Guess who’s coming to LA on JULY 20th? That’s right, GRAMMY NOMINATED artists THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE!! I had a chance to catch up with NICOLAY and PHONTE to talk about evertything from their GRAMMY experiece to A TRIBE CALLED QUEST!!
A-Ski/Unique74: Coming from the Grammy haze, what was that whole experience like? There are very artist of your caliber that has the privilege to embrace such an experience? What was that like for you guys?
PHONTE: It was an experience that we were very thankful and happy for. In terms of what it changed, it gave us a little more visibility in some regard. Overall, you have to keep working and its nothing to sit back and say ahhhh we made it. It gave us fuel to reach for more and to go even harder. That was the motivation for us to really go hard with FOREIGN EXCHANGE MUSIC and not just us but to build for our whole team as well.
NICOLAY: I feel the same; I was very honored and humbled to be part of the Grammy situation. However, to be very honest with you, by the time time that we found out that we had not won we were ready to go home. It is a great honor and recognition of the industry, it is recognition that people around you understand your parents, brothers, family, etc they will understand and it is a very tangible recognition. It is cool to be there and see it but I’m always happy to come back and go back to work.
A-Ski/Unique74: Knowing your background and where you guys come from I’m sure the LA /Hollywood hoopla experience was a little over the top, do think the Grammy experience set a precedent of what’s to come in the tone of your music?
PHONTE: I don’t think it set a precedent of the music, it aint like we going to make a Daykeeper pt 2 (everybody laughs). We don’t believe in repeating ourselves just to chase something, it was more of a motivation that served as validation to let me and Nic know that out hearts and heads were in the right place in making the record we wanted to hear and it paid off. That was the lesson learned from the Grammy situation, it was to follow your heart, and nine times out of ten, you will be lead to the right direction.
A-Ski/Unique74: Speaking of which, how is the reception of YAZARAH’s debut release? It is a great album!
PHONTE: Thank you so much man!
A-Ski/Unique74: No doubt! What is the response that you are getting across the board?
NICOLAY: It has been good, the reviews have been good and people that visit out site and check out all of those. Folks respond to the songs when we play out live, it has been great, and we will continue to put her on the map in coming months.
PHONTE: We will be doing the video for (Yahzrah) “Cry Over You,” we getting that out for August as an end of the Summer single.
A-Ski/Unique74: We will be looking forward to that! Let me ask you something as a DJ speaking, how is the response you are getting from Mp3’s vs. Vinyl? Are you still having success in fans/DJ’s buying vinyl pieces of your new releases?
PHONTE: We do and I know a lot of the Dj cats love vinyl. I personally don’t have as much affinity to vinyl as much as a DJ would have. But I do love the sound and I do realize and many ways it is superior to the sound of MP3’s, it’s a much thicker and warmer sound. However, for us in many ways for our type of music doing vinyl has not been very practical or very profitable. We pressed up double vinyl for the “Leave It All Behind” album, double vinyl gatefold limited edition, we only pressed up 1,000 copies and they all sold out but it was a slow sell. At a certain point, it kind of becomes to point like yeah I want to keep putting physical product out to the world and support DJ culture but you also have to keep your eye on the bottom line. When it doesn’t become profitable anymore, when it starts hurting and dipping into other thangs, it’s kind of like hold up.. Im all for the all but its got to make sense.
A-Ski/Unique74: Now I’m sure you guys are very familiar with the whole “Jerk/Skinny Jeans” culture, which interestingly enough taking the younger generation by storm. I’m curious to know, when you go into the lab are thinking of the next generation or are you aiming for whoever is open and receptive to the music?
NICOLAY: Pretty much the latter man, I think that we are definitely conscious of what our fans like to hear. That does not mean that we like to cater to exactly that but we are definitely aware of it. While we make music, I am not thinking about any of that. My man focus is to make music that I like to personally hear. I think that we present people the best material that we can make and at that point, it is up to them to really decide from there. However, while we are making it (music) I am not sure we are aware of all that.
A-Ski/Unique74: Who do you listen to that inspires you to go to the lab? What sparks you creatively?
PHONTE: for me from a production standpoint, it comes from cats like JAZZANOVA, I really like of the newer cats that is out now. I have so much music that I listen to and kind of like songs, albums and groups, etc. I listen to so much but a lot if it comes from the HOUSE and DANCE stuff from a production standpoint. I am big HOUSE and DANCE music fan, from a songwriting standpoint for me it comes from the classic singer songwriters such as CAROLE KING; I am a huge TODD RUNDGREN fan. For this new album, I test for a lot of the songs on will it stand alone on a piano & vocal or just guitar & vocal. To me that has been an inspiration just listening to a lot of the older stuff, picking it apart seeing why it works, what makes a great lyric, how to tell a story and a lot of the classic 70’s material really seems to do that. There are many cats that do that now, I am a big ERIC ROBESON fan, and he’s good at songwriting and telling stories.
A-Ski/Unique74: It is a refreshing thing to know, because there is a stigma that Hip Hop fans and artists just listen to Hip Hop and that’s it. Hip Hop is a gumbo of many different genres.
PHONTE: Yeah, for me Hip Hop was a gateway that got me into all that stuff. I would listen to a Tribe (A TRIBE CALLED QUEST) album and see that they sampled GRANT GREEN and then I would go to my homeboy’s house and go through his daddy’s collection and he had the GRANT GREEN record. It started looking to the old stuff for samples but after while you just start listening to them and be like damn this stuff is pretty dope.
A-Ski/Unique74: what can we expect on “Authenticity” (TFE’s upcoming release)? What are the highlights? You have to tell us everything, we strongly believe in the element of surprise but what are the elements that we can look for that is different from the last album?
NICOLAY: Without wanting to say a whole lot, we are still in the finishing stages but in general, it is a little bit more up-tempo than the material we did before. Its really an album with a lot of drive and urgency into it, I think once again its a big step for us to make and a logical next progression from what we did before.
A-Ski/Unique74: So Nic, what’s up with that remix album/compilation? You are putting out remixes like left and right man; you got a lot of stuff out there, any plans?
NICOLAY: Well you know quite honesty, everything has gone into shaping the whole FOREIGN EXCHANGE movement. When it comes to the other stuff, I just really try to put stuff out there by the website to bring it directly to people. A lot of things use to go by labels and managers, a lot of the kind of stuff is starting to slowly disappear and I really like being really direct to the people that listen to our stuff by putting things on the net.
A-Ski/Unique74: Sweet, sweet! Now Phonte out of curiosity can we expect a LITTLE BROTHER record anytime at some point this year?
PHONTE: Naw…won’t be no LITTLE BROTHER record. Me and POOH are pretty much done with LITTLE BROTHER, we still do music together but in terms of LITTLE BROTHER and that brand…we are pretty much done with it. Basically, that’s it…He’s on the ZO album “SUNSTORM” which should be out on the 27th and he’s on the “This Could Be The Night” single, he has a project coming out with a cat named ROC C out of LA and that album is called “THE YOUNG AMERICAN”, that will be out on (he pauses)…I don’t want to give a date yall (everybody laughs).
A-Ski/Unique74: No pressure, we know how it is.
PHONTE: But also he is doing his solo record and I am on his solo record, I am doing a solo record next year and he will be on that. We will continue to work together, that’s still my brother and that’s my man until the end. No beef or nothing crazy, but just with LITTLE BROTHER we pretty much said what we had to say on that front and we decided to move on.
A-Ski/Unique74: so I take it PERCY MIRACLES is not putting out a solo album. (Burst of laughter. everybody)
PHONTE: nah! No Percy solo..nah ..It ain’t happening. (Everybody laughs)
A-Ski/Unique74: we was waitin’ too bro!! (Everybody laughs)
PHONTE: the world was waitin’ but I was like naw..(Everybody laughs)
A-Ski/Unique74: we got a running joke and we said man..with all the stuff that’s out on the market..we realize PERCY is a parody but cats are out there serious and its no parody. So it you put out PERCY, some folks would believe that he is a real artist.
PHONTE: Dude for real, I have told people this so many times. I hated that I had to kill the character PERCY; it was something that I enjoyed doing and the s—t was fun. It was a lot of fun, the songs I wrote as PERCY the s—t was hilarious to me. However, if there was a way that I could continue, I will put this out there…I would bring PERCY back if I could do it as a cartoon. Because I feel like when you do it as a cartoon, there is some level of distance between you and the character. It is almost like doing voice over work; I am the person who does the voice for BART SIMPSON (NANCY CARTWRIGHT) does not walk out in public and say, “hey it’s BART SIMPSON!” (Everybody laughs) I would love to do it if NIC and me do music for the cartoon and bring the team to make a PERCY cartoon, that would be hilarious to and I would do it. That way there would be some distance, but for me to put on the wig going out, that turns into some ANDY KAUFMAN “Latka” kind of stuff, I had to chill on that.
(NOTE FROM Unique74 EDITOR: CARTOON NETWORK, MTV, CENTRIC, HBO, etc You have a really great opportunity to gain a new, fresh and cutting edge audience by having PERCY MIRACLES as a cartoon. An idea was just pitched to you courtesy of yours truly asking about the legend of PERCY MIRACLES which NO OTHER Journalist would have inquired about other than YOURS TRULY. All I ask for is a CO-CREATOR credit and a FINDER’S FEE if you follow up on the idea. Very much like EPMD, I am STRICTLY BUSINESS. The cartoon would be a HIT!)
A-Ski/Unique74: I am curious, are you going to be doing anything with 9th WONDER in the near future?
PHONTE: Naw, that isn’t happening.
A-Ski/Unique74: For the West Coast dates, where are you going to be heading?
PHONTE: We are coming up on the 20th; we will be at THE ROXY (HOLLYWOOD) along with YAZARAH, DARIEN BROCKINGTON, and ZO. On the 21st we will be in PORTLAND, we do the SUNDAY LOUNGE in PORTLAND. 22nd and 23rd we will be in SAN FRANCISCO at YOSHI’S. Then we come home to put the final changes on the album.
A-Ski/Unique74: Are you going to be covering down SOUTH and back EAST as well?
PHONTE: We trying to get down SOUTH, we have been trying to get to TEXAS for the past two years. I do not know what is going on with the promoters in TEXAS. We have been trying to get there forever.
(NOTE FROM EDITIOR/INTEVIEWER: TEXAS PROMOTERS, THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE is ready to rock your town! LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN TEXAS!)
A-Ski/Unique74: Ultimately, on the upcoming release what would you like the listener to leave with in the final analysis (if you will)?
NICOLAY: One of the things that comes to mind that it always pays off to stay true to yourself and be yourself. Define what it is that you are best at and I think that’s definitely theme for the album and us as artists’ altogether.
I recently had the chance to catch up with the Grammy Nominated THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE. The collective have been making waves in the music scene and are setting a tone for many more great albums to come. They shared their process behind the magic of putting together “Leave It All Behind” to Nicolay’s sojourn in Shibuya. (CONGRATULATIONS on the GRAMMY NOMINATION!!)
You guys are red hot and raising the bar. “Leave It All Behind” is in constant rotation in my mixes, the album is crazy nice (translation: its a really good record). What was the inspiration behind recording this album?
PHONTE: For me it was wanting to explore different kinds of music, doing something that I didn’t have a chance to do up until that point. I wanted to stretch out and try something new.
NICOLAY: We were on the same page, we didnt have a lotta ideas in the beginning but didnt want to do what we already did before. That was partly what the album was all about, kinda do something that we had not done before. Instead of starting a new chapter, we started writing a book.
The album is fun, tangible and its funky. How have you guys grown since the first release?
PHONTE: I try to focus more on my song writing. Writing songs with bridges, hooks and full fledge songs that stand well on their own, lyrically and melodically.
(To Nicolay) From a production stand point, I noticed you have strayed away from sampling for obvious reasons i’m sure. What’s your take on your approach as a producer then compared to now?
NICOLAY: I think you learn as you grow and by learning i dont mean just musically grow, but you learn everything behind the scenes. What I learned is that if you use samples and you are not finacially able to clear them, there is a lock on the music and you become limited to an “in the moment” type thing. We are trying to make music that is timeless, it is better to compose music that is 100% original. I also felt that I needed to creatively try something different, I reached whatever goal I had in the sampling arena. I wanted to try something new.
From what I gathered on “Leave It All Behind”, it appeals to Hip Hop fans but I also feel an approach to a new form of R&B being brewed, this album totally dispels the “R&B is dead” myth (which is a running joke amongst me and my peers)
PHONTE: When we sit at the piano and when I sit down to write in the studio, I’m not thinking of making any new type of R&B, etc. We’re just making music from our heart and it feels right.
Overall, Do you guys purposely stay away from titles, barriers and labels?
NICOLAY: I think as long you are trying to do something in the music industry, you can’t really get away from labeling music. People are going to expect you to slap a genre on it at the very least, especially with us running our own imprint we had to deal with situations like that. People think in terms of good and bad music, there is good music that comes in many different shapes and sizes, that’s what is important to me.
Who is responsible for the writing collective and putting the concepts together?
NICOLAY:Our method of working pretty much me starting with some ideas of sketches or work through tracks and send those to Phonte and them. At that point it becomes kinda under his control in the sense of song writing and collaborations with other artists. The whole song writing and vocal perspective is something that he’ll work on and i’ll get it back. In terms of concepts that we work with, it is normally Phonte that will come with stuff like that. In terms musically, we go back and fourth and find what’s the common ground between the two of us in terms of what we want to do in that’s why we kick it back and fourth like that.
How long did it take to put the album together?
NICOLAY: we started around the end of 06′, but we are not the type of people to really work on a project all the way through and that be the only thing. Its really an off and on type of thing, but overall it took about a year or two.
(To Nicolay) Shibuya is a beautiful album, with well crafted compositions. It seems like you were wide open on this album. What was your inspiration for this album and the title alone?
NICOLAY: In 06 I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo and Shibuya is the one of Tokyo’s areas, kind of the more hip trendy places. Roughly, the album is inspired of what I saw there and the overall feeling. The album is an ode to that experience and the people, the noises and vibes.
What is your experience with the international market and them receiving the material? There is so much great music in the states, how do you guys stand out and stay concistent?
PHONTE: It comes from the inner desire to want to do better and being a genuine fan of the music you create. That’s what keeps you going.
(To Phonte) How are you able to incorporate the duality of singing, writing and rapping?
PHONTE: I think its both sides of me that I enjoy doing, I dont really look at it as a rap career or singing career.
Radio is changing in this day in age, are you guys seeking to cater in the direction of radio play or are you guys satisfied with solid and concistent underground audience?
PHONTE: Radio aint changing, Radio is dying. (all laugh)
Im trying to be PC about it. (all laugh)
PHONTE: For me personally its about making the music I want to make and letting it connect with the people I enjoy. Thats it for me, radio has never supported our records for the years i’ve been in the game and we’ve been able to survive and thrive.
(To Nicolay) In your previous releases you had a very warm sound? What type of new toys you are using these days?
NICOLAY: Well on “Connected” I didnt have any equiptment, I did that mainly with a computer, keyboard, desk top speakers that came with it and a bass. I did the best that I could with what I had. I think with minimal means we are always able to do a lot, we sometimes jokingly say that are two tracks are no less better than people’s multi track.
Any future remixes or upcoming artists that you are grooming at the moment?
NICOLAY: Actually, i’ve been doing a lot of remixes lately. I just finished a remix for RJD2, his new record is coming out soon. I did a remix for Vikter Duplaix his new single “Electric Love”, I did a remix for Sy Smith. Phonte and myself are working on a number of projetcs but eventually The Foreign Exchage Music is now also our imprint. Which means we can put our strength behind some of the people we’ve been down with for a mintute. Zo! who plays in our live band is working on his full length album which is coming in the Summer of 2010. We’re working with Yazarah, who people know from the both Foreign Exchange albums as well as our tour. She’s dropping her album with us in Spring. Phonte is working on his solo album that will drop in the Fall, all in all we got a lot going on.
(To Phonte) What’s going on with Little Brother?
PHONTE: We got an EP that we will be dropping this year.
Interview: Dj A-Ski
Powered by: Unique74
Ambient tones, soulful echoes and electro sounds are few of the many ingredients created in this audio collage. Nicolay clocks in with a sequel to “City Lights v1” , in which “City Lights v2” bears a mature and seasoned sound. The many moods that are captured on this album takes the listener on an audio canvas as a painter searching for a visual climax. “Bullet Train” reigns in a euphoric yet busy atmosphere, while dwelling in a dark and promise future. “Omotesando” has a loose and open feeling while leaning on a heavy Jazz Fusion groove, this is my personal favorite under the “City Lights”. “Meiji Shrine” gives a pinch of the Nicolay signature sound found in previous works, while serving as a reminder that the funk is still in control. The “buzz” cut is “Wake Up In Another Life” featuring vocalist Carlitta Durand, this lively piece is another highlight on the album worth checking out. This release sets a fresh and redefinitive approach in additon to exploring new ground, “City Lights v2” is the sure shot!