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Surfing with the Shadow: A conversation with Nick Andrew

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While EDM festivals are taking over the world one "untz" at a time, there is a younger crop of producers and musicians working behind the scenes. Toiling in their garages, basements, and bedrooms, men and women all around this country are expressing themselves musically and with services like Soundcloud and Youtube, the potential for connection has never been higher. Embracing this strategy is Nick Andrew, an Orange County transplant that landed in Washington, a zen-like environment perfect for exploring the final touches on his debut EP "Catch & Release." With the help of a few friends and years of inspiration, Andrew has more than enough ideas of what he needs to do to be successful and little of it has anything to do with success.

Please enjoy our conversation and do listen to his work over at Soundcloud. Put it on in the background while reading this for a little more context.

Explain the journey from a kid in his room listening to DJ Shadow to a man releasing his first EP on his own.

Actually I think it really began when I heard Joe Satriani for the first time. I was like 8 years old, and I was on a drive down to San Diego. My dad popped in “Crystal Planet” and I just remember being completely floored. My whole life I have felt so connected to music and just had these melodies and beats running through my head, and all of the sudden I was listening to these melodies that were exactly like what I had been hearing in my mind. Every song on that record was just perfect, and as a kid I got really inspired by Satriani to develop as a guitar player and just as a musician in general. I think as I got into my teenage years I started to feel more and more like music was a personal pursuit for me and I wanted to write and record music on my own, so when I heard DJ Shadow at 16 it was another very inspiring moment. I thought, “Here is a sound that I totally connect with, that I understand 100%, and he is creating this huge full band kind of sound as a single producer.” His music really spoke to me, so I worked at a smoothie shop over the summer to buy a couple of turntables and a mixer. Since then it has been a process of developing my skills as a producer and developing my sound that I feel is unique and has something to contribute to the music community in general.

Was there ever any motivation to record and release under a pseudonym?

Yeah there was actually. The funny thing is nothing ever really stuck. I had reservations about releasing my music under my given name, but I never could come up with anything that I could get excited about or that I felt would fit. So I just decided to just not worry about it anymore. (laughs)

What was the inspiration behind the EP’s name of Catch and Release? I like the term as a play on words about the remix culture, as one artist catches a sound or song and puts their own spin on it before releasing it back into the wild, to one day potentially be caught and released yet again.

You know, it started as something that had no significance. I said the phrase a couple months ago in a conversation about fishing when I was a kid, and it just kind of clicked. I thought it would be a great name for the track I was working on at the time and for the EP. As a little time went by I started to see a couple ways that the title applied to the song and to the release. But you are right, and also I think it kind of connects to how I make music in general. I mean I tend to end up taking snippets from so many different sources. On this record I used lots of stuff that I played and recorded, but also I grabbed things from vinyl, CDs, DVDs, public radio, my own voicemail… About a year ago I decided to not limit myself at all in terms of what I would allow myself to use in my music, so this EP really does “catch” from almost everywhere and spits these snippets back out with my musical sensibilities on them. I think that my sound has really benefited from this kind of attitude; using that kind of DJ culture not only on samples but on the recordings that I do in my studio.

You've built a steady working relationship with some of the guys from the SubGrounds label: what has that experience been like?

The Subgrounds collective is just full of really talented artists. Guys like Xian, Gaszia, Bmills, prplhed; these are some artists that I hold the same respect for as I do big names. I am super lucky to have hooked up with them. Bmills was a guy I hung out with in high school and like a year ago he sent me an email and long story short, we ended up doing a collab and he invited me to be part of the website and the group. I am really excited to see what these artists do in the next few years.

When you were in the process of mastering this record, how did you decide when a certain song was done?

That’s a good question and it was really a tough one for me. This record was made over the course of about a year and it was recorded in two different studio spaces. So mastering the tunes in a way where they would have a cohesive sound was very challenging. Ultimately I had to just do the best I can with the setup I had. Mastering from a bedroom in an apartment is never ideal, but I feel I did the best I could under the circumstances. As far as a song being done in a musical sense, that was another challenge for me. I wanted the songs to be something that I could come back to in a live setting and really build upon them and improvise a little bit. So I chose to do the EP in kind of a mix format. I wanted it to feel like there was more to the musical idea on either end of the track because I would like to have the opportunity to really build on them and change them live. So maybe they will feel more like musical entities than finite finished tracks. I don’t know.

Is it a little nerve-wracking sending a song to someone else in hopes for a remix? What would you have done if it had come back terrible?

You know I see how it could be nerve-wracking, but to be honest I was just really excited. The first time I heard prplhed I honestly thought he was a big name guy. His sound was so on point I just assumed he was a well established artist. So when I learned I might be able to get a remix done by him I was just stoked. I knew it was gonna be hot, because he is just such a skilled producer. That guy is like the most underrated artist of all time (laughs), and I am really excited to see what he does in the next few years.

You recently moved from Southern California up to Washington. Did the change in scenery have any effect on your writing/recording process?

I don’t think it affected how I write and record so much, but I think it was a change I probably needed. I feel like my mind is always moving at a million miles per hour and in Bellingham I can step outside and just be in a bit more of a relaxed place. Southern California is where I grew up and I love it, but it is very crowded, and very fast paced. I love being up here and being able to be in the quietness of the mountains and just have some space to breathe. Also it is just super cool when you can go on a bike ride and have a bald eagle just land in a tree right next to the road. (laughs) But half of this EP was recorded in Tustin, California and half of it was recorded in Washington, I mean one of the songs on the EP was written because I missed going to the beach with my brother. So I think this EP really marks where my head was at in 2012-2013, and it made sense to me to release it now. I just had this desire to put some kind of official release out there. Just have something to push off of as I move forward and pursue my goals as a musician and an artist.

When inspiration strikes you and you aren't in a position to record, do you write down your thought? Maybe make a voice recording of the beat or pattern? Or do you just make a mental note and come back to it later?

I actually use my phone to record little ideas a ton. If I am out and about and something comes to mind I will hum the melody or do kind of a beat-box thing into my phone. I do it all the time when I am playing my guitar. If I don’t record it I almost always end up forgetting it. So yes I do that all the time.

Do you design for those wearing headphones? And if so, did you have to make any concessions for those that are not?

I actually mixed and mastered this EP on a pair of speakers. I feel that how a person hears a song can be affected by so many things (if they are in a car, in a club, at home with an iPod dock, using headphones, using ear buds, if there are ambient sounds in the background, people talking in the room, etc.) So I just decided to make it sound the best I could on my monitors and just leave it at that. I did do a little bit of testing in my car and with headphones but my monitors were the first priority.

You and I have spoken a lot about genres and labeling: I notice that you don't have any genres or sub-genres tagged on the EP, was that a conscious decision from a labeling standpoint?

That was a question I actually asked myself a lot the last couple of years. “What genre is this?” “How do I label this?” But ultimately I decided to just stop worrying about it. I am gonna make music that is real to me and that sounds good to me. I want that to be the only thing that I focus on when I make a track, so I will let other people classify it if they wish.

Right in the middle of this EP you have this robotic voice sample and the two versions of “Untitled” blend into one another. Did you have that in mind before you got the remix back from prplhed or did it hit you afterwards? Right after that section, you get pretty bassheavy for a minute, still using a variety of finger work to keep the music from getting stale. Do you set out to make a large portion of the music you make be a manual and active production, ala AraabMuzik?

The sample before the Untitled track was in there before I put the set together. When I sent the stems to prplhed, he chose to do the robotic effect. I liked how it tied the tracks together though, so I am glad it worked out that way. And yes I do try to physically drum out my beats. I do fix errors and things after the fact, but I try to maintain a musicianship in my drums for sure. I am nowhere near as handy with an MPC as AraabMuzik though. (laughs) That dude is a monster.

“Summertime” really stands out here as the most “you” track on the whole thing, maybe because it’s one of the longest and most fleshed-out, but what was the inspiration behind that song?

That track was a lot of fun to make, and I think it is the most me in the sense that it utilizes a ton of the things I do to make a track. There is piano sample that I loved, and I got to really play with it; using effects and chopping it up with my mixer. I got to get a little tricky on the drums, I got to add in a synth and bass sound that I really dig, I got to use my guitar in a kind of purist context, I was able to fit in some funky instruments like a singing bowl, and I even got to do some subtle scratching. So in that vein, I would agree with you. It’s not the track I am most satisfied with necessarily, but it was very enjoyable. As far as the inspiration goes, it was actually inspired by the beaches of Orange County during the summer. I heard a subtle darkness in the piano and it reminded me of the enormous and dense crowds at the beach. Like a beautiful thing that is tainted or something. But I also wanted to express my feelings towards summer moving into fall, so I wanted to include a little tranquility in the tune, kind of reminiscent of the beaches becoming more empty and peaceful as summer leaves. Just kind of a hustle and bustle moving into peace and quietness.

Can you remember a quote or watched anything that specifically stuck in your musical subconscious?

Actually there is something that comes to mind. I remember reading an interview that The Flashbulb did. He said something to the effect of “As soon as I stopped giving a f*ck about what other people thought of my music, that’s when it really started sounding good.” I tend to really like artists who approach their craft with that attitude, and I would like to produce with that mindset. Just make it 100% personal. 100% about the music. Just about the sound coming out of the speakers and how I can improve that sound as I develop as an artist and producer.

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