Wonderland talks to the Brooklyn based artist wooing us with his heartbreaking take on Soul
In a sea of evasive pop songs, Nick Hakim’s brutally direct and heartfelt melodies have gained quite the following resulting in sellout concerts across Europe. His culturally diverse upbringing in Washington D.C has helped mold an artist unafraid to blend genres and come up with something really rather special. Influenced by classics such as Marvin Gaye to more contemporary artists with the likes of D’Angelo and John Legend, there is no containing Nick’s signature sound.
An artist unpreoccupied with end results and media attention, his classy melodies will have the most uncomfortable of singers freestyling along to his tracks. End result? A whole barrage of coverage from Vogue to The Huffpost. Indeed, his integrity has paid off. Nick supported an icon of his Maxwell and is about to support How to Dress Well on their UK tour.
We talk to Nick about being pigeonholed, how music kept him out of trouble, love and loss.
You’ve had a lot of coverage in the press. Were you expecting that kind of publicity and how does it feel?
We’re working hard so people can hear what’s going on. We’re self-releasing everything. I think a lot of these publications have really great writers and it’s great that so many people are writing about it but I think it’s easy to put everything in a box, it’s just the nature of the business. I’ve just been working on a new project and that’s all I really care about at the end of the day.
What was it like opening for Maxwell?
He’s such a nice guy, he’s shown me a lot of love towards what I was doing. He’s an icon in a lot of respects, especially in the whole R&B and Soul and Jazz world. His musicians were church folks and really well know people in the jazz scene.
So is one of your primary sources of inspiration Church/ Gospel?
Growing up in D.C I grew up Catholic however I used to sing in a Gospel Choir in Baptist churches in the city and we used to do a lot of spirituals and tunes: that’s how I learnt how to sing. I’ve always had a big love for R&B and soul. I didn’t start taking music seriously until I was 16 or 17 and I was like “This is what I’m going to do”. I was also exposed to a lot of Latin Music and Hardcore Punk.
Describe your upbringing in DC. Did your parents support and nurture your decision to follow music?
I was never good in school academically. I used to get in some trouble because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a pretty unique school scenario and was in Special Education. I was on all sorts of medication. I lived in a super musical household so music was accepted and embraced. I have good folks, they have my back in a lot of scenarios.
You have the ability to talk about things on a really deep level and be vulnerable. Does it take a lot of courage to write in this way?
‘I Don’t Know’ is about people that have died in my life. I have some friends that passed away in my senior year. My Grandfather passed away before I wrote this song. It’s about loss. I would think about my friend Brandon, who died, he had cancer, we played on the same basketball team and it’s like, “That’s my boy” and it’s a natural thing, you lose people. My brother lost his best friends and they were all by default close to me and essentially like family and that song reflects how I’m feeling about that. When I was making it I wasn’t thinking “How am I going to put this out?” This music is from a long time ago so I’ve been thinking about how to release it in the best way. I felt like it wasn’t intended to be released. We put so much effort into it but we just didn’t really think about that. We were just making it and it was one of the most organic processes I’ve felt. Obviously I’m glad that people are hearing it but it’s a pretty vulnerable position that you put yourself in when you expose something that’s personal.
Your music is raw and straight up. Is this something that you’ve had to work on or do you feel it is your only choice when writing a song?
It’s what just comes out. I think that with a lot of music it’s very thought out and orchestrated and extremely arranged but there’s a lot of incredible music that is just as valid. A Band like Bad Brains with Black Dots, which is the rawest fucking album, it’s just straight up, they’re basement recordings. I think it really depends because a lot of the new shit is really just me in my room or a space that I’m working from. I’m not making music to satisfy Pitchfork or satisfy Hype Machine, I don’t care about that necessarily. I just think about what it’s going to say.
You’ve been compared to the likes of D’Angelo, John Legend and The Beetles. Who are musical influences past and present?
Smokey Robinson is one of my favourite singers. I really love Phil Spector’s era and his whole cloud of madness. There’s a whole load of stuff that I’ve checked out that I love. There’s this new band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Singers and people that emote are Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Chet Baker, I learnt so much from listening to Chet Baker, it’s so straight tone. I really like the John Legend thing: I grew up listening to the whole Get Lifted record. That record is fucking badass and his other stuff’s really cool too. But if you think about what he’s doing now. And also D’Angelo: I was like obsessed with his Voodoo album and His Brown Sugar record.
So what’s coming up for you next?
On Monday I’m going back to the UK, I’m opening up for How to Dress Well for six shows. We’re going to Brighton, Liverpool, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and London.
Words: Elinor Sigman.