NF: Phonte once joked that your beats sound a certain way because in the Netherlands it’s cold with a lot of open space and grass.
Nicolay:[laughs] Yeah that’s what makes them airy
NF: But you’ve since relocated to the states, yes?
Nicolay: yup, temporarily
NF: Has that influenced your sound at all?
Nicolay: nah, I’m way to secluded for that. I think if anything it influences me even more to remain original. Just from what I hear and see around me there’s just so much mainstream in daily life. Commercials out the ass everywhere. It makes me want to be different even more.
NF: So for the record, which instruments do you play?
Nicolay: Guitar, bass, keyboards, drums. I’m self-taught on everything except the guitar
just by wanting to try and being extremely music obsessed. I just wanted to learn how to do it.
NF: Your studio must be a sight to see. What’s the set-up like in Nicolay’s house of hits?
Nicolay: I have actually always kept it kinda simple but I do have a lot of stuff
and half of it is in Europe. But I use Pro Tools now including the 003 mixer,
got a bunch of keyboards out. Right now I have setup the Motif6, Moog
Prodigy, dx7 II and the Juno 106. There’s basses and guitars, percussion instruments.
CDJ’s and a mixer…and that’s about it.
NF: Speaking of CDJs, tell me about your DJing. When did that come into play?
Nicolay: Basically finding a way to promote myself and the music on the road. So I did what most serious and acclaimed DJs despise: I got Serato and I tried to figure it out [laughs]. It was cool though because in the two years that I have done it so far, it
has really shifted to me just spinning cuts from my own catalogue, and people are really feeling that.I’m not a DJ’s DJ, so it’s more a combination of… just being there, and then playing the shit that people love you for.
NF: Shameless in the art of self-promotion
Nicolay: Totally. I’m getting better at it though. At first I was a disaster.
The first gig was here in Wilmington so there was hardly anyone out. The second gig was in this prestigious chicago club ‘Sonoteque’ so that was like the litmus test and I think I passed it on balls, not on my mixing.
NF: Thats interesting, cuz most producers start as DJs. You did it in reverse.
However, most people I know go to hear DJ Premier spin to hear him play songs he produced.
Nicolay: I know, right? That’s what it is though. I figured out that you come to see me…. you’re gonna get everything from Nic’s Groove to EMC to Median to Sy Smith to you name it and that’ s what makes it work. If I’d just spin ‘music’…. i don’t think it would work. But because I just have this unmistakable connection with my music, I can do it with my own shit…like, I’ll remix shit live…Switch out beats and shit. It’s a lot of fun. I get to debut new material, like new Foreign Exchange stuff…. and you get to see if it works
NF: Like “As the Wheels Turn”
Nicolay: Right! Full circle, nice one.
NF:are you playing the instruments on that one?
Yeah there’s zero samples in that outside some of the drum sounds.
NF:The synth and bassline on there is nuts
Nicolay: Thanks, man. That’s my Prince-nod, so to speak. One of them…
NF: So do you play and record each sound separately or build on top of each
Nicolay: It depends… usually I’ll put the basics together like the bass, drums and
main keys and then I start filling it out, like building up some chorus parts, or adding guitars…I usually stop when I literally have no more ideas for the particular track..
NF: Are there any beats out now that you wish you’d pulled back on?
Nicolay: “Adore” is one of them that, looking back, it probably sounded better in the
original version with the sample. It had a bit more grit to it. I like the version on Here but it’s on the verge of glam.
NF: You should give Kanye a call. Seems like glam is his lane these days. When I heard “Flashing Lights” I was like “Nic could have done that”
Nicolay: hahaha Yeah maybe I should. I do see the similarities, even though he really is all the way over at the commercial side and my side would always be more left. But the similarities are definitely there
NF: Speaking of Left.. “Raw Life” is like the grimiest beat you’ve ever done. Would you agree?
Nicolay: Yeah it’s up there, no doubt. “Raw Life” and maybe “The End Is Near.”
NF: How do you flip from that to something like “Sincere,” but still retain your vibe?
Nicolay: I think it’s a product of my ecclectic taste. I can literally skip from soul to classical to jazz to indie to house when I listen…I think I just like to tap into whatever I can tap into and it manifests itself in a lot of different styles but all with a common
denominator in the sense that, I’m the medium.
NF: So how much have you and Te recorded so far for Leave It All Behind?
Nicolay We are about 10 songs in..
NF: Is it different recording it with you being in the states vs how the first one was done pretty much virtually?
Nicolay: We did it exactly like the first… it’s something that we have grown so comfortable with that it’s almost like you don’t wanna jinx it…
NF: Interesting. The Internet knows not of distance, whether its near or far.
Nicolay: Exactly, plus I have found that this way of working actually gets the best results in the sense that when I work on a track, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder or suggesting things, so I can put my all in it. Same with the vocals. At the end of the day I think it gets the music to a much more personal level
NF: Really? By being apart?
Nicolay yeah, its ironic isn’t it? But it’s true. There’s certain limitations or inhibitions that you need to let go of in order to tap into the most creativity. The Internet allows for that
Cause its like…you didn’t have those inhibitions bothering you while recording
NF:You know people will read this and say “Phonte Nags Nicolay in the studio, so they record apart.”
Nicolay: [Laughs] It would be the other way around too,I’m sure. It’s a situation where our limitations became our secret weapon and we learned how to get the best results doing that. In fact, I don’t think I am overconfident when i say that i think that our stuff sounds better than a lot of stuff out there done via ‘traditional’ ways
NF:Indeed. Plus you guys got Erykah doing her album over the ‘net.
Nicolay: Yeah it’s catching on [Laughs]
NF: What can we look forward to musically? You throw any curve balls in the mix?
Nicolay: Nothing but curve balls, man…
NF: You sampling polka and shit?
Nicolay: Actually there’s not a whole lotta sampling on this record. It’s a record that…I’m trying to word it without ruining the surprise. Well I think that on all levels this record will truly show the musicality that we have between us. If you take Connected as a starting point, I think that Leave It All Behind goes where Connected hints at…
NF:I remember talking to Te after Get Back came out and he sounded like he was ready to go THERE
Nicolay: Honestly, for us we were just both ready to just be free and I think the both of us reached new heights in our respective parts..
NF: The message boards are gonna read “Foreign Exchange go Gnarles Barkley on us”
Nicolay: [laughs] Nah. Actually in some ways we are going in the opposite direction. Gnarls Barkley with their crazy costumes and makeup shots are very ‘in your face’. There’s always been much more of a ‘mystery’ behind Foreign Exchange. I love what Gnarls is doing, but it wouldn’t work for us..
NF: even though I know Te gotta pompadour wig in his closet somewhere.
Nicolay: All I can say about that is, you are not ready…