NNAMDÏ Discusses His Past, Process, and Building An Indie Label
Back at Treefort Music Festival in March, we had the opportunity to sit down with five amazing bands and artists. After a month of making sure the audio recordings were transcribed properly, we are finally ready to release these interviews into the world! Be on the lookout for the other four to come soon. The first interview we’re publishing was with NNAMDÏ, the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and co-founder of Sooper Records! In the time we had with him, we were able to get insight into his past, his creative process, and what it’s like building an indie record label.
A: Ok, and I think we’re rolling.
N: [vocalizes into microphone]
A: Sweet! Awesome!
N: Are those flamingos on your shirt?
A: They are! It is “Flamingo Friday.”
N: [laughs] Is that a real thing?
A: It is not a real thing. [laughs] I was working in a coffee shop in Nashville and I wore this shirt on a Friday, so one of the chefs pointed at me and said, “Flamingo Friday.” So I said, “I’m stealing that, that is mine now, every festival I go to for the rest of my life, I’m wearing this on Friday.”
N: I love that!
A: Thank you!
N: [adjusts in seat] I feel like it’s weird sitting at an angle. I want to look directly into your soul.
A: Amazing. How are you?
N: Pretty good!
A: And I know I asked this before we were rolling, but how are you feeling about last night at El Korah Shrine? How are you feeling prepping for tonight at Treefort Music Hall?
N: Last night was good! Sometimes line checking is stressful, just getting everything in order and having to go play immediately, but it sounded good. The sound person killed it. The vibes were immaculate. Lots of cuties in the front singing, it was very sweet! Good show.
A: Love that! For those who aren’t necessarily aware, give us a little bit about your history, your artistry. Just tell me about yourself.
N: Hmmmmmmmm where do I start? I’m a musician, obviously, from Chicago. Started playing drums pretty early, that’s my first instrument. And then slowly, over the years, maybe like middle school, I started a band with my friend, started picking up bass a little bit, then shortly after that, started picking up guitar in high school, and… Blah blah blah, yada yada yada, here we are!
A: And how would you say the Chicago scene has shaped your sound and your approach to music?
N: There’s a lot of really cool Chicago bands! A lot of historic, classic punk bands from Chicago, so I think just the environment, more like friends’ bands and people that I’ve gotten to play with probably helped my perspective and the music I listen to more than like… the bigger staple bands of Chicago. But yeah. I grew up in the suburbs, south suburbs of Chicago.
A: Which one?
N: Lansing, Illinois.
A: Oh, cool!
N: Yeah, I think luckily I found a community where people were all doing different types of stuff, and… yeah. That’s an interesting question. I feel like anywhere you are is going to influence your music to some degree.
A: Absolutely. Like, I know you were kind of coming up with Sen Morimoto, KAINA, and Resavoir —
N: I wouldn’t say I came up with them, those are relatively new friendships in the grand scheme of my life.
A: Ahhhh interesting.
N: Yeah, I’ve probably known Sen the longest, but I think it’s been like 8 years, and I was making music for a lot longer before that.
A: Admittedly, I am a little new to your stuff, but Please Have A Seat and BRAT, both incredible albums from the last few years. So I’m curious: what’s your creative process? Does it change from album to album? Is it relatively similar?
N: It’s pretty similar. I think a lot of — well, half of — Please Have A Seat was made during lockdown, so that definitely shifted the approach and the environment I was in. Like, not being able to do a lot of things played a large factor in the writing process, but more or less, I do the same s***. It’s usually just me in my basement, alone. I usually like to work on stuff alone. I’m trying to get out of that habit and do more collaborative things, but it’s typically been a kind of therapeutic thing for me to just get my thoughts and ideas out. And I’m a control freak, even though I wouldn’t say that to other people, but internally, I like to do everything myself a lot of the time.
A: So you’re kind of like Tame Impala. I know it’s become a bit of a meme at this point, so I was trying to think of another example, but —
N: That’s a good example! Tame Impala’s sick. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who you saw yesterday, he does all his s***.
A: True! It’s also interesting to note that both of them are from like… Australia and New Zealand.
N: Oh, no way. Tame Impala’s from — although I guess “Tame Impala” just sounds Australian. “Tame Impala.” You gotta say it with that accent.
A: Back to the subject of Please Have A Seat: are you familiar with Twyla Tharp’s concept of the “spine?”
N: No. [laughs]
A: Ok. [laughs] I wrote it down so that I wouldn’t forget it. So: “The spine is the statement you make to yourself outlining your intentions for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme. You intend to employ this structure. The audience may infer it or not, but if you stick to your spine the piece will work.” Would you say there was a spine behind Please Have A Seat? Or was it kind of freeform?
N: There’s definitely a spine behind it. I think the core of it was to recognize moments where I was present, because I have a tendency to just be thinking of other things or thinking of what’s next while s*** is happening in front of me and not really appreciating things as they’re happening. So I think my main goal was to solidify and encapsulate those moments where I had clarity and could actually be in the moment and appreciate what was going on around me.
A: Nice. And to call it back a little bit, with your friends’ bands in the Lansing and Chicago scene: who would you say is influencing you right now? Who would you say is your muse?
N: My muse?
A: Your muse.
N: Other than these three beautiful people? [gestures to the room] This is an interesting question. I don’t know that there is one.
N: I can tell you I listen to a lot of Baby Keem, but I wouldn’t say Baby Keem is my muse. [laughs] “That’s my muse.” But I feel like I listen to that a lot cause it gets me hyped, gets me hyped up. Um… yeah, I don’t know.
A: It would be interesting to try and look at a through-line of like… “Baby Keem, in 2021, put out The Melodic Blue, and that’s how — ” like, no, that didn’t happen. [laughs]
N: Yeah, exactly. I don’t think there’s a person recently where I’m like “Oh, I want to do something like that or because of that.”
A: Yeah, that’s fair, that’s fair. I totally get that. And when you’re creating, do you contend with audience expectations, or do you just let it all go?
N: When I’m writing?
A: When you’re writing, yeah.
N: No, not usually. But for this album, something I’ve never done before, I did try to … every song had to have something that was hummable or catchy to me, so I would record a vocal melody, then sit on it for a few days, then go back to it. And if it was still poppin’ in my head, I’d be like “That’s the one,” and if it wasn’t, I’d scrap it and do something else. So in that sense, yeah, I was trying to think of something that was maybe a little hookier than I usually gravitate towards.
A: When you’re normally writing, do words come first or melodies come first?
N: Melodies, it’s always melody and then usually rhythm and then words after.
A: Nice. And um… man, you actually already answered a couple of my questions that I had prepared in your other answers.
N: Hell yeah. That’s how we do it, baby! [takes sip of canned drink] What fruit do you — it’s a lemon. I answered it before I even looked, it just seemed a little fuzzy. And it doesn’t taste like lemon at all.
A: I’m curious: what is that?
N: What is this drink?
N: It’s just… I guess it’s just a lemon soda? It’s really good, it’s very light and not that sweet. It’s so good. I’ve gotta find it in Chicago.
A: I know you just put one out, but is there another project in the works?
N: I’m always making stuff, but a project will formulate whenever. I’m not immediately like “Ah, I gotta do something else.” I literally just did this one. … It came out in October, and then I put out the deluxe version like literally a week or two ago. People are always like, “When are you gonna make another thing,” I’m like “B**** listen to the thing I just made!” Send it to your family and friends. I need people to listen to it. I need to buy a Mac that works so I can make more music.
A: This actually makes me think of a conversation I’ve been having with my brother. Artists used to do yearly releases, and now we’ve changed into more of an “Actually appreciate what we just put out and give us time to do something else” mentality —
N: I don’t think that’s the reason. I think it’s because people are trying to recoup the amount of money they spent on something before their next project. Especially if people are on like… indie or bigger labels, cause when you go into the next project, you still owe that money they put into the other project, so two years is about the timeframe when most people make that s*** back.
A: And with your label, Sooper: what is running that like?
N: I don’t do a lot of the day-to-day, that’s mostly Glenn, but it’s great. We get the opportunity to put out really cool artists we like, and hopefully help them get to whatever the next level they want to get at is. I try to think of it more as a launching board to help boost people that maybe don’t know as much about putting out music as we do. So yeah, it’s really kinda just to help the people that we think are really cool.
A: That actually sounds like a great place to end it! You’re out here helping uplift people, we’re here to do the same for you —
N: Buy my record!
You can buy NNAMDÏ’s records here and check out his website here! Do you have a favorite NNAMDÏ album or song? Let us know!
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