Interview with Nikademus (Sonik Foundry)
By P. James
Sonik Foundry is a project that both exemplifies and carries the torch of futurepop to new heights and conclusions. With the release of Parish of Redemption on Nilaihah Records, Sonik Foundry has begun to solidify their position as an up and coming artist both to be believed in and listened to with rapt attention. From the humble beginnings as a side project of Bow Ever Down, the sound of Sonik Foundry has come into a life of its own earning both respect and numerous fans. The album Mechanized clued many fans of acts such as Assemblage 23 and VNV Nation in to a new progressive sound. Now, with Parish of Redemption gone to print and mass release on March 28th, we caught up with Nikademus to discuss the noise, his personal take on the history of the genre, and his process of creation.
Greetings. Thanks for taking time out to talk with us today. I understand we’re reaching you at a very busy time on the eve of the release of your sophomore album, Parish of Redemption.
I first want to start out with discussing CD release parties. Of course, with the release of Parish of Redemption, I imagine there’s going to be a lot of clubbing going on. Do you get down and boogie or do you prefer to mingle at these sorts of events?
Nik: For the most part, I prefer to mingle. However I do get down on the floor depending on the band or song, or if I’m coerced enough (lol) -- but sure -- I do occasionally hit the dance-floor, as for me, it’s all about fun and good times, meeting new friends and fans, and enjoying life!
The album is fabulous by the way. I’ve been taking a listen to the album and it’s incredibly danceable. As a club-goer myself, this album has an insane amount of promise to get my boots stomping. In general, can you share with us your feelings on the club scene and what inspires you to create this range of club rhythms?
Nik: Thank you, Patrick. I’m glad you like the new album.
Some say that the Industrial-EBM scene is a dying scene. I feel that the scene is simply in a state of flux at the moment, and is at a state of transition; influenced by a need for change -- to bring new life to the scene -- to ensure its existence. Times “are” changing. That is a fact, not because I say this, but because trends change as time goes on -- it’s human nature. To me, the music scene is like an ever-rotating water wheel that accumulates new styles and influences from its aqueduct as era’s repeat over and over. History does repeat itself, but becomes slightly different each time around. This is why I think an 80’s type of music is on its way back into the scene. Almost out of nowhere, we see that many “80’s” artists like Duran Duran are breathing new life into the club scene. Another big influence in the scene and the type of music being produced stems from the rapid growth of technology and recent economical pitfalls. In general, I don't think the scene is dying at all. I just think the club scene needs some change -- a new flavor of EBM -- and I thought that I could help usher in a new era with the type of music I’m producing.
Being born into a life of music, as my father owned and operated his own booking agency, I was heavily into music and 90’s Techno and club music, and had been an adult contemporary DJ since 1980, spinning the likes of MicMac and Cutting Records artists in NJ and NY -- so I’m sure that much of my range of club rhythms stem from my experience as a DJ – I’ve always had a true passion for music that promotes body movement, and what better way to move a body than with EBM with a heavy dance influence, serrated-edged techno synth-lines, with both clean and distorted vocals.
You’ve shown a true talent for aggressive EBM, many have likened your last album Mechanized to the likes of Assemblage 23 and numerous other futurepop acts. As one who has definitely found themselves in the ranking, can you talk with us for a moment about futurepop and the evolution of EBM? As both a label manager for Hitman and as a contributor to Nilaihah and Alfa Matrix (both as Sonik Foundry and Bow Ever Down), what do you see regarding the future of the genre?
Nik: Thank you for your recognition, Patrick. In a nutshell, it is my understanding that future-pop and EBM originated from the late 1970’s and 1980’s, as many underground 80’s “NewWave” bands surfaced and shined with a hit song or two in the mainstream scene for short period of time, then rapidly fell back to earth into the underground scene once again with nothing. These are known as the “One Hit Wonders”, and there was a lot of this going on during the 80’s. This caused much resentment from these bands towards the mainstream, spinning off the birth of EBM. This is where I think the term “Fuck The Mainstream” comes from. Take, for instance, Blondie, who I believe was one of the bands that had introduced the underground scene to mainstream. However, one band has seemed to have an immunity to this trend: Depeche Mode. Depeche Mode, standing the test of time, has been a huge influence in much of the EBM we have today. You can hear influences of DM in almost every flavor of Synthpop EBM. On the other hand, the forefather of Industrial, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, has also been a huge influence in much of the harsh industrial we have today. On the rebellious side of underground, -- known as Punk Rock -- perhaps bands like The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys, and the Sex Pistols, may had played a significant role in Influencing the scene as well. One band we all know, KMFDM, has created a unique sound that was different altogether, having several influences across the spectrum, like many of the bands I mentioned above, and with Sascha, simply being tired of the same music he was forced to listen to.
What I think about the future of the genre; time, technology, and the need for new types of sounds will evolve the genre, as it happening right now. There may be spinoff sub-genres, or EBM may be called something different altogether. As I previously stated, I think the scene needs a new flavor of sound to breathe new life into the scene, and I think Sonik Foundry and Bow Ever Down are prepared to deliver these two types of EBM.
Going back to the new album, I find it to be well crafted, with vocals uncompromised by distortion and obtrusive ‘harshness’. In a way, I’ve tried to describe the vocals in the same manner I’ve talked about the vocals of Ronan Harris, Tom Shear, or Andylab of Syrian: like water – flowing and full. I hear this distinct quality in numerous futurepop/EBM artists. Forgiving my zen haiku moment, can you talk about your choice in vocal range and style? What made you choose this particular style?
Nik: Many of my influences are bands that sing with clean vocals. Clean vocals are easier to understand, thus making it easier to convey my message. I wanted to put as much effort into the melody of my lyrics as I did the music, which I feel is a quality like no other. To me, clean melodic vocals sound more heart-felt, and I believe I can convey powerful emotion with clean vocals, just as much, if not more than with distorted vocals; that is why I decided to employ both. With Malic Acid and his distorted screams coupled with my clean vocals, I think we have created a diverse sound that will be enjoyed by both Synthpop fans, as well as the rivet-head and Industrial fans; widening our fanbase.
I’m drawn to the lyrics of “Darkness Falls”. There is a lot to digest in these lyrics, but I’m especially looking at their personal nature. You seem to be addressing someone specifically in the track. With this album, where do you find the inspiration for lyrical themes? To whom do you find yourself speaking to?
Nik: Many of my lyrics that tell a story about a person are about fictitious characters that I have created for the song. Some influences come from current events, past events, dreams, others’ dreams, and simply creating lyrics on the fly.
As this is your second album with Nilaihah Records, and also as the founder and manager of Hitman records, can you discuss what goes into publishing acts for those unfamiliar? Given your unique view of the industry on the inside, can you talk about what goes into publishing?
Nik: Lots of promotion and target marketing, the utilization of trusted street team members, and a building of a loyal fanbase that will want your music. Target marketing, and the use of demographics and statistical information is imperative for successfully marketing your published works to the right audience.
The business of conducting a record label must be exhausting work. What is the major difference between releasing on your own under the Hitman label versus publishing under Nilaihah?
Nik: Well that’s just it, it is exhausting, both physically and mentally, and having started a label from nothing posed a major undertaking in getting it known, respected, and accepted. Not anyone can just open a label, slap a few bands they worked with on it, and call themselves a label. Operating a label takes business sense, money, connections, years of experience in the scene, street smarts, and an entrepreneurial drive. Operating a label also takes marketing skill, and the ability to offer turn-key solutions from master to the customers’ hand -- from taking the master recording of an artist, to reproduction and distribution, to promotion and marketing, the operation of a label is hard work -- there’s also the legal aspect of it too, like recording and distribution contracts, as well as exclusive and non-exclusive contracts. Other legal issues are: having to worry about copyright infringement, file sharing, and theft of music. There is much risk-taking in label management, like is the band going to sell enough albums to generate ROI for the label, and is the band going to fulfill their contract to the termination date? But, just with any business, there is no success without the will to accept risk.
Being a father of three, and having a full time Network Administrator gig, plus a computer repair and website development company, releasing under the Hitman label became too taxing with so many other things going on -- having released this with Hitman would have added so much more stress and work to our already overflowing plates -- so having Nilaihah Records to back our releases has alleviated much of the duplication and distribution finances and groundwork. Also, signing with Nilaihah has proven to be much more productive in getting our projects going, given that the label is already well established in the scene.
Looking at the musical process, what goes into writing a Sonik Foundry track? Is composition a slow process or is that flash of inspiration a quick and spontaneous process?
Nik: Generally speaking, when I compose a track, I always start with a bassline and a simple beat. I then add complimentary pads, leads, sound effects, and an occasional sound sample from foley engineering, or sounds from various content archives. At this point, more synth lines are added and the song evolves from trial and error, and if it sounds good to me, it stays; if it doesn't, it goes. I audition numerous synth sounds from both hardware like Access Virus TI and software synths like Rob Papen and ReFX software plugins. After adding dynamics, EQing, and effects, I mix down the song. At this point I add lyrics, add dynamics, EQing and effects. I then tweak, try different things, then do a final mix and bounce. After bouncing, I master the track, burn it to a CD and play it on several different players... iPod, Car, home stereo, clock radio, other peoples’ stereos and cars; and if it does not sound good or if it needs adjustment, I go back to the mix and make adjustments. I do this process until I’m satisfied with the sound quality.
With any art form, it's Art, it could take as long, or as short as you feel is necessary to get the result you want. A song is really never finished; it is only complete when the writer is satisfied with the end result. Track composition sometimes can be spontaneous, or it can be well planned out first on paper. However, I don't write an entire song before entering the studio, I’m not “The Beatles” (lol); I like trial and error, and hearing different things, this is also great for the preparation of remixes. Most often than not, remixes are made during the process of making the original song.
Composing a song can take hours, or it can take months, depending on the complexity, the amount of time you have to dedicate to it, and how much you want to put into it. Also, a song idea could come from a dream, or a melody that I think of, or it could come from simply auditioning sounds on the DAW.
When out of the studio and you have a flash of inspiration for a track, how do you remember it for later? Do you carry around a journal or anything?
Nik: Yes, I carry a handheld voice recorder and I have a voice recording app for my Droid X. If I have a melody that comes to me, I sing or hum it into my recorder for later when I hit the studio.
Maine is usually not the first thing I think of when it comes to industrial music (until you came along!). Can you describe for us the local scene and the vibe? What’s it like there?
Nik: In Bangor, Maine; where I currently reside, there is not much of an EBM-Industrial scene. However, recent talk on Facebook may change that, who knows. There is a small scene in Portland, and there is a weekly dance event held at “Plague” at the Asylum which runs every Friday night. Last year we performed there and had a release party for the Mechanized album. We have a release party for the new album there on April 8th, 2011, and possible plans to perform there again.
Sonik Foundry has also taken on a new member recently in the guise of T.S. Moth as part of the live act. Can you tell us what he will bring to the show and how he will be featured in Sonik Foundry performances?
Nik: T.S. Moth is a multi-talented individual that has much to offer the project, having a vast skill set, including guitar, percussion, and keys; he is a valuable asset to the project. His primary role is guitar.
Looking at T.S. Moth’s biographical elements, I’m excited by the idea of hearing possible rock elements. I understand that Sonik Foundry is founded on percussion and synthesizer. What sort of transition and evolution of sound will we hear with the inclusion of the guitar?
Nik: When I first discovered T.S., I was interested in a keyboardist, but after speaking with him, he seemed to be more comfortable with playing guitar so I figured ‘why not?’ and give him a try. When T.S. first came to audition, I was skeptical about how guitar was going to sound against the music. By the first two songs, Linda and I were awestruck at the sound, how it added such a dynamic and fullness to the SF sound. We were amazed! So by the end of the audition, we hired him on the spot and welcomed him aboard.
Speaking of the live shows, I understand you’re assisted by Malic Acid and Indigo, as well. For those who haven’t seen a Sonik Foundry show, what do we hear on stage versus listening to a Sonik Foundry album?
Nik: Live, elements are removed from the tracks to create the backing tracks. I remove all the Verse and Bridge lyrics, but leave in the Chorus lyrics to add fullness, as I often will sing in harmony with the backing chorus with an octave up or down, or a seventh or a fifth vocal, but more often than not, I will sing in unison with it which adds fullness and a chorusing effect. I also remove some percussion elements so Malic can perform them, as well as some pads and leads for Indigo. At this time, there is no Guitar in any of the tracks, so having T.S on stage is going to something of an enigma, but surely exciting!
I am also multitalented and play many instruments such as percussion, keys, guitar, and bass. Last year, I played percussion with Malic during vocal breaks on a “face to face” tandem drum kit, a one-of-a-kind drum-kit configuration we had as a trademark. The next time around, I may do some of that same percussion, as well as any of the instruments listed above, so there is no telling what I will do.
If feasible, I will often jump off stage in the middle of a song and sing while walking through the crowd, greeting the audience, giving high-fives, and hugs to my wife .
Our live performances are always different than our albums because live, we actually play all of our instruments, and only rely on a partial backing track, so some notes may change here or there, and have slightly different nuances. Personally, our live shows sound more full and unpredictable, giving a real performance you will never forget.
What does the live act for Sonik Foundry bring to the studio process of composition? I understand that the two sides are sometimes the same beast of a different color, so now that you’ve had the experience of playing live, what does that do for the version we hear on disc?
Nik: For Parish of Redemption, I wanted to incorporate the vocal talents of Malic into the album, so he joined me in the studio to write lyrics for him to record and laid them down. By the time T.S. was discovered, the album had already been in production, so he does not appear on the album, sadly. However he definitely will on the next. Having been more aggressive with my vocals as well as Malic’s screaming backup vocals on stage -- and from having Jim Semonik join me live at some performances, I had so much fun with that -- I decided to incorporate that into PoR, making it a more vocally aggressive album. I’ve also used my new Access Virus TI, adding a more aggressive synth sound.
Finally, looking forward to after the dust clears from the CD release parties, what can we expect in the near future from Sonik Foundry? What’s in store?
Nik: Well, we have an east coast tour in the works for the summer in July to support the new album, possibly ranging from Maine to New Orleans, and back hitting different venues on the way. Then it’s break time! Before the tour, we have rehearsals, and it’s in the studio for my other project with my wife, Linda, for the Bow Ever Down project.
I want to say thank you so very much for sitting down with us Nikademus. I’m a huge fan, and this is a big honor. Thank you. Finally, do you have any words of wisdom that we can write on our arms when we’re out dancing to Parish of Redemption?
Nik: Stay True! Be yourself! Have Fun! Know your priorities! Stay healthy and chem-free and love your family!