This is the twelfth interview of the “Where are we now?” series. Please take a look at the INTRODUCTION AND INDEX to this series and leave your thoughts in the comment box at the end of this posting.
Interview with Nicholas Friday
over the phone 5 April 2010
and via email
IA: Why don’t you tell me about yourself and what you do. You have one album out?
NF: Yes. I have completed one “mix tape” when I was in college utilizing commercial tracks (like from Kanye West, P Diddy, Tupac, etc.) I rewrote my own song…but I’m currently working on an album which will of course feature all original songs and beats. Some of these beats/instrumentals will be produced by me, and others by very talented producers I’ve met along my journeys.
IA: So you write the beats and you write the lyrics?
NF: Yes, I produce the beats…because at times one goes for a specific sound or vibe (and they are possibly the only one’s able to capture this). At other times talented producers are able to, possibly through some artistic form of osmosis, grasp exactly what the artist is feeling at that moment…and deliver the track that will drive the theme of the song. Its then up to the artist to lay his/her lyrics overtop of this. And in my humble opinion, it is always up to the artist to write the lyrics. This is not always so, and I feel as though it takes away from the expression of the work.
IA: When do you think that might be out?
NF: That will hopefully be done, I want to say, by the end of this year. I’m really not rushing anything. I’ve been working on it kind of stop-and-go since 2007 when I finished the mixtape and graduated college, but I really just want to make sure that when it is released, when it is done, it is the very best effort that can be put forward. When I complete a work, I must have this thought, “I could die happily the next day.” So hopefully by the end of the year, but not rushing things. A bit over dramatic? Not by my standards…the bar is perpetually raised.
IA: And you’re putting it out on your own label, right?
NF: Yes, absolutely, which is “By The Sword Productions.” So I’m, of course, working on that as well. It is kind of the one-man-operation, so to speak, the first go-around, working on a little bit of everything. But yes: that will be under By The Sword Productions and in association with Conquer Entertainment whom I have ties with. Through Conquer I’m able to help musicians, producers, artists etc…get distribution deals and receive residuals that major labels would otherwise retain for themselves. We set them free.
IA: Now, I don’t know anything about making a music label and recording under your own label. How did you do that? How does that work?
NF: Well, it all starts with thought. It all starts with process and an idea. Just like anything else, just like wanting to write a book, just like wanting to write a script. It all starts with that first. When I had the idea for the whole music and just the whole (I guess) philosophy behind it, so to speak, I realized that all the labels out there, especially the major labels, there really is no way to retain creative control of your music and be associated with that label. They very much operate like franchises. All they do is they copy and paste this mold that they have for artists, that they have for the industry in general. I am no man or woman’s puppet, and am rebellious by nature…it’d never work. So I knew that I basically just had a thought, started with that, and basically just implemented my ideas and principles into the music. So it really isn’t as—well, it is difficult—but it really just starts with a thought and an idea: coming up with a logo, coming up with the whole premise behind the music.
IA: So what is the philosophy, then, of By the Sword Productions?
NF: To free the mind, and help sharpen the determination of oneself…to pay it forward.
IA: Can you describe your musical style for those who have not heard you? Now I’ve heard you once, so I’ve got an idea, but for those who have not heard you, can you describe your singing and your musical style?
NF: I don’t like talking too much on style, because I’ve spent years developing something original…and am still working on its effectiveness and changing things daily. I’m not sure what to call it, and everyday I am discovering new techniques to use vocally…for the purpose of delivery. All will soon know, it should be a secret for now haha.
IA: Maybe you can tell me this, maybe you can’t: What sets you apart, then? Is it a musical technique or is it a narrative technique, or is it your faith?
NF: Let me think about that, because I don’t know how much I can tell you.
IA: While you’re thinking, I’ll ask a couple more questions to help narrow it down a bit. I don’t know hip-hop, so I don’t know what goes into it as far as the musical techniques and the musical excellence, but is what sets you apart something different in your genre: something musical that makes you different?
NF: What sets me apart? I mean, everybody has passion for what they do. You have to have passion for what you do. But I feel like my passion will consume me sometimes. There are some days and nights that I can’t sleep. Last night tossing and turning for hours just thinking about different ideas and concepts. I feel like my passion is on a level that I can’t even really control it myself right now, which I’m just very grateful for, but now it’s like, well, we’ve got to implement this. We’ve got to take this whole idea and all these principles and make this manifest now into this process. As far as what sets me apart? There are a lot of things which once the album is done it’ll all make sense. It’ll all stand apart. Let me think of what I can say… Myamoto Mushashi (considered Japan’s finest swordsman) said, “Can this be the true way, if it has been made into a saleable item?” I’ll leave it at that…
IA: You’re talking about this passion that drives you and consumes you: passion for…what?
NF: Passion to complete tasks. To complete missions.
IA: Based on these ideas that are driving you?
NF: In life we’re all given a certain amount of missions to be completed and when something’s been placed in front of you to do, do it…period. You have passion to get that done. The music is one of those missions which is really the catalyst, I feel, before many others come. It’s this one right now. It’s finishing the music, it’s getting all this done. And so that’s why it’s really so consuming with time, with energy, mental and emotional states. It’s all something new as well. It’s a new experience for me also.
IA: Now this might be too far in the future for you to see yet, but let’s say after your album comes out and you are established as an individual artist yourself: Do you have a long-term goal of, well, this sounds too big, but establishing a movement or making a larger change, that other artists would then look to you as their leader and as their influence?
NF: Oh, yes, absolutely. I’m actually already doing that currently. Again as an UnLabel Owner with Conquer Entertainment. We let the artists retain the creative control, completely back them up, and pay them the residuals they deserve…end of discussion. (Well not really haha, we still have a bit to go!). Major labels don’t understand this whole paradigm shift with what’s going on, or they do, and they just don’t care. We’re taking all of the leverage that major record labels have: all their strengths, none of their weaknesses…a Blade (thank you Wesley Snipes), artists can pursue their passion: they can pursue their endeavors without contradicting the creative mindset, the creative idea, and the whole reason and point behind wanting to write music.
IA: You are a producer as well, yes?
IA: Who have you produced, or who are you producing?
NF: I’m the only artist under By The Sword currently, though I’ve worked with other artists on my first project. See, my friends are so talented and passionate that they have started their own organizations. And through our friendship, we’ve formed a sort of alliance. A good friend of mine: Jaquan Barnett and his brother Alshan, with their label Beautiful Noize Entertainment. A friend of mine, Jordan Kohler, and with Kohler Productions, Vinnie Laspina and Scotty Hoon with Transcend Entertainment. Ben Rader, who’s album I just received…a good friend from college. My friends are amazing, take Vinnie Laspina and Scotty Hoon for instance, this is Vincent’s business in his own words: “There has never been a better time for artists to take absolute control of their careers and make their dreams come true than now.” Transcend Entertainment was founded upon that belief and facilitates that actualization by exposing artists to the world via TV/Film placements, live shows and other means. A fan-base is built through those exposures and as a result Transcend garners positive momentum for its artists by continuously growing with and facilitating their successes. Their website will be live soon. Information on Jaquan and Alshan can be found here.For information on Jordan Kohler and to listen to his beats and instrumentals click here. To receive a copy of Ben Rader’s album please get in touch directly via his email: Rdr_bn@yahoo.com. It’s a great dub rock/indie sound, very mellow and a great adjustment to my binge of heavy metal and hip hop. For information on me, keep your ears open haha. I have several other business endeavors, and haven’t had ample time to develop my website. I’m not keen on keeping music 3 years old posted on Myspace. My apologies you have nothing now to listen to…but would it be smart to unveil your technique without having the…”ducks in a row.” You can find info at: www.myspace.com/thetruephenom. I’ll be certain to keep everyone in the loop… And honestly, when this drops…the music and EVERYTHING…you’ll know.
Music to me is a battle, everything in music is a battle. “Everything in life is a fight” is one of the philosophies that I look at. Everything is a fight. The fight to wanna get up, the fight to wanna do work, the fight to wanna be lazy, the fight to wanna take care of your health. You know, everything is. And I would rather align myself with individuals I know I can trust. The hip-hop industry is different in the sense that a lot of real-life scenarios spill over into the entertainment side. And it’s really sad. I think in all music, in all genres, in all entertainment, you do need to be careful with who you trust, but especially in hip-hop, you run into a lot of nonsense, a lot of incidents that really are just uncalled-for, whether they’re shootings or whatever the case may be, assaults going on, I’m careful with who I trust. I only trust a select few individuals. They’re all very close friends.
IA: It makes sense that you want to work with individuals who share your ideology as well. So you’re not producing them on your label, then; you’re not producing them on By the Sword?
NF: No ma’am, I travel lightly, quickly and often on my own haha. And they don’t need me to get things done…yet we need each other to feed off that positive energy and accomplish our dreams.
IA: Well, that’s pretty much everything I had planned to ask. Unless; unless you want to talk a bit more about your faith in the context of your music and in the whole hip-hop subculture as well.
NF: Sure. Absolutely. Faith. It’s what moves me every single day as far as with the music. I trust God will see me through…that He’ll see all of you through.
IA: And actually the more specific and honest you are to your situation, counter-intuitively, the more universal it’s going to be, because people are going to connect up to specific, honest accounts more than just sort of vague generalizations.
IA: Anything else you want to share? Any other comments on the current state of the arts?
NF: Just, I mean, I think with the state of the arts and everything in general, it kind of follows where society is and I think it’s kind of sad that in society we’re kind of all in general, we’re in this whole loss, we’re all in despair, with the economy, even just a couple of years ago when we were more heavily in conflicts with other nations, even though we still are, I think you get a direct reflection of that in entertainment: in music, in film, in the arts in general, in print work, in books. You get this whole, I wanna say, dumbed-down effect, because of the state of what people are in. People are suffering, people are hurting, people don’t want to think too much, because the thinking kind of just exponentially affects the way they’re already feeling. They’re hopeless. They don’t want to be moved. We don’t want to be changed. We just kinda wanna exist. And that’s what you get. In Hollywood that’s what you get with a lot of films that are out; I feel like in music that’s what you get with a lot of albums that are out. In general, I think it takes a handful of individuals to really start changing themselves if we’re going to change society. And then also a handful of artists, a handful of individuals who are involved in the arts, to continue speaking their mind whether people want to listen or not. Because ultimately they’re going to wind up influencing and affecting a couple other individuals in our society and get us moving in the right direction. But until we make that happen, until we get individuals that will step outside the box, we’re stuck in the hamster wheel. And I feel like we’re runnin’ around, runnin’ around, runnin’ around, and nobody’s getting anything done.
IA: I would guess from what you said earlier that you would advise artists: Well, OK, if you’re feeling loss and despair, fine, write about it. Sing about it. Don’t just gloss over it and sit there in apathy. Despair and loss is OK if you do it well in the arts.
NF: Right. Exactly. And that’s exactly why you get involved in the arts. It’s a chance to be creative, it’s a chance to express yourself, which is of course very important as an artist.
IA: Do you see hope out of this phase of loss and despair?
NF: Hope for society, or hope for the arts?
IA: Well, I guess you said it starts in society, that there’s an American-wide sense of economic turmoil and military action and security problems, and then the arts come from that. So do you see a turn-around for our country?
NF: Oh, yeah. I hope for the best. I always hope for the best. There is a chance for it, but ultimately it’s not up to any one person. It’s up to everybody because collectively we are not one person. It does start with individuals. It certainly starts with individuals and grows from there. And so, yes, I do have hope, but at the same time, realizing that: “Hope for the best prepare for the worst” kind of scenario.
IA: So should artists be the spearhead of that hope, then? If just a handful of artists are doing really good work do you think that can find its way back into society?
NF: Well, certainly we can. It’s one of the jobs, it’s one of duties of artists, is to influence. I don’t know if I want to say influence more so than just deliver information. There certainly are different levels of this. You can influence, you can convince. Me, personally? I don’t waste time trying to convince anyone. I’ll just tell you how it is exactly and it’s up to you whether or not you want to accept it. But yes, artists absolutely play a huge role, have a huge duty as far as being the voice or being the eyes or being the ears of your community. Of society.
IA: And just make the best art we can, and let the influence follow as it will.
IA: Great, well, that’s fantastic. Thank you very much. You’ve given me quite a bit to think about today.
NF: Oh, not a problem. I’m sorry I had to be so vague. It will make much, much more sense when the album is complete and when this whole snowball is really rolling. But I really hope and pray the best for everyone of course to continue pursuing what you do, and hopefully I will see you at the top, and not from the top.
IA: All right, well, I’m going to hold my breath until that album comes out!