For a man addicted to some hair raising pursuits, it’s a more chilled side of his character that has brought him notoriety; he has written and produced some of the most enduring and haunting trance tunes of the last decade: Offshore, Halcyon, Don’t Give Up, Stoned in Love, Saltwater, Middle Distance Runner. The list could go on for quite a while but resting on his laurels is not a Nick thing.
Now, Chicane is back with a brand new studio album entitled The Sum of Its Parts, released January 2015. He’s done an exceptional job joining the best of old and new — fusing instant classics like Tuesdays and Orleans with modern collaborations with Ferry Corsten, Christian Burns, Senadee, Bo Bruce and more. We sat down with Nick to discuss his early years, the struggles, the rejections, and the motivation. Furthermore, modern music and the heavily manufactured sounds that saturate our music industry today…
You were influenced by Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre, who both started as, and continue to be, artists and painters. Being a skilled graphic designer yourself, do you feel that the ability to speak to people without words has a strong bearing on what it means to be a composer of music and do you view music, or art, as a kind of language?
I view music as the only global language, I also believe I am extremely lucky to have a gift for it. You simply cannot teach someone to write music, It’s in you when you arrive. Great producers and writers are able to somehow inject emotion into music, and it’s this that cannot be taught.
As a graphic designer, are you involved in the visual presentation of your music, do you work on the cover art and are you involved in the construction of your release videos?
I am what you would describe as a total control freak, every element of the business comes under my scrutiny and most things have to be my way or it isn’t happening. That doesn’t mean to say I run a nice little fascist outfit, but it’s so important to control all things visual, social and audio in this day and age.
The video which accompanied the release of your album Giants, the one with the moving buildings, was particularly great – did you have any involvement in that, and how did the concept come about?
Yes totally. It was a development of a great piece of art which we animated for a terrific ad. I have been fortunate to work with some very talented directors and visual arts professionals who can interpret and articulate my ideas many times over.
As a young producer when you were first starting out, it must have been a struggle to get noticed. Was there ever a time where you thought about giving up, what motivated you to continue, and how did you deal with the flow of rejection letters?
Wow yes, I did keep a large box of rejected demo’s and standard ‘no thx’ letters. But chucked it some time ago. The penny dropped when I realised that there was this amazing process of pressing up your own tunes and blagging a mailing list and basically making it happen for yourself. I think I am quite driven so giving up isn’t really in my vocab to be honest. To be a great producer you do need a fairly large level of patience, sometimes listening to the same 8 bars of music for days. It does take a massive amount of time and ‘paying your do’s’ to be a success to be frank.
Do you still have any of your old promo tapes? Have you digitized any of them or shared them anywhere?
I have shared some demo’s recently on my Sun:sets radio show – it’s really kinda fun to show where some things came from and good to show a few flaws.
Particularly in your early years you were often framed as a DJ, did you aspire to be a DJ, or was that stage in your career more of a learning exercise to gauge people’s reactions to music in a live environment?
I have DJ’d now for the last 3/4 years and love it, but back then it didn’t interest me at all. We have been and still are a proper live outfit. If I think back then, we had Jocks who were not producers, which is the opposite of what we have now, and I think I didn’t like the idea that we had DJs being paid large sums of money to play producers’ tunes, to the extent that the DJ was earning way more money playing the tune than the producer that created it… I think that it’s called ‘The tail wagging the dog’.
When you play live, you often have others playing with you under the same banner Chicane. Are these fixed band members, or do you book session artists? Do you tailor your productions for the band, or do you try to keep them as close to the studio productions as possible?
I do have a pool of players to choose from, all them though close mates and supreme professionals. The way the business is, I simply can’t have them on call at any given moment. I do try to keep the live versions close to the originals, but love some of the happy accidents that happen when we play live!!!
Music is constantly evolving as each artist has different influences, increasingly so with the advent of the Internet, yet people still try to box specific sounds in to preset genres. Would you say that the process of trying to wedge music into neatly labelled genres is beneficial to artists, or constricting? Do you try to conform to specific genres in your own music?
I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about ‘pigeon-holing’ music. I like to promote that Chicane is an approach to melody and atmospherics not bound by genre. But it’s a human trait to want to put things in its box as I now ‘understand’ that. What has to be understood is, Melody is the glue that sticks it all together, whether its rock/rap or reggae. This is a genre-less part of music and the most important.
Modern music often sounds heavily manufactured and lacking substance. Avicii, for example went from skilled artist to heavily manufactured rapidly, and looks scarily worn in the process. Would you say this is primarily down to young producers doing it for the love of money and not the love of music, or do you feel the corporate industry has pushed it in this direction, enslaving those they sign?
I’m not too sure whether we will ever see Tim Bergling again? I do have some serious questions at his management on more than one level (no pun intended there) it sort of reminds me of Elvis in some way. There has been many accusations fired off at them for being the modern-day Milli Vanilli. But it’s also well known that many top end DJs have teams of producers putting things together while they are out on the road assuming the ‘Jesus position’. I can’t help but feel appalled at this, but its big business now! I do feel we have a generation of budding producers/DJs wanting to emulate the unusual success of guys like Calvin Harris, for the dosh, and not for the career. I do think Calvin is an anomaly, but one of the good guys out there. But in the long run, the good will prevail and artists with substance and direction will be remembered for their music and maybe for not throwing cake at the crowd.
Several lifetimes worth of media is added to the web everyday, the music which rises to visibility is often that with the largest marketing budgets. How do you go about finding new quality music online, and do you have any thoughts on how unique music from talented artists can be brought to the fore?
Yes, now there is what we call a shit load of ‘Static’ out there. It’s not easy to be heard, particularly if you’re just starting out. It really has come to something if the biggest budget social media backed tunes are more successful. What does that say about the tastes of people as a whole? I think we live in a world full of sheep, wanting to fit in and follow blindly. How do get heard if you’re just starting out? Well I think for starters, don’t even bother until your production and writing are at a very high level, this is a given. Then you have to try to make it happen for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you, you could sign to a major label, I would rather put my hand in a food blender to be honest. It’s all about massive hard work, wanting it badly and then having a bit of luck and exploiting it.
You produce much of your music at home in the studio, do you try to stick to a schedule or do you move between family and work more casually? Any tips on how to maintain a healthy balance?
Everything has its good and bad points, being close is great for the family, being close is also bad as I’m never out of the studio. It’s great having my daughter so close most days, until she wants me to play the theme to ‘Frozen’ for the 47th time!! I do try to be a little strict and try to leave work behind, but the game has changed, as soon as I am finished in the studio, there is a whole slew of social media/phone calls/interviews to deal with should have signed with a major!
Is producing music a career which you will one day retire from, or is it simply a part of who you are that will continue as long as you are alive?
I think I will do it forever, yes, I will possibly stop touring at the age of 70 though.
We hear you’re also quite a speed demon, and love your cars. What are you currently driving, and is there any particular track that gives you the urge to put your foot down?
I am driving several things, a very naughty Audi RS6, Range Rover sport, Lamborghini Gallardo & a Fiat Panda (to take the dogs out in).
Your upcoming sixth album The Sum of Its Parts features Ferry Corsten on two tracks, do you enjoy working with Ferry, or is it more an excuse to go snowboarding together? Can you also tell us more about the album?
Ha, yes we do love our snowboarding, but we do also have two amazing tunes on the album. There is also two tunes from Christian Burns, two with the incredible Lisa Gerrard (of Gladiator movie fame), I have also collaborated with a chap called Paul Aiden on two further tracks, one of which is Oxygen a very special and one to watch out for!!
Finally, if you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
How long have you got?
Thank you for your time and best of luck with the album.