Nilo Blues talks the release of his self-titled debut EP and facilitating self-discovery through music.
Shot by Frank Lin
Shot by Frank Lin
Introducing Nilo Blues, the Canadian singer-songwriter raised on a diet of rap and R&B heavyweights such as Lauryn Hill, Boyz II Men and Biggie Smalls. Blues has been making huge waves in the music scene over the past year, combining immersive storytelling with his own style of twinkly, synthetic trap.
With his self-titled debut EP out today, Blues further defines his artistry with an eclectic mix of hip-hop tunes and explosive trap bangers, tackling subject matter from hypermasculinity in the industry to his own cultural identity. Out of all six tracks, the EP’s closing track “Nicotiana” is one of the project’s biggest standouts. If you couldn’t tell from the title, the track was penned about Blues’ own tricky relationship with smoking, steeped in dreamy drum beats and an endless flow of the artist’s own lush vocals.
“With this project I wanted to start creating the universe that is Nilo Blues,” the artist tells us. “I feel each song represents an exaggerated aspect of my own persona and there’s so many sides of Nilo that I want to show to the world. This isn’t just me and my character, but gaining perspective and self-discovery along the way.”
We caught up with Nilo below, unpacking fans’ reactions to his deeply personal tunes, and predicting what the rest of the year might bring for us…
Hi Nilo, how has lockdown been for you? Tell us one thing you’ve learned?
It’s honestly been super eye-opening and grounding. I’ve been doing a lot of learning how to be kind to myself and others. Understanding where things come from and why they’re happening really help to not take things personally in life. I read the Four Agreements recently and I’ve been learning to implement them on the daily. I think they’re always super helpful reminders. Be impeccable with your word, never take things personally, never assume anything, always try your best.
How has your Vietnamese-Chinese Canadian heritage influenced your sound?
I struggle to find the answer to this question all the time. My heritage doesn’t exactly make me the artist I am today. It’s a big question. Yes, it’s shaped my life in a million ways but regardless my background is not my art. I AM my art. I get these questions all the time, and I feel like there’s always this preconceived notion that being a certain race will have this obvious effect on the type of shit you’re making. I think it affects us deeper than we can really ever understand. but then again it’s also how you perceive the question, and it’s different for everyone. Personally I think my experience and character in itself is everything in my music, and that’s how Nilo Blues was birthed. But it’s not driving my music, it’s driving my lifestyle and mentality. It’s shaped the way I see the world in every aspect. Also attaching race and ethnicity is just another way to compartmentalism what I’m doing and it’s bigger than just that.
Who did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a LOT of Hip Hop and R&B. My mom raised me on SWV, Lauryn Hill, Boyz 2 Men, New Edition. My dad put me on Tupac, Biggie, Jeezy, Three 6 Mafia, Yo Gotti. But growing up dancing, I really found my love for iconic entertainers and performers like James Brown, MJ, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars. I’m honestly so grateful to have been raised surrounded by different music at all times. I got a taste of Electronic/Dance, Pop, Alternative, Rock at such a blurry part of my growth as a human. I think there’s way more music that has influenced my sound than I truly understand and have a grasp of.
The music video for “Nicotiana” is so so sick – and influenced by your different heritages – what did you want to achieve and convey with the visuals?
We wanted to make it feel like a nicotine hit. Like you’re in a daze and have a certain elastic-like suspense and release. Jimi Hendrix was the inspiration for my look, and the locations we scouted had to feel organic and ethereal. I also wanted that dreamlike quality to paint over the true substance of the song. I love juxtaposition, and playing on the contrasting ideas of having something that feels so beautiful yet truly mean something darker has always been a goal of mine for a concept like Nicotiana.
What was the song inspired by?
It was inspired by my toxic love story with nicotine. It’s something that I’ve been battling with for 3 years now. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I really question how far I’ve come with this substance and slowly starting to understand it’s place in my life. I really wanna break out of this spell. I’m using this EP release date as the cut-off date for smoking as well. When you release a song or project, it’s like finally exhaling those ideas and thoughts out. So now that a song like nicotiana is being exhaled out of my system, I think I can attach my need to the substance to that idea and let it drive me to finally quit.
And your self-titled debut EP is coming out – what ties it together as a body of work?
I think the rawness of the work is really what ties it all together. It’s meant to set the spectrum and foundation for my work, and I tried not to change the core of the music too much from its original thought. I wanted to give everyone just enough to have a taste of what I want to do. I want people to feel evolution as time goes by so keeping my debut EP as organic and natural to myself as possible is key for me. I made the entirety of these songs during my very first 7-day session camp. so you’re really getting an authentic cohesive experience with the storm of my heart running free, and my natural instinct taking over.
And your music challenges a lot of racial stereotypes – what’s the best feedback you’ve ever had on your music?
I absolutely love hearing when people tell me that my music has gotten them through certain experiences in life. It’s hard to substantiate feedback though because it’s so personal and all unique. I thrive on feedback whether it be negative or positive. so I appreciate all feedback because it offers me a chance to gain perspective and grow.
How do you want people to feel when they listen to your music?
I want people to feel free to interpret my music in the way they want to. I want you all to attach whatever memory you need to my music in order for you to find light and feel amazing. I want people to cry if they have to, yell if they have to, or dance if they have to. I’m really excited to just experience those feelings with everyone.
What are you excited for? What are you looking for in 2020?
I’m really excited to just keep pushing myself to make the least watered down art I can make. I want to keep speaking my truth, and hold reality close. Making music has helped me break a lot of the illusions I’ve given myself, and the more I grow as an artist I grow as a person. So I’m really excited for more personal discovery, and sharing this journey with the world. I’m also really looking forward to when I can run away to Europe/Asia for a bit and come back with a plethora of new ideas and concepts.