Ahead of his Instagram takeover on the 9th July, we caught up with J. Nicholas to hear more about his solo project and why improvisation was key to the success of recording his debut album ‘Behome’.
For those who don’t you know, can you introduce yourself?
Hello, I’m J. Nicholas and I’m a musician, producer and songwriter.
Tell us about your musical background, have you always been into music?
Yes, I got into music at a very young age, and as a teenager, bands like Led Zeppelin, Rage Against The Machine and FEEDER (my first live gig experience) really started to have an influence on me.
Who are your musical influences?
Over the years I’ve had many influences, I like to get really deep into one artist and really study their music. For example when I started my rock trio, BELLA FIGURA, in 2013, I was totally obsessed with Band Of Skulls – but my new solo project, J. Nicholas, has been shaped by my love of The Barr Brothers.
Congratulations on releasing your debut album ‘Behome’ earlier this year. What’s the story behind the album? How long had you been working on it?
I started writing new material geared towards performing solo a couple of years ago. This process started very slowly with no real plan of action in place. I had a couple of rehearsals with a bunch of musician friends with the idea that we could start gigging as a band, but this never materialised and I kept performing on my own, and really enjoyed the simplicity. The new songs developed nicely over time, and new songs kept popping up, until I had kind of lost count. So, I decided that I would rent a cabin in the countryside for a short while and go there to finish off any material I had been writing and to make acoustic demos of all of my new stuff, like a kind of songwriting portfolio type thing. However, quite quickly I realised that these recordings didn’t have to be acoustic at all, and I started layering up electric guitars, drums and all sorts of other stuff, and emerged a few weeks later with the album.
You played all of the instruments yourself and also edited and mixed the album. What are the benefits and challenges of doing it all yourself?
I’ve always made the most of my limitations as a musician, for example I can’t play the most amazing drum fill, but I can play something simple and effective. One big limitation was the lack of space, so there was no room for the full drum kit, so each element of the kit was recorded individually. This created an interesting drum feel, and hopefully something quite unique. Also, by working alone, I could work quite quickly and make decisions about parts and arrangements. So, I kept the ethos that if it works and has a vibe, even if it’s not perfect, I would keep that take and move on… This way of working led to a lot of improvisation, so I could just think that this section needs some harmonica for example, I would hit record and just see what happens, if it works I’ll keep it, if it doesn’t, then bin it. There was no pressure of wasting studio time, and because no instrumentation was written before hand, with a band for example, I was constantly exploring new territory with the freedom to just go with the flow. However, the mixing process was a real challenge, I had very little experience with mixing in the past and working alone meant that there was no engineer with a fresh perspective to help out… But I approached this process with the same mentality as the music, I kept experimenting and if it worked, I went for it.
Why did you decide to list the tracks on the album in the order they were recorded?
Having been playing the songs live for some time, I kind of had a go to set list that I enjoyed playing, so I thought it would be cool to use that as a basis for the album track listing. Also, as I had never recorded in this way before, with each song in the recording process, I was able to learn from the previous one, and so I hope that the album not only has a flow from a songwriting perspective but also grows in it’s production values as well.
Your lyrics are very honest and thought-provoking, do you draw on personal experiences for songwriting inspiration?
Very much so… People write in different ways but for me the writing process always seems to be a kind of subconscious release of whatever’s happening in my life at that time. So I would never think that I’ll write about a certain experience, but with hindsight I can always find relevance in the lyrics that emerge, and I can see what they might be referring to, which is quite cathartic.
You’ve toured with some high-profile artists such as Bastille and Public Service Broadcasting, how did these opportunities come about?
I started gigging in London as a teenager and became a regular at places like The Boogaloo in Highgate and The Monarch in Camden. I got to know the community and was championed by the legend that is Beans On Toast, and this led to my involvement with Communion and The Joe Strummer Foundation, which opened up a lot of doors to lots of great gigs!
You’ve been in multiple bands such as The Joker & The Thief and Dark Moon, do you miss being in a band? Is this something you might return to?
Yes! I’d really like to put a band together for the solo project, and see how these solo recordings turn out with a live band. Dark Moon is still in action and we’re about to start the recording process for our second album, which I’m very excited about.
Imagine you were playing the middle slot in the gig of your dreams next week, who would you be supporting and who would be opening for you? Where would you be playing?
I’d no doubt be supporting The Barr Brothers, and opening for me would have to be Johnny Lloyd from Tribes, and we’d be at The Roundhouse. Easy.
What artists are you listening to at the moment? Do you have a go-to playlist?
The Barr Brothers… Did I mention them already?
What can we expect from your live acoustic set on our Instagram on the 9th July?
I think the plan is to stick closely to the album track-listing, although since the album is over an hour long, it’ll be the slightly more condensed version! I might throw in some new material I’ve been working on as well, but that’s usually an in-the-moment decision… Really looking forward to it!
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