Exclusive Interview: Nick Monaco
Nick Monaco is one of the younger members of the always awesome Crew Love outfit. He’s a singer/producer/DJ and all-round nice guy who makes music from the heart, which we definitely fully appreciate here at Deep House London. Having met Nick on a number of occasions over the past year, we thought it was about time we grabbed him for a chat, and with his album ‘Mating Call’ due to drop soon, plus plenty of other stuff to speak about, we had a really nice conversation. Check it out below…
So, when we were at Sonar together you told me about practicing moves for the school dance…
Yeah, I wasn’t very good at sports at school, so I had to figure out some way to be cool, some way to stand out because I was the awkward chubby kid just trying to find my way to fit in. I’d watch BET and MTV, then practice all the routines in the mirror and bust them out at school dances. That gave me my purpose and turned me on to DJing because it gave me the confidence to be like, ‘I can do that, it’s easy. I can do it better.’ It was that hip-hop cockiness…
Was your entry point into music those TV channels or were you already getting your fix of music elsewhere?
It was hip-hop radio… in California in the nineties there was a lot of latin house mixed with west coast hip-hop and then I dipped into my dad’s collection at an early age. He was listening to Alan Parson’s Project and Dire Straits, Queen… but it was mainly hip-hop, RnB and pop. Before I got into house music I was playing a lot of house parties, scratching – that was my life for three or four years, I always wanted to be a battle DJ. I studied all the videos heavily…
…who were your inspirations?
Obviously Q-Bert, he was the God. I actually got to hang out with him at his place and scratch with him at the Octogon. I was in this DVD that he made called the Scratchlopedia Breaktannica, an encyclopaedia of scratches, because I invented this scratch and we were at his place one night…
…no way! You invented a scratch? What was it called?
Yeah! It was called the MuffMorpher, my DJ name was TechNick, so cheesy! That scene kind of died out and I didn’t feel like could connect with people with scratching as much as I could with party rocking, it wasn’t as social.
Yeah sure, because you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing you lose that personal connection.
Yeah, and there’s a lot of dudes. It’s a very specific crowd, and that’s who you’re trying to impress… which is cool, it’s a good foundation to have. I learned a lot as a DJ, it’s like jazz – having these improv sessions, similar to how I imagine Miles Davis used to have. It’s how Q-Bert’s house was, talking back and forth, trading 16 bars all night.
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How did you make those steps to where you’re at now? How did house music come into your life?
I spent a summer in Switzerland because I have family there. I was 17 and I went to Hive in Zurich, that was the first time I went to a techno club – entering this dark, techno club, my first European club experience… I saw people dancing all night until the sun came up for the first time. I liked the escapism aspect of it. When I came back to the States I started going to raves here and there in San Francisco and working out how to get that sound into my sets. Then I stumbled upon the dirtybird barbeques, around 2007/8, and they were fusing hyphy hip-hop (which was the local sound) and this minimal techno kind of sound. I was like, ‘Cool I can do that.’. It was something I felt an instant connection with because I understood the hip-hop vocabulary more than house at that point. I made it my mission to get a release on dirtybird, I was really hungry for it, I’d drive for an hour to San Fran and wait outside the clubs just to give the DJs my demoes. Then I went to Barcelona before I graduated, I was making five tracks a day, pushing pushing and pushing because I felt like it was my last chance to make it happen. That was when I sent my demo to Soul Clap and they liked it, which led to a mentor/mentee relationship – I wrote to Eli and said, ‘I need a mentor’ and he stepped up and really helped me.
How did you get into the production side of things anyway?
I wanted to make beats for rappers and RnB singers. In the beginning I was inspired by the big hip-hop producers like Timbaland – I started making music around the same time I took up DJing, they’re like the same to me. I had a sh***y keyboard, I actually produced for some rappers at my high school – I made some hyphy beats for them. I took some music lessons but got bored of it, so I just fumbled around by myself for around five years – I basically hated all the music I made up until two years ago. I spent a lot of time trying to recreate the music made by people I was into, it wasn’t I met Eli and Charlie that I learned I could do whatever I wanted to, I wasn’t bound by genre. They had the right platform to allow me to do that and they pushed me to use my own voice and experiment with genres, that’s when I really blossomed.
So how do you feel about what you’re making now?
I’m really content with it yeah. I’m making the music that I’ve always wanted to make… it’s that self-realisation of having all these ideas and being able to translate them how I want to. Performing the songs live has been a really uplifting experience, being in control of the music and more vulnerable – you put yourself on the line; when it’s good amazing, when it’s bad it’s bad. It’s a big investment. It’s nice because people see you’re taking a bit of a risk and they buy into it, so you can have that freedom to keep them guessing and they follow you – it’s a good position to be in because you can establish an ethos, rather than a sound.
That’s cool man, because it’s a privilege some artists just don’t manage to attain. Some people just get locked into a particular style and can’t get out of it… Anyway, tell me about the album..?
I busted it out in a month last autumn. ‘The Stalker’ was a breakthrough for me, getting into more organic sounds. I was listening to a lot of Talking Heads, I watched Stop Making Sense like every day, plus I was hanging out with my friend, who’s a punk rock historian – I used to go to record shops with him and listen to all this proto-punk stuff. I was listening to all of that and getting bored of the house stuff I was doing, ‘The Stalker’ came out of that and so did another song called ‘Baby Face’.
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How did you work out the vocal aspect of your recording process, because I guess it was quite a novel thing to pick up?
It started more like a joke, I had this track called ‘Set The Table’, which had these high-pitched jokey vocals. I always wanted vocals on my tracks, like a narrative theme going on – with the first EP on Soul Clap things expanded a little with hooks. Then my flatmate brought home some really good mics and amps, which made a world of difference because with those I could really hear my voice clearly, I could really hear what I actually sounded like – I started stacking vocals, using different characters, creating harmonies from the different people in my head. ‘Private Practice’ was a good window into my process because I mumble a lot and the mumbling turns into words.
How does it feel now to be performing like that? I remember you said it was like ‘being naked in front of an audience’, does it still feel like that now?
I get really nervous still yeah. I’ve been able to cope with it by creating this persona, the jumpsuits and the hat, the lipstick. It helps me convey my performance… if I was wearing plain clothes I’d be a lot more vulnerable. I’m changing my set up a lot, it keeps things fresh and keeps me learning – I’m defijitely enjoying it more than DJing because I can dance and really convey my message. I relate it to acting, I used to act in high school – it’s like waiting in the wings to say your line – I used to love that. The success of that is way better than DJing.
Tell me a bit more about the lipstick thing…
I kinda like challenging people, but also including them. Being experimental but not going over peoples’ heads, that’s what I want to achieve. I’m really thinking about the message behind what I do, because now I have this opportunity; I’m travelling the world, but what do I want to say? The lipstick thing is a manifestation of that idea – challenging masculinity, drawing attention to the roots of house and disco music; the freaks, the outsiders, gay people… It pays homage to the people that created this music and it pushes people to transcend these gender boundaries and have fun. It’s fun to dress up.
It is indeed. How do you envisage your future panning out?
I’m feeling really on fire right now. Being part of Wolf + Lamb and Crew Love gives you room to experiment and to have a stage for it. I want to develop the live set and my voice, work with other musicians to create a band type of thing, and dancers, to really embolden the live set. Gadi and I are doing a punk project. I’m slowly starting to source music for a punk compilation – so it’s just about trying to broaden things. I got a bunch of projects I want to do, or I’m working on at the moment; loft parties, Pride parties, I’m getting really involved in Vogueing. I want to do more journalism too, I’ve been getting into writing, I do a travel blog. I want to share peoples’ stories. So, there’s a lot going on…