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Q + A With Nicholas Brown

Travel headfirst back to the 80s with a bouncy, modern twist courtesy of the vivid debut single Up And Coming from singer, songwriter and actor Nicholas Brown. A playful, soulful and buoyant outing, Up And Coming is also accompanied today by a new music video, wielding sprawling psychedelic flourishes and Bollywood disco nods. Kaleidoscopic, warm and irresistibly inviting, Nicholas Brown’s new single also syncs up with his exciting lead role in the new ABC musical four-part TV series In Our Blood, which premiered on Sunday March 19. We caught up with Nicholas for a quick Q+ A

Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with Hear 2 Zen, what have you been up to today? 

Today I’ve been mixing a lot of essential oils to make homemade bespoke perfumes for the cast of a play that I wrote called Sex Magick. It’s closing night tonight and I’m heading in to see the last show. My apartment is a scent den today. I need to sniff coffee beans. 

Tell us about yourself, how long have you been performing/creating music for? 

My musical journey has been for many years. I was in a boy’s choir when I was a child called The Young Sydney Singers and did a lot of singing at school and at drama school, but I started creating my own sound when I joined a funk band called Modernists.  I was in my early twenties and really learnt how to front a band. At first, I sang their songs as they were an already established funk band but eventually, I worked my own songs into our setlists. It was a formative time for me as a musician and singer/songwriter. The band initially created original music inspired by Blaxploitation films from the seventies. It was run by two white guys who were telling me that I needed to sound more “black”. I remember feeling quite frustrated because I’m a brown guy and whatever I sounded like was coming from the pipes of a person of colour anyway so the idea of ‘sounding black’ or emulating whatever that sound was seemed quite ridiculous to me. Despite these challenges, I still had an incredible time being their front man. We recorded an album called Big Score and got some radio airplay (the album will be re-released soon).  It was mostly a happy time for me and I loved performing at The Basement in Circular Quay back in the day. We had quite a few gigs there. I had a few incarnations as a pop singer after my time with the Modernists. I wrote and recorded an album of dance songs and released a song called Unpredictable (The Robot Song) with Marc Ocean before moving to Mumbai to work in Bollywood. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years later I joined another band called Knuckle Funk and we were gigging around Hollywood for a few years. The band formed a duo side project called Luck Now and released a song I wrote called I Spent My Rent On A Record. We recorded the music video in Mumbai and got some airplay on MTV Indies and VH1 in India. Since then, my acting career has been taking up a lot of my time. I’m pretty damn excited though to be releasing new music after a few years off. 

Who are your greatest inspirations?  Why?

I’d have to say as an artist and songwriter: Björk and Rufus Wainwright. They’re both outrageously authentic and original. Sonically, Giorgio Moroder is an inspiration. All hail the grandfather of disco! 

How do you create music?  Are your lyrics/story driven, or does the music/melody come first?  Explain your process. 

Step 1: I drink two and a half cans of 9% pretentious overpriced hipster beer. 

Step 2: I feel emotional and flushed – often refluxy – then start singing loudly. 

Step 3: I record that loud singing with my iphone. 

No. My process is always changing. I don’t like to get stuck doing things one way. Usually, the lyrics and melody come at the same time. I can’t really separate lyrics from melody – they go hand in hand. I haven’t kept a diary throughout my time living in Mumbai and Los Angeles, but I’ve written lyrics to many songs over the years (which is like a diary entry anyway – marking a point in time in my life). Sometimes I’ll return to an old song/demo or melody that’s been kept in a drawer (or on my computer) and re-work it or I’ll start anew from an emotional state that I’m in. I’ve experienced a lot of racism in my life so a lot of my lyrics come from trying to overcome obstacles. There’s no set rule. A few years ago when I was driving around Iceland, I spent some time in some beautiful caves (a witch from Reykjavik told me that Icelandic elves resided there) and I wrote quite a few songs singing into the cave walls alone. I might need to take a trip to Jenolan Caves to see what I can channel. 

What has been your greatest challenge so far in performing/creating music?

I’d say the greatest challenge is that I don’t produce my own music. I usually need to collaborate with someone as I don’t have the technical skills to record and programme music myself. That said – it’s also a blessing because collaborating is one of the greatest joys of being an artist. 

Tell us about your new release Up and Coming, how did it come about?

I wrote Up And Coming in a rehearsal studio in North Hollywood with my band member Justin Gagnon. I was particularly frustrated with my career at the time. I’d gone from being this Bollywood villain on screen in Mumbai to chanting Sanskrit whilst doing bhakti yoga run by white people in Los Angeles. Through Bollywood I was cast opposite Wesley Snipes in an action film and moved to LA. The day I arrived Wesley Snipes was arrested and put behind bars. The film was cancelled.  My manager at the time told me that he needed me to be fit and muscular, so I worked super hard to get ‘Hollywood’ ready. At the time however, the brown guys on TV were comical sidekicks, geeks or nerdy types. I was then told that I needed to put on weight and be the ‘fat Indian guy.’ It did my head in. Fortunately, music saved me during this time. I wrote quite a few songs about that difficult time and Up And Coming was one of them. I was feeling quite overwhelmed by the mountain I had to climb, and the song was a reminder to celebrate the journey rather than worry about it. My hope is that a lot of people will identify with it.  

What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out? 

Laugh at everything, write lists, write morning pages, write letters to people you love, create your own opportunities, learn your craft and not just how to get likes on TikTok or Instagram. Put your whole self into your storytelling – be brave and don’t compare your journey to the journey of others. And for god sake – sing in your own voice and don’t mimic the sound of other artists. 

Tell us your favourite Zen practice.

I like to make my own tinctures and scent scapes. I make my own herbal teas. I create my own pujas (rituals). I’d say those practices keep me feeling quite zen. 

Hear2Zen Magazine
Hear2Zen is a "Non Genre Specific" publication that celebrates all things sensory.

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