So, I'm flipping back to 2010 and checking out Eminem's Recovery album. The track I'm specifically interested in is Cinderella Man. We come from a comeback culture, the art of the rise. "The American Dream," is after all a North American socio-economic formula for success. We almost believe that it is a part of nature to move through adversity in such a way. And just as a samurai's dedication and discipline draws him towards a state of mastery, this path, if followed correctly, will inevitably acquire "prosperity." The basic breakdown is like this: You live beneath the earth; you strive and come to know the inertia of struggle; you mingle with no-good-getters; hustle a deal here and there, gain an advantage point and climb to some theoretical"top" all the while establishing yourself as a financially and therefore socially secure individual. You become the stuff that dreams are made of, the brute conduit of prosperity and destiny. It's very American to think like this. It's exciting and at the same time, overwhelmingly epic. It's like watching the trailer for some disaster movie and the voice-over uses words like "chilling, daunting & vile" and you're either on the edge of your seat or you've already skipped over to watch something less dramatic. Either way, one's approach towards achieving success can be carefully derived from observing their day-to-day activities; the nuances of their character, and understanding what motivates their more minuscule sense of decision-making. I'm listening to Cinderella Man not because of Eminem or his comeback, but because the phenomenon of one's rise through the ranks takes great care, perseverance and effort. I'm listening to Cinderella Man because of a guy I met in Atlanta last month at Sync Con [Atlanta]. Hailed as one of the most creative hip-hop producers, he's worked with names like Eminem, Jay Rock, and Junnosuke Taguchi. I'm forever down with people that effectively break norms, and I'm very pleased to share with all of you a peek inside of the life of Nick Neutronz.
JCL: Tell us who you are and where you currently live?
NNz: Nick Neutronz, Ossining, New York! I grew up down the road from where i'm living now, in a small heavily wooded area between two towns on the Hudson river. Yesterday there was a family of coyotes who lazily left the driveway when we came home.
JCL: What is the status of your working day? When do you get up in the morning? What is your daily routine?
NNz: I get up anywhere between 7 and 10 am, or 2pm if i had to be out til 7am, which does happen. i run a Qigong form called Shamanic Tiger each morning and evening regardless of what time i get home or wake up, and i TRY to not look at my phone before I do the form. The form was taught to me by Zhongxian Wu of the hidden immortal lineage, and it is a metal element form which helps bring clarity and decisiveness to my mind, which is all too "meta" lol. Aside from the form, I am writing music every day, sometimes I am working as a hired producer for employers, sometimes I am going to a random location in Manhattan or Brooklyn with a backpack which contains a mic, kaotica eyeball (pop filter // isolator) and interface, as a nomadic engineer and mobile studio.
JCL: Rap music, in many people’s view, is a very uplifting and raw vessel of thinking. And yet so much of it glorifies the negative aspects of society (crime, drugs, misogyny, etc.). How do you see your role in that?
NNz: In short, i don't judge people's lyrical content or their life choices. As a cis white male who grew up in the woods outside NYC, i was exposed to the vital energy of hip hop at a young age, and the lyrics taught me immediately that so much of life was unjust. Lately I have thought much about how Eurocentric imperialism and capitalism have made it easy for white men in suits, my father included, to make loads of money and not ever really come into contact with the negative consequences of these winnings. It is the ultimate privilege to extract wealth from places you'll never visit. Confronting the truth about growing wealth is taboo for intellectual europeans it seems. The inverse of this choice, in my current view, is that of a hustler who must face the dilemma of either playing by government laws and rules set against them, or adapt in an environment which contains their family and friends, in a parasitic fashion, to save themselves. Can you imagine having to make that choice?! Again, as a person who cannot fathom having to grind in this way, I have awe and respect for those who must make that choice. There is sadness, shame, and triumph in it, in my estimation. Thats a pretty heady response of the question but, also, i just do music. Two years ago I did a future bass remix for Christian Rock Group "Skillet"'s song praising Jesus Christ called "Feel Invincible." I heard the song and was inspired. Last year, I made a songs with many artists who were hedonistic and some were even satanic in their devotion to accepting their hedonism. I am an instrument to be played by the energy of the universe, and i try not to judge others. I mostly just feel the energy and decide if i'm rockin with it.
JCL: At what point does the artistic “gritty” perspective take over the necessity to provide positive role models for younger generations?
NNz:The role models are there but many of them don't get the support that the party animals do, because it is easier to sell corn syrup than broccoli. Many who are of a traditional school in hip hop that view it as a sacred teacher of the community claim this is a conspiracy by record companies that are invested in private prisons, and it may be. but, far more important in my view, is the insight that it is EASIER to engage people with sex, violence, and materialism, than it is to explain to people the mysterious infinite wisdom of why you should ween yourself off of your desires for power, wealth, or sensual bliss. In this way, the world functions as if a grand conspiracy is in place, even though in my opinion, there probably is not a grand conspiracy. Certainly there are extremely powerful individuals who leverage this trend in human behavior, but, even the thoughts of a grand conspiracy act as a poison in the minds of those who'd believe in it, tending their thoughts towards defeatism and paranoia, giving the thinker an excuse to never push themselves to achieve. People in my opinion are happier when they are honest with themselves about what they want for themselves and don't blame successful people for rigging the game. Perhaps this is off base a bit lol, I really think everyone should make whatever kind of art they want to make. Art is more of an expression of a condition that needs to find a voice. If the message is resonant, it cannot be denied, be it mindful and spiritual, or hedonistic.
JCL: Do you see yourself as the activator of this role by the artists you choose to work with?
NNz: Mmmmm No lol. I work with some artists who are intentionally uplifting, and I love the works of my bros MC Maniphes, who is my first mentor in Hip Hop culture, and really incubated my early dj experience by lending his immense lyrical talent and helping me hone my hand-style, as he is a world class graffiti artist and muralist, Also, G Yamazawa, who is a Buddhist and I love to support is spreading his deeply resonant extremely hip hop truth, and whenever we talk, I am humbled and instructed to be a better person. I also have some music coming with Malik Work, who is a dope multimedia artist, teacher and mentor in NYC. I also traveled as a Cultural Ambassador // DJ Mentor and instructor with the US State Department's Next Level Hip Hop Exchange, and shared my open format DJ philosophy and turntablist tricks with North Africa. That said, it's my belief that art transcends morality and the best art has the deepest pain and ecstasy of life within it. Blanket positivity is not my style, and even seems to me to be condescending at times. I have music for everyone in all walks of life, and don't go in for role models or holier than thou attitudes. It fills me with wonder and appreciation to see the brotherhood and mentorship I've seen go on between gangster rappers who have had success in their careers give council to those who want to better their craft and make a way for themselves through art instead of crime. That said, if a person's vibe in the studio is so toxic that I can't continue to work with them, I probably won't.
JCL: How do you go about meeting the people you work with?
NNz: I believe that art requires that you open yourself to travel and sharing yourself. I had a studio space near time square for some years, and one of my friends in the building "Boone" who runs "Desert Park Mastering" described the building as an energy vortex. Genres and music communities are also energy vortexes. You must open yourself to the universe and to people and see who you meet, and be helpful, so that the universe sees fit to keep giving you tasks to check off. I have had many experiences where being polite and respectful with someone I felt was very rude and quite obnoxious has led them to introduce me to artists and connections that are deeply fulfilling.
JCL: Which artists surprised you the most in the studio?
NNz: 9 years ago I had a studio session with Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar, when Kendrick was "K-Dot." Jay Rock had some buzz going, and my partner Big Show from Chicago had mutual friends with Jay Rock and invited them to a session near time square at a studio called KMA which is no longer. Me and Big Show made a beat for Jay Rock on the spot, and Uncle Murda came in and layed the 2nd verse. After that Jay and Kendrick went though my beats and found one they liked. Kendrick went into the booth and freestyled this hook which, as you can imagine, really blew my mind, as K Dot on his worst day was probably genius level even back then. It almost sounded like a Curtis Mayfield song. One of the images was "Probly have a bad bitch poppin my collar" it was just so ICY and smooth. i have goosebumps right now just remembering lol! Top Dawg, their manager, decided midway through the song that he didn't love it and they moved on, and the song was scrapped. It was a great experience though, and still remains a feather in my cap that some of the greatest artists making music today gave me a nod. When Good Kid Maad City came out about 5 years later, it was so ambitious, and so amazing, still my favorite Kendrick record, but even in our brief time spent together, his vibe and talent floored me, and I wasn't surprised by what he's made himself into.
JCL: Where does your heart rest? In the studio or out doing shows? Why? Do you have a preference?
NNz: Ahh I love both. But if i had to pick, I'd say I'd rather dj parties, whether with my own music or with other people's music. It is so much fun to share music that you enjoy, or music you've made, and use sound systems to bring release and happiness to music lovers! DJing is like we are all riding this beat from evening til morning and the DJ gets to drive the ship! But we all get the amazing experience of riding the frequencies.
JCL: I see on Instagram that you’re constantly releasing and constantly building something new. Where does that inspiration come from? When you walk around without your gear, do you just hear sounds?
NNz: i think some part of me is always dancing. At the root, there is a sonic fantasy that is like a stream that is always running. If I am quiet, I can hear it. Its almost like an auditory hallucination! When I was young, these sounds were collages of the strangest nature. As I got older, I know that the fantasies are almost more like series of shapes than they are sounds, in that I feel a kind of need to express a certain rhythm, and that rhythm plays itself out through my hands and body as i work the computer or instrument. Sometimes it is sounds or melody lines that are in my head, sometimes I really have to coax it out by starting something, and then it is more like hitting the gym.
JCL: Can you walk us through how an idea comes from the abstract into reality and how you stamp your fingerprint onto it?
NNz: Well for instance yesterday I was riding the train on my way to record Fly Kaison, who has worked with my friend DJ shiftee. I wanted something modern and aggressive that would highlight Kaison's presence, and a minor melody line came to me played by a horn that sounded huge and growling. I just used my computer's finder to search the word "horn" and found a one shot, and used it to write the melody, and then the drums sorta wrote themselves. When I made my chill-out track Elohim a few months ago, I spend a few days experimenting with reverbs with endless decays and resonators in order to make pads which gave me a certain calm, and also had the harmonics that would imply but not "spell out" a chord. i resampled this resonant drone and played a few different notes with it, and then filled in the rest of the track, a single note of a sung vocal also pitched around, and drums from my boy Decap's •Drums That Knock• series.
JCL: Who are your favourite producers?
NNz: Glacci, Sorsari, Kenji Kawai, Decap, Mr Carmack
JCL: Which artists do you see yourself working with in 5 years from now?
NNz: I would love to make more tunes with Top Dawg again, but I am hoping that I'll still be making music with the artists I'm supporting right now on a much larger platform. I am making some tracks that I love with Slick Pusha right now, an artist from Maryland. I love the sounds from Teklife, Warp Records, and most of all Terrorhythm, i'd love to collaborate with them on releases or with artists they support, like the producers I've mentioned. I would love to work with Kelela, Janelle Monae, Young Thug, J Cole, Halsey... All for different sounds and uniqueness that they bring.
JCL: Do you have a favourite venue?
NNz: Mmmm good question! i played a club outside tokyo called Age-ha which was an amazing room with these overhead PA speakers that looked like transformers. that was an amazing night, but i've only been there once. Most consistent fun i've had was probably bassment saturdays at Webster Hall a few years ago.
JCL: What are the biggest advantages/disadvantages of making music in New York?
NNz: New York is an amazing cultural garden with a subway that gives you access to every part of it for 3 dollars a trip. It is easy to experience millions of mysterious and wonderful things in New York for free, just by walking around, browsing, people watching, rooting through news stands and record shops! You can hear sounds and browse images without buying things and get inspired. Also, New York can give you an in-person access to lots of powerful people, but there are lots of gate keepers, and there is actually a vast hierarchy which bars local artists from gaining momentum. Rent prices have a lot to do with this, but also New York's reputation has caused a lot of showcases to pop up and demand artists pay for a chance to play, because a venue has history, and you're on a stage that a legend has played. These things are really smoke and mirrors. I've honestly never seen an artist build a career from the countless artist showcase circuits in NYC.
JCL:Tell us about your most recent release. Where can we find it?
NNz: "My latest releases recently been self-releasing music, you can find Nick Neutronz, and the music of my previous incarnation "81Neutronz" on Spotify, Tidal, Soundcloud and youtube. My personal style of music, and much of the music I create for artists or as a remixer, is called "Terraform", and in this style, I fuse harmonies and melodies inspired by space exploration, transdimensional travel and spirituality and make them habitable for Earthlings my mixing them with drums and bass textures of street and club music. This can mean all sorts of things, but generally the melodic content is spacious and the drums are from hip hop or dance music. I'm releasing a new piece as Nick Neutronz each month all year, perhaps forever."
JCL: Anything you’d like to add?
NNz: "I feel blessed to see us all as non separate parts of a great whole with no beginning or ending, and as all things are interdependent, nothing has ever gone wrong or been out of place, and in my best moments, I am in awe that it is all here and is as it is!"