I’m so very proud to be able to present this to y’all. After talking about and posting some of the teasers over the last month or so, here is the official trailer for my upcoming SkyBreak Documentary.
Film by Digital Café
I’m so very proud to be able to present this to y’all. After talking about and posting some of the teasers over the last month or so, here is the official trailer for my upcoming SkyBreak Documentary.
Film by Digital Café
The third +FE Music release from producer, multi-instrumentalist, and musical director of The Foreign Exchange, Zo!.
The 10 song collection features guest appearances from Eric Roberson, Phonte, Muhsinah, innovative UK soul wonder Dornik, and longtime Dungeon Family affiliate and funk/rock veteran Joi.
01. Lake Erie feat. Sy Smith
02. Starlight feat. Phonte
03. Packing For Chicago feat. Muhsinah
04. I Don’t Mind feat. Shana Tucker
05. Wishing You Well feat. Carmen Rodgers
06. A Season feat. Eric Roberson
07. Just Whatcha Like feat. Joi
08. Lifelines feat. Dornik
09. For Pops
10. Steal My Joy feat. Tamisha Waden
When I posted the story for “Until the Dawn (Milk and Honey, Pt. 2)”, a few people happened to notice that I was writing out of order of the album’s tracklisting – that was very intentional. While “Until…” closed the album, “Face In the Reflection” is going to serve as the grand finalé for these stories… Why? Well, not necessarily because of its self-examining subject matter and the mood it creates, but because honestly… this track almost wasn’t even created in the first place.
Day three in the studio (April 2, 2015) Nicolay and I were still on a high from creating the music that ended up becoming that Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey album closer. Once again, we were feeling excellent about our newest batch of instrumentals and even started to talk about the fact that we should make these marathon sessions an annual, semi-annual, or just more of a regular thing to see what else the two of us can come up with together …or even if the purpose is to stay razor sharp in the studio. At this point, we had pretty much called it a day and went into complete shutdown and disconnect mode. We wanted to wrap the shit up so that we could go and do what had become somewhat of a cornerstone of these studio sessions …EAT. And eat WELL.
Now, I can’t remember if Nic was putting a quick mix on the “Until The Dawn…” instrumental so he could bounce it down and send the files over to Phonte or what was happening exactly …but since I had a little bit of idle time on my hands and just so happened to be sitting at the (Yamaha) Motif keyboard I started playing around on it a little bit. Allow me explain something, most artists or musicians will tell you that some of their best music has come from simply “playing around” on an instrument. Songs that come to mind from my own catalog that are direct results of this include: “Greater Than The Sun” and “Body Rock”. A couple of things I was playing around with started sounding pretty good to me until the next thing I knew, I had a decent sounding descending chord progression on my hands. It was another one of those situations where Nic and I kinda looked at each other on the same page like, “We may have to stop everything we’re doing right now and record that.” Nic opened up a new Pro Tools session and started to construct some drums around the same tempo as I was playing on the piano. The drum pattern he programmed was simple, yet it still managed to encompass his “sound.” He laid the pattern out first so that I had a foundation to play over once it came time to record my parts. First, I recorded the piano track which was actually kind of “captured” by Nic – what I mean by this is, listen to the very beginning of the song and the way that it comes in. My piano part doesn’t fall completely on tempo until my second chord. I THINK this is because I was playing around with the progression and then realized that we were actually recording. Either way, I LOVE the fact that it was kept exactly the way it was… Even as a perfectionist in the studio, I live for “human” elements in music. Those are moments that add authentic touches to what is being created and could never be duplicated by a computer or plug-in. Even most of what was played after the drums fade at the end was improvised. Second, I picked up the bass guitar and Nic recorded my bass parts, which I kept very minimal. A song like this does not scream for a “bass guitar show,” so I felt that simplicity was key there. Lastly, I found a synth patch on the Moog Voyager that I was messing around with and Nic hit the record button on that as well… And I WANT to say (Nicolay, fact-check me on this) that all three parts were each done in one take. …Or maybe just the piano and bass parts. Anyway, we also layered a synth pad in there for some additional warmth on the track and some strings to make that ending bigger.
And just like that, we had another one… The end result was a pretty sounding track that was also very haunting at the same time. We didn’t go crazy over it like we did the others because we were already unplugged. I think our heads were more into what restaurant we were about to eat in ….or at least, that’s where MY greedy ass head was. The instrumental was then quickly bounced down and the file was sent to Phonte and our final joint was out of our hands. The night got even more interesting when in the middle of us toasting some drinks up to all of this new and completed music, we got to witness a couple get arrested a few tables over from us in the restaurant we decided to go to. Wilmington, NC was great to us in the entertainment department that day.
When I drove back to Maryland the next morning, what would become the “Face In The Reflection” instrumental was the only one that Nic didn’t email me, so as a couple of weeks had gone by I had completely forgotten how the song even sounded. That is, until I got a text from Phonte one morning that said……
I’ve said this before in stories and at shows… Whenever I get that “GMAIL” text…. That means there’s some fucking FIRE in my inbox.
When I first pressed ‘play’ on it, I was hyped up just to hear the song again. I reacquainted myself with the music during the first few bars of the intro, but I FULLY understood it when Phonte came in and basically verbalized its tone. That simplistic, pretty, yet almost uneasy music came to life. Hell, when the hook came in?!
“Do you ever wonder why
You can never unify
The person that you are with ever person that you think you should be?
When you look into the mirror try
To keep it strong and not to cry
When you don’t feel the connection to the face in the reflection you see”
Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey had just gotten REAL. Even if you’re perfectly happy with your life, that hook will have you looking to find some shit to reevaluate. If this one catches you on the wrong day, it’s a wrap.
Hearing “Face In The Reflection” for the first time made the album feel complete to me. It served as the “ballad”, but it also touched upon a subject matter that is very relatable – this shit can hit home HARD for some of our listeners. The final touches were added by Nic who layered some organ in the hooks (which actually added to the “haunting” aspect of the song) and made the drums thicker by adding some crashes, accents and just beefing them up sonically, overall. And Tamisha Waden and Carmen Rodgers teaming up on them background vocals will have you calling around to talk your problems out with a professional while a single tear rolls down your cheek. The raw emotion captured and depicted in this song is undeniably the star of the show. When I talked to Phonte about it after hearing it, we couldn’t wait to hear the public response once the album was released. This is definitely one of those joints where you may have to hit that “pause” button on your player before advancing to the next selection in order to gather yourself a bit. Listen man, “Until The Dawn…” HAD to close this album… We didn’t want to leave folks staring into mirrors at themselves looking all sad and shit after all of this fun, uptempo music!!
“Until The Dawn…” not only closed the album, but it was the song that (we THOUGHT) was going to close out our second marathon studio session down in Wilmington, NC. By day three of the session, we definitely felt as though we were on a pretty good winning streak, especially since Nicolay and I had cranked out the music for what would end up becoming “Asking For A Friend” on day one, and “As Fast As You Can” the following day. By April 2, 2015 (day three), we were looking to keep those tempos up and continue to have some more fun during the creation process. We had been snapping pics of the studio session and posting them up via social media to let folks know that we were putting together something amazing…. we just didn’t know what the hell FOR specifically (possibly the +FE “crew” album that I’ve mentioned before) either way, we knew we were sitting on a strong set of new music.
The music for “Until The Dawn” began with an agreed upon tempo and some drums Nic programmed that the two of us decided to just jam on for a little while. I think at that point, we really wanted to take our time with this one to ensure that it didn’t have the same feel as everything else we had already made that week or during the previous session. We even posted a 15-second video I took of us doing just that… I was on the Rhodes and Nic on the Moog Voyager messing around with some ideas. Check the full version…
When it comes to recalling these stories, “my right hand man” a/k/a my voice memo is GOLDEN. Because of it, I’m able to remember that before this particular video was shot, what we had for the main groove was a simple two-chord piano progression. I have audio of me sitting on the Moog Little Phatty playing around with a bassline while the track was running in the background. Once again, I recorded it so that I wouldn’t forget what the hell I was playing at the time. You’d be surprised at how often you forget how you’ve played something, especially after that “record” button has been hit. So to avoid having to go through the whole, “Ayo!! What did I play on that part again?!” I’ll hit the record button on my phone and capture it just to be safe …voice memo is undefeated. From those original two chords that we had, Nic got on the Yamaha Motif and expanded the main groove progression from two to four chords. Once he did that, the song felt like it was getting somewhere now that it had some legitimate movement in it. I hopped on the Rhodes and wanted to see what it would sound like if I decorated the music with some arpeggiated chords on top (that’s exactly what you see me doing in the video above while holding the camera). From there, I got back on the Little Phatty board to record the bassline I had figured out earlier. The problem was, the original bassline I had was for a two-chord progression and not the four chords that we were now working with. Therefore, I needed to come up with something different… Once I locked in on a new bassline, I recorded it and played it all the way through accompanied by the already recorded piano parts …that is until the very end when the pianos stopped. At that part, I went straight to C and on instinct started playing and riffing in C minor – just like that, we had a second part to our song. We were jokingly referring to that change as the “Marvin” change because it reminded us of how Marvin Gaye songs (“What’s Going On”, for example) would go from an uplifting tone to all of a sudden stopping on a dime and nosediving directly into a darker almost thought provoking and emotionally thick minor progression. THAT was the part we couldn’t wait to hear vocals on because we knew it was gonna be crazy…. And when we got that email back from Phonte that read:
We KNEW what the deal was. I loved what happened on this track vocally because it allowed Tamisha Waden to GO IN. On “Truce” she was somewhat subdued, which of course worked for the track. She got to do some hollering on “Work It To The Top” but still in more of a background vocal capacity. This was the song where she was literally vocally unleashed. We had all heard her on stage, we all know her capabilities and that her roots are in that chuuuuuch – this was the song that took her over the top. Tamisha was able to step out there, flex her muscles vocally and let loose. I can remember hearing the song for the first time and literally yelling out loud, “Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!” Once finished, it served as a PERFECT “part two” to “Milk and Honey” – still very uptempo, lively and lacking verses in order to keep the energy going as more of a vamp. Hearing all of the new percussion and accents Nic added to the song also added plenty of movement and bounce to it. We were getting closer to completing this project and I was feeling more proud and anxious by the DAY.
You now how you can get on a music “kick” and listen to a certain artist’s catalog, or maybe even specific eras of music for extended periods of time? Well, I’m like that with producers. I may go on a Timbaland streak for a minute, then switch over and listen to the Mizell Brothers for a week or so, cut over to Quincy, to Leon Sylvers III, etc… One particular week back in the summer of 2014, I was listening to a lot of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-produced stuff. There was one night I ran S.O.S. Band’s “Sands Of Time” (one of my favorite songs of all-time, by the way) about 25 times in a row, that joint was obviously hitting me differently that night for whatever reason. Anyway, at some point, I moved on to their work on 1991’s Mo’ Money Soundtrack – in particular that damn “Money Can’t Buy You Love” by Ralph Tresvant (which MURDERS “Sensitivity” and anything else he has put out solo ….in my humble opinion, of course). I was 13 when I first got my hands on this song and I loved it then, so the appreciation my ears have NOW for what they were doing musically is kinda through the roof. I sat myself down at the keyboard to figure the song out as it was playing and one thing I noticed in particular was the first chord of Ralph’s verses was a major chord with a flattened fifth… Now, had this been a jazz or blues tune, I would have understood that chord choice… But VERY rarely do you hear a jazz-influenced chord starting the progression for an R&B/Soul joint, particularly one that received radio play. The thing is, it sounds DOPE where it is… Especially with the background vocals following the chords faintly. With that influence, I decided to write my own progression and see if I could start it off with kind of an “unexpected” chord of my own… So, I chose an F#13 and built on. From there, the third and final joint from what would become Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey that wasn’t created as a result from the two studio sessions that Nicolay and I went in on was born.
The original instrumental version that I created was titled, “Bookit” (I always name my instrumentals based on whatever the hell is happening in my life. At the time, I was booking a good number of plane tickets for shows. Obvious title, but it’s much better than numbering my music as “Instrumental #1”, etc). Once I had a basic chord progression, then came the drums, which wound up becoming a mix of programmed drums and parts that I had played live all the way through, including the snare and a cabasa. Initially, I recorded a demo version with full out and finished drums + me playing the entire chord progression and changes out on the piano (this is similar to what I’ve done in the past for songs like, “Africa”). Since I was on the road a great deal last summer with The Foreign Exchange, the “Bookit” instrumental sat for a couple of months. I can remember coming back home from +FE’s European Tour in October 2014 and going back through some of the music to see how everything sounded and I came back across “Bookit”. At first, I was mad at myself for not writing all those damn chords and changes out as soon as I recorded them (I am terrible with that, I always have to re-learn my own music when it’s time to play it live), but I quickly got over it because I loved the piece so much. I ended up taking some time to write all of the chords out and practice the song on the keys… then the bass guitar. Since the demoed piano was already recorded, I laid down my bass guitar parts first. Once that was done, I then muted the demo piano and recorded some Rhodes, then layered it with another pass of just piano. At that point even with all of the chord changes, it was a pretty simple sounding recording, but the idea was now firmly in place. Thinking back, I honestly cannot remember where we were when I let Phonte hear this joint for the first time, but I do remember him hitting me up on more than a couple of occasions with, “Man, let me know when you finish up that “Bookit” joint.” I would have wanted to send him more of a complete song, instead on February 4, 2015 I sent him a super rough draft in an email that said:
“Bass, drums, keys… Rough joint”
Fast forward to April 3rd, The DAY I got back home from the second studio marathon in Wilmington, NC with Nic, I got an email from Phonte that said, “BANG.” My response after hearing it:
Have you ever been in a “groove”, let’s say …in the gym before? Where you aren’t missing days, the workouts are feeling good to you and there’s progress in the fact that you’re starting to see some results? That basically describes where Nicolay and I were for this song. We had gotten into a great routine in the studio, so much so that I feel like we were ZONING when this one was made. The “introduction” process felt looong gone with the creation of both “Milk and Honey” and “Work It To the Top” back-to-back in our very first session only a couple days prior. Then by day two, we really started to figure out how one another worked in and around the studio. I mean, just how freely our ideas bounced back and forth was incredible – not necessarily the amount of ideas, but the fact that the ones we had WORKED almost every single time. Damn near everything we tried sounded dope to us, which is a helluva motivator in my book. If I remember correctly, that second day we ended up knocking out three instrumentals, none of which happened to make the album… BUT we were excited to have five brand new, fully-composed songs at the end of just two marathon studio sessions. Ironically enough, before these sessions I NEVER drank coffee…
Oh my, how times have changed.
We started working on “Truce” during studio day number three… Funny thing is, we were so in a rhythm at the time that this was made that I honestly can’t even remember what element came first. I WANT to say that Nic put the drums together for it to set everything off. Now, I’ve always felt that if used correctly, the Maestro Rhythm King MRK-2 drum machine sounds can provide a simplistic yet potent backbone to your music… Hell, just ask Sly Stone (“If You Want Me To Stay”, “Family Affair”, “In Time” etc.) or Larry Graham and Graham Central Station (“The Jam”). As Nic got into “mad scientist” mode preparing and programming those drums, I sat down on the Rhodes and worked through a three-bar chord progression that seemed to complement what he was doing and that piece ended up becoming the intro and the hook. Since we always like to keep it interesting with changes and transitions, I came up with a verse part and then an ending, which I separated… First recording the Rhodes keys for the chords and then picking up the bass guitar to record that part. I then added the synth line that you hear in the beginning as well as the hooks (once again, the Moog Little Phatty came through in the CLUTCH). The closing progression was important, why? Because we wanted to make the end of this song as BIG as possible. It made sense, the music felt somber… but pretty. Taking it out on a higher level of energy than the majority of the song was definitely the move. So we continued to layer and add everything from pads, atmosphere, swell strings and even some arpeggiated noise for the hooks and ending. At ONE point, there was even a “phaser” sound that came from one of the keyboards (starts at 3:07) that lasts throughout the duration of the song. In the original instrumental, that ending is a solid minute, plus….. and the phaser rides aaaaall the way through. It was a really dope addition and 100% accidental. ….at least I THINK it was.
This song got real when Phonte wrote to it and sent it back with them recorded vocals on it… My initial reaction was, “COME on, bruh…” Up to that point, after touring with her for over a year I was really only familiar with Tamisha Waden’s LIVE vocals. Hearing her own this recorded verse for the first time, I DAMN near called her out of concern like…
“Ayo, Tamisha, you alright?! I don’t know what the hell happened, but It’ll be okay… Trust me on this.”
Her vocals sounded very genuine. To me, It sounded like she was singing through TEARS. I loved it, the texture was perfect. I’m sure she has received more than a couple texts from reaching out to her about hanging in there or some shit since this record has been released. Phonte was writing about something damn near everyone who has had any type of relationship can relate to… Finally getting on the same page, pushing the pride to the side, possibly humbling yourself, throwing up the white flag and calling a …Truce. Whether it’s to “start over” on the right foot in a relationship, to keep the peace in a co-parenting situation, or perhaps to even keep from catching a case in the workplace… we have all been in these places at one time or another. Overall, it sounded like our creative zone carried over to what Phonte and Tamisha were doing in Raleigh because between the subject matter, Tamisha murdering her solo parts and those ending harmonies they sang together??!!?
“Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiit” © Clayton LeMarcus Davis.
Another win for +FEMusic.
Let me just start this story off with this fact… “Milk and Honey” was the very first song that Nicolay and I created when we got together in February 2014 at his studio in Wilmington, NC. The FIRST jam. When I say that any and all doubts he and I may have had about working with another producer were thrown outta the window after this one. Trust me… To me, hearing how this song came together was clear and uncut proof that this collaborative production was supposed to happen.
Scheduled studio time was to begin on February 10, 2014, cold as shit outside, but the precipitation held off fairly well for my drive down from Silver Spring, MD to Wilmington, NC. I had never driven that six-hour stretch before as the only cities I had driven to in NC previously were Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte, which is also a six-hour drive, but to the west of I-95 – Taking the drive east off of I-95 South was new… I loaded my car up with a few weapons: The Nord Lead 2, Moog Little Phatty, and my 5-string bass guitar. Although it was only the three studio items, I remember it feeling like I was loading up to play a damn show somewhere. Regardless, once I arrived the set-up process was a quick one. I took a quick look at everything Nic had in the studio and I can remember pretty much getting right to work. The Fender Rhodes piano was powered up and ready to go, so I started messing around on it and came up with a chord progression… JUST from that progression, Nicolay started constructing these Brazilian jazz-influenced drums around what I was playing that had me buggin’ OUT. Once again y’all… This was the FIRST thing we started working on and I was already thinking, “This is about to be something SPECIAL.” This was also the first time I had gotten to see Nic program his drums, which was something short of phenomenal in and of itself, all the way down to the breaks and drum fills. DOPE. From there I can remember coming up with a change and then the melody line that lead back into the main groove and then recording the different parts (seeing Nic program the drums around that line was NUTS). Over the drums, we recorded my chords first via the Rhodes and went all the way through the song, no looping, no flying parts… Played it straight through. Same with the synth bass, which I played on that trusty Moog Little Phatty… straight through. That part was FUUUUUUN to play. An extremely loose and free bassline that I wanted to kind of directly complement the movement of Nic’s drums while also serving as the glue between them and the Rhodes parts that at the time seemed to be floating freely. When the string and flute parts were laid, we had a solid enough foundation to send off to Phonte….
Months later… I remember hearing “Milk And Honey” the first time with Phonte and Shana Tucker’s vocals on it… I damn near lost my mind. This song probably should have been named, “+FE Music Is On The Same Page And Shit” because when I heard what they did, I literally said aloud, “That’s EXACTLY what this song needed!!” From the chants, to the murderous harmonies on the words at the very end of some of the phrases… They knew what to do with this song. And when Shana came in on her solo part, it felt like Natalie Cole coming in on my favorite song of her’s, “La Costa”. I’m actually getting goose bumps while typing this now. SO very refreshing to hear. Then Nic sent me another updated version where he added acoustic guitar over the key change, the sound effect (heard at 1:29), and that quick four-note synth line over the final hook…. NOW the song was REALLY speaking, good gracious.
Let’s go right back to that February 2014 studio session with Nic and I…
So, after about the 20th playback on the “Milk And Honey” instrumental, we were deciding if we should add more to it or leave it for later and simply move on to something new. I happened to notice that there was a kick on all four beats (in each measure) and just to experiment with it, I asked Nic to let the kick keep going as a “four to the floor” pattern. And on the Moog, I messed around with a minor bassline groove that sounded VERY early 80’s. I’m pretty sure this was verbalized…
“Yooooo!! It would be CRAZY for this joint to go from a ‘Brazilian jazz’ feel to ’80’s funk.'”
Once that was established, I remember messing around with the bassline some more while Nic went IN once again on the drum pattern. To hear him construct these 80’s sounding drums was a damn work of art. He switched the kick to sound more like something from a drum machine and combined a live drum kit with some Roland TR-808 sounds, it was NUTS. When he added that damn double 808 clap at the end of the phrases?!?!?!??? Sheeeeeeeiiiit. We were THERE. I recorded the bassline and Rhodes parts along with the couple of blips and beeps on the synth… and Nic finished it off with more synth work to fill the song out even more. We had successfully gone from one genre of music to another in the matter of seconds and loved every minute of it. A studio party was already happening with just the instrumental, so imagine what happened upon hearing Phonte channel Steve Arrington on the damn joint. I heard that shit and hit him up like, “YOOOO… We perform this joint live ….IT’S OVER!! We ALL gotta have mics!!” Tamisha Waden came in on the hook with the big, hollerin’ ass vocals, which were VERY “80’s uptempo” and it worked so well with what was happening. To top everything off…. a jive ass “HUH!!!” right in the middle of the hook. I think it was literally at that moment that I felt like we were making the music we grew up on – FUN music. This is stuff that we’ll enjoy performing just as much as we enjoyed making it. Everyone asks when there will be another Zo! & Tigallo Love The 80’s album…. Well here you go: Zo!, Nic & Tigallo Love the Originals.
Only two months after Nicolay issued his collaborative City Lights, Vol. 3: Soweto, the producer and instrumentalist, along with singing, songwriting, and arranging partner Phonte, returned with the most varied Foreign Exchange album. It’s also the one that most emphasizes the duo’s extended family of collaborators. The cover of this, their fifth proper full-length, displays Carmen Rodgers and Tamisha Waden — two of their co-lead and background vocalists — as well as Lorenzo “Zo!” Ferguson. The FEnucleus and Zo! go way back and take it to another level here, with Zo! — similar to Nicolay, a studio wiz who typically works in isolation — a co-songwriter and co-producer of every song. Perhaps proximity and a history as performing partners partly explain why so much of this sounds like a party, as free and easy as the group’s shows. FE previously went house with “So What If It Is,” a deep and cleansing track, but when they return to the form here, it’s with the humorous and rhythmically tougher early-’90s throwback “Asking for a Friend,” where Phonte affects a distinguished Englishman accent akin to that of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s Geoffrey Butler. On first listen, the song sounds merely like an amusing novelty until the stellar Waden-led chorus enters and takes it somewhere else. (No R&B group before them has maintained such a strong balance between female and male voices.) A different stunt is pulled with “Work It to the Top,” bumping boogie that touches on 1979-1981 Slave — just a little bit — down to Phonte‘s spirited Steve Arrington mannerisms. Beyond those two songs and the pair of delighted Brazilian fusion-styled title tracks that begin and end the album, what remains largely refines the sweet and blissful grooves of Love in Flying Colors. That’s not a bad thing, not when the writing is as sharp, with rich harmonies laced through rhythms that bound and wind with unforced finesse and warmth. Even with a disarming ballad on each side, Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey is one of the funnest R&B albums in some time.
This song right here? “Asking For A Friend”??! As some of you may know by now, this was the first single released from the upcoming The Foreign Exchange album Tales From The Land Of Milk And Honey this past Monday night.
Let me explain to y’all how there almost wasn’t even an album to begin with………
No, for real.
Making music is unpredictable. SO unpredictable that this entire project began with a very brief conversation Nicolay and I had during soundcheck before The Foreign Exchange’s New Year’s Eve show in Durham, NC on December 31, 2012 about possibly getting up to do some studio work. Up to that point, Phonte and I had worked closely on music dating back to the end of 2005 and I had worked with Sy Smith and Jeanne Jolly (who both toured with us at the time), but I still hadn’t stepped into the studio with Nic yet. I mean, he and I had played numerous shows together and we have done work on the same songs before by trading files, but never had we been in the same studio, at the same time, creating while trading ideas. Now, on paper it made sense… Two producers/multi-instrumentalists who both compose from scratch without aiming their final product at any genre in particular…. But what folks don’t understand is that the idea of a “perfect” collaboration can be tough when it comes down to its actual execution. For example, when I create music, I do it solo. Nobody just hanging around, no 20 people in the studio while I’m working, no “yes” men or hype men there to gas up every single note, chord, or new sound I play…. Absolutely, alone. Same with Nic. So, the idea of simply working together with another producer who creates in almost the same fashion presented itself to be somewhat of a challenge in our minds – I think because, creatively we didn’t want to step on toes. But with the May 2013 release of my solo album, ManMade and the September release of +FE’s Love In Flying Colors under our belts, we finally decided to give it a try and locked in a time to get to work. By the time we finally got up in February 2014, it was waaaay overdue. I loaded my car with some equipment, grabbed my small carry-on suitcase and hopped on 95 South for the six-hour drive from Silver Spring, MD to Wilmington, NC. I was anxious to get some new music done and to be honest, neither of us knew what to expect. On the drive down, several thoughts ran through my head…..
The hell will this music sound like?!
How will our sounds mesh together? Will they compliment or clash?
Will it sound more like a Nicolay track? ….Or will it sound more like something I did?
Let me explain one thing about art….. If you overthink it, you kill it. He and I knew not to discuss these things beforehand and I’m glad we didn’t because once I arrived at Nic’s studio, instincts took over and we just let the music happen. Three to four days later, we walked outta there with seven brand new instrumentals. Upon leaving, the only question I had while driving back home was, “Why didn’t we do this shit SOONER?!?!?!!” To me, the craziest part was the fact that the music sounded like Nicolay …AND it sounded like me – the two styles merged and the sound was literally split down the middle. With these seven new ones in the chamber, we then talked about working toward completing a “Nicolay & Zo! EP” containing some music with vocals and maybe a couple of instrumentals in there. I spoke publicly about the EP throughout 2014, we even discussed touring options once it was released and everything….
Fast forward to the top of 2015 when Phonte started recording to some of the music along with Carmen Rodgers, Tamisha Waden, Shana Tucker and Carlitta Durand… Once the music started to take shape around the new vocals that were recorded, we decided to focus on creating a “crew” album rather than just a Nic & Zo! EP… An +FE Music “compilation” project, basically. Sounded like an excellent idea to me… But, It also sounded like Nic and I needed to get back to work on some more music so that we could have a full album’s worth of material to pull from. After coordinating schedules again, on March 31, 2015, that’s exactly what we began to do. I drove back down to NC for round TWO of marathon studio sessions in Wilmington.
The second time was a bit different mainly because we knew what to expect from each other from the jump…. At this point, all we needed to do was open up a “New Session” on Pro Tools and go in. Once I arrived, we set up quickly and jumped right into something brand new. I can’t remember why we specifically decided to knock out a House track that night for that very first song, but I DO remember being hyped up about it being as though I had never worked on one before…. Hell, I had never even PLAYED on one.
Nicolay sat down and began to program the drum track. In the final version, listen to the way the intro for “Asking For A Friend” comes in piece by piece. It’s perfect because that’s damn near how I heard him make the drums. First, was the four-to-the-floor kick with the open hi-hats, then, the toms…. percussion pieces, the snare ….and finally the claps to round it all out. As he was getting everything together drum-wise, I sat down on the Rhodes just to see what would happen and the very first thing that came out was the melody line you hear (right as Phonte’s vocals begin in the final version)… I then hopped on one of my favorite weapons in the studio, the Moog Little Phatty keyboard to work the bassline out until finding something that we both agreed with and from there it was back to the Rhodes to knock out the chord progression for what was to become the hook. Once the hook progression came THAT’S when things seemed to tie together, musically. By this time, Nic had the drums KNOCKING along with all of the intricacies placed and polished. Once we layered that hook up nicely with synths and strings, we added a fully extended vamp out and called it a night. While sipping coffee at damn near midnight we ran the song on repeat, satisfied with the new ‘nod’ to old school house music we had just created – Shit felt like a party in there. Meanwhile, two hours west in Raleigh, NC… Phonte and Carmen were getting ready to set up shop in the studio as well. With two spots running simultaneously for three to four days, we KNEW there was gonna be something special to coming out of this. So we sent the music to them to hear and write to if that’s what they felt, etc. Honestly, I really just wanted to hear their initial responses…
The next day, when Nic and I got back in the studio… Phonte had already called excited about this new record…… BUT, with the music that we already had for the album, he was thinking that it may have been too “hard” of a house record to include in the album batch. No problem… Hell, I knew we would use it somewhere down the line, the joint jammed too hard. We then moved on to start creating the next piece, which we would also send to Phonte and Carmen along with a third joint later on at the end of that day. In total, we ended up creating and sending 5 or 6 new ones to Raleigh, NC that week. ….But they kept going back to listen to that first one.
Once we wrapped, I drove back to Maryland on that Friday, April 3rd …and I’ll be damned if on APRIL 6TH, Nic and I didn’t receive an email from Phonte with the subject title “Asking For A Friend” that read……
“This shit went from “maybe it’s too hard” to “this could be the first single” REAL QUICK.”
I KNEW he couldn’t turn away from that joint!! I clicked the attachment and listened to the long introduction while nodding hard as hell….
Heeeeell yeah… I was completely locked in wondering what would happen next once the verse started. Then the vocals came in …..and when them vocals came in??!?! ….WHEN THE VOCALS CAME IN?!?!?
My response: “Yoooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!”
The last time I responded like that to some vocals Phonte sent over to me, it was our “Africa” remake. I got him on the phone immediately and said, “You were on your Rockwell ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ shit with this one…” He explained that it was more of a Talking Heads “Once In A Lifetime” feel, which works completely because this is meant to be a FUN joint, so be fearless and go ALL the way in. We went from talking about the song itself, to this brand new collection of music we were now sitting on. He told me that after talking with Nic, the project went from an +FE Music compilation….. to an +FE ALBUM, to which I responded, “Hell yeah… RUNNIT!” I got hyped up not only because I felt the collection of music was CRAZY, but also because I knew I had production credit on all of it right along with Nicolay and Phonte – a first for an +FE project. …..To make it even better, y’all get to hear the stories behind it all.