South African-born, LA-based artist Nick Leng today released a new song, ‘Easy‘ which appears on his album ‘Spirals’ out on 22 July via SOTA.
Backseat Mafia was lucky enough to speak to Leng about his music.
You were born in South Africa and are now based in L.A. can you tell us a bit about your upbringing in South Africa? Were you born there? Where did you live?
I was born in Johannesburg ! My whole family was born in South Africa and most of the extended family is still there. Lived there for first 9 years of my life then moved to Northern California where was homeschooled until senior year of high school.
Has your music been influenced at all by your upbringing in Africa? If it has, are you able to elaborate on how?
I think my parents and the music that was playing in my home had a big influence on me. I was so young that I don’t think I had much of an opportunity to tap into the music culture there, beyond growing up on some South African folk songs and such.
Do you have any favourite South African musicians that inspired you? And how about other musicians (non South African) that have been an inspiration?
I’m influenced by all types of music, but mostly things that are far away from music that I’m making . For instance there might be some chords or emotion in a classical record that I might insert into something I’m working on. Or perhaps an interesting decision someone might make on a record that I’ll adopt, in my own way, on my own records. Lately I’ve actually been listening to a lot of house music. I’ve been oscillating between that and some Liszt and Ravel.
Do you still visit South Africa?
Periodically to see family. I’m dying to play shows over there.
You are a classically-trained musician and then at the age of 12 started playing in a band with your dad-how did that come about? Did you insist on being in his band or did he recognise that he had a genius on his hands?
I was obsessed with the piano and keyboard, and my dad was playing with his friends. Playing in his band came about very naturally actually. I have a distinct memory of him teaching me one of the songs from the band and saying I should come on stage and play it with them. When the song started playing, my dad stood by, telling me which chords to play. I fumbled around and got through the set.
I’m grateful for playing with him because it taught me how to use my ears and explore the notes, as well as apply the techniques I was learning from classical piano classes.
Your previous album, ‘Lemons’ was about loss, and I believe that ‘Spirals’ was also written during a difficult period of your life that involved living in a trailer in LA’s Topanga Canyon.
This album took me through so many interesting living situations. The genesis was at the start of the pandemic, living in Northern California with my family. My first move back to LA was this trailer in Topanga. It was a really beautiful chapter. A majority of the time I had no internet or wifi and my music gear was all over the place. This environment allowed me to tune out from the outside world. After Topanga, I moved two more times while working on the album. At that point, most of the songs were already conceived so the next living situations just gave me a new environment to finish the album.
Your videos are awesome, I especially like the one for ‘One More Time’ with its beautiful analogue feel, are you involved in the creative process for your videos at all, or do you leave the up to the director?
When a song comes about I usually have a specific director in mind. If not, I’ll go hunting for someone who can capture what I’m trying to do for the specific song. For instance, with my music video from LEMONS, ‘In a Book (Back to Me)’ I flew my friend out from Berlin because I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. I love being heavily involved in the creative and process.
Do you have a defined process for writing your songs e.g. write the lyrics first or is each song born differently?
It’s different each time, but I often find the music coming before the lyrics. I find it easiest when I can create a fingerprint texture or sound and then build around that.
I have read that you have synaesthesia, could you explain your experience of this to our readers?
I don’t think I have actual synaesthesia, but I do heavily associate textures or colors with songs. Like for the song Spirals, someone with actual synaesthesia might see something different from what the cover is, but for some reason, those yellows and reds just FEEL like what the album sounds like to me.
I really love the cover art for the ‘Spirals’ album, can you tell us a little bit about it?
This was quite a long process for me. I had these incredible photos done by Bjarne and Takata in New York, as well as trying out some graphic designers, but I really felt that this album felt like more of an oil painting then a photo of myself. I had been a fan of Andrzej Mazur, for years. He has such an amazing way of painting something which feels Victorian and elegant, but in such a tasteful way that makes it feel modern. When I stumbled upon his art again on Instagram, I was pinching myself with excitement because of how perfect his art worked with the album. We spoke over the phone and he was so kind as to license me one of his works for the Album!
In an interview you said that you fell in love with making music again whilst writing ‘Spirals’, what made you fall out of love with music in the first place?
It’s been quite a strange journey with music, while trying to also manage mental health and anxiety. LA can be a tricky place for an artist; there are lots of external pressures which can turn internal pretty easily. It took a lot of work (and getting off the grid in Topanga) to find the love again.
You did quite an extensive tour of America in April and May, are there any plans to extend this to other countries?
That’s the dream!
Thanks Nick! That’s our dream too!
‘Easy’ is a hauntingly beautiful song that starts off with a sparse acoustic vibe. As the orchestration builds, it evolves into a dreamy, floaty and intoxicating track reminiscent of electronic pop of the late 2000s. It’s perhaps what would have happened if Empire Of The Sun had remixed the Eagles’ classic ‘Take It Easy’. The track demonstrates Leng’s uncanny ability to draw on diverse sources for inspiration and to then conjure up music that is startlingly modern and yet somehow tinged with nostalgic hues.
Stream ‘Easy’ HERE.
Pre-save Spirals HERE.
‘Spirals’ – Tracklisting:
- Forget About Me
- Two Birds
- My Mind is a Mess in the Morning
- Midnight (Reasonable Guy)
- Coffee and Fruit
- Pull Over
- Glisten by the Wind
- Goodbye my Friends