interview – mister lies

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

despite – or perhaps in spite of – a string of well-received releases in the first half of the decade, nick zanca hit the pause button on his mister lies project around the end of 2014. after five years in the wilderness, zanca returns to the moniker this week with a self-titled, self-released album.

mister lies is a fairly brief endeavor; its ten songs clock in at around a half-hour and are best digested all at once, preferably without interruption. anchoring the release is “the commuter,” a track whose titular subject would be the ideal consumer of this body of work: perhaps not someone inbound, about to start their day, but someone outbound, retreating to solitude and stillness.

we caught up with zanca in the weeks leading up to his return to discuss his new album, how his collaborative work with quiet friend has influenced his solo output, and the quest to search for influences outside of the realm of music. check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

it’s been nearly five years since you released the last mister lies album. what caused you to step away from the project, and what led you back?

stepping away was necessary. i was halfway through my freshman year of college when i put out the first EP on bandcamp and at that age insecurities were still deep and blind spots were still wide. i had learned ableton by looking over friends’ shoulders and stumbled upon my sound almost by accident.

the response to that early material was overwhelming. in a matter of weeks, opportunities presented themselves that usually take years for artists to reach – nearly every weekend in the coming semesters were spent flying out to play shows. as excited and grateful as i was, it was as if i had acquired an audience before a sense of self. 

eventually i would drop out of school to tour after my sophomore year, usually with other young producers who had experienced the same kind of rapid rise in that same strange internet microcosm of “chill”-adjacent electronic music. the absurdity of our individual situations and the privilege of sharing music with strangers was a source of solidarity, but the performance anxiety always persisted. i was quietly struggling to embrace being queer and neurodivergent in a scene that thrives on hedonist aesthetics, male gaze imagery and smartphone solipsism. it was often a musical neverland – unless an audience is on your side, it refuses to grow up. there were a lot of personal and professional endings. i rode the wave as far as i could, but i began to feel like i was wearing a mask. it took effort to take it off, deflate the ego and let life happen.

giving myself room to be human was probably a good start – i finished my degree, fell in love, got closer to family – but developing a intense relationship to listening outside the context of product was what got me back on my feet creatively. starting quiet friend and shifting focus to something rooted in a group effort rewired my brain. it was something i didn’t know how to do for a while. i’ve also worked as a music supervisor for hospitality venues for a few years now, and the site-specificity of sound has become something i engage with daily.

shortly after the quiet friend record came out and we were playing shows around new york, i was sifting through old hard drives and was blown away by the amount of sketches i was sitting on. i started there and recorded alone at home with what free time i had on the weekends. at first it felt like putting on an old shirt that no longer fit, but eventually the fabric stretched out, i followed the ideas that came, and a year later i had a record. 

in the interim, you’ve kept busy with quiet friend. how does your compositional approach differ (if at all) when working independently as opposed to collaboratively?

the two ways of working seem to inform and complement each other, especially now that i’ve found a balance of both. in a group context, you’re mostly letting the ideas of others in, and i was really hungry for that at the time. i tend to internalize a lot when working alone, but with others i found what i eventually recognized to be personal strengths to reinforce themselves and echo – thick textures, bricolage, a sense of place. it’s a great way to get your writers block unstuck and i’d recommend it to anyone struggling with a solo practice – you discover what it actually is you bring to the table and then are able to take that home with you and truly utilize it.

this record i made on my own couldn’t have happened without that experience. steven and i are just getting started, but i’m proud of that record we made and the strange extended family we’ve developed in the process of getting the band off the ground. i’m excited for that music to reach more ears. 

this new album has a fair amount of found sounds and electroacoustic elements – it’s very soundscape-y, for lack of a better term. who or what were some touchstones when you were writing these songs?

i have a tendency to get wrapped up in musical influence, and this time around i did my best to avoid relying on that in favor of inspiration pulled from other disciplines. in general though, i think one of the major differences between then and now is that my taste has started to embrace the longform and lean toward slowness and meditative commitment.

clarice lispector’s writing and chantal akerman’s films encourage those who consume them to have patience for a slower and fluid pace, borderline glacial, and the end result is something so human that accentuates the everyday. my record is the durational opposite – it’s over and done in thirty minutes – but it aims to capture the present and recreate the surrounding world in the same way. 

of course, i am easily impacted by what i hear and can’t ignore that. field recordings and found sounds have been an important part of my practice from the beginning, but i think this record is the first time that they are being treated as the central focus – the environments have become the soloists.  luc ferrarialvin curran and hiroshi yoshimura are all composers in touch with their respective atmospheres and that aspect of their work has had a profound effect on me.

people have always described what i do as “cinematic”. i guess i went into this one with that in mind. 

this album is self-titled; how much of a conscious decision was that?

totally intentional. it feels like the closest thing to pressing the project’s reset button. i see this work as a summation of everything i’ve explored sonically for far, so self-titling simply felt like the move.

listening to mister lies from start to finish in one sitting is optimal, but you’ve decided to share “the commuter” ahead of its release as a preview of things to come. what does that particular song represent to you, and how does it fit into the album overall?

“the commuter” was the first of the batch to feel complete and was also the first indication of the record’s site-specific direction. it’s less of a single and more of an excerpt i was itching to share. of all the tracks on the record, i think it feels the most similar in spirit to the music i made when I was younger, but also works as an introduction to the sonic territory i’ve been interested in occupying lately.

when making records in the past, i would close myself off somewhere and create situations for myself that were unhealthily hermetic – i would let nothing else in but the music. the results produced intense work but the process was not always productive.

this time around, i’ve introduced more balance to my life. anything that i treated as a distraction before – be it the daily routine or the world outside my window – has become a compositional device and fuel for the record. in this case, it’s the introspection and claustrophobia on my way to and from work. 

mister lies is out this friday, august 2nd. read an essay zanca wrote about his album, alongside a full stream, over at talkhouse.

quiet friend – quiet friend

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa – 

“album of the fortnight” is a bi-weekly feature that digs into a recent release of note. the articles will run roughly during the middle and at the end of each month, always on a friday; the album or body of work in question will have been released at some point during that two-week span. this column focuses on art that resonates deeply, on pieces that necessitate more than just a knee-jerk reaction.  next up: quiet friend.

Dissecting a moniker can often prove frivolous, but occasionally the exercise warrants undertaking.  take quiet friend: an adjective and a noun paired together, perhaps an offhand expression used to identify someone in conversation.  perhaps this person has a closely-guarded exterior, but beneath the surface lies a compelling narrative, and the implied friendship makes said narrative that much more intimate and forthcoming.

this carefully-constructed hypothetical of a quiet friend is purposefully analogous to quiet friend the band, and by extension, their self-titled debut album.  though the ensemble features a cast of nearly a dozen core members and contributors, quiet friend succeeds in feeling like a singular, fully-realized character; the nine tracks that populate their full-length are defined by lyrics both vulnerable and tender that are often wrapped up in disarming moments of wittiness and winking absurdities.  combined with an affinity for early ambient music and saturated, majestic 1980s pop that emanates from project leaders steven rogers and nick zanca, quiet friend checks all the boxes for an audiophile in search of nocturnal mood music.

quiet friend

opening track “bath” feels like taking one in the literal sense – resonant, brassy textures slowly submerge the listener into the central tenets of the album’s soundscapes.  vestiges of this introduction can certainly be felt in “safe” and “breathplay,” a pair of pop pillars that prop up the album’s front half, but its direct descendants are tracks like “basements” and the sprawling centerpiece “name all the animals,” cinematic, orchestral turns at which quiet friend equally excels.  subsequent instrumentals “thorn from paw” and “seance” feel less like interludes and more like grounding forces, reaffirming quiet friend’s sonic identity throughout.

the lushness that pervades quiet friend cannot be underscored enough.  chalk it up to zanca and fellow producer alex thompson, who tinkered with arrangements for over two years and enlisted a host of contributors for auxiliary parts, vocal harmonies, and counter-melodic textures, intricate cogs integral to a machine committed to exploring the vast depths of its sonic palette.

this fastidiousness pays off in spades, particularly throughout the album’s back half.  quiet friend are confident enough to let standout cut “playgrounds” marinate in a metronomic dance beat and an alarm-like synth lead for over a minute, laying down a persistent framework into which subsequent textures meld seamlessly.  ditto for the finale, “avalanche,” whose murky ambiance percolates for nearly half the track’s duration before secondary elements commandeer the vessel and push blown-out synth lines to their limits.  taken as a whole, quiet friend’s debut is a remarkable, cohesive construction that abandons any semblance of pretense in favor of an honest overarching artistic statement.

quiet friend is out now via elestial sound; listen to the album in full below. 

quiet friend – “breathplay”

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa –

quiet friend’s self-titled debut has been simmering for some time now.  nick zanca and steven rogers began working on the tracks that populate the nine-song effort in 2014, working in close concert with producer alex thompson to sculpt a vast high-fidelity soundscape with the utmost care.

after allowing lead single “safe” to soak in for a couple of months, zanca and rogers recently released a follow-up, “breathplay.”  the track turns again and again on the curiosity that accompanies its main hook, “where has your body been?”, with zanca describing “breathplay” to gold flake paint as “a meditation on queer hookup culture and all of its idiosyncrasies.”  sonically, “breathplay” is a treasure trove of percolating synths that occasionally cede territory to a cascading guitar motif, all of which are softly enveloped by melancholic string pads.

as if the aforementioned wasn’t enough of a privilege to digest, “breathplay” also comes with an accompanying music video directed by austin johnson, a breathtaking visual representation of the project’s aesthetic.  quiet friend arrives march 9th via elestial sound.  listen in on “breathplay” below.

interview – quiet friend

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa –

A smattering of what’s to come from quiet friend in early 2018 arrived last month in the form of “safe,” a swirling piece of high-fidelity pop majesty.  project leaders nick zanca and steven rogers have imbued their forthcoming self-titled debut with a devotional equal parts pop and ambient, an end result that leans heavily on texture, atmosphere, and the implications that accompany both.

as the days grow shorter and the temperatures colder, ambient music can provide a unique respite, one that feels forever wed to winter months.  zanca, a longtime purveyor of – and architect within – the genre, recently compiled an hour-long mix for the dimestore, focusing on works from ambient forbears of the 1970s and 1980s.  it’s a sparse, affecting compilation best consumed through headphones, preferably in solitude.

accompanying the mix is a short but incredibly insightful conversation with zanca, throughout which he explores his relationship with specific pieces, how reactions to the current political climate are embodied within the genre, and an overall archeological pursuit of ambient music.  the transcript follows the mix, below, and has been slightly edited for clarity.  click play and immerse yourself.

influences like prefab sprout and the blue nile are proudly worn, but how do other offerings on this mix fit within the construction of quiet friend?  have any of these artists – or perhaps their corresponding tracks – directly influenced this project?

as long as steven and i have been working together, atmosphere has been at the epicenter of what we do.  with this record, it’s gotten to the point where atmosphere and texture dictate virtually every other aspect of the music, down to contributors, arrangements, choice of instrumentation (oberheim synths, delay systems, zithers, harmoniums, the string section) – a majority of the lyrics acknowledge space, even.  regardless of who joins us moving forward, or whether our music gets lighter or darker from here, we’re always going to have a paw in the “ambient” pool.  i suppose this mix acted as an exercise in showcasing that angle of our project.

other than the obvious u.k. sophisti-pop influence, i personally became very invested during this album’s production in the discovery of 1970s and 1980s ambient/minimalist music from japan and italy – both of which are represented somewhat here in this mix.  both of those countries in particular are sonic goldmines as far as that kind of music is concerned.  i’m not sure which record it was that opened the can of worms – i could name the work of hiroshi yoshimura, luciano cilio or midori takada as starting points – but once i began the journey, my boyfriend has a real hard time getting me off soulseek or discogs.  since then, i’ve been fully committed to the almost archaeological pursuit of discovering older, underheard music in the hopes that at least one of these records can find a new audience.  it’s also my hope that quiet friend could act as a similar vehicle for musical discovery.

the original release dates of these tracks range from the mid-1970s to the late-1980s; what about this period of time, specifically within the realm of ambient music’s evolution, speaks to you in particular?

it’s difficult to pin down what exactly draws me to that era in particular – i guess part of it has to do with the fact that digital music technology was still so nascent at the time and that creative possibilities in the studio seemed so boundless then.  there’s also the diy aspect too – in most cases, these artists were privately pressing their albums and operating completely outside conventional channels of marketing and distribution.  home recording had just become normalized and people could explore similar sonic terrain to brian eno, steve reich, and labels like ecm with very limited resources.  there’s something very punk to me about that kind of ethic.

i was texting an old friend from college earlier this week who observed how huge of a year this was for ambient music – both new and old – and how much of that was a response to political unrest.  i don’t think that’s wrong.  as it is, so much of the history of this genre has borrowed cues from disparate heritages – indian raga, indonesian gamelan, african percussion, gregorian chant, american primitive guitar.  listening to the way artists fuse these influences today in the face of an administration that has so clearly threatened multiculturalism seems to me not only like the strongest way to heal right now, but also functions as a wholly valid form of antifascist protest.

are there a couple of songs on this mix that you hold especially close, and, if so, would you be willing to elaborate as to why?

i could go on at length about any of these records, but i’m going to focus on three near-and-dears that deserve far more credit.

a track from venetian musician gigi masin’s album wind opens up the mix.  this is a deep, minimal and icy album that was somewhat of a crate digger’s holy grail for many years – it was only ever sold at shows and many of the original copies were destroyed in a flood.  it was finally reissued a few years ago and since then he’s been enjoying a bit of a comeback, both as a solo artist and with a new band called gaussian curve.  the sound palette here – a lone korg poly-800 synth, a piano, a tenor sax, and a trumpet – is chillingly sparse but still manages to sound gigantic.  i’ve spent a few winters watching the snow fall to this record.

i also included a cut from neighborhoods, the lone album of portland-based musician ernest hood.  this record largely revolves around communal field recordings taken around the oregon suburbs where he grew up, which were then placed amongst washes of zither and synth.  it’s a hauntingly gorgeous example of the power of the private press and proof that one can evoke nostalgia without venturing into overly sentimental territory.

nuno canavarro’s plux quba is a record from portugal that is incredibly difficult to pin down and even more impossible to write about – i discovered it through jim o’rourke who reissued it about a decade after its initial release in 1988.  canavarro managed to build an entire world here with just a primitive 8-bit sampler and a outdated fostex 8-track tape machine.  that this music predates oneohtrix point never, fennesz, or ricky eat acid by almost two decades is kind of baffling to me – it speaks its own language and exists outside of time.  i dream of making records that have that kind of effect on people.

quiet friend is a collaborative, pop-leaning project, but you’ve been making ambient music on your own for quite awhile now.  how does your immersion in more abstract sound design influence your headspace in a pop setting?

that’s a very good question and one that i’m not sure i’ve totally figured out the answer to yet.  i think about it all the time though.  i will say that i’ve become able to stop myself from overthinking about certain pop conventions when we’ve allowed the atmosphere of the music to take the wheel.  the beds of texture these songs sit in almost become a vehicle for storytelling or a context for the melodies.  with a song like “safe,” the drone section at the end is meant to add a ruminative quality that is only just beginning to be hinted at by the lyrics.  we’re trying to create music that doesn’t reveal itself right away, that rewards repeat listens – never the same river twice.

quiet friend’s self-titled debut album is out march 9th via elestial sound.  revisit the project’s first single, “safe,” here.

quiet friend – “safe”

– featured image courtesy of daniel dorsa –

folks who have perused the dimestore for a few years may recognize nick zanca from his output as mister lies, and those same folks may have noticed that zanca has been relatively quiet as of late.  a blurry picture has now come into focus, as zanca has announced a new collaborative project with steven rogers and producer alex thompson called quiet friend.

while the ensemble isn’t slated to release an album until early next year, zanca and company recently teased a sampling of things to come with “safe.”  the track’s towering majesty is immediate, its opening synth stabs foreshadowing the cacophonous hook zanca eventually unleashes.  and while most of “safe” unfolds as a cathartic release, the song’s coda shows how zanca and rogers can harness the vapors of a spent emotion and channel it into a wash of ambient respite.

quiet friend, the band’s self-titled debut, will arrive march 9th via elestial sound.  for the time being, delve into “safe,” streaming below.

mister lies – “upstate and empty”

– featured image courtesy of hunter adams –

For a majority of americans, the unconscionable happened early last wednesday morning: a virulently racist, misogynistic, xenophobic demagogic figure garnered enough electoral college votes to become the nation’s next president.  there are myriad consequences to nearly sixty million voters choosing to look past – or wholeheartedly embrace – the routinely abhorrent rhetoric of such a vile, narcissistic man and cast their ballots in his favor; the most pressing may be the impending assault on the civil and reproductive rights of women, people of color, and members of the lgbtq community.

with the other branches of federal government proving to most likely be amenable towards tyrannical impulses, private organizations and local, grassroots political movements will take charge combatting the majority of infringements.  the former, especially, will be further aided by the help of donations; the american civil liberties union, planned parenthood, the rape, abuse & incest national network, along with so many other institutions, will provide vital services to those most immediately affected by the outcome of this election.

various members of the music community have begun to offer up new works and full catalogues for purchase, with the entirety of proceeds being donated to various organizations.  both run for cover and father/daughter records donated their stream of bandcamp revenue through this past weekend to planned parenthood; yohuna is donating her bandcamp sales to the audre lorde project; patient sounds will be splitting donations between the aclu and planned parenthood through december 9th; our pals at gold flake paint will be donating all of their digital sales to the trevor project and have compiled a more comprehensive list of artists and labels and where their donations will go.

nick zanca, who records and releases electronic music as mister lies, has put together a compilation of ambient and drone music recorded over the past several years entitled textures: 2010-2016. the ninety-minute album is available to purchase from his bandcamp page, with all proceeds going to planned parenthood.  a sample of the sprawling body of work exists below, in the form of the arresting “upstate and empty,” a snapshot of muted ambiance that becomes more striking the longer it’s left on repeat.

those with the financial means to donate to organizations in dire need of support are encouraged to follow any or all of the links embedded above.  hit the play button on “upstate and empty” below and navigate away.

listen to two new songs from mister lies

mister liesnick zanca has been making music as mister lies for awhile now, particularly capturing an audience with last year’s mowgli.  a follow-up record is due out later this year via orchid tapes, but zanca has released two new tracks to tide over fans and entice newcomers.  “flood you” b/w “medusa” is a frenetic nine minutes of impatient vocal samples and positively jittery electronics.  you can stream the pair of songs below and download them at a pay-what-you-want rate.

*update: mister lies’ new album is called shadow and will be out in october via orchid tapes.