Quick, name a hip-hop producer from the Netherlands. If you can’t, shame on you. Because that means great music like Here, Dutch Masters and City Lights are not in your collection. Definitely your loss. The rest of you who shun life under a rock know Nic from his 2004 collaborative effort with Phonte of Little Brother, Connected. Traditionally known as the land of clogs and windmills Nicolay has single-handedly put the Kingdom of The Netherlands on the hip-hop map with a lush sound full of dusty samples and live instruments. Currently on tour promoting his project with Kay of the Foundation, Time:Line, Nic took a few minutes to chat it up with Nodfactor.com.
NF: I know there is a making of “Time:Line” video series out there, but give me the quick and ugly version of how you hooked up with Kay to do this CD.
Nicolay: We originally ‘met’ very similar to how I got in touch with Phonte, it was on Okayplayer around 2003/2004… he was a big fan of Connected and he was down with Ali Shaheed Muhammad’s camp… so the first things we did together was “My Story” and another track, both intended for his solo album The Talk Show. However, that album got shelved, so I put “My Story” on my Here album to at least have it out and it turned out to be one of people’s favourites. So at point, we were like… we should consider doing a full project together. thats it in a nutshell….
NF: As a producer, do you approach your instrumental projects like City Lights differently from the Connected and Time:line projects?
Nicolay: Yeah, in all realness the choices made during instrumental projects are mine and mine alone, whereas the projects I have done with people together are much more a symbiosis. Ultimately you try to match what the other one is doing but there could potentially be a situation where a vocalist is not feeling a track that I might consider releasing as an instrumental. Thats the comprise you need to make doing a project together with someone.
NF: Can u give me an example of a beat someone didn’t think was right for themthat you just kept for yourself?
Nicolay: Yeah there’s a couple of tracks on City Lights that fall under that like ‘memory lane’…in that particular example, it wasn’t a matter of ‘not feeling’ but simply not happening. I remember Phonte liking that beat real early on, but it’s just one of those things that… a better track took its place I guess. And there’s also tracks that people might feel and might demo on, but I may feel they work better as instrumentals…
NF: They have their own voice…
Nicolay: Yeah, honestly sometimes it’s almost as though any vocals would take it over the top…Just because usually my tracks are musically real dense and sometimes… they are just fine the way they are. And then sometimes there’s tracks that come to life when the vocals are written to them..
NF: like “Fantastic” to me is a great stand alone instrumental can u tell me what went into making that one? the melody is amazing.
Nicolay: That one was one of the very first [beats], like early ’02. I was skipping through some rotary connection records and I heard something I liked…. however, since I was conscious of the potential ‘obviousness’ of the sample, I chopped it up and re-arranged itand then later on, I put a snippet from Minnie Riperton on top and filtered that…that’s the sine like reverb-y melody on top. That’s one of the first…. 10
NF:ever? that you made?
NF: damn, shun! You don’t wanna hear my first 10 then…
Nicolay: It’s funny because we are working on this compilation of 5 years ‘produced by nicolay’ and so we were researching some shit and dates and shit and yeah a lot of those early ones ended up on albums. Like “Come Around” was the actual first…
Nicolay: “Light it Up” and “Be All Right” were also in that first 10.
NF: What were you drum programming on?
Nicolay: I used what I use to this day for drum programming. It’s a tracker called Modplug a free program… with the most precise timing ever (www.modplug.com) Hardly anyone knows about it but its nothing short of amazing. The learning curve is ridiculous though. Thats one of the secret weapons…. lol
NF: I swore you were banging on pads of something. Does it come with those drum sounds or are those yours?
Nicolay: Nah all of those are mine. It doesn’t come with anything and so it looks kinda overwhelming but the timing subtleties you can get with it are amazing. I’ll probably never, ever switch over.
NF: That is my biggest gripe with FL. The swing for drum patters isn’t where I’d like it to be. I just use drum breaks most of the time and use the slicer for chopping the samples
Nicolay: Yeah man I tried FL but i couldn’t fuck with it. I tried it once and I was like…. “ohhhhh nooooo.” I was amazed the results that 9th got with it cause I was like I can’t get it to groove for SHIT. But then I found out he makes it work by using breaks and parts of breaks
NF: Right. It’s hard to straight program with it you’ll sound like mr. roboto on the beat box
Nicolay: Haha yeah youll sound like Kraftwerk, which works for some people, but not me. I need more soul.
NF: Which makes me ask how much of your music is played live? Your keyboard melodies are sick.
Nicolay: Thanks, man…more and more and more. Like on FE, it was maybe…. like I added 25% “So far” is actually ALL samples but the bassline. But for instance “Indian Summer” has none that’s all played. I have always really liked to switch it up like that and to combine. Ultimately it’s far more gratifying to work with an empty canvas and no samples, though…it’s harder I have been forcing myself to do it.
NF: What about “Adore” with Purple Saint James a def fav of mine
Nicolay: Adore is a funny story, because that’s one of those examples that I got my Jon Brion on and I replayed the whole entire thing, all the parts. It was a sample originally but BBE was worried I wouldn’t get away with it. So literally play everything on that track from the guitars to the keyboards to the percussion. I replayed it all and added some of my own flavour to it.
Check back soon for Part 2 of this interview and be sure catch Nicolay and Kay on tour in the U.S.:
March 21 (Friday): CLUB VINYL, DENVER CO
1082 Broadway | Denver, CO 80203
Cost: $10 for 21+, $15 for 18+. Doors: 9pm. For tickets and more information: www.coclubs.com
Nicolay & Kay TIME:LIVE set followed by Nicolay DJ set. Openers: DJ Low Key, Sounds Supreme & more
April 11 (Friday): 111 MINNA GALLERY, SAN FRANCISCO, CA
111 Minna St. | San Francisco, CA 94105
Cost: TBA. Doors: 9PM. For tickets and more information: www.111minnagallery.com
Nicolay & Kay TIME:LIVE set followed by Nicolay DJ set. April 12 (Saturday): THE FORBIDDEN CITY, HOLLYWOOD, CA
1718 Vine St | Hollywood, CA, US 90028
Cost: TBA. Doors: 9PM. For tickets and more information: http://www.forbiddencityla.com
Nicolay & Kay TIME:LIVE set followed by Nicolay DJ set. April 18 (Friday): BLACK CAT, WASHINGTON DC
1811 14th Street NW | Washington DC 20009
All ages. Cost: 15$. Doors: 9PM. For tickets and more information: www.blackcatdc.com
Nicolay & Kay TIME:LIVE set followed by Nicolay DJ set. Opener: Panacea April 19 (Saturday): TURNTABLE CLUB, BALTIMORE, MD
2139 Jefferson St | Baltimore, MD 21205
Cost: 10$. Doors: 9PM. For more information: www.myspace.com/turntableclub
Nicolay & Kay TIME:LIVE set followed by Nicolay DJ set.