Since the release of his two-part debut EP, ‘Where Will We Go’, in 2014, singer-songwriter Nick Hakim has steadily built a loyal following enamoured with his quietly powerful voice, emotive lyricism and capacity to evoke an atmospheric intimacy in his productions. His time spent playing small capacity clubs and bars distils into the songs he writes, creating the uncanny feeling that it’s only you he’s singing to in your headphones.
Next month Hakim will be releasing his debut album, ‘Green Twins’, a work of depth that builds on the soft intensity of his EPs, furnishing that same sonic mood with an added sense of openness and confidence. The record is not only louder and brighter but is one full of tracks destined for the larger rooms Hakim can fill now as a headline act.
Before one such sold out show in London, we spoke about childhood influences, using music to overcome personal challenges, and finding a home amidst the hectic labyrinth that is New York.
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How did you first get started in music?
I grew up in a pretty musical household, everyone in my family plays an instrument, so that led me to getting interested in writing and playing myself.
We used to listen to a lot of Latin music because my parents are from South America and I was really drawn to nueva canción, which was politically-charged music from the '60s and '70s from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay. Artists like Victor Jara and Violetta Parra were both from Chile and when my mum was growing up Victor Jara was assassinated by Pinochet for speaking out against the regime. The music was very powerful and extremely political in that sense.
Have you been interested in writing politically?
If I were to ever do that I would want to make sure that I was educated and aware of what I was trying to say. I didn't do very well in school, I was in special ed for my whole time before college and I was held back and went to three different high schools in the end, so I’m now re-educating myself in a lot of ways.
Was studying at Berkley College of Music a more nurturing environment then, somewhere that you felt you were succeeding?
Yeah, I was really encouraged there by teachers and mentors; they wouldn't come down on me if I played in the wrong way. One of my teachers, Lorenzo Ferguson, who goes by the name Zo!, is really involved in the music scene in D.C. and he would let me stay with him all day, teaching me to play along to tracks like ‘Flashing Lights’ and ‘One Mo’ Gin’. Berkley was a really helpful place in a lot of ways but it's also a really expensive school which has set me up to be in debt for the rest of my life - unless I make millions!
Your 'Where Will We Go' EPs have such a down-tempo softness to them - what drew you to writing in that way?
Those recordings reflect how me and my band would rehearse when we were writing. We’d play in my room where we had to be quiet so my neighbours wouldn't get pissed off! I really like the idea of things feeling atmospheric and slow, moving at their own pace.
Making those EPs was a really special time for me and some of the people I worked with I'm still playing with now. We recorded it all live for the most part and the core of all those songs were done in a few takes.
What was it like moving from D.C. to New York where you now live?
When I moved to New York I was making do with what I had, I was teaching and working at a restaurant, just hustling to try and make rent - it was really stressful and I kind of hated it. I was thinking about moving to Philly for a year because my brothers live there but then I started to acquaint myself with the local bands and the people that are around me and I built up a strong community. Now I love being in New York, I feel like I'm not running around as much as I was before and I can focus on music.
'Green Twins' feels like a more confident, happier record; do you feel like that in yourself?
It's more energetic for sure; it's not a wound-licking album like the 'Where Will We Go' EPs. I'm proud that those EPs exist though, I was only 20 when I started out and I didn’t really know anything about the industry, I just worked with musicians that I admire and surrounded myself with good people, which is why I stayed in New York. New York is starting to feel like my new home, I feel good there and maybe that comes through on the record.
What's it like playing your older material now, since it was written at such a specific time in your life?
I don't play all of it but there's older songs I realise people have a connection to, even if I can see how I've grown away from them. I’m not a very confident person, which again probably stems from my being in a special ed program for most of my school years and being on medication like Ritalin for 10 years of my life. I didn't do good in school because I learned differently, but when I found music I found my focus and a space to articulate myself.
This new album is a product of me trying to reinvent myself within my creativity, it's messy and not very organised, there are a lot of demos that I've made, but I feel connected to these songs in a lot of ways.
Living with material for a couple of years before you record or release it is just part of the process, and you can get sick of the songs but I don't necessarily feel that way, I'm just happy that people want to come out and hear them!
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Nick Hakim's new album 'Green Twins' will be released on May 19th.
Words: Ammar Kalia