The album Connected was an online creation of producer Nicolay from the Netherlands and Phonte of Little Brother from the U.S.A. Over 18 months, they created the album through instant messenger without having even a telephone conversation.
After gaining positive acclaim from the industry’s greats such as: DJ Spinna, King Britt and DJ Jazzy Jeff, and the public Nicolay quit his job within 6 months to concentrate on music.
The solo debut album ‘Here’ was released on BBE in 2006. Now, Nicolay is back with TIME:LINE on his own Label. I spoke to him about the guests on his album, having creative control, and working on a budget…
Lady Jay UK: You’re a musician Nicolay. What do you play, and how did you become involved in music?
Nicolay: I play guitar, keyboards, bass and a little bit of drums. I started out learning guitar when I was around 14 years old and never stopped learning, picking up bass and later keyboards and drums. By the time I was 21 years old I was playing in funk and soul bands, and I did that for a good while.
Lady Jay UK: How did this cross over into producing?
Nicolay: I got sort of fed up with playing in bands. Because you have all these different people to deal with, and they all have an opinion. Plus there wasn’t a lot of glamour in how we were touring: long drives and waits, cheap foods, etc. etc. So I wanted to break away and just be by myself, creating music in the studio rather than on stage. That’s when I started doing beats.
Lady Jay UK: Explain your musical style, if you can.
Nicolay: Someone called it a trademark “millennium” sound, and I thought that was a pretty cool way of describing it. Whatever it is, it’s a combination of hiphop, soul, jazz, down tempo, you name it. I have a very eclectic musical taste and it shows in my music, I think.
Lady Jay UK: You’re from the Netherlands, but you moved to U.S.A. Why?
Nicolay: I actually moved to the States in May of 2006. I felt like I wanted to see how far I could take my musical career by actually being “there”, able to do interviews in person, shows, instores. I have at least.
Lady Jay UK: What are you listening to at the moment?
Nicolay: I listen to the new Radiohead album a lot. Outside of that, currently I’m playing a lot of Beatles records.
Lady Jay UK: At the moment you’re probably best known for your collaboration with Little Brother’s Phonte to create Foreign Exchange: ‘Connected’. Tell me how this all came about!
Nicolay: We first met on the Okayplayer message boards and discovered that we had similar interests when it comes to music. He was just starting out with Little Brother at the time, and I was just starting to put some tracks online so get some feedback. He loved them, and so we decided to give it a shot and work together. They recorded the vocals to Light It Up and Nic's Groove pretty much the next week, and the rest is history…
Lady Jay UK: How has the response been to this, and how has it affected your music career, if at all?
Nicolay: The response was overwhelming, from listeners to critics to fellow artists. And it that sense, it catapulted my career, enabling me to ultimately quit my day job and focus on music full-time.
Lady Jay UK: Wow! Was that something that happened quickly? How did it feel to quit your job!?
Nicolay: Looking back, I think it happened rather quickly… “Connected” was released in august of 2004, and the very last day that I worked was December 31st of the same year. I have been able to support myself by way of music for the last three years now, and it still feels really good. I’m very proud of that specifically, because obviously it’s a dream of many.
Lady Jay UK: Do you only produce hip hop tracks?
Nicolay: “Hiphop” probably makes up the largest part, but I do soul or R&B, jazz, electronic or dance-stuff, down tempo, you name it.
Lady Jay UK: Tell me about the process of creating music for you.
Nicolay: It’s a much more ordinary, everyday type of thing for me than most people think. Really, I get up and get started between 9 and 10 everyday, and I work on a lot of different things at the same time to keep it fresh.
Lady Jay UK: Tell me about your solo debut album ‘Here’.
Nicolay: That album was released in September of ’06, it was my last album for BBE.
Lady Jay UK: And the new album Time:Line?
Nicolay: The first full length album that my label Nicolay Music Recordings will be dropping is the TIME:LINE album that I recorded with Kay of The Foundation. It's a concept album about the many different angles of "time", and features guests such as Oh No, Stokley from Mint Condition, Chip Fu, Strange Fruit Project and many others. That is going to be out February 1st of 2008.
Lady Jay UK: What made you come up with that concept?
Nicolay: Kay of The Foundation actually was the one that came up with it. He started envisioning an album where outside of the music there was like an “umbrella” type of concept for the subject matter, in the form of a “time:line” or the life’s circle if you will.
Lady Jay UK: How did you pick artists to work with on this album?
Nicolay: It would be either a situation where I would suggest someone, or a situation where Kay would suggest someone.
Lady Jay UK: How have you managed to get this project off the ground and running?
Nicolay: For us, it’s always a challenge because we hardly ever work with budgets. So everything that’s happening is based on favours, people’s free time, etc. That makes it hard sometimes, but the results are amazing.
Lady Jay UK: Did it take a while to get everything you wanted together then? Were you unable to do some things you wanted?
Nicolay: Obviously, you are going to have to cut corners here and there, but putting something magical together with limited means makes it all the better. For instance, we still made sure we are working with top-of-the-line design and artwork by FWMJ as well as first grade audio mastering in Germany. So even though we are trying to spend the least amount of money possible, we are still presenting people a product with the highest quality.
Lady Jay UK: What do you do when you’re not doing music?
Nicolay: Watching a movie, reading a book, eating food, travelling.
Lady Jay UK: Nicolay, you have your own label now! How did that come about?
Nicolay: It’s been a dream of mine since the longest time, but it finally became a reality thanks to my good friend and publisher GG, who brought me in contact with Groove Attack and with who we now have a distribution agreement. It’s a lot of work, but it feels really good to be in control.
Lady Jay UK: What are the pro’s and con’s of having your own label Nicolay?
Nicolay: The biggest pro is that you are in full control of your work. You have to answer to no-one, and you reap most of the benefits. The con is that all the work that a label might have done in the past, now rests on your own shoulders, and that literally does include everything imaginable. If you don’t have a business mind, it may not be for you.
Lady Jay UK: What are your plans for the future?
Nicolay: To keep releasing records, plain and simple. After releasing and promoting the TIME:LINE album with Kay I’ll be getting ready to work towards the release of the new Foreign Exchange album together with Phonte. After that, it’s wide open.
Lady Jay UK: Where can people contact you / buy your music / find out more?