Nick James may be the most perplexing performer this writer has ever had to seek out for a profile piece.
First off, I got him confused with Bay Area rapper Nick Jame$ (notice the dollar sign at the end), who informed me he is not the Nick James I was looking for when I sent him an email request for a phone interview.
When I did track down the Nick James I was looking for – who turned out to be temporarily bunking with his parents right here in Raleigh – I was still a bit baffled about this dude and what kind of music he does. His Soundcloud page is filled with compositions that seem more like soundscapes for art installations than EDM jams you can dance to while guzzling energy drinks. (A couple of tracks are dedicated to artists Jasper Johns and Paul Cezanne.)
A former guitarist for the Raleigh art-rock band Oulipo, this 22-year-old UNC-Asheville graduate (who’ll be performing with HANZ and Choked Out tonight at Kings) is now making electronic music that’s more experimental than catchy.
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“I like to think my music now is kind of like deconstructing some beat atmospheres. But I’m kind of making, like, soundtrack music right now, almost,” says James (full name: Nick James Scavo), who has been referred to as a “soundtrackist.” “That kind of pigeonholes it, but, at this point, I’m just kind of trying to take some tropes and break them down and kind of make them more atmospheric, more like experimental stuff that’s not just a standard beat. But something with more kind of extended sounds, more kinds of atmospheric but have, like, something going on like that.”
Music is just one factor in James’s multimedia mission. He also designs websites for his releases, “trying to cultivate a design aesthetic that I’m interested in,” he says. “That I feel like isn’t really represented down South here much.” The sites themselves can be just as bizarre and confounding as his music. The site for his EP “The Hawk,” which was released last summer, basically consists of a series of weird, abstract collages, each serving as visual companions to the tracks on the EP.
James is also looking to make his live shows just as immensely audiovisual. “Actually, at shows, I bring two 40-inch, LCD televisions and have full, synced visuals going with the set to kind of give it this full kind of cinematic experience,” he says. Those who check out his Kings performance will be among the first to witness his new work – an upcoming five-track EP called “Drago.”
From the in-depth way James discusses creating his live sets, the man seems hellbent on providing a sparkling, sensuous experience for all those who attend. “You know, like, with a band, you’re watching stuff,” he says. “You’re seeing people play instruments. And with a lot of electronic music, you’re watching stuff too. You’re watching people twist some knobs and drop some things.
“So, with my show, I kind of thought, since it’s built for sound systems – there’s a lot of bass, there’s a lot of heavy, kind of reverberating, cinematic sound – I want visuals, but projections aren’t necessarily high-definition enough. So, I’ve kind of gone with this HDMI, dual flat-screen situation that gives it this kind of high-definition sound environment that, when people are listening to the music and watching the visuals, it’s a much different, musical experience.”
“Drago” will most likely be distributed through Asystems, the New York-based label (run by two of James’ former roommates from Asheville) that has been releasing all of James’ music. As soon as James gets back from Japan, where he’ll be profiling an artist for a music website, he’ll join them in March.
“They’re cultivating an aesthetic,” he says, “and I’m kind of one of their primary artists right now.”
As head-scratching, enigmatic and downright fascinating as Nick James can be as an artist and a performer, I’m sure he’ll fit in just fine.