Interview

Q&A: Nick Hakim On His Debut Album, Dealing With Pressure, & Nick Drake

Nick Hakim’s sumptuous folk-soul-hop debut, Green Twins, seems destined to be one of those albums you hear everywhere this summer, from the hipper coffeeshops to cookouts to smoke-out and make-out sessions, and beyond. Co-produced by Andrew Sarlo, it’s a smart blend of dusted beats, finely plucked chords, and heady production you can get lost in, topped off by Hakim’s disarmingly beautiful upper register.

The Brooklyn-via-D.C. resident first gained attention for his two self-recorded EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, which were released in 2014 to critical raves. The EPs’ raw, stripped-down ballads earned Hakim an opening slot with Maxwell and a record deal with ATO, and for his debut full-length he’s fully embraced the studio-as-instrument ethos for a genre-blurring set of songs equally indebted to ’70s British folk and ’90s hip-hop. Hakim recorded the bulk of his album at home, where he takes pains not to annoy the neighbors with whom he shares thin walls. He talked with Stereogum recently about his songwriting process and how working in a record store affected his approach.

STEREOGUM: Are you one of those guys who writes for a certain amount of time at an exact time, like four hours every day as soon as you wake up for example, or is it just kind of whenever inspiration strikes?

HAKIM: It comes in phases for me. There are times when I’ll be able to write every day for a little bit of time. But there are phases I go through where I’m writing a lot, and then sometimes… I haven’t toured super extensively, but I find it difficult to write when I’m on the road. But when I’m home, I’m always thinking, I’m always writing. There’s no scheduled thing though, it just kinda happens. I’m always practicing or I’m always playing my guitar or whatever.

STEREOGUM: You made your Where Will We Go EPs right when you first got out of college, and got some attention from The New York Times, Fader and a lot of other places. What was it like for you to have something small that you made by yourself all of a sudden catch on?

HAKIM: The process of making that record took a few years, so it felt good to actually share it with people, and I’m just happy that people were receptive to it. I felt a little nervous, but I also wanted to share it and made that decision to share it, so I kind of just embraced anything.

STEREOGUM: You said you were nervous. Was it because it was the first thing you made, and it was so raw, both emotionally and sonically?

HAKIM: Yeah. Especially in the beginning phase of making those EPs, I didn’t really understand what it meant to put out music. I was just making the record with friends. So when it came time to finish, the whole idea of releasing and sharing, I was nervous a little bit, because it was pretty personal stuff, which I think is why people might have resonated with it so much. I feel like a lot of my favorite people are very vulnerable with themselves.

STEREOGUM: That EP came out three years ago. Was there any kind of thought in your head like, “I need to hurry and get a full length out right away to chase this momentum”?

HAKIM: No. No, that shit takes time. I think now, having this actual full-length done, I’m not feeling pressured to make something else. But I’m also like, I don’t want to take that long to make a record again. I think everybody is so different in their process, and for me it’s like, I like to take my time. I think I’m a lot better at writing and just like recording stuff. I’m a little more familiar with the whole process. I feel like I’m a little more mature, but with still a lot left to learn. But in a sense, I feel like I could make another recording in a shorter amount of time.

STEREOGUM: You say you’re still learning. What do you think was the main thing you learned while making Green Twins?

HAKIM: Oh man. So much. I’d say I learned a lot about mixing, about drum programming, arranging in certain ways, and just so many different layers of making a recording. I just kind of went further. I learned a lot about how to think about recordings, and the textures and the arrangement, and how that ties into a mix and how that turns into just creating an energy.

STEREOGUM: I really like the cover art. Is it supposed to be a tribute to Pink Floyd or Nick Drake’s old album covers?

HAKIM: I gave references to Keith Rankin, who made the artwork. He’s the genius behind that; he’s really fucking amazing. We just had a conversation and I told him what I was thinking and that’s what he came up with. A lot of his work is surreal, but still has elements that are familiar. You’re talking about the Pink Moon album cover right?

STEREOGUM: Yeah.

HAKIM: Yeah. I can see that. I mean, that album art is incredible and very surreal and extremely psychedelic.

STEREOGUM: I was wondering if you were a big fan of Nick Drake, because I kind of heard a little bit of influence in your stuff. I was wondering if it was like a tribute.

HAKIM: I definitely went through a long Nick Drake phase. He has three full albums. I have one of my friends who’s from London actually, who gave me a whole flash drive of demos, just recordings of some of his songs that he’s put on his albums. There’s like six different versions of “Saturday Sun,” which was a song that I would play a lot. I like the piano/vocal version of “Saturday Sun” by Nick Drake. It’s one of my favorite recordings of his. It’s so beautiful.

STEREOGUM: When you were making the album, what were you going for with this? As opposed to the EPs, were you looking to do anything different? I definitely hear more of a ’90s hip-hop, downbeat influence on this.

HAKIM: There’s a lot of things I feel like we were going for, consciously and subconsciously. A lot of hip-hop influences in terms of the drums, there’s a lot of ’60s shit that I was listening to. There’s a lot of different albums that we were checking out that we referenced to a certain extent and that we were really into. We were listening to a lot of Portishead and Robert Wyatt, he has this album called Old Rottenhat that I really fucking love. A lot of early Stones and Shuggie Otis, like Inspiration Information, and a lot of RZA beats and Madlib beats. I think vocally, I tried to create personalities within each song. I attempted it, in my head. It might not seem like that to the outside, it might be something more in my head.

In the beginning stages of the album, I was also working at a record store where I was exposed to so much different shit all the time. I was like pricing records and going through old collections that would come into the shop. So there was a lot of different music that I was exposed to within the past few years that helped shape the sound.

Green Twins is out now via ATO.

Tags: Nick Hakim