The Year Through The Eyes Of Nicholson
Though he’s only recently ingratiated himself in the Indian circuit, 28-year-old Sohrab Nicholson is as wary asmostexperienced artists his age tend to be – he’s explicit about which parts of our conversation are off record and which are off limits completely.
These could include the management he’s had since the inception of Nicholson (and his current status when it comes to the business side of things) or his production process and whether he knows his way around DAWs (he knows his way around Logic and when he’s done putting down his ideas, Rohan Ramanna, the project’s low-key producer who also plays drums for the live act, works his part; “but I’d much rather you didn’t discuss the process, it kills the magic”).
“I now prefer doing interviews via email,” he admits, “because so many of mine that I’ve read just misquote me.”
Sohrab’s a trained musician (a four year undergraduate degree in jazz piano performance in Nova Scotia – “music school definitely gave me certain tools for songwriting,” he tells me), which, perhaps, goes some way toward explaining this. Today, Nicholson (consisting of Sohrab and Rohan) seems to inhabit a correct space at the correct time; in the genre-irreverent 2014, this means the duo plugs several small but essential gaps at once.
“Nicholson happened because a friend of mine mentioned that Cotton Press Studio was doing good independent work, so I met with the partners at the studio, two of whom (the Dirty Jays duo, Stuart DaCosta and JehangirJehangir) now join the act for live sets. The other partner was Rohan,” he remembers, “and there’s no Nicholson without Rohan’s amazing ideas. I played them some of my material, then Rohan and I got talking about what we could potentially do with it, what direction to take. There’s definitely an undertone of a certain jazz sensibility we both share which lends itself to the music now, I think.
This all happened, of course, organically and over a period of time. We’ve all become very close friends in the process. What makes the live act comfortable, in fact, is these people I play with – I couldn’t ask for better musicians to share the stage for a live show. Other than collaborations, for Nicholson, I imagine we’ll stay the same team of people for a while. It helps,” he adds, “that we like each other.”
By all accounts, his hushed voice adheres to its memorable studio standard even in a live setting. “I still get pretty nervous before going on stage, but once we start playing it eases up. The show is meant to be a fairly different experience from listening to the EP. I wanted to write a studio album that was a good listen and then take the material and turn it on its head. That’s what Nicholson is about, live.”
Sohrab’s voice, not dictated so much by range as by restraint, is undeniably Nicholson’s most visible component: the man is just as likely to fill your ears with claustrophobic layers of a thick falsetto as with a wide-eyed, syrupy earnestness. Over the course of their two EP releases so far, Nicholson have made sure we know this. While his composition sometimes shows signs of clinging to sincerity of the sort usually associated with ‘conventional’ acoustic singer-songwriters, Sohrab has used his year well and slipped through the stereotype.
“Essentially, we’re making electronic music in a singer-songwriter format. The idea is to expose people to other kinds of electronic music than dance music.”
Though the statement is a broad brush-stroke that paints carefully over any possibility of pigeon-holing, this ambiguous habitat is one Nicholson seem comfortable in during these early months of their project. Whether it’s adopting an R&B lilt to striking effect on ‘For What II’ or carrying brightly produced pop like ‘Slybounce’ with ease, Sohrab has – consciously or otherwise – showcased an impressive diversity that leaks (as modern format seems to dictate it ought to) beyond his formal releases and into collaboration. To him, it’s “the best way to grow – you learn so much from working with different people.”
Since Nicholson’s stretching in so many directions, I’m worried it’d be a misstep if they modified their sound simply to succumb to the dance sub-genres that are more palatable in the modern scene, and tell Sohrab as much.
“I’m not a dance music producer,” he assures me. “I might like to make some dance music, perhaps at a later stage. I don’t want to restrict myself or force myself to write a particular kind of music to fill a club. That’s not what this is about. We can’t gauge what the audience wants on the outside. As musicians, we make the music we make and then put it out, what happens after isn’t in our hands. I have to write what I write, and if people respond positively, they do. I don’t adhere to a format and I’m not genre specific, but everyone can’t make UK bass music.”
As for Nicholson fitting into the current circuit, “I don’t know that it does, but I guess one can always make room. I think things are changing here. People are a little more open than they were a few years ago,” he says. “Listen to Bon Iver, it packs stadiums. ”
He punctuates this with a simple advice so many artists find themselves abandoning. “There’s no rules.”
I interviewed Sohrab about his new EP, the interesting sophomore addition to his repertoire. Although the release is short – running a little over ten minutes – its freeform shiner, ‘With All’, and ‘For What II’, a thematic continuation to his last EP, add enough value that it merits constant and repeat mining.
BM: Tell us about this EP.
SN: This EP’s sort of an extension of my first. It’s a lot more reflective of the live sound Nicholson has now.
BM: In what way?
SN: Well, some of the material has been rearranged – there’s one new song that sort of ties the whole story together. It’s like a tying a bow at the end of the past release – that felt slightly incomplete in a sense, to me at least. I hadn’t fully said what I wanted to. I felt like I needed to do this before I started writing an entire album. I’m starting to play with a lot more electronic sounds – in a non-dance music context, of course.
BM: So a stylistic similarity exists between this and the previous EP.
SN: I don’t know, the sound has naturally progressed to what it sounds like live. When I wrote the first EP, I worked with session musicians, and it was more organic in its approach. The mood is similar, but stylistically, in fact, I’d say it’s a little different. I work with the same three people who are in my live band- so naturally it has some Dirty Jays stuff in there that wasn’t, prior.
BM: Is this part of a planned departure in your coming album? Have you planned anything about it at all, really?
SN: I haven’t and don’t really plan much. Putting deadlines on things doesn’t really work for me. I’ll put it out when it’s ready.
BM: You’ve released quite a few music videos already.
SN: The latest is the second video off the new EP, ‘For What II’. It’s a beaut, shot and directed by Sachin Pillai. The video itself is pretty raw and intimate, it might make some people uncomfortable. But that’s okay.
BM: As a newcomer, do you feel like the constant marketing (be it making videos or looking for bookings) expected in the current scene detracts from your actual music-making experience? Or that, in the current agency driven market, it gets more difficult to focus on the art itself?
SN: I pay no attention to any of it to be honest. I don’t have representation at the moment, so it’s been nice to just take my time and put out music I want to without any interference – although I’m sure a manager would make my life easier and free up a lot more time for me to write. At such an early stage, I think it’s more imperative for me to figure out what it is that I want to sound like. As for the videos, they’ve been entirely driven by passion and we haven’t, in any way, thought of them as a marketing tool. To answer the question, no, I don’t think it’s distracting: if anything, I’m learning from doing it on my own. I’m learning from stumbling.
written by Tej Haldule