Nicolas & The Iceni
It’s on days like this and at times like these where I can take a moment and really appreciate why we do what we do at sleepingbagstudios. It wasn’t always every day that I was contacted by bands and artists from across the globe to talk about music, and when it happens I can’t help but just take that time to pause, smile and remember that this is really what it’s all about – the human connection & that ability for both the internet and music to unite us all.
I’ve had a very good time getting to know Nic from the band and learning about the music he makes. I’ve seen and witnessed countless passionate messages that truly show his own commitment in the same sentences that highlight the passions and dedication of the rest of his band The Iceni. We’ve talked together at length over social media about the future of this art/music project and I have read – with my own eyes – every reason I personally need to believe in this band. This is a band that makes it – there’s no doubt about that here. As to what that success itself looks like – well…I believe the future is full of options – and good ones – for this truly creative band.
As a big fan of honesty in the music – I really dig on a lot of the answers from Nic on his music. I appreciate the attitude they have towards creating their videos and the way they approach making their music with no particular agenda or audience in mind. It keeps the music organic, layered and textured like vitamins for your ears.
And as you already know – I’m ALWAYS down to talk about music with people that LOVE it. This is a band that is FULL of people that are loving what they’re creating and proud of it – as they should be. I’m excited to announce that not only will you be reading about them here in this interview but one of the SBS Live This Week Video Interviews is being currently filmed to send over to the UK to follow up on Nicolas & The Iceni and see what else we can find out about these creative minds!
We are also proud to be showing one of the videos from Nicolas & The Iceni in the Acres Of Lions interview with SBS (Part II) coming out this May long weekend for you all to enjoy!
Artistic and beautiful music, rich and full of sonic textures that you’ll want to repeat – we fully support the creative minds behind the music of Nicolas & The Iceni – read on!
Interview with Nicolas & The Iceni
SBS: In talking with Nic from Nicolas and the Iceni during the setup of this interview for SBS, I was able to view the animated video for Summer’s End – which was fantastic! Great melodic music and a killer video that is racking up the view counter – has putting the animated video out there helped increase awareness of your music in the form of tangible evidence beyond the counter? Has it helped open any doors for you?
NIC: Yes, the animation video to our song helped raise our profile internationally. The evidence beyond the view counter is a rise in international download sales. With not performing live outside the UK at the moment it is important we had good music videos to post on popular international media hosts such as YouTube. We were initially considering filming the band but I wanted something a little different to the norm. When I discovered the work of the French animation team I knew it would be perfect for that song.
In terms of opening doors for us, it certainly helps with the stylistic presentation of our music. We’re not really interested in the classic band ‘look at us’ videos.
We feel the music is more important and we look to find collaborations with visual artists whom we feel can help enhance the music we create. We recently collaborated with the film maker Ora Kolmanovsky on our second video release called ‘One Dream of Forgotten Journey’. She was great to work with and her realization of the pilgrim essence our song through images of her native Israel was quite profound.
SBS: Very interested in you putting out your first record on Britain’s very first independent label – Holyground Records – how was that relationship formed and what led you to choose them as the right place to put your music out there into the world?
NIC: Andy Wells, whom became our producer on our debut album, was looking for new and emerging singer/songwriters and bands for the Holyground Progressions Label. My name was put forward by my friend Richard Dalby and I auditioned. It went so well that we began recording that very same afternoon! Andy is a great acoustic music producer and helped us achieve the warm analogue sound we were looking for. Also, the label has a prestigious history and was recently voted one of the world’s most collectible labels by Vox magazine. Signing felt like a natural and easy decision to make.
SBS: Tell us about the upcoming album, ‘Beneath the Hungry Trees’, penned for release later this year. How is the progress coming along? Finished songs? Testing them out to live audiences? Where are we at with recording this album and how long are you going make us wait for the new stuff?!?
NIC: In terms of recording we are five songs into the album. I didn’t want to repeat what we had achieved with our debut album so we had a few false starts recording wise. Once I felt the material was good enough and that the direction we were going in was new and challenging, work proper began on the album. In wanting to keep things fresh and to try something different this time around I decided to work with a recording engineer called Steve ‘Smudge’ Smith. It’s progressing well and it feels great to be working on new material with Steve and the band in the studio. Indeed, Steve has become the newest member of the Iceni during the process.
Iain (the drummer) and I have played live on a number of occasions to test out the new material and were very pleased with the reception it received. I’m hoping we can finish and release the album by the end of the year. Anyone wanting to hear the new material before then should check out our Nicolas and the Iceni facebook page. We’ll be posting demo versions of the new songs on there in the coming months.
SBS: Would you consider your music to be “art?” By that same logic – does all music qualify as art? And to take it even one more step – if all music is considered art – how does your art stand out amongst the rest?
NIC: I think all music is a form of art. Nietzsche contended that as music speaks directly to our senses and doesn’t require any form of reimagining it can be considered to be the highest and most pure form of all the arts. Of course, some would say there is a qualitative gulf of difference in the realization of music within popular and classical music, but that would be the same comparison one could make in any of the other arts: such as comparing the Flemish renaissance art of Pieter Bruegel to the pop art of Andy Warhol. They are both distinct styles but they are both ‘Art’. Personally, I appreciate and enjoy well crafted songs from all genres and traditions.
How do we stand out? Our music, I think, is honest. That is, it is not written with an audience in mind or with an idea of courting popularity. In our debut album we tried to capture a distinct mood on each song without relying too much on popular formula. Whether we have been successful in our endeavor is up to others to decide but it was always our intention.
SBS: I’m wondering if Iain wouldn’t mind telling us a little about his choice of instrument, the Bodhran, and how he came to that as the musical weapon of choice? I know very little about it as an instrument and I’d love to know more about it. I’m assuming that because it’s listed this way in your info that it’s NOT okay to simply lump you into the overall “drummer” category?
IAIN: The Bodhran is a frame drum much like those you would be more familiar with from the Native American traditions and has been used by Celtic traditions throughout Europe for ritual ceremonies and festivities, especially so in Ireland where it was given its name. Yet, though it is credited so on the album, my Drum is not actually a Bodhran at all, it is in fact an antique front kick drum from the 1920’s.
NIC: I credited Iain’s drum as a Bodhran on the album because it’s the closest description of how Iain plays the kick drum. He holds it with one hand on the inside of the skin to control the tonal range and tension on the skin. The other hand is used to strike the skin with a beater or ‘tipper’. Anyone listening to our music would have a better understanding of how he creates the sounds he does using that description rather than just crediting it as a drum.
IAIN: It became my musical weapon of choice after visiting a music shop where it had apparently been collecting dust for several years. The chap in the shop said he had something for me and brought it out from the back. I felt greatly honoured to have been chosen as the one who would play the drum and make it sing.
SBS: Point blank – this past year has had incredible success stories in folk music. Now – you’ve been around since 2007, so we know you’re not simply catching a ride on an already successful train! You’ve paid your dues and you’ve been in the grind – how about from an overseas perspective though – is this the time for folk music to really come out and become part of the mainstream? Have we ever seen a time period where this music has been so accepted and accessible on a world-wide scale?
NIC: For decades Folk music went through some very barren times with regard to mainstream music so it’s wonderful that it’s experiencing a new wave. The last great folk revival on both sides of the Atlantic was in the early sixties. There were earlier traditional folk revivals in the UK revolving around the work of Cecil Sharp and later popularized nationally in the emergence of folk clubs under the stewardship of Ewan MaColl. However, folk music became what you would call mainstream, in terms of popular and commercial success, in the sixties with such acts as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk and Simon and Garfunkel. And in the UK with such artists as John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy and acts such as Fairport convention, Incredible String Band and Pentangle. Though the pioneer of the second folk movement in the UK, Davy Graham, was never himself a commercial success, his fingerstlye way of playing the guitar in alternate tunings influenced pretty much every aspiring guitarist in the genre at the time all over the world and continues to do so to this day.
SBS: I noticed a capo on your guitar on the YouTube video of our song “Lucy, She Rises.” The capo I’ve found to lead to two things consistently – one being that it makes for beautiful and truly sweet sounding melodies. The other thing that seems to be a constant theme is that it’s used by artists that either feel like every chord progression on a standard guitar has already been used, and it’s more of a constant in the music so that it doesn’t become at all like anything that’s been done before. That whole damn thing is a little all-encompassing really – I can imagine every chord progression has been used WITH a capo as well….so hopefully you’re getting what I’m driving around in verbal circles towards here…..I guess what I am asking Nic, is, how difficult IS it to come up with something unique for guitar. Is it even possible to make music any more without people having an immediate comparison to another band making a similar sound?
NIC: I find using alternative tunings helps with creativity and in turn originality. I find myself getting stuck in conventional patterns using the standard guitar tuning. Experimenting with alternate tunings in different keys using a capo can open up new and exciting avenues of expression. That lends itself to more original sounding compositions. Of course it is nigh impossible not to be compared to other musicians or bands whatever it is you end up creating. But then, if you traced back the inspirations of all the so-called original artists you would find similarities in their voicings and styles. It’s the unique combinations of an artist’s influences which gives an artist their originality. I think the same can be said to be true of all the arts.
SBS: How would you say your music has changed or progressed from your first album to the material you’re currently working on now? Were they conscious changes? Organic? Is it more important to stay committed to your overall sound than to stretch out the music in new ways and try out new things?
NIC: Without consciously committing to the overall sound we achieved in our debut album, I think the new material has a consistency and substance that would be recognizable to anyone who has the first album. Yet I hope listeners will find interesting and new progressions of those sounds and themes in the second album. We are trying new instrumentations in an attempt to stretch the music in new ways. Every artist or band could repeat the work they have already created as a kind of formula but few I think desire to do so. In some cases I’d imagine some artists would feel compelled to do if their work had already achieved some success. Of course, if you have sold a million copies of your first album then you will naturally want to repeat the success. I always admire successful artists who nevertheless always try to do something new. It’s rewarding for both the artist and listener in the long run. One can make mistakes along the way but at least the music doesn’t become a tired cliché or, as can be heard in the music of some bands, a parody of itself. That is something I would always strive to avoid.
SBS: Tell us where to find your music on the internet – where do you want people to look and what will they find? Will they find you all there? Are you interacting with the fans?
NIC: We have an official YouTube page where you can find some interesting collaborations with visual artists and we interact with listeners on our facebook page. We also have soundcloud and myspace accounts and can be generally found on most social media platforms. If you would like to buy any of our music then please visit our iTunes page. If you have any questions you would like to ask the band feel free to join us on Facebook.
Here are some links to all kinds of goodies straight from Nicolas & The Iceni themselves!