Wonderland.

NEW NOISE: NICK LENG

The South African singer-songwriter is about to have you in your feels with his debut album LEMONS.

Nick Leng
Nick Leng

As the days start to stretch and the sun plays hide and seek between the clouds – we’re looking for the soundtrack to see us into warmer (and better) times.

Thankfully, your antidote has arrived, in the form of South African singer-songwriter Nick Leng who has gained acclaim with his introspective and emotive sound. Heartstrings are twinged with melancholic tracks such as “Lonely Shade Of Blue”. “Lemons” whirrs into life, the sonic equivalent of having your hair float around in the wind on a warm summer’s day. And “Music To Clean Your House To” thumps the senses in a brisk staccato.

And now, his highly-anticipated debut album is here in the form of LEMONS – packed to the rafters with more lyrical prowess and textured production (expect everything from shuddering warped synths, to twinkling balladic choruses).

Born of an emotional breakup, an apartment fire and the loss of a friend, the record signals exciting things to come from the artist. We caught up with him below…

When did you first realise you wanted to make music?
I took classical piano lessons from the age of 8 and played in a band with my dad from 12. I’ve always had this obsession with sonics, textures and melodies. I used to fantasise about being on stage and performing. 

Who did you grow up listening to?
I was homeschooled until my senior year of high school before heading to college. That was quite an interesting environment to grow my taste as there wasn’t any outside peer pressure telling me what to listen to. I listened to lots of classical music which was the only thing I was allowed to listen to while doing school work. Mother’s rules! Lots of Chopin, Strauss, Liszt and anything melodically motivated in the Romantic era. Playing in a band with my dad introduced me to classical rock hits from the Beatles to the Beach boys. He was so passionate about Steely Dan, the Rolling Stones, Michael Franks and so many others. 

Later on in high school my brother and I would go to local libraries and burn CDs onto our computers, which started my journey into different bands, sounds and genres. It was honestly all over the place, from rap (Mos Def, MF Doom, Shabazz Palaces, anything Madlib touched), to Four Tet (specifically the There is Love in You album; his technique of using one note to do a whole myriad of things really changed me), to Animal Collective, to Coldplay. 

Youth Lagoon’s A Year in Hibernation had a profound effect on me. When I first listened to that album, I couldn’t move. That was the first time I felt like I truly understood the way an artist can hear and feel and see their music. Jonsi & Alex’s Riceboy Sleeps had a special place in my heart as well. Tallest Man on Earth, Gorillaz, Brainfeeder and Coldplay were also all fundamental to my growth as an artist.

How long has your debut album been in the works for? Why the name LEMONS?
I feel like there are two answers to this. I could say a year and a half/two, and have that be true, or I could say 5 years and have that be equally true. I’ve written, started, abandoned so much music over these years.  A couple years ago I decided to put out an album, which became a new journey. I view my music like a collage, with each song as a tile; no individual tile represents the whole picture but together something becomes clear. The journey of making and bringing the tiles together began around two or so years ago, but some of the songs have been with me for longer, like “Lonely Shade of Blue” which I slowly worked on for almost four years, and sweet thing coming together within a week.

As for why it is called Lemons, to me, the record feels like the word “lemons” – not the fruit, but how the word feels, the shape of it. Yellow, warm. 

What was it inspired by?
A whole myriad of things. There was a girl. There was a loss of a close friend. There was an escape. There was a heartbreak. There was the passing of time.

What’s been the most amazing feedback you’ve had on the record?
I think the best feedback I’ve got is from close friends who I’ve shared the record with. Having friends genuinely listen to it on repeat and begin attributing a season of their life with a song that has helped them or brought them comfort is unreal. I had a friend recently text me that “The sun is out! it’s a lemons day!” and that just meant the absolute world. 

What’s your favourite track or lyric and why?
That’s a hard one. It’s like picking a favourite child. I love each of them for different reasons. But, I think right now, the lyric “Time can be so rude when it means the most” from the last song on the record “In a Book”.  As quite a nostalgic person that cherishes family and memories, I wrestle with the idea of time quite a lot. That lyric came right after my roommate died. I realised what we planned to do together was never going to come to fruition. It really made me think about what’s important. You never know when the things that are most meaningful will be snuffed out. 

“Lonely Shade Of Blue” is heartbreaking – is it terrifying putting out music so vulnerable and raw to you?
Thank you! It used to be terrifying but, as time has moved forward and I have become more secure in who I am, that fear has lessened a bit. It’s been interesting to see how that fear directly correlates to how I am feeling about myself and the spiritual space that I am in. sometimes the fear is heightened when i feel fragile in myself, and then sometimes it disappears because the attitude becomes “this is me, so be it.” 

What’s been your biggest pinch-me moment so far?
Probably finishing this music. I’m the worst finisher. Or I was during the creation of this album; I hopefully have slain some of those demons by now. Also this upcoming LP tour which feels like a huge milestone in my career.

What’s next for you/what are you excited for?
I’m itching to get the next era of music out. I have made so much music over this time and I’m making so much music even now. I feel like I have so many more tiles for the collage. I don’t think I’ll be able to be at peace until the picture is clear. 

NEW NOISE: NICK LENG

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