NAATIONS on Crafting a Global Sound
With successful collaborations from the likes of Duke Dumont and Gorgon City under their belts, Australians Nat Dunn & Nicky Night Time are poised to make their mark on the mainstream. To celebrate the release of their debut EP “Teardrop” on September 21st, the two discuss how collaboration, distance, and ever-changing locales influence their growing body of work.
Growing up in Australia, what was your point of entry into the electronic music scene?
Nat: I’d always been interested in dance music, especially after I worked on some stuff with Ministry of Sound when I was younger. I was signed to a publishing deal when I was 15 so had a well-rounded experience before meeting Nicky. When I was a kid I loved listening to the legends: Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, Ella Fitzgerald… Janis Joplin too, for her perfect raspy delivery.
Nicky: I started off playing jazz guitar when I was young, and my mum got me “The Real Book”, which had all the jazz song structures and standards. That became my bible, but jazz gave way to punk as a sort-of rebellion against that sort of formal training. Around then I took ecstasy for the first time in a two-story garage listening to drum and bass and house music and from there… God knows! But it did lead to producing for other artists (laughs).
How would you describe the electronic music scene in Australia?
Nicky: In Australia we have pretty strict lockout laws that basically force a lot of nightclubs to shut down, so a lot of the live venues that I grew up playing in and meeting fellow fans and musicians have been closed. Those places were functioning communities of like-minded people, and when they shut down opportunities to make music are lost. So nowadays a lot of kids just get together over the internet––I mean, that’s how we met!
How did you two meet?
Nat: Nicky actually saw a video of me on a mutual friend’s Instagram––the friend actually now publishes us both––but yeah, he saw a video of me drunkenly singing (laughs) and then we were honestly just like let’s write something together.
I was living in LA at the time but happened to be in Sydney so we just wrote something at his place while I was there. We listened back to it and were just like, “Damn, this is really different”.
How did the name NAATIONS come about?
Nat: It was really a reflection of both our experiences recording in all these different cultural capitals. Like, it doesn’t just sound like New York dance music, or Australian dance music, or UK house, it’s a mix of global influences derived from our experiences.
At what point did the two of you decide to begin producing together?
Nat: We only really decided to do NAATIONS because I was writing for a lot of other artists and Nicky was doing the same from a production standpoint, but the stuff we made together always sounded really different. Every time we finished something it had a good vibe and just felt, sort of, special.
Nicky: Yeah, the sound and chemistry we had together really did the trick.
Do you find it more empowering writing & producing for yourselves as opposed to other artists?
Nicky: Yeah! I hate writing for other artists (laughs).
Nat: Not really! I actually find muses all the time and get obsessed with certain people or sounds, so really enjoy the balance that writing for someone else brings to my artistic career. I always wanna work with other people!
Nicky: Yeah, I think that’s to do with who you are––you’re naturally drawn to stories, as a songwriter, so creating these relationships through other peoples’ narratives is really empowering in a way.
What are the driving lyrical and sonic forces behind your new track, “Air & Water”?
Nat: The chorus came out of a jam session in Los Angeles, but the rest of the track I actually wrote in London about a year later. Nicky and Alex Metric were working on the track––I remember they were playing some samples that just sounded really pressing and urgent. And the chorus, the only part that was written, kept coming back into my mind. I realized that that’s what the song’s about––I’m obsessed, completely obsessed with someone. And I think that’s kind of cool, the desperation and obsession inherent to love. Like, I really can’t live without you, if I can’t have you it’s like not having air or water––I’m dead.
Yeah, the sonic stuttering after the chorus delivery is reminiscent of someone gasping for their last breath––it’s an effective combination.
Nicky: Yeah, I thought it was interesting to produce something regarding obsessive love that wasn’t so typically sad. I think the majority of what we do with NAATIONS is try to achieve the balance between “quiet-heavy”, and you notice it here because the track is always so up and forward moving, but the lyrics deal with a serious subject-matter.
Our tracks “Want Me More” and “Alive” are similar in that they’re super heavy lyrically, but we’re able to make it danceable so that it doesn’t seem as sad.
Nat: Yeah, that’s become a bit of a thing for us where we can deliver messages that are heavy in a way that’s human, that people can approach and dance to.
Nicky: Yeah, we always joke, “Imagine if the people in the club start crying because they hear the lyrics and are like ‘this is actually really sad!’”. It’s usually difficult to convey negative emotions in electronic tracks because they’re inevitably danceable, but we try to give our releases an emotional depth for those listening closely.
You collaborated with Duke Dumont & Gorgon City on the hit track “Real Life”; how did that come about?
Nat: One of the first times Nicky and I hung out was actually at Duke’s house––we were jamming in his room and wrote that track there. Nicky had met Duke at a festival before, and Duke mentioned that Gorgon City had been wanting to collaborate for some time so we all put our heads together and figured out rough ideas. The actual song was recorded in LA but I wrote it and Nicky produced it in Sydney.
How did working separately impact the recording process?
Nat: Mostly in terms of different continents and their respective sounds; when we started NAATIONS I was living in LA and Nicky was still in Sydney, so we’d be doing separate recordings in Sydney and LA, sending them back and forth. And then Nicky would be in Paris, or I’d be in London, recording separately and being influenced by these different places. Once the project started getting more serious we spent six months living in London, around the time the track with Gorgon & Duke was released.
As Australian artists, why did you both decide to leave Australia and move to Los Angeles?
Nat: I’d moved there before we started NAATIONS––in Australia I was writing for people like winners of “The Voice”, but I wanted a bigger pond so-to-speak.
Nicky: I really never thought I’d live in LA. I never liked it at all, and have always been more inclined to move to London––I’ve actually lived there a few times. I prefer London in the sense that the culture there now, and always, has been so much richer than anything I experienced in Australia. The mix of cultures is so enjoyable––we don’t have all these intertwined subcultures of music and art that have been around for so long.
I guess in Australia we have something more like “pastiches”––music stars and sounds that we’ve stolen from the world and have sort of created our own Australian versions of. To me Los Angeles represents the opposite; every time I went there I was like “OK, this is real, this is the shit”. And I think over time, as I made more friends and had some family members move, I really grew to like it.
Outsiders tend to view Australia as an isolated cultural microcosm largely due to it’s geographic location. How do you see it?
Nicky: I think because we’re so far away, we do tend to latch onto things and make our own versions. We sort of grab random things that are happening over there, and then have a defeatist mentality of, “we’re not good enough because we’re so far away, nobody’s paying attention”. In Australia we all have FOMO, but that in-and-of-itself creates a scene. Having to look at everyone through a proverbial glass window, wondering why we can’t join in the fun… We just decided to create our own thing.
You two are still at the beginning of your careers as NAATIONS. What does the future hold in store?
Nat: We’re actually getting the final mixes for our first EP back today!
Nicky: Yeah, it feels so good! Stressful, but good.
Nat: We’re also going on tour to celebrate––going around Europe all of next month.
What made you both decide to release the EP?
Nat: Well, now that we have a few singles out, we’re hoping the EP will solidify our body of work so we can focus on hitting the festival circuit next year. We’ve also been in the studio all week writing new tracks, so we’re gonna try to get another EP out before the end of the year if we’re lucky.
Nicky: Yeah, we feel really good about being here (in New York City), just walking around here is so energizing and inspiring. We both love living in LA, but New York has a really different energy to it, similar to how London made us feel.
Finally, after all these years of composing and traveling, what’s the driving force that keeps you two going?
Nicky: Ultimately for me it goes back to what was special to me about jazz: it’s the feeling of “getting it”, of going on that journey within yourself and returning with something new. It’s definitely the feeling that still drives me when I’m producing. It’s not necessarily the music theory or physicality that’s special for me, it’s the spiritual aspect.
Nat: Yeah, I feel the same. I think that speaks to our upbringings around music––they were very different, but we both experience the same thing.
Check out a playlist of NAATIONS’ favorite tracks, chosen exclusively for TIDAL:
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