Londoners Daniel Stephens and Joe Ray are the duo behind dubstep/drum ‘n’ bass outfit Nero, who first came to prominence last year with their single “Me & You”.
Swiftly signed to MTA Records – owned by the UK’s other massive Drum and Bass band, Chase & Status – the boys caught the attention of club goers and critics alike, being long-listed for the BBC Sound of 2011 award at the beginning of this year off the strength of “Me & You”, and yesterday hit the top of the singles chart with their most recent track, “Promises”. Today Nero release their debut album, “Welcome Reality”, and we caught the guys for a quick Q+A.
Describe your sound in five words
Joe: Epic. Basey. Drummy.
Dan: Musicy. Nero-y.
Nero, your namesake, was known as a tyrannical ruler in ancient Rome – are you fans of power and extravagance?
Joe: Yeah, he was a dark guy who was known for abusing his power. Which is what we plan to do when we take over the world.
Dan: For us as Nero, it was a short snappy word and memorable and recognisable and Italian for black and dark and has those connotations.
That comes across in your music videos with the video for “Promises” being quite totalitarian state-esque.
Dan: no it’s more a society – we’ve built a universe around the album that it takes place in and it’s dark and influenced by films like blade runner and things like that. It’s a vision of the future where we see our characters and music belonging.
How did you guys get into making music?
Joe: We met when we were about 16 drum and bass kids. So we’d hang out and do our own things independently with bands.
Were any successful?
Dan: Although I guess mine was quite serious but then the bass player became a wealthy investment banker, the singer became a huge model and then Nero happened so I’m doing that. So everyone became more successful.
Chase & Status are your label owners – what is their influence over your music? How did they recruit you?
Dan: We’d been sending them stuff for years and when they wanted to start a label they contacted us and it was a time when we were looking for a label to call home and so it was perfect. It was music to our ears they said they didn’t expect anything from us musically but just to write what we want and we didn’t have to be genre specific. Throughout our album making process we’ve been playing them our ideas and they’re a great sound board and they can advise.
Have they said anything has been shit?
Dan: Yes! [laughs]
Joe: They would say ‘what abut that other thing you were working on’ – so a little more tactful.
You were on the BBC Sound Of 2011 long-list – did that have any impact on the creation of your album? Not bitter about not winning?
Dan: I don’t think we were even top five. But it was great to be nominated. Well done for Jessie J.
Joe: Originally the album was going to be more underground and then “You & Me” was a bit more crossover and it was on mainstream radio and on tv and everywhere and so the label said we’d made some new fans and not just the usual crowd so we wrote a few more tunes to keep those fans there.
Who are your icons of the dubstep genre?
Dan: we’re not influenced so much by dubstep – we look outside a lot. A lot of French music – Daft Punk, Justice, [French record label] Ed Banger– within electronic music that is where a lot of our influence comes from. But then other than that it’s a bit of everything. We both love 80s pop rock.
Joe: We sampled a song of Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates [on the album] – a massive pop star from the 80s – and then it happened we had a mutual contact and he got on board to give vocals.
Dan: He is such a legend!
So 80s pop is basically what “Welcome Reality” is all about?
Dan: There’s a few cheeky samples hidden of Spandu Ballet. It’s cheese, but it’s good cheese [He’s joking. We think].
Welcome Reality, the debut album from Nero, is out now under Mercury / MTA Records
Interview: Seamus Duff