When you listen to a good tune for the first time, it takes a few moments for your brain to catch up with what you’re hearing. I mean, of course, you know it’s a good song, but it’s that moment when, in your head, you think, ‘Fuck, there is some- thing here’.
Listening to Nnic’s (real name Naoise) debut track ‘Pillars’, which came out in 2018, is a bit like that: it takes a few moments for the sound of the track to diffuse through your mind, to separate all the different parts that make it what it is. There is the soulful, strong soprano voice; the low-key sub-bass pulsating underneath. And of course, the lyrics, which for ‘Pillars’ come with a beautiful lyric video, making them literally come alive.
‘There’s only a drought / when we use words from war / to cause a bitter decay / but no love can survive / without pillars of stone in place’
‘Pillars’ has had great success on Spotify, racking up a healthy number of streams before Nnic has even played her first official Dublin Show, happening in Whelan’s later this month. I ask Nnic how she came to start making music in this almost roundabout way.
“Complete beginner’s luck, I think,” she replies. “It’s a great marketing tool and definitely exposes you to an audience you may not normally reach. I submitted ‘Pillars’ to Spotify’s playlist submission two weeks before the August 24 release. Two weeks after that I got an email saying it had been added to a playlist now named Frühlings Chillout, and it’s remained on it ever since.”
Nnic is a dark horse, a seemingly fully- formed musician who has sprang from the ether, ready to perform. With 10 years of classical training under her belt, the Dublin native creates tracks that she describes as ‘neo-soul’.
“It’s soulful in the vocal arrangements with a mix of different productions to accompany it,” she explains.
Nnic has just performed her first festival at Output in Belfast and is set to play shows in Dublin and London this summer. That slot at Output marked her live debut. I was impressed by how far she’s come with just three releases to her name and settled on the fact that her classically trained vocals blended with her unique electronic output has helped Nnic to stand out from the pack.
“I’m very interested in electronic production and how you can interpret organic instruments to sound completely different,” she reveals.
How does being classically trained influence her music now?
“I think it’s mostly influenced my harmony choices and vocal control. I’ve been out of training for almost 10 years now, so I desperately need to get back to it to avoid doing any further damage! I did a short sound engineering course in Windmill Lane to get a hold of the basics of music production. The song development process only really got going when I showed some fellow musician friends my demos, and we went from there.”
We talk further about Nnic’s love for classical music and she tells me her family take an annual Christmas trip to see Handel’s Messiah every December.
I can’t see how Handel’s Messiah finds its way into Nnic’s tunes, but I’d imagine that if there was any replication it would be in the appreciation of women in ‘Pillars’. Coming from a ‘place of admiration for women who selflessly support and uplift others’, there is something beautiful in the support that Naoise has had in championing such a song, especially in such a masculine and male-dominated arena as in electronic production. I ask her what her advice would be to any females wanting to make their way in such a realm.
“Don’t be a victim about being a female in the music industry, for starters. If that completely clouds your focus, that’s all you’ll end up talking about and women have a lot more to offer than that one perspective. Only shape your image to something you’re comfortable with and have a sense of humour about criticism.”
Influenced by the likes of James Blake and Blood Orange, who she describes as ‘other greats that just keep getting greater’, I ask if she felt any element of Irishness coming through her music or influencing its creation.
“I’ve always adored singers like Dolores O’Riordan and Sinead O’Connor for their distinctive singing styles,” Nnic tells me. “The Gloaming are also a super talented band with a similar warmth I try to achieve in some of my songs.
“At the minute I’m enamoured with Solange’s new album ‘When I Get Home’, and its visuals. The structuring of the album has completely changed how I view melody sequencing and song writing, so it’s been great to constantly mull over.”
Visuals are something that seem key to Nnic’s output. As I wrote earlier, ‘Pillars’ comes with a truly beautiful lyric video, where etchings of the female figure are constructed and dissolve into the words that form the song. ‘Grow’, Nnic’s latest release, has a video comprised of the artist singing direct to camera, cutting in between with colours and textures as the song itself literally grows. Thanks to Spotify and other streaming services, visuals are more important than ever and this is something Nnic supports.
“Adding a visual clip to the track listing is a great step forward in preserving the full project of the song.”
Nnic created five different versions of ‘Grow’ before she settled on the one that was released. I ask her if she felt that editing was important to her music and going through these different versions meant that she was able to grow as an artist to finally land on a track or sound that she was happy with. “Absolutely,” she answers.
“When I started ‘Grow’, I wasn’t sure what my primary genre was, so it was the process of making and remaking the song that taught me a lot. It can boil down to whether you still get a good feeling from the sound or not, but that feeling definitely has to be a shared one. A second or third opinion is crucial.”
Sharing and communicating seems to me to be at the heart of all of Nnic’s music.
“I listen to a lot of Ted Talks and psychologists’ podcasts, and often take notes from them.”
Nnic also takes notes from the world around her, literally writing her reality into her creative and musical landscapes, memorialising her experiences, in a way.
“I take notes from interesting stories from my family and my friends. They may not always know I’m doing that, but now they do!”
T. S. Eliot wrote in his ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ that artists, when they emerge, join a stream or a ‘tradition’ of artists who come before and after, both changing and remaining the same in order to keep up with the flow of a particular place’s creativity. In the same way, Nnic joins the ranks of Irish artists in their tradition of strong, beautiful music – even down to her name.
“I wanted my artist name to have a sliver of ‘Irishness’ to it, so I abbreviated my Irish name Naoise Nic Gearailt to Nnic.”
The Dublin music scene is something that she appreciates being a part of, because of that communal, communicative feel. I asked what she liked the most about being a part of the scene.
“I love how easy it is to connect and work with fellow creatives,” she says. “There’s an incredibly high standard of creativity here.”
There is, indeed, which is what makes it such a joy to write features with artists like Nnic. I’ve written a lot before on the new type of musician emerging, particularly in Ireland, that of the ‘bedroom pop’ musician. In the past, I would have been tempted to say that Nnic is one of those musicians too – producing and creating her own sound, the layering of classical and electronic to create a contemporary pop feel, that ‘neo-soulism’ she was talking about, but I don’t feel like saying that now. There is something too outwards, too chatty and open about Nnic to try to argue that she creates her sound solely by herself. Of course, that’s not to say that bedroom musicians are the type that lurk alone producing their music in dark rooms: they don’t. I think what I mean is that Nnic’s music seems like the effort of herself, of course, but also a reflection of everyone who works with her, everyone who listens to her, everyone who gives a suggestion or is on the other end of the headphones.
Perhaps it works, that the only question I have that Nnic can’t answer is what her music sounds like, to her. She didn’t fill the void with explanations or stutters, but just left it blank. It seems bizarre that someone who works so closely with a sound cannot identify it, but I think, for this artist, the answer makes perfect sense. Nnic’s music sounds different to everyone, because no two people will hear the same thing when listening. Her mother may recognise a conversation she had only the other day; her friend a line they recommended stay in. To me, her tracks differ every time I put them on, with one thing jumping out that didn’t before.
Nnic is a musical chameleon, an electronic anomaly that reflects the sounds around her, and her reality. It is, perhaps, the sound of a future. It’s an exciting thing, not to be tampered with, but to be left to grow.
Nnic plays Upstairs at Whelan’s on May 30.