Let’s start by telling how honored I feel for having you. You’re like an aura, an energy. We know you exist but we just don’t see you!
Please tell me when did you decide to make music and what triggered it.
Thank you, what a lovely comparison, it makes me sound far more mysterious than I am. I don’t remember specifically when I decided to make music, but I think the subconscious desire was always there. When I was younger, my imagination was fuelled by fairy tales and magic, and I loved writing stories where I could create fantastical, immersive worlds. Music seemed like a natural extension. It held more tools for creation. I’m forever curious about other artforms and I often think, ‘would I be any good at that? How can I tell a story through that medium?’ and then I give it a go. If you’re a creative person then chances are you have talent in more than one of the arts, it’s just about developing that skill. My development came from the discovery of musicians like Björk and Patrick Wolf, colourful weirdos with strange arrangements and vivid lyrics. I also found a series of vlogs Imogen Heap filmed whilst recording her album ‘Ellipse.’ As a teenager who felt a bit of a place, I connected to them. These artists were creating worlds just like I wanted to. Their music was a safe place for me, it made me feel less lonely and inspired me to start composing. I was only Grade 1 piano, so I had to practice every day to even get close to where I wanted to be. I downloaded a free music editing software and recorded my keyboard, Korg Kaossilator and collection of percussion instruments through the computer microphone to make demos. A real bedroom musician. They were terrible little electronic songs at first, but it’s what set the wheels into motion. It wasn’t until I took singing lessons and met my first boyfriend that I began taking music seriously.
My first contact with your music was the album you created under ‘Kiddo Rose’. What did it represent and how come it got withdrawn from all streaming platforms?
The ‘Kiddo Rose’ albums represented an artist in the infancy of musical experimentation. ‘Kiddo’ to signify an exciting, colourful, ever-growing approach, and ‘Rose’ to symbolise the more sophisticated, pastoral elements. There’s beauty in the juxtaposition of the synthetic and the natural, and the aim was to encapsulate that in sound, whilst exploring themes of identity and communication in relationships. The people I was writing about on ‘Petrichor’ and ‘Hamartia’ were incredibly talented artists in their chosen fields, and their influence is all over those records. Despite the turbulence, I’m grateful to have observed their creative processes. It made me reevaluate what I knew, and I was able to wade through their unique approaches, cherry picking techniques to apply to my own work. ‘Hamartia’ was my ‘being brave’ album, incorporating a lot of diverse inspirations. It was a huge learning curve and lay the groundwork for a lot of what I’m doing now. To be completely honest, I removed them from streaming services due to financial issues. You pay far more to host your music than you earn unless you happen to be an extremely popular artist. Lacking a consistent income to supplement the fees really impedes your progress. I don’t record music to make money, but it’s sadly integral to a successful career. I prefer Bandcamp because of its immediate connection to the people who enjoy your music. You have far more control and can set your own price. If people appreciate the work, they have the option to buy it, and pay more should they wish.
I’ve cried multiple times over your song ‘Chlorine’, part of the titular EP you released in 2020. How did this come to life and what was the inspiration behind it?
Without wishing to sound sadistic, I love that reaction. It’s heartwarming to know that my work isn’t only therapeutic to write, but cathartic to listen to. ‘Chlorine’, as with many of my songs, had its beginnings in something else entirely. In 2013 I was planning a multimedia piece that never entered production. The ideology behind ‘Chlorine’ felt so pertinent that with each new project I tried to shoehorn it in, which was never successful. Going swimming again last year was when I knew it was time to write the song. There’s something about being immersed in water alongside that distinctive smell of swimming pools that makes me feel serene. It coincided with the realisation that I was quite happy being single, and the two ideas merged perfectly. I’m particularly proud of this song because the production is precisely how I envisioned. The best ideas will always find their time to bloom.
Your vocals are sublime to my picky ears. When did you realize you have this in you and how much practice did it take to reach this balance of a deeply trained, robust voice while heart-wrenching at the same time? Are you training consistently?
That’s very kind of you to say, thank you. I only took singing seriously when I decided to pursue a career on stage, and I needed to be able to do more than act. I was trained by an opera singer and most of my repertoire was musical theatre. Those songs taught me how to sing a story whilst keeping technique paramount. I knew my voice was developing well, but it wasn’t until my first concert that I realised there was more to it. For someone who lacks self-confidence, seeing people cry whilst you sing and then offering such nice compliments afterwards can be quite overwhelming. I didn’t understand it, and they didn’t understand how my singing voice was much deeper than my speaking voice. That still happens, I love that though, there’s a power in subverting expectations. I was bullied a lot at school for being gay and for my stereotypically ‘camp’ voice.
People would ask me to speak just so they could laugh at me. You can imagine the immense gratification I felt when I first sang at the school talent show. The next day it was like being famous. I was very flattered and very embarrassed. What was amusing was that those who disparaged my voice were now the one’s praising it. Ignorant minds often work like that.
Singing’s a huge exhale of emotion. With my own material particularly, I can judge when to accentuate phrases, where to imbue emotion and what part of my voice will suit which sections. Maybe that’s why people have such a kind reaction to it? I’m a Pisces and an INFP, so I’m quite a sensitive being. I do some exercises. My voice has changed a lot in the last ten years, so I should have taken better care of it, but lessons began to feel restrictive. It’s good to have the technical groundwork, but half the fun is reveling in what your voice can do without having to confine your natural expression. Teachers at University really wanted me to be the front man of an indie band. I’m not massively receptive to people telling me what to do when it comes to my artistic output, I find it boring. Maybe I would have been good as a front man, but I prefer things to flow organically.
You are a great lyricist and singer. What else are you ‘in charge of’ and how would you describe the creative process as an independent artist?
I really appreciate you saying that as I take a lot of pride in my lyrics. I consider myself a writer first and foremost. Solitude is preferred when I’m writing, thus 95% of what I’ve released has been written by me on the piano, autoharp, or harmonium. Usually, I operate under an overarching concept, which is then thoroughly researched to help inform song themes, titles, and lyrics. The next step is to choose an instrument and find chords that somewhat match the colour scheme that’s forming in my head. I’ll play around with production ideas on my keyboard as I like to have a relatively solid plan before I go to the studio. Olli, my producer, is a talented musician and incredibly intuitive, knowing what I want even before I do. I trust his judgement, but I’m quite insistent on a certain sound. I like to feel that I’ve crafted as much of the final product as possible, playing the instruments, composing new parts etc. but I tend to hand Olli the guitars, drums, and extra flourishes. With this new work, I’d like to exert even more control and take more care over each track, rather than being concerned that I must do as much in as little time as possible.
The absence between your projects is almost painful. Are you staying involved with music even when we don’t see it? Are you expressing yourself through other ways too?
If I had my way, I would be releasing something every few months, but it’s just not viable. I hope people feel that the wait is worth it. I endeavor to write every day. My writing implements are good incentives for this, my piano and most of my treasured notebooks and pens were gifted to me by my parents and my sister, which makes the process even more special. I’m currently working under the moniker ‘Augustus Leander’. It’s a change of style, more conceptual, and I’ve challenged myself to forgo solely personal experiences to write about a plethora of interesting characters and situations. It feels very freeing. I’m concentrating on getting my poetry published mainly, with hopes of recording spoken word albums to accompany the collections. After that there’ll be a more ‘traditional’ album released. Well, the first part of it.
Have you realized the potential impact of your work on people’s hearts when you release it into the world?
This is a very sweet question, one that’s quite difficult to answer. All I hope for when I release music is that people connect to it. I want to make art that is true to who I am, that is interesting, that offers an escape and provides solace. If you write with truth, and with passion, then there will always be at least one person out there who appreciates it. When ‘Petrichor’ came out, people told me they listened to it to cry to, and some told me they used it to help them sleep. On the surface that could sound like an insult, but I see it as quite intimate. You sleep to music that feels safe or has an impact on you, and if that’s what my music and voice makes you feel, I’m honoured.
Are there artists/influences that have formed your style in any way, lyrically, musically, or even visually? Also, what are you currently listening?
I feel a strong connection to Romanticism, its philosophy regarding emotions, nature, and the self, and I especially love the poetry and music produced during this movement. These principles have informed my style a fair bit, even in the way I sometimes like to dress. Each new piece brings with it a few main reference points. For both my current poetry collection and the first part of the ‘traditional’ album, I’m listening to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Turbulent Indigo’, Beach House’s ‘Depression Cherry’ and Vashti Bunyan’s ‘Heartleap’, whilst reading Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’, Patti Smith’s ‘Woolgathering’ and William Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and of Experience.’ For my next piece, I’m researching modernist and symbolist writers, alongside Impressionism in music.
Regarding overall influences, Leona Lewis was probably the first artist that made a huge impact on me. Her voice and musicality are beautiful. Sometimes I like to imagine writing for her. I still think her album ‘Glassheart’ is criminally underrated. Kate Bush, Bjork, Leonard Cohen, Nico etc., all the distinctive musicians I adore. Music must evoke a strong visual for me to be invested in it.
The pandemic has affected almost everyone in one way or another. How do you believe this new ‘normal’, at least for now, will affect the music industry and arts in general?
In many ways the pandemic has encouraged self-sufficiency. Artists are now taking on a multitude of other roles concerning their art. It’s allowed them to explore different creative avenues, improve on existing skills or learn new ones. For me, not being able to visit the studio as soon as I have written a song has forced me to sit with the song for longer, analyse it and make changes, helping it morph into something far more complex and thought provoking. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling more inclined to reach out for online collaborations, and I see many of my friends producing some fabulous online content from their own homes. It’s a stimulating time in that respect. Of course, I’m entirely aware of how awful it has been for theatres, touring bands etc., and I sincerely hope that when the time comes, we are able to get back to normal with all of that. People are desperate to see live music and experience that atmosphere again. Even with this online creativity, nothing beats seeing a band in real life.
Are there plans for new releases in 2021?
Musically, I don’t think there will be. I think my poetry will be released first, although I wouldn’t be able to say when. I do have my talented friend Kat, who designed the beautiful covers of the ‘Kiddo Rose’ albums, on standby for when the first ‘Augustus Leander’ project is complete. Keep your fingers crossed, perhaps it will be sooner than any of us think!
Do you have a vision of Nicholas in 10 years from now?
Ideally, I would love to be working behind the scenes as a songwriter for other artists, whilst still releasing my own projects now and then. Being centre of attention isn’t really my thing. Realistically, I just want to be settled and happy with a little job that allows me enough time to be creative. What more could a person want?
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