When I first met Nick Zanca, better known as Mister Lies, I wanted to hate him. Sitting at the same table for Family Weekend at Columbia College Chicago together, we shared conversation about our background and what we were going to school for. At first, Nick came off in your face and a bit over the top. What I originally took as something off-putting about his personality -I later learned was just symptomatic of his undying passion to create and express himself. Since meeting, Nick and I have become good friends: often asking for each other’s opinion in music, writing, etc. It’s only natural that, for my first real published interview, I do it with the artist I’ve had the pleasure of watching grow in front of my very eyes. He just released his second album, Shadow, at the end of October on Orchid Tapes and it is a hell of a project. I got a chance to catch up with Nick and chat about the new album, his new live show, and everything in between recently at his show at The Beat Kitchen.
Did you have the band in mind while you were making Shadow?
I did. The whole thing came from this idea from when I was touring with Mowgli, I was becoming very bored of being a one man operation. There’s only so much you can do with that. By the forth or fifth date I was doing it in my sleep. I was craving a lot of spontaneity live and looking for a family unit by doing a road tour and things like that. Those two things are really what are responsible for the albums existence. I love that I can bring a guy like Steven in who’s a jazz trained guitarist and he can go in on the track as opposed to what I would do. I was a little nervous getting into it at first because I haven’t been in a live band since I was like 17 and have become a little bit obsessed with my own power. But we all tend to get comments that we’re doing so much up there and it’s a very equal division of duties. It’s a lot of multi tasking.
Have you guys played before this?
No, actually I met both online. Steven on Craigslist and Tyler (bass/DJ) on Twitter. I made a decision when I was putting the band together I wouldn’t work with any friends because a. most of my friends have things of their own their working on and touring for and b. because I wanted to establish a new posse and kind of force myself to step out of my comfort zone a bit. A new adventure.
How was the labor of adding vocals to your music? Was it natural or did you have to change your style?
It’s always been my intention to sing on this project. I’ve been writing songs in the traditional sense far before making songs on Ableton. I hesitated on it for a while because I thought I had nothing to write about at the time. After Mowgli was released, a bunch of amazing and also devastating shit started happening to me and that was kind of the basis. Adding vocals wasn’t difficult in the studio but live I am still getting used to the nakedness of singing in front of a crowd, which is something I haven’t done since like theater in high school.
Man, I know about that. Well all the times you talked to me about where you were trying to take Mister Lies, I get the feeling this is as close to the music you’ve always wanted to make?
Absolutely. If it’s not that, it’s certainly the closest thing I’ll ever get to it. The greatest part of being a musician is sonic growth never stops, or doesn’t until you want it to. If you look at Kanye West, you wouldn’t expect the dude who made ‘I’m In It’ from the guy who made something as rudimentary as “Through the Wire”. It’s very much a shift for me. It can really change on the daily.
So when you started, it was very much bedroom producer type music out of your dorm room but then you did something very bold and, instead of riding that lane, used your success from that to grow even more.
I wouldn’t necessarily say I abandoned that because that gives off the vibe that I don’t care about the fans that love me for “False Astronomy” of “Cleam”. I know other artists who look at their old work and say, “that’s not me, it’ll never be me again”. Yes it is music I made in my dorm room when I was 18 but it’s a stepping stone and considering those were really my first experiments with producing and I just happened to get it right for the first time, it was (at the risk of a cliché) being at the right place at the right time. Meeting Rafa Alvarez (Different Sleep) and someone like Tyler Andere (Portals) really set everything in motion.
How have you changed in how you write and make your music since those days of sitting in your Columbia College dorm, producing songs?
The process changes based on where I am and the conditions in which I’m working. It also really depends on the song. There are some songs on Shadow where I am heavily using the computer as a compositional tool and there are others that I wrote on piano or guitar.
I’d say a general 50/50. “Nymph” was a song I started in Chicago on the computer. “Deep End” I wrote about a year ago without the computer. “New Woof” and “Room Without”, both computer tracks. I could go down the list.
I notice on Shadow there’s a theme to every song in which you’re really taking your time with the build of the track. It really takes over. How was it thinking of ways to take the build and really make people wait for it?
In terms of my relationship with music as a listener, my ears get bored easily. I listen to music with a very strong under current with harmonic shifts and rhythm. Half of the shit we listen in the car is like late 70’s jazz-fusion shit. It’s either that or like, Prince. One of my main goals is to make music that appeals to a younger version of myself. When I started making it, I was listening to all the cliché listening to good music for the first time (Radiohead, Bjork, etc.) and I was basically trying to channel that the best I could. Dynamically speaking “High” is basically a copy of weird fishes by Radiohead. I’m basically mimicking the build in that song with that particular song. It’s about borrowing structure in the most tasteful I can possibly do it. There’s a line between doing it too much and doing it completely unaware of it.
Where did you record?
I recorded half of it at my family’s house in Ludlow, Vermont, which is kind of a ski town, and also where I recorded Mowgli. That was pretty much in isolation but I realized I couldn’t do the hermetic thing much longer without going crazy. So, I went back and over the course of talking with Malcolm, who has his own project Arrange, and told him I needed to change the pace. We had been talking about working together for a long time and he suggested I come out to Vancouver, Washington where he lives and help finish each others albums together. It was amazing. We finished in a little over two weeks. I didn’t expect to finish it there but the symbiosis was there and everything just clicked. Working with Malcolm is great. There’s a really good balance of ideas. He’s into thievery as much as me, well rather borrowing.
Have you begun working on something new?
Yes, I have goals to work with other artists in other mediums right now. My friend and I are working on a video for Hive. But other projects, I just finished scoring a short film and we’re in the process of submitting that to festivals. It’s very dark and cerebral but I won’t say too much about it. That was very fun to work on and I would like to work on maybe some experimental theater stuff. In terms of the next Mister Lies record, I don’t really have plans. I’m going to start recording again at the beginning of next year but with no plans of making a record. Right now I’m totally free of management and booking so I’m totally DIY because why not try it? That’s very liberating because I’m not working on someone else’s schedule. If I have an album by the end of next year and I can put them into a project, so be it. I’m not going into it with plans. The plans I do have involve a lot of collaboration and having fun with it. You can get carried away stressing over the little stuff but I’m ready to go back and have fun with it.