After releasing his debut EP Hidden Neighbors last year, Mister Lies (aka Nick Zanca) decided to revisit his New England roots after an extended stay in Chicago and camped out on a lake in Vermont with a collection of Rudyard Kipling’s written work, a carload of microphones, and various synthesizers and samplers to keep him company. The relative isolation and intense recording sessions resulted in his debut LP MOWGLI, an eight track journey of incisive introspection and youthful self-awareness. Alternating between downtempo beats and cathartic synth lines, Zanca finds himself somewhere between Burial and James Blake, caught on the leading edge of a music scene best known for its attention to woozy atmospherics, manipulated vocals, and nostalgia-tinged samples. Having recently shared the stage with artists like Jessie Ware and Ital, Mister Lies will play a few more dates toward the end of March, kicking off in Detroit and ending at Brooklyn’s Grasslands. Leading up to these run of dates, Zanca was kind enough to take some time from his busy schedule to write about some of his favorite records for Beats Per Minute. You can check out his list below in the latest installment of our On Deck series.
My favorite musicians are people who allow the concept of space to become the most brash, in-your-face quality in their work (Nina Simone, Bjork, even some Xiu Xiu) and that’s probably why I’d follow Liz Harris and all of her work to the ends of the Earth. As whole pieces, her albums are lullabies that I can never fall asleep to because I’m too scared that I’ll miss something important. That’s not something I can say about most ambient music – maybe because on this album especially she’s bridging the gap between the tape-delay drone aesthetic she’s known for and a more structural singer-songwriter approach, which in turn is the last thing I’d expect from this project. Not to mention, I suffer from seasonal depression pretty hardcore since I moved to Chicago a while back and in that respect, this album has been very medicinal. It’s certainly made the commute a lot easier to handle.
A very important record for me. So original and ahead of it’s time. It verbally represents the group of people I relate to the most: suburbia-imported city kids in their late teens and early twenties who clearly have something to say through their mess of Ableton files, beaten-up noteboooks and samplers (maybe they attend art school, maybe they dropped out, it’s all universal). There’s one lyric “it’s who dares wins in the city” and that lyric alone perfectly describes what my time in Chicago, and later, the music industry has been like thus far. It’s funny to think that this too started out as a bedroom project. Side note: I got back from my first headlining tour two weeks ago. The first thing I did upon unpacking was reorganizing my studio space while blasting this record. I had to stop midway through and pay close attention. It hit me harder than it did when I was 13 and heard it for the first time. Granted, it’s one of those records where the meaning changes as you get older. Nowadays, it’s almost as if Mike Skinner was the universal poet laureate for my kind of people, striving to let something bleed out of us amidst all the bad weed, shitty takeout and ridiculously teenage journal entries.
As of late, I’ve heard or seen a lot of interviews with artists (I won’t bother naming them) that explain that their work is an “homage” or “tribute” to a certain nostalgic genre or sound, and about nine times out of ten, I get the feeling that labeling yourself like that can spiral out of control before you even step in the studio. I’ve never been about that. However, this album is a rare (and gorgeous) example of dodging that bullet. There isn’t one song on this record that excludes those distinct, nostalgia industrial vibes that evoke pop that I grew up listening in the backseat of my mom’s car when I was little (I’m talking those mid-90s industrial and tribal productions). That said, what’s most amazing about a song like “So Close To Paradise” (or even the anime-score intros, for that matter) is that even though that sense of “tribute” is there, the songwriting and production on this record still remain authentic. Props to James Brooks for that, it’s incredibly hard to pull off. Genuineness trumps influence, always.
Warning’s fair: this is a soundtrack to a musical. Yep. Sometimes I hide the fact that I grew up in into a theatrical family – it’s my sister’s profession as well as my father’s passion. I won’t say much about the plot of this musical – just that it’s that it’s about some dude who gets stuck in a cave (think 127 Hours in 1920s Kentucky). Adam Guettel writes shows that take all the stuff that makes contemporary musical theatre writing so banal and trite and totally spins it on its head. His chord progressions, more often than not, are full of surprises and always too fucking mind-bending – and yet it always seems to work. Since the play takes place in the South, the orchestration is bluegrass-oriented (banjos, harmonicas) but I hear more Stravinsky and Sakamoto — even Stevie Wonder, in the score. For me, “How Glory Goes” is one of the perfect songs about death written… always recommended listening, even if you wouldn’t be caught dead listening to musical theatre. I was like that once, but more recently, I’ve come to embrace my past (guilty, I too was a theatre kid in high school) and this album is probably the prototypical example of what got me back on the bandwagon. Oddly enough, I’m thankful for it.
MOWGLI is set to be released on February 26th via Lefse Records.