Catch up with singer-songwriter Nick Blaemire and listen to his single "Coffee & Wine" ft. Daniel J. Watts off his forthcoming EP, The Ampersand, out soon.
What got you interested in music and songwriting?
Nick: I never really reacted to anything else. From when I was a kid to all the way up, I feel like I look at people who are in nine-to-five jobs and trying to crack the American Dream and it always felt like they were depriving themselves of the meaning of life in a lot of ways - which I find to be in music and the idea of the study of humanities through the way they express themselves. I tried to figure out how to do something more stable, because clearly the music business is not a stable industry [laughs] but it is an incredibly fulfilling art and it's one I'm totallly addicted to.
Do you remember the first song you wrote that you were really happy with?
[Laughs] Yeah, when I was like 14 I had a favorite pair of jeans and I had really worn them and my mom and I had stitched them up a couple times and it just wasn't working anymore, so I wrote a song that was called "The Funeral" to my favorite pair of jeans and it was my first grappling with loss. It actually happened at a time when a family friend of ours had passed away and I realized I was writing about that through this funny lens and the idea of hiding stuff that I'm really feeling in another seemingly odd subject matter really interested me. Burying the lead and writing unsuspecting songs is something that I'm still trying to do today and I remember doing that by accident when I was 14 and being like, "oh, that's interesting," and then starting to see that other people have been doing that forever [laughs]. But I discovered it then. With my jeans.
Which musicians would you say you've been influenced by?
Oh man, so many. I grew up on Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen; Bruce Springsteen is a huge influence on my dad who's a drummer. The Beatles were huge growing up. I started branching out a little bit and when I got to 5th or 6th grade I started buying my own tapes and Green Day's Dookie was my first tape and then I got into Weezer and got into the punk rock thing for a little while. Then I moved back into modern pop in the late '90s and found my love of pop music that is as smartly constructed as The Beatles' songs. I got into the idea of R&B and the way that The Beatles came from R&B and the way that R&B has influenced everything that's on the radio in some way. Lately I've been listening to a lot more stuff that clearly connects those two in the form of The 1975; Chance the Rapper; I love Flume; Madaila is another band that does a really good job of bridging the rock/pop/R&B spectrum. I love music that defies its categories and fights the brandings that the business tries to put on it. Over the past month I've gotten really into Madaila and Flume and it's that feeling when you find a new artist you really love and you're like, "how did I survive without them until this point?" and it's a really great feeling.
Other than them, is there anyone you'd recommend everyone take a listen to?
There's a ton. A ton, a ton, a ton. Besides those guys - and Chance the Rapper doesn't need my help at all - I'm also a big fan of this band I Fight Dragons that is a power pop punk band that my friend Brian is in and I've always loved them. Actually Packy Lundholm is one of the producers on my EP and part of the reason why I wanted to work with him is because of his work with I Fight Dragons which is like nerd pop punk; they use Nintendo sounds to do stuff in their music and their songs are super rad, so I love them. I love The Limousines, they have a song called "Very Busy People" that I've definitely worn out. I love the new Bon Iver album very much. Faded Paper Figures is another band that I really love. Gavin Castleton is a total virtuoso. This guy Sampha is an R&B artist who I think is amazing; he wrote a song called "(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano" and it's just the best image ever. So many songwriters can identify with the idea that the songs that you write in your parents' house and how those are just a bit more close to who you might be than the ones that you write drunk in a studio some night.
Which words would you use to describe your sound to someone who hadn't heard your music?
I feel like nerd soul is probably the best way to describe it. I definitely don't take myself very seriously when it comes to the image the music projects and so I'm writing about the underdog and it's sort of like if Anthony Michael Hall morphed with Justin Timberlake.
Has your Broadway work influenced your sound?
I feel like it's all stories at the end of the day so I definitely don't think of myself as a Broadway performer or a musician as much as I do like a guy who's making stuff, it's just whichever venue I'm in at the time. I do think that I sort of write pop music to get away from theater in that there's something about pop writing that can be a little bit less specific and be, lyrically, a little more impressionistic and I like that feeling a lot. I also really like focusing on my relationship with the musicians that I'm playing with which is something that, in theater, especially when you're doing a Broadway show as an actor, if you're thinking about the band, you're not doing the job that you got paid to do, which is to tell the story of the character you're playing. In pop music, it's the absolute best part to be on stage with a band of musicians you respect and listening to the choices they're making and the way that they're coming together in that specific moment, it's all about that. I certainly do make pop music to scratch that itch.
What were your inspirations behind your new single "Coffee & Wine"?
I'm starting to realize how obsessed we all are with external forces on our demeanors, like looking at our phones all the time, and it's just not a surprise to me that people become addicted to stuff because of the dopamine rush that we get from introducing these synthetic things into our natural life and coffee and wine are two that I find myself around all the time. I drink coffee every morning and we drink wine a lot in our house and I smoke pot and I like these things as an artist because they change my frame of reference ever so slightly, but I see the danger in them and I see the danger, societally, in the way that we just accept those addictions. It's not really an indictment of that, but it's an exploration of how I feel about being somebody who's sort of part of that societal addiction. Working with Daniel Watts on that song was such a wonderful experience because he brought a different perspective to that same subject and he plays a different character in the song: whereas where I'm coming from is more thematic and he describes a day in the life of his experience with outside chemicals.
Is that single indicative of what we can expect to hear on your EP and could you tell us more about The Ampersand?
Yeah, I think it is indicative. I am trying to deconstruct as many subjects as I can and focus on the things that are really on my mind lately. The idea of the ampersand is the ultimate collaborative symbol; it just intrinsically means that you're combining two things. So while my name is on the front of it, there's no way that this would have gotten made without the people who played on it, the people who collaborated and produced it with me, and the people that I wrote about. A lot of these songs are about my wife who is the ultimate ampersand in my life and I tried to do that from as drastically different angles, from song to song, as I could. It's a bit of an ADD stylistic experience and then there's stuff that pulls it together and we try to find thematic strains that made it feel like one EP and one sonic experience; those are my favorite kind of albums, the ones that you have to listen through. But hopefully the songs stand alone, as well.
Do you have one song off the EP you'd call your favorite?
It changes. I really love this song called "Trees" that Jo Lampert sings with me on the album. I love it because it's talking about the stuff that I'm talking about in "Coffee & Wine" from, again, a different angle. In terms of my musical ability, I'm constantly trying to grow and acknowledge my weaknesses and find new sounds within the palette that I'm able to find on a piano or a guitar and that was a song that really came alive in the studio. I liked the top a lot and what it was about but I hadn't found the way that it should feel in terms of the arrangement and it was such a collaboration - again, ampersand times a million - that we came up with a bunch of arrangement stuff in Chicago and we were tracking the arrangement with this amazing band that Packy put together; and then in New York where we mixed the album, our other producer Chris Leon came up with a bunch of different production ideas of how to add spice to what Packy had already laid down and all of that was built on these core ideas that I had had alone in my room a long time ago. It just became this thing that I could never ever come up with on my own and yet it's exactly what I had in my head in some way. I just love that, that that's possible and that, through collaboration, you actually reach more of yourself than you can by yourself.
How would you sum up The Ampersand EP in one sentence?
It's about collaboration in all the different kinds.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I hope people are able to zoom out a little bit because of it. I think we get pretty myopic, especially these days, and it's easy to do that - I know I do it, too. Part of the reason I make music is to go on that experience with the audience to just remind myself - and ourselves - that we are in a very strange, hilarious situation, being human beings stuck on this planet, and how miraculous and funny it all is. Hopefully, these songs can do a little bit of work to widening perspectives.
Is there anything you want to add?
I'm playing a gig with my band at C'mon Everybody which is a club in Brooklyn on Franklin Avenue. Great club, we're playing there on St. Patrick's Day - Friday the 17th of March - at 8:30.