"I Just Need to Sit Still"—The Making of Nothing_Neue's 'RE: Collections'
Sample free loops, live drums, a mother/son collaboration, and the making of an emotionally complex debut.
Music has always been deeply ingrained in Brooklyn producer Nothing_Neue’s DNA. As a child, he often heard his mother and father practicing songs for their reggae band before he picked up the basics of a drum kit at age eight. Meanwhile, his brother took to playing keys and eventually became a classically trained jazz pianist.
After many years of listening to slow, downtempo reggae sounds provided by his parents, Nothing_Neue’s high school years sparked a desire for faster, more rebellious music. Starting with an exploration of rock n’ roll and later progressing into heavy metal and hardcore, he thought he had successfully separated himself from his family’s tastes and moved into new territory. Then he found out his mother had once been a guitarist in a hardcore band.
Following in their mother’s footsteps, Nothing_Neue and his brother joined forces as part of the five-member New Jersey/New York hardcore band This Isolation in 2012. Accruing valuable experience through years of rehearsals and live shows, he recorded and mixed the band’s 2016 album The Procession before transitioning into a career a solo producer.
Working on music in isolation has given Nothing_Neue a chance to tap into the full spectrum of his emotions, bringing him both pain and joy. Thankfully, the difficult process of opening up to himself and his audience comes with some rewards—a realization he made in the wake of his emotionally raw, sample-free 2018 debut album. “RE: Collections was me really admitting to where I'm hurt,” he says. “As a Black man it's always intimidating to let people know your vulnerabilities, but in doing it I was able to allow others to feel the same.”
In a reversal of sorts, the album’s resonant opening tracks “Impulse” and “Response” came to fruition during the final week of recording—a period of creativity that was heavily influenced by seeing Flying Lotus live and dealing with the unexpected hospitalization of his father. Eager to find the right sounds to capture his complex feelings at the time, he set about distilling the moment into a recording. Initial attempts proved difficult despite his best efforts. “I started writing the drums and keys for a response and couldn't figure out where else to take it,” he says.
At a creative impasse, he switched up his recording process by sending MIDI notes to his hardware synths before recording them back into Ableton. As he tinkered with his setup, Nothing_Neue sent a specific chord progression to one of his synths by accident. Though the sound was a mistake, it hit the right emotional notes that he’d been previously unable to find. “It was set to this big warm spacey pad sound and I had never heard anything like it before,” he says. “I muted everything and just let that sound play out in the basement where I would work on music. Something about it made me wanna drum.”
With the warm synth sounds for “Impulse” in place, Nothing_Neue laid down a short, powerful drum set in his parent’s basement that gave him the necessary percussion to complete the song. “I played along for a little bit and then decided that I was gonna give myself about three minutes worth of playing time and just record it all in one take,” he says.
Reflecting on the opening cuts for RE: Collections two years later, he now sees each one as its own unique rumination on the hardships he had to deal with as he wrapped up his first solo album. “‘Impulse’ represents my initial reaction to trauma and pain, that's why it’s so visceral,” he says. “And ‘Response’ is the response to the pain, that’s why that beat is so loud and energetic.”
While the album’s lead tracks were informed by pain, “CouldBeMe” was born out of uncertainty. “I was waiting on a lot of answers in my romantic life, my personal life, and my career,” he says.
As he awaited answers, the end of a long work day provided the perfect setting for embracing his opaque future. Nothing_Neue’s willingness to accept the unknown for a moment eventually turned into a standout track on RE: Collections. “I had come home from work without an inkling of an idea I just let myself go,” he says. “I saved it as ‘CouldBeMe’ because I thought, ‘Maybe I’m overthinking everything. I just need to sit still.’”
Though Nothing_Neue works primarily as a solo artist, he wasn’t opposed to making “CouldBeMe” a family affair. The track features both him and his mother adding their own guitar parts to the unique blend of sounds, marking the first time they recorded something together. “I'm not a guitarist,” he says. “I played the little lead line that repeats throughout. My mom plays guitar, so she played some acoustic guitars to back up the synth guitar that makes up most of the song.”
With the exception of a few bits of guest instrumentation, the vast majority of the compositions on RE: Collections started out as self-made samples that Nothing_Neue created before fleshing them out into a complete tracks at a later time. “Those were all loops I made with synths and sounds,” he says. “Sometimes I'd record them using placeholder sounds, but a lot of the time what you're getting on record was done right in the moment and then arranged into songs.”
One such loop was laid down in haste right before Nothing_Neue went out to a Teebs show. When he revisited the sequence later and started turning it into a finalized song, it proved the perfect place to close out the album.
In addition to to tying the record together, “Re:Solved” also felt like a good musical representation of his complicated and difficult relationship with his father, something that is expressed at various points throughout the project. Though the track represents a point of acceptance, it remains difficult for him to revisit as a listener. “I think of my dad when I play it,” he says. “It makes me miss the relationship we had and it strikes a nerve every time.”
Several listeners have since told Nothing_Neue that the openness and honesty captured in his RE: Collections compositions helped them through their own trials and tribulations. In the aftermath of producing such a personal first effort, he has since moved on to the more sample heavy Foreign+familiar and the brief but engrossing EXPANSION EP.
And on June 20th, 2020, he self-released his latest LP Amani. The album is another step in his quest to find a place a peace through music—a journey he seems to be embracing.
Thanks for reading, see you on Friday!