[Cover photo credit to Geoff Hug]
Brooklyn-based Electronic Low-Fi Funk artist Nick Vivid is releasing his new album, No More Secrets via MegaPlatinum Records this Friday, November 12th, and celebrating with a launch party at All Night Skate in Brooklyn on November 13th, 2021. The collection stems from “pandemic soul-searching” that many can relate to, but it also builds on learning new avenues in his own evolving genre and continuing to remain fiercely independent as an artist finding his own creative zone.
The electronic mode that Nick Vivid works in overlaps, at times, with some of the ideas in the songs on No More Secrets, including “Trainers”, which refers to cheat mode in video games and whose video was made with 8-bit technology. But the wider context for the music engages with some big-picture questions and thoughts about life. Does it ever really work to take short cuts? Aren’t we all tempted to buy into the “Hush Money” (another single from the album) that allows negative forces to prevail all too easily in the world? Nick Vivid’s questioning tone and approachable music evades easy answers. After all, that would be a short cut, too.
I spoke with the artist about creating No More Secrets and about how and why he operates independently to find his own way into his sound.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Does this work mostly hail from the pandemic period for you?
Nick Vivid: I started on it right before the pandemic hit, thinking it was going to be done in about six months and that by last September I was going to be back on the road. I had a year long plan with an album and tour cycle, but I allowed the free time that I had during the pandemic to allow the album to grow at the pace that it wanted to grow at. Since there was no time table, I sat in the studio and let it become whatever it wanted to become. I finished it last January, mixed it in February, and then it was done in April.
HMS: Do you think that it became a different album because of the extra time that you had with it?
Nick Vivid: Absolutely, because I didn’t have to settle anymore. All of the sudden, songs that could be better could be stripped down and experimented with. I could allow things to turn into other things and become something other. Four or five songs on the album benefitted from that shift in mindset. These were results I would have never gotten under a time crunch, so that was really cool.
HMS: It’s an impressive attitude to allow yourself to let go of the original versions of things and not think, “I’m going to lose work if I start over.”
Nick Vivid: It’s an ego thing, too, like “I’m creating this idea. I’ve got this vision.” I’ve been like that before. But now I allow myself to be wrong. I think Quincy Jones, when he was working with Michael Jackson, ended up using a microphone that they didn’t expect to use on “Thriller”, and he famously has said to leave room for magic to happen. That always stuck with me. I know I need to get out of my way more often. I don’t need to be right all the time. Just because I have a vision doesn’t mean that’s right. It can be a way to get me motivated to start on a path. But that vision can change, and that’s okay that it can change.
HMS: Are there ever times when you think you’re going to go into a studio and work, but you feel like you’re not in that zone? Do you ever make choices to change plans or do things to get you into the right mindset?
Nick Vivid: Yes to all of those. I’ve had days where I feel like, “You know what? Not today.” And then there are days where I try to fight through it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Some days it’s just naturally there, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the second I start on it, it’s there. There’s no rhyme or reason. I wish there was one approach for every day with predictable results, but that’s never going to happen.
HMS: I’m sure a lot of people can relate. I know that this album is the product of you becoming an independent musician. How did you figure out, when starting down that road, how to operate as an independent musician?
Nick Vivid: I was independent because I wanted to move forward, and no one was giving me a shot on the label front. I didn’t want them to be the reason that I don’t do this. I don’t want to have an excuse to fail. I’ve always kind of had that mindset: I’m not going to let the world dictate whether I have the right to do this with my life. Ever since I started making music, I’ve faced rejection from labels. Then there was that shift, around 2003 and 2004, when social media started taking off, and there was this realization, “Oh, we can do this!” Now we have bands who really are doing it without any label support. It’s inspiring, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
For me, it was a thing where one day I said to myself, “Look, I have one foot in trying to get attention from labels, and one foot in doing it myself, and I gotta commit to one of these directions.” Instead, I decided to choose this path. I needed to be defiant in my choice. I took ownership of it, and I think that really helped. But I really do have a love for all aspects of the business. I love the creative side, but I also love the strategy side of it too and getting ideas about that. Right now, buying ads on Facebook is a big thing to consider, and buying ads on Instagram. But then I realize that big independent labels are using the same tools that I have at my disposal. They have bigger budgets, but they are doing the exact same stuff.
That actually gives me a bit of hope now because the playing field is even in some ways. Even if I was signed to a label, I don’t think I’d get much more opportunity than I get as an independent, and I’d get less creative control. Creative control was a big thing for me, too. I wanted 100% creative control to make it worth doing.
HMS: I agree that the same mechanisms are being used by everyone. Labels have the same anxieties that independent musicians have. It’s no longer a situation of the label gods in their Pantheon, and musicians down on earth.
Nick Vivid: There was also a time where I’d try to guess what they were doing, assuming that they’d think of things differently than me. That turned out not to be true. It’s as much of a crap shoot for them as it is for me.
HMS: It takes a lot of adaptation to take control of things, but personality-wise it seems to suit you.
Nick Vivid: In other aspects of my life, I love seeing things evolve and change, and I think it’s exciting to see things blow up and get rebuilt from scratch, so why wouldn’t I feel the same way about the music business?
HMS: How is it for you when you want to do shows and touring? Do you carry that as an independent musician?
Nick Vivid: I carry 99% of that. I’m not against having booking agents, but they tend to tell me that I’m not ready. I’ve been hearing that my whole life, I don’t know why. I always feel like I am ready, and if I’m not, I’ll figure it out. For touring, I call up clubs. A big thing for me with touring is that I love playing house shows, DIY underground venues, and weird spaces that bands don’t normally play. I call up venues and I call up bands in other cities, striking up friendships with them. That’s how I did my last tour, and some shows had less people, but some shows were great. I think at this point, I’m just grateful to do it. I get to go out and do this stuff. I get to go in a van and drive through Nebraska!
HMS: You even like the driving?
Nick Vivid: I love it. People always say, “It’s going to be a hard road. Are you sure you want to do this, Nick?” But the more I do it, the more I love every aspect of it. The whole thing is just an absolute blast.
HMS: You bring a lot of joy to your music and your performance from what I’ve seen. And the audience is going to pick up on that.
Nick Vivid: I remember some friends of mine were in a band and were playing music that they didn’t even like because they thought it was popular. They were playing festivals, but they were all miserable. If you don’t like the music you’re making, it’s not worth it. The few times I’ve ventured off the creatively connected path, I’ve noticed that.
HMS: Is the kind of music that you make these days difficult to perform live?
Nick Vivid: Yes, my whole show is backing tracks to keep it interesting. I used to play in bands where there was a lot of improvisation for me, but this is different. I need to add things in to keep that excitement level up. I have a light show that’s all synchronized. My vocal cues are all synchronized, especially if there are harmonies or echoes or anything like that. Obviously, I dance around like a maniac to try to keep the audience entertained. Playing environments where anything could go wrong at any moment makes it a little more fun! It seems to work.
HMS: Is your launch event at a skate venue?
Nick Vivid: It’s actually not a skate venue, but a bar that’s themed after skating. I would do it at a skate venue if we had one nearby. This gig’s at an 80’s skate-themed bar, but still a pretty unconventional space since they don’t usually have bands play there pretty often and I get to deck it out the way that I want. They have a claw machine in the game room and I’m going to put some stuffed Nick Vivid merch in there. [Laughs]
HMS: I know that there are specific themes on this album that relate to this recent period in your life. I feel like I can pick up on some of the climate of our times, too. Do you intend certain themes in your work?
Nick Vivid: I try to intend them in a very non-obvious way. The world’s always going through stuff, and certainly, I want people to be able to relate it to what they are going through. But there’s also an aspect, especially when I’m working on lyrics, where I think, “Will these lyrics still work in 20 years?” I don’t want it to be so obvious. I cringe at lyrics that are too obvious. I want to express what I’m personally going through, but I want to do it in a way where other people can also relate in their own lives.
HMS: The song “Hush Money (Straight To The Bribe)” is the one on this album that seems to have bigger implications about the way the world works, but it’s non-specific about a time, really.
Nick Vivid: Yes, and that’s a really personal song about people I’ve known in my life who would try to shortcut their way to solutions. It’s about watching how it worked out for them. It didn’t work out so well in the long run. Again, you can just watch human nature and see these things, and you realize that it’s going on everywhere. Everyone knows someone in their lives who just does everything the wrong way.
HMS: And sometimes it seems to work, and you wonder why. Then, ten years down the road, you see that it actually did not work for them.
Nick Vivid: Right, you almost get jealous of that when they seem to be getting away with it. That’s kind of what that song’s about.
HMS: What about “We Can Ride”? I noticed you used the word “insurrection”, though I know it might have nothing to do with recent history.
Nick Vivid: I wrote that last summer. [Laughs] I knew that as soon as the insurrection happened, people would think I wrote the song about that. First of all, the word rhymed with “forced oppression” and seemed to relate. But “nothing can stop the world turning from how it wants” is saying that no matter how hard I try, nothing is going to stop the world doing what it wants to do. I see a lot of people angry about the world not going their way. I don’t find anger to be a very positive trait. I think, as humans, we have trouble accepting that there’s a lot more out of our control than we care to admit. The song is a commentary on that.
HMS: Is this about how we spend our energy, over there on anger, or over here on something creative?
Nick Vivid: Right, or just in doing some good in the world, or in interacting with the world. I could be walking down the street with a smile on my face, or I could be walking down the street angry. Someone who sees me is going to pick up on that. I’m then sending negative energy to them, or positive energy to them? How am I going to contribute to the world today? I’ve only got that experience to offer people. How am I going to spend that energy? Am I going to uplift them or bring them down?
HMS: The video for “Trainers” gave me a little bit of an idea of how your live shows might be. I really love the color layers used in that video. Did you create those effects yourself?
Nick Vivid: I come up with all kinds of ideas in the studio, but with videos and visual stuff, I only come up with a couple of ideas here and there. I don’t like to repeat myself and I worry about that. But with that one, I was watching an old Siouxsie and the Banshees video for the song “Hong Kong Garden” and it reminded me of those old Beat club shows from Germany in the 70s where they’d have all this psychedelic doubling. I thought, “Why don’t I do something like that? With editing and effects, I can make it interesting.” I thought it turned out pretty good. It’s busy enough, but not too busy.
HMS: The video definitely brings another blast of energy to the music. I listened to the song before watching the video and really felt the intensity increase with the visuals added. It works really well.
Nick Vivid: I love happy accidents where I think something is going to work, but I’m not sure it’s going to work, and then it does.