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Nigel Wright

Nigel Wright

Interviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam
Tuesday 31st May, 2011 2:03PM

Nigel Wright has gathered a strong reputation for his evocative laptop-mediated noise music, and through his duo Nest. He was also responsible for the iconic High Seas store, a recent loss to Auckland (though not completely - see below).  He's just about to release a 7'' after a few years' hiatus, and he has a chat to Brannavan Gnanalingam before heading off overseas.

What got you into music in the first place? When did you start conceiving of music as this object/physical thing?

I got into it from a pretty standard entry point, bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth really got me hooked on music in my teens. I got into the more accessible Sonic Youth stuff first, then my good friend Andrew (who I play with in Nest) showed me the noisier stuff, then NZ noise and experimental music and I was totally blown away. #1-4 by Rosy Parlane and The Lavender Head v.3 by Gate were probably the 2 most important records in terms of figuring out the type of sound I was into, and the type of sound I wanted to produce. I’ve always though of music as a physical thing, but the actual act of creating thick, LOUD and pretty pieces of sound through PA systems really made me lose my shit and realize that there was something pretty amazing about having music completely wash over you and stop you from thinking about anything else.

How do you go about composing music?  Do you improvise much, or work from an image or set idea?

I guess its kind of a mix, I usually start playing around with processed guitar or bass to get a sound that I am happy with, then I base a piece around that, adding extra sounds, mixing it right, and just layering sounds until I’m happy. This can take from an hour up to months to get right. I have a pretty firm idea of the sounds I like, and I have frameworks that I work in, so its not really improvised music as such.  

Given the physicality of the music, has it been a challenge performing live e.g. through getting the right speakers, trying to translate what sounds right to yourself (through presumably different equipment) to an audience?

YES! This is the hardest thing for me to get right, and I’ve had so many terrible (well, terrible to my ears) performances where the mixing might have been off, or the sound dude thought that some of my sounds weren’t meant to be there, or otherwise EQing my sounds which really fucks the whole thing up if not done right. Having someone who knows your style and material is really great for preventing this. For example, Rohan Evans from the Wine Cellar/Whammy bar knows what I do, and how to get the most out of my sound which is incredible. But yeah, I might do a piece that I am really happy with at home, but then when I go to perform it, it loses something and I’m kind of bummed that the piece is being heard not as I intended it to be heard. Of course this goes the other way as well, pieces that I try out live that are just right which can be a really lovely surprise.

You use technology and your laptop to filter your music - is it difficult maintaining something human through the process, or is there something thrilling about subverting traditional sounds and expectations through it?

 I don’t really have any problems maintaining something human about the whole thing. I think my sound is pretty organic and human anyway so that’s not too much of a big deal for me. I don’t see laptops as being a thing that dictates what your music is going to sound like, it’s just something that allows me to get sounds I like heard. It does what I want it to do, and I don’t really feel like my music is being defined by a laptop. There is also something thrilling as you say from subverting traditional sounds and expectations.. I use a big flashing lights, whizzy midi controller that is normally used by like I dunno, dance music producers and stuff, so I do get the odd bit of enjoyment from someone seeing me setup and then having a look at what I’m doing with this piece of hardware and being totally confused.  

How much room do you have live to improvise and experiment – do you find yourself having the same freedom as someone would have with a more traditional instrument?  Obviously a project like Nest would have its own dynamic going on…

For my solo stuff I have a framework in place that I work in, its not fully free improvisation, but there is a little element of that I guess. When I play live it’s mostly mixing sounds together, and introducing new bits from synth or guitar etc. I have the same amount of freedom as someone who plays a regular instrument would have, I just don’t need to use all that freedom. Just because its there, doesn’t mean I have to use it. I have much more enjoyable experiences when I am working with a piece that I know rather than just making it up on the spot.

Nest is a totally different beast. With Nest (which is me and Andrew Scott, from LA based band Metal Rouge) my framework that I use is pretty much nonexistent, and I am reacting directly to whatever Andrew is playing. I am comfortable with this because I’ve played with Andrew for years, and we kind of know how we play together. I’m not really one for jamming or whatever, I’m just terrible at that.

You’ve worked with film and silent film (e.g. Skyscraper Symphony etc.) – how do you find the process of composing for visuals?  Given your music is so textural, is film almost a natural fit?

To be honest, I kind of find working with visuals a little tricky. It can work really well if the visuals are right, like it’s a piece of film that you kind of identify with. But I often find it a bit distracting in a way. I like to focus on the sounds 100% and having that extra thing to deal with, and making sure what you are doing with the film is working kind of stresses me out!

You’ve been involved with a number of different artistic scenes e.g. comics and graphic novels, music, film – do you find them useful in your individual projects?

The only scene I'm involved with in-depth is music, I’ve kind of skirted around the other stuff. The High Seas really opened my eyes to heaps of the great comics and graphic novels around (brought to my attention by my girlfriend and co-director of THS, Sophie Oiseau) and I only really do film on the very rare occasion. But having other artistic avenues around is great if my music isn’t really doing it for me, it stops you from feeling that frustration that any kind of creative block tends to have on people. 

I understand you have a new 7’’ coming out soon?  How did you go about making/planning/recording that?

I basically had about 3 or 4 years with no new music being produced. I wasn’t really happy with the direction I was going, and every piece I produced was kind of sounding the same and boring me to death. Just recently I started playing around again, and stuff was fresh again, and I was really happy with some of the music I was coming up with. It was then that I thought I should really get some more material out, especially seeing as I am going on a small tour From Jul – September this year with shows in Tokyo, Berlin and the US /Canada.  I needed to make sure I had fresh material for audiences and needed to kind of get my name out there, in order to get some more opportunities.

It was quite challenging to fit my music into the 7” format, as normally my pieces are around 10-15 minutes long and have a lot of slow movement. I had to cut this down to 5 minutes and try and make sure I was just as happy with the results. And I think the two songs on the 7” (Mossopolis and Sea Snail) really work quite well. I will be putting out more 7”s in the future as it was actually quite fun getting short, sweet tracks. This should be out in the next few days (with AMAZING art work by Sophie Oiseau- really its fucking sweet) and will be available through UTR and digitally on bandcamp (link below).

Sad to see the end of High Seas?

Ahh The High Seas. Well The High Seas isn’t REALLY dead, it’s trucking along in different forms. The 7” is the first release on the High Seas record label, will be doing more material by other artists after I’m back from tour. We also are still promoting shows under The High Seas banner, recently we just did the Eat Skull tour, which was rad.

But in regards to The High Seas space, it’s a bittersweet thing. We went into the business with a fixed term lease of 18 months, so we knew there was going to be an endpoint and we were fine with that. It was a LOT of work, and it got quite exhausting for a while. But it was also AMAZING fun. We got to do cool shit like having a choice record store, and an excellent comics and graphic novel selection, sweet art and fun events. Plus by the end we were a bit more business savvy, and things were starting to tick along nicely so when it hit December last year we were quite sad to wrap it all up. 

Brannavan Gnanalingam

Grab a copy of Nigel Wright's Mossopolis here.



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