How does one simply summarize Nick Monaco? I will tell you it is no easy task, but it is a necessary one, for the good of the uninformed, for the good of the dance music lover, and for the good of his fans and people the world over.
"More than a sound, I have an ethos. Sounds come and go, but what is lasting is a theme or idea or core value. I think there is more of an overarching ethos of open mindedness and it has a deep sound." - Nick Monaco
Nick Monaco is a character; a deeply insightful talented producer who, beyond just making beautiful music, seeks to have a lasting positive impression on the world. With releases on Dirtybird, Soul Clap Records and Wolf + Lamb, Nick Monaco has the attention of some of the best labels in dance music. Also, September 8th will see the release of Nick’s awesome album, ‘Mating Call’, a work that I am regarding as quite the creative triumph.
He is an innovative producer and musician all around. Nick is able to rapidly create songs that engage and move you both intellectually and physically (apparently he prefers to make his music very quickly, sometimes within two to three hours). I can testify that Mr. Monaco certainly has a presence, an authenticity to his person and style that are rare in artists, and even more so in general for human beings. Drawing inspiration from deep house, and Soul Clap’s deep for life philosophy wherein it is not merely deep house music as a focus, but producing and working on deep music searching for the deeper cuts, a deeper aesthetic.
What is going on in the wonderful, fun and magical world of Nick Monaco?
Touring now more than ever in my life. Last year and the year before were my first years of stepping into the scene and touring professionally. Soul Clap picked me up, so I was slowly just getting calibrated to that lifestyle, and now after having a couple of years of that under my belt, I am feeling very confident and experienced to where I can have more leeway with myself as an artist, with what I want to achieve, what my mission is.
The album is a big example of that, the summation of my last two years of gathering all of this experience and being around the Crew Love guys, the Wolf + Lamb guys, picking up on their sounds and DJing with them and being exposed to all this new music. I guess you could say it’s like that painting, an explosion that everything that was building up in the last two years.
(You can find this wonderful painting that was sitting behind me during Nick's interview as we drank craft brews at Southern Pacific Brewing in San Francisco)
What can your fans expect from your latest album ‘Mating Call’?
They can expect a personal insight into my world a little bit, my young world. A lot of it is just my voice, me exploring my voice. I have been playing around with it for the last couple of years, never thought of myself as a singer per se, but I really just went for it in this album and basically came out with it in two and a half, three weeks.
You can also hear the evolution of my sound moving forward into different genres, a lot of exploration into my influences like stuff on the more rockier, punk side. I was listening to a lot of early punk when I was making the album. I tried to emulate that aesthetic with a lot of organic sounds, a lot of guitar and drums with my voice on it.
Ultimately I want to challenge people’s understanding of dance music. Traveling around and hearing the soundscape of the clubs right now is uninspiring to be honest. I don’t feel like people are pushing themselves hard enough to be creative and experimental to push this thing forward.
When I look back at people like Arthur Russell and early Masters of Work where they were taking all these different sounds around them, packing it into house. It was a collage of their atmosphere and I feel now people are copying and pasting this g-house stuff, pitching down r’n’b vocals. You hear less of people’s voice, and this album is more of a push for experimentation in dance music.
Hopefully it inspires more younger producers to do that. That’s the aim, it is not me being different and having my own thing. It is to send a message that this is what dance music can be. Be truer to yourself, do not try and sound like a label.
Can you take me through your production process? What is a typical Nick Monaco studio day?
Music happens very fast. I don’t make music often, it comes in little spurts. I try to write everyday a page, three pages a day of just free writing and that jogs my creative flow. Then I will take a few vocal ideas from that/ I will start in that world and I will start digging, sampling old punk songs, disco songs having a beat and vocal idea going. I fill it in, I have a rhodes, sometimes it will be me working out ideas.
I like to keep things simple. I don’t like to over think them, over produce them. A lot of times it will start as a sketch, loop the vocal, repetitive. The more I sit with them the further and further away I get from the moment I created them and that is the most brilliant moment. I want to capture that rather than fill it in with other nonsense. It happens fast and in two or three hours I can be done with a track and then listen to it for two or three weeks tweaking it here and there. If it doesn’t happen quickly, then I am over it.
What are you favorite songs on the album and why?
My favorite honestly is ‘She Got That Fire’ because I am really into dub and reggae right now and I always wanted to make a dub and reggae song. I feel I did the best I could with my voice.
‘Private Practice’ is a good one, I like the aesthetic of ‘Private Practice’ and ‘Freak Flag’. I use the same drum and bass and kick, actually on most of the songs it is a lot of the same sounds. I love how raw they are, I made them in an hour each. They were sketches, vocal explorations that became songs. I think they really capture my process in the studio.
In ‘Freak Flag’ it is very raw, it just starts with me singing and I put the mic in the piano and that is the sound. It is an old piano, actually the Grateful Dead’s piano. I made it in the TRI Studios, Grateful Dead’s studio.
‘Freak Flag is a gay/trans anthem. It is part of a bigger idea that I am campaigning for in the club culture to challenge hypermasculinity in clubs. The origins of house and disco is all gay music. I am not gay, but knowing the history of the music and seeing where it is now, I feel a sense of hypermasculinity in the clubs that feels problematic.
Everything is jacked up and pump it, and there is a lack of femininity in dance music music I am campaigning to restore with ‘Freak Flag’ and ‘I Can’t Breathe Without You’.
From what I understand you are a fan of lipstick and you have started your own brand. What draws you to lipstick? What is going on with your lipstick and its philanthropic aim?
It is a new project that came out of the ‘Freak Flag’ ethos or message. A few years ago I started wearing lipstick at after parties as a funny, silly thing. I got a reaction from guys and girls, “Why are you doing that? You aren’t supposed to be doing that.” It felt oppressive, especially at a party with house and disco, originally gay or trans music. It was the beginning of the idea to start this campaign using the lipstick to promote the idea of diversity in dance clubs and an ode to the beginning of this music.
The philanthropic aim is to go to transsexuals to get sex changes. I think as a dance community we can be better allies to the LGBT community. I think it is going to be called ‘Freak Flag'.
How did you create your performance personalities? Did they evolve or was there a concerted effort on your part define these characters? Essentially, who are they and where did they come from?
There is the ‘Butterfly’ which came from listening to Deee-Lite. I liked the whole innocent aesthetic they had, their album covers are psychedelic with butterflies and dragonflies. They were talking about peace and love and I fell in love, it is charming and whimsical. Also, a complete polar opposite to the dance music I am hearing now which is very pretentious and masculine, dark, especially the last three to five years. House music got kind of dark. The ‘Butterfly’ is a symbol of innocence in the musical sphere. The ‘Butterfly’ had its moment last year with the song ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Naked is my Nature’, the first EP I put out on Soul Clap Records.
‘The Stalker’ is from when I first started getting into touring and partying and getting a bit deeper. He is the sultry sex addicted creep, but in a sexy way.
‘The Maintenance Man’ and I am still trying to figure out who he is. You call him when you are in a jam, he’s reliable, he gets the job done. It also has to do with how I dress when I perform with these jumpers from the seventies with a hat from the seventies and lipstick.
I prefer to see performers when they dress up. It is really exciting for me to look at old videos of Prince or Parliament Funkadelics in their costumes or Bowie. It helps me get into character when I perform to separate the DJ thing from the live thing.
Why are the Hey Young World the best parties around? Any insight you might be able to give us on the secrets to that special sauce?
It has been going on since January so it is pretty new. It is the first time I have thrown a party. My intention with the Hey Young World party is pretty simple, just me and a friend, not just me trying to book someone to fill up the club. It just so happens that my friends are DJs who inspire me.
It helps to have control over the whole night, play a little funk, reggae, and it loosens people up. I picked this up with Soul Clap opening up for them every single night. It taught me how to be a really good opening DJ to set a tone, and it is really important for the opening to DJ, from when you are walking in to set a vibe. The idea of bringing younger people into the fold of older music is my intent to usher in a new generation in San Francisco especially.
Who should we be listening to?
‘Mating Call’ will be released on September 8th via Soul Clap Records!