. Maybe didn’t see us and continued on his way. And I was like, “Crystal, we’ve gotta get one! Let’s make sure we get one of his CDs?” So she kind of chased him down through the crowd to get the CD. When I played it, it was dope, great instrumentals, the stuff I would love to one day work with, and sing to. But we didn’t have anything going on with us to reach out and say, “I really wanna work with you.” But then we came up with the Happy 2 Year concept in 2010. I needed instrumentals and wanted to hear some music. And the first CD I grabbed was the CD from 3 years ago by Tall Black Guy. Loaded it up on a session and when I listened to “Speed of Light,” I had this melody in my head that seemed to just float to me. Crystal came home and heard me writing and singing to it. She started humming it for a few days. So I just cold emailed Tall Black Guy, with “Hey, I’ve got an idea for this song from the CD you gave out 3 years ago. Is this beat still available?” And his wife Chaka, actually hit me back. She was trying to make sure…
Malice: …we weren’t going to sing on it with cuss words or talk about things that weren’t true to who Tall Black Guy and his wife are. They really wanted to have their say on what goes over their beats. They were very protective of it.
Mario: They wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to be disrespectful over their beats. Then we actually started to connect more to realize that our stories are similar. He’s a married guy too. We did a home recording and once he heard the demo, I think it was kind of a wrap from there. I could tell he was excited. I’ve still never met him to this day and we talk on the phone all the time, at least once a week. We talk music, and he’d be like, “I’ve got a beat for you guys,” and send it. It’s like opening Christmas presents. He’s just been amazing. I love to see when people are finally recognizing what I heard the first time I saw Tall Black Guy three years ago.
Loop 21: When he sends you a beat, do you do anything to it? Do you tinker with or leave it as it stands? What’s the process?
Mario: It really depends. With “Love and Friendship,” I definitely tinkered with it. I put that D’Angelo sample in there and a little French speaking stuff at the beginning. If it’s natural, the melodies will just start coming to me. Me and Crystal are good about talking about “what does the beat make you feel like?” And just move from there. Tall Black Guy’s music definitely makes you feel stuff. He’s given me nothing but green light, and lets me do whatever I feel over his beats. It seems as though he’s saying , “Yes, I trust you, whatever you think you hear, whatever you think you might wanna add element-wise, go-ahead.”
Malice: I think that came with time, this mutual and artistic trust that they both have and obviously he unmistakably sends amazing pieces of art to us and he allows us to be creative on it and is also extremely supportive of what we do.
Loop 21: You guys are married and work full time jobs as well. How do you balance everything living double lives?
Malice: We are both actually in grad school right now. So we balance full blown recording sessions, grad school, and full time work, 40 hours a week, all while writing songs. There were definitely hard nights with energy drinks, a lot of prep talk, a lot of extra minutes practicing a song. Mario would basically record a beat for me and I would have my lyrics to practice and I’d go on my lunch break at work and work on my pieces in the car, facing away from the building because I didn’t want all of my coworkers to see that I'm belting out music in my car, trying to nail it, just so we’re not wasting studio time. I don’t know how we’ve done it thus far. [Laughs]
Mario: A year ago, we wouldn’t have expected to be doing interviews for radio or publications. This is just too cool! It’s been beautiful. As we, Malice and Mario build to notoriety, our group The Physics continues to really build a solid base and we’re able to tour a little now with them and still be recognized inside of the other group we’re in. The whole thing leaves us feeling kind of weird going back to work and putting on the 9-5 face again, knowing that we were just rocking the stage in LA.
Loop 21: What are you studying?
Mario: Crystal, she’s studying a masters in Leadership, an MBA, and I’m getting my masters in Counseling Psychologies, and I’m hoping to open a private practice in a few years and go back to my old neighborhood and help kids, develop some kind of structure in competence and confidence for kids as they move forward in life when sometimes support breaks down.
Loop 21: Have you started doing any shows just as yourselves rather than with The Physics?
Mario: Yes, we are slowly transitioning into bringing a full band into our set, picking shows and venues that fit where we are right now. We have a New Year Show that we are doing here, where we’re actually opening up for The Physics; a dual performance night for us. We will be hitting some colleges. We’re going to be doing a show in Pullman, Washington State University, second and third week in January, and we’ll be hosting a show here at one of our big venues in Seattle. So yes, we’re getting out there but we actually want to put more time into our visual showcase.
Loop 21: What’s next for Malice & Mario Sweet?
Malice: We’ve already thought of an EP title and it’s a really inspiring title for us to be able to do. Just like how Happy 2 Year was for us to set a direction for how we feel at this point in our lives, singing what we wanted to sing about, what we wanted to write about. We’ve already picked some beats. And in all of that, we graduate from grad school in June. He will be opening a practice in a few years, and me, I still haven’t figured it out [laughs]. On this path, we’ve stayed close together and know that we’re doing our best in everyone of these categories; we just can’t go wrong. I think Mario has more revere of this sophomore curse. But knowing the amazing musician as I have in a partner in Mario, I have no doubt there will be at least a song somebody will feel on the next EP.
Mario: For me, I’m kind of like more nervous now than I was before we released any music because now I feel that people do have somewhat of an expectation for us to really come out with good music. Trying to stay grounded in the fact that we make music that hopefully we like, and ultimately that’s the most important, and hopefully the people continue to gravitate to it as well. That, to me, is essential for us to be true to ourselves and let things continue to happen.
Loop 21: Who’s working on this project?
Mario: We got some music from Tall Black Guy again, we also have a Jake One song that I really think is going to be a great record. We’re still reaching out to artists. We have so much talent here locally in Seattle, such as Kuddie Fresh (he did the original “Date Night,” and the "Happiness" song we did with Choklate). He’s actually based out in Atlanta now and has been there a few years, a transplant from Seattle.
Malice & Mario Sweet's debut EP Happy 2 Year, is available for purchase on their Bandcamp site, where you can also hear it in its full entirety.