Artist Feature: NTS WIP participants 2020 - part one

Click here to listen to part one of the NTS WIP Participants 2020 radio show.

This month’s Carhartt WIP Radio show is a special feature, which delves into the work of multiple artists, each of whom is part of the 2020 installment of the NTS Work In Progress artist development program. The mix has been carefully assembled by NTS’s very own Charlie Bones – host of the station’s stellar weekday morning show – in collaboration with each artist.

A diverse and eclectic array of sounds feature, with contributions from London-based group Babeheaven – known for their woozy trip-hop sounds and introspective lyrical approach – as well as Jaxxon D. Silva, a rapper, also based in London, who brings a brooding, melancholic quality to proceedings.

Nazar – who is based in Manchester, by way of Belgium and Angola – showcases his warped, industrial aesthetic first seen in full on his debut release in March of this year. Meanwhile, Malian producer Luka Productions draws on his own cultural heritage, merging elements of West African music with expressive hip hop.

There’s also contributions from Paris Aden, who has previously produced incendiary beats for the likes of Lil Pump and Bbymutha, while also releasing solo projects such as 19 & Drifting (2020); LA-based multidisciplinary artist Slauson Malone, who employs a bricolage approach to sampling; and VIOLENCE, the New York-based single-person band, known for their dense, murky mix of everything from black metal to grime. The final contributor for this month’s show brings it back to London, with Nala Sinephro, a Caribbean-Belgian composer, producer, and musician, known for her shimmering, synth-laden harp sounds.

To complement this aural journey, we also spoke to each artist, touching on their career to date, and how each of them is crafting their unique sound under NTS’s mentorship. Please read part one of our interviews below.

Babeheaven

What does the participation at NTS WIP 2020 mean to you? Do you think the program can elevate your artistic expression as well as your career?

Nancy: It’s amazing to have the support from NTS and meet other creatives.

Jamie: I think the variety of support given to us from NTS and the partners helps with so many of the different parts that go into being an artist these days, especially as we’re having to do everything with a small team. I think it will just help us to do things that we may not have been able to do without their support, from using studios to getting really good press shots and everything in between.

How did you first get into music and performing?

Nancy: I got into playing and recording music when Jamie and I started writing together. The performing side came a little later. I never thought I would get into performing, I struggled to stand on stage and face the audience in the beginning. It's something that has only really started to excite me in the past couple of years.

Jamie: I used to play the cello when I was around seven years old, and first performed in a little orchestra, and then eventually got into guitar and joined a few bands when I was at school. I’d always wanted to be a guitarist in a band since I was around eleven years old – mainly because of Jimi Hendrix.

What is your creative process like?

Nancy: We write very naturally together. Jamie will generally work on a beat and chord progressions and I write along with him. Lyrically, I don’t tend to think too much about what I’m writing unless I am in a headspace for a specific type of song. Sometimes I can write about something and only later figure out what I was singing about.

What are your thoughts on the accessibility of music today, through large streaming platforms, compared to the bigger but more romantic effort of discovering music through record stores, concerts etc?

Nancy: It's amazing having music so easily accessible, but sometimes it feels like a bit of shame. The joy of a bubbling subculture kind of gets taken away when you can find everything in one place and on top of that see related artists at the bottom of the page. Going to shows is a great way to discover new music. If your favorite artist is playing they’re likely to have chosen an artist they love to support and hope you will love them too.

You mentioned in an interview that you like to take your time with writing music. Do you think it’s still possible to take your time and stay relevant in today’s music?

Nancy: I think it's important to take your time, if what you’re writing is good and you believe it then it should stay relevant. Being online is a difficult thing, there is so much pressure through social media, but if you are a musician then your music is more important than anything else.

Jamie: It’s always changing though, so sometimes writing will take a lot longer than other times. Recently, for instance, writing has been really quick and we have a lot of new songs. So things are always evolving and changing. And yes it’s clear that if the music is good enough people will always stay relevant. For example, we’re seeing a lot of artists taking three or four years between each album, which never really used to happen.

You are working on a debut album at the moment, what can we expect from it?

Nancy: You can expect all the special things that we make and a little more!

How does your work in the studio differ from a Babeheaven live performance?

Nancy: When we work in the studio it tends to be just Jamie and me, but live, we are a five-piece band. Working in a studio most of what we do is recorded using a laptop which can make things feel slightly more rigid, whereas with the band we can try and make things flow a little better.

For your live performances, do you hire the musicians or are they friends?

Nancy: The musicians in the band are good friends that we have known for a long time. They have a huge influence on how we play live, as we try to make it different for the shows, and not stick to playing all the songs in the same way. We rehearse for a few weeks before shows. Normally we would rehearse about once a week so that we can stay on top of learning new songs, but we haven’t been able to recently because of lockdown.

Which vocalists have influenced you?

Nancy: I have a lot of influences, but I never really listen to singers and think ‘I want to sing like that.’ When I was young I taught myself to sing by mimicking people I listened to. I love Sade, for example – she is an icon.

Do you remember the first album that influenced you musically?

Nancy: Hmm such a tough question. So many albums influenced me. Some that stick out and I always had on my CD player: Jill Scott - Who is Jill Scott, Daft Punk - Discovery, Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below.

Jamie: Some of the earliest music I remember influencing me was probably Moby's album Play and DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing. Also, I remember hearing Teardrop by Massive Attack for the first time when I was around eleven or twelve and that had a big influence.

Nala Sinephro

What’s your earliest musical memory that has influenced you?

Nala Sinephro: Playing fiddle violin with people when I was seven, folk music has influenced me a lot. I loved it, stomping my foot, the vibration of the violin onto my 'lil cheek. There wasn’t any chart music used, it was always played by ear. The transcendental feel of repeating those melodies on the violin for hours, for enjoyment, influenced me a lot.

My grandma had this record she played on repeat when I was staying with her over the summer from age five to nine, it was a jazz compilation with music from Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Count Basie. Songs like A Night In Tunisia  – I remember loving them so much, dancing to ’em and absorbing it all.

What is your creative process like?

Nala Sinephro: I usually have a finished tune in my head because of something random that has inspired me. If I can make it to the piano, my computer, or recording gear, I lay down as much as I can, get into the zone and create what I hear in an hour or two. I then don’t listen to it for a long time. Once I have a fresh ear I can see and understand what it needs or doesn’t need. The best part is then playing it for friends.

Your setup consists of a harp, modular synths, and an analog synth and effects. When did you choose the harp as the instrument of your choice and can you guide us through your live setup?

Nala Sinephro: I discovered the harp when I was 16 when I was studying jazz full time in high school. In the evenings, I would practice harmony in the classical music department classrooms. There was a pedal harp there in the corner that I was definitely not allowed to unpack, touch, or use. I played secretly for two years in the evenings. When I moved to London I finally was able to rent one of my own. For the live set up I use modular synths, an analog synthesizer, and my pedal harp. I then plug the pedal harp into a module which creates the blend of it all.

Do you enjoy the randomness of a modular synthesizer and does it influence your way of creating?

Nala Sinephro: Yeah, at times playing modular synths feels like improvising with another musician in some way. It’s listening and sharing, to where things can be added and where it needs exactly nothing. I never really know what to expect entirely, which keeps things fresh and it makes the writing process very exciting.

How does your studio setup differ from your live setup?

Nala Sinephro: All I really need to produce the tracks is my laptop. Once I have some sort of audio, I’m all set to go. I wanted to be able to make beats outside in nature, on the bus, or on a park bench – so I did. If I’m recording modular synths and pedal harp at home, the studio set up is the same as on stage. If I’m composing, I usually play it out on the piano and write it out on paper.

VIOLENCE

What does the participation at NTS WIP 2020 mean to you?

VIOLENCE: It’s exciting. It’s been really cool and inspiring meeting the folks at NTS and the other WIP recipients. I actually find learning about the details of how things are organized and run really fascinating, and meeting with people and hearing their perspectives and seeing how they create is always fun.

What are your favorite NTS Radio shows and why?

VIOLENCE: Endless for sure. Always something unique going on.

How did you first get into music and performing?

VIOLENCE: I can’t remember that far back.

What is your creative process like? What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?

VIOLENCE: I have so many different methods. There’s no singular way. Sometimes I’ll sit down and force myself to do it. Chuck Close said some shit like, “inspiration is for amateurs.” That really fit in line with how I worked when I was younger. Now I rely a lot on inspiration. Luckily, I’m inquisitive and only really enjoy learning, so I’m constantly inspired. A line in a book, a peculiar phrase I hear, some weird thread of history that has a strange trajectory I’ve sussed out. That last one is the big one.

You have been making music since 2010. How has your way of writing and producing music changed over time?

VIOLENCE: When I started VIOLENCE I was making music using video editing software and this old Roland thing. It was like ambient, chopped and screwed, black metal, and weird Lo-fi shit that, depending on the sensitivity of your ears, was either really harsh or really soothing. At the time, I was also making counterpoint exercises on guitar but none of that was recorded. Since then I’ve gained a significantly better understanding of various musical languages. What’s remained the same is my obsession with mythopoeia and repetition.

What do you try to achieve with your music?

VIOLENCE: I’ve gotten a lot of messages online from people saying things like ‘I never knew anyone felt the way I feel.’ [I want] to be able to express things that are hard to define, to show other people that they’re not alone, and to inspire them into action. Or to make them feel at home on this planet, to feel confident and vindicated. I can’t really ask for much more.

You are described as a multi-instrumentalist. Which instruments do you play and how do you integrate them into your music?

VIOLENCE: Recently I’ve been focusing on guitar and classical piano. I use them both to better understand the structure of music, to help me remember the tools at my disposal. For a while, I was listening to a lot of Cab Calloway and thinking about the structure of big band music. Learning how to compose guitar to fit inside of that structure and then branching out into the other instruments. That’s sort of how I’ve treated instruments for a few years. I only recently really started enjoying playing them again instead of thinking of them as tools. Like, now I have the aural language to express myself and to move in and out of all these different structures. I feel more free to just enjoy myself.

How much does the multidimensional world of the internet influence your work? And do you think the internet has led to a new kind of sound, in which all sorts of music and other information are somehow linked together?

VIOLENCE: The links between different kinds of music, those bonds would be there with or without the internet. I think the internet definitely functions as a sort of hive mind. All the dissonance we have within ourselves is embodied by these populations we see reflected on the internet, and also by what we don’t see but is still present. The internet was an escape for me when I was younger. It showed me worlds I couldn’t imagine. I think it still functions that way. But it can also bleed things of their context. It is very strange for me to be in a club or a house party where people that don’t speak English are listening to songs about black people killing each other or selling drugs. Yeah, the beat slaps, but it is a very strange thing to experience.

How much does visual art influence your sound?

VIOLENCE: Before music, I was actually an academic painter. My work then became completely digital for years. The immediacy of digital tools, not having to mix mediums or prep canvases, I was able to create things that encapsulated smaller, more intense moments in time. The way that I created those works wasn’t so dissimilar to the structure of my music. Hyper-referential, saturated.

Usually, it is considered that it is the job of the artist to win over an audience. But listening is also an active, rather than just a passive process. How do you see the role of the listener in the musical communication process?

VIOLENCE: When I was younger I would force people into these really harsh situations before I gave them the real payoff. With recordings and live. The people that trusted me, well, they still come to my shows. I really appreciate that trust. I think a lot of music has this immediacy to it that is meant to allow the listener to think ‘yeah, I’m cool as shit, no one can fuck with me.’ Which is fine, but very one-note to me, incredibly boring. I want to make work that people can see themselves in but also work that people can become someone else in, something more creative and queer and indefinable. But to experience that the listener, no matter what, would have to give themselves over to the music, to give the artist their trust.

How much are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences? And conversely, how much is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?

VIOLENCE: What you're describing in the question sounds like ‘to what extent is music reactionary?’ I don’t know. All art is wholly dependent on the environment it is created in. It’s arbitrary in that way. There is no such thing as a universal art, and I tend to think people that say that there is such a thing are charlatans.

What exciting stuff do you have in the pipeline currently?

VIOLENCE: I have a completed demo and a long term project that started as a study of specific forms of violence and their projection from prehistory into the present. Now, it’s looking like it’s about breastfeeding as a universal experience.

Jaxxon D Silva

What is your creative process like?

Jaxxon D Silva: Every song is like an operation. I put a lot of effort into writing. That’s really my main focus. I also engineer myself and I believe this is very crucial to developing “your own sound”. I collect beats like I used to collect Yugioh cards. I wish I could wake up every day and feel inspired but most of the time, I have to search for it. That’s where it all starts. My favorite part is recording, though, it gives me a rush. Also, if the song I make doesn’t give me that goosebumps feeling then I most likely won’t listen to it again. Although to be honest I feel like every song I make is better than the one I made before. I’m always learning.