An Interview With The LA-Based Singer-Songwriter NAILO On His Breakout Debut Album ‘Shapeshifter”, His Favorite Artists and More!
Posted On 05 Oct 2017
Meet the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, Nailo (pronounced Nay-Low). TODAY, his very first single called “Talking Like This” was released for streaming and download. Pre-sale for his full debut album, “Shapeshifter” begins today as well. This can now be purchased on iTunes at a discounted price $4.99. You will also receive a free instant download of the first single “Talking Like This.”
After graduation, Nailo aka Nick Bartshe began to hone his skills as a songwriter and performer, forming and joining projects such as Whiskey and Clever, a duo with acoustic roots and sobering melodies, The Essentials, a blues/rock cover band, Seduction, an eclectic cover band focused on dance party music from the 60s to now, Tribal Campagne, an indie rock/soul band led by front-man Jeff Kolhede and Balance and the Traveling Sounds, a hip-hop/soul group which performed at the 2013 Java Jazz Festival in Indonesia, sharing the stage with the likes of Joss Stone, Craig David, Jimmy Cliff, Roy Hargrove, Stanley Clarke and the late George Duke, as well as many others.
Nailo enjoys collaborating with other artists across a variety of genres including pop, rock, hip-hop, electronic dance music and soul.
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Learn more about Nailo in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you? Musically, did you approach this year any differently than you did last year?
Of course! Thank you so much for your time. I’m really stoked about this! 2017 been an interesting year for so many different reasons but musically my approach has stayed the same as it always has. Just write what I want to write. If you were to ask me to write a song in a specific genre or ask for a specific type of song I wouldn’t be the greatest person for that. I have found I work best when I don’t set deadlines or force anything creatively. Just let it all flow whenever that happens. The important part about that approach, though, is once you get in the zone you have to stay locked in for as long as you can.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
Well, I’m currently sitting in my apartment at my computer in Los Angeles. And yes, there is music playing in the background. Currently it’s a song called “Relative Peace – Oban Rework” by Kimbra, Young Dreams and Jaga Jazzist. Every year I curate a “Best Of (insert current year)” playlist on Spotify based on new music I really like throughout the year. It helps me continually seek out new music and keep my ears on the lookout for fresh inspiration.
That’s such a interesting question. I think my go-to when I’m feeling shitty is probably Continuum by John Mayer. For me, that’s a very “Sunday morning” type of record – definitely the way I like to live my life, however, that’s only one prescription for a bad mood. Sometimes I’ll put on “Hail to the Thief” by Radiohead and pump the shit out of it (2+2=5 is a wonderful pissed-off-at-the-world song btw) and other times I’ll just throw on some blues and play along on my guitar. Really just depends on what kind of crap I’m dealing with in that moment.
First things first, why did you decide to go by Nailo and not your own name? Do you think it creates a bit of separation between you the person Nick and you the musician Nailo?
I’d like to think it creates separation between the person and the musician but if I’m being honest I really did it because I wanted something that seemed a little more artsy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of my name, I just wanted to go with something else. Sorry mom and dad.
How long have you been playing music? Can you recall your first musical memory? Who taught you to play the guitar?
I think I’ve been playing music I think since I was in 5th grade? I played the violin from 5th through 8th grade and then dropped it when I got into high school. At the time, I didn’t think it was cool to play the violin but now looking back I realize how wrong I was. However, it was in my senior year of high school when I started playing the guitar for my Senior Project. It started out as a hobby but, after a shitty collegiate baseball experience, I stopped playing baseball and focused all my time on playing the guitar. So to answer your question, I graduated high school in ’07 so that would make it a little over 10 years now.
My first musical memory I can think of is sitting in the backseat of my dad’s car and playing “Name That Tune” to whatever was on the radio. He typically had classic rock or old school soul on. The specific memory I can recall is always him asking me, my brother and sister who was playing whenever it was a Pink Floyd song. For months we could never figure it out until we realized that the only time he’d ever play that game with us was when Pink Floyd was playing. We listened to a lot of Pink Floyd in my family.
There are a handful of people who taught me of how to play. The first that comes to mind is a wonderful guy named Daniel Roest. He taught me how to play classical guitar and, if not for him, I wouldn’t have gotten into CSUN’s music program. He worked really hard to help me prepare for my audition and so much of what I learned from him helped me develop into the player I am.
Another is my instructor at CSUN, Bryan Fasola. I was under Bryan’s instruction for two years and he totally kicked ass. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher, especially considering how relatively new I was to being a musician. You have to remember that I didn’t start playing guitar until 2007 and not specifically classical guitar until 8 months before my audition. So going into a program where most of my colleagues had been playing their instruments since they were children – to say I was intimidated was an understatement. Bryan really was awesome about giving me material and instruction that constantly challenged me which allowed me to feel comfortable around these other amazing musicians.
There is one more person that very much helped me learn the guitar and, you’re probably gonna laugh, but it would have to be John Mayer. I have never met the dude before but I’ve spent COUNTLESS hours studying his playing. To his riff ideas, to the voicing of his chord structures, to his tone, all of it has made me the player I am today. And since we’re talking influencers you’d have to throw in Jack Johnson, Johnny Greenwood, Thom Yorke, Hendrix, SRV and Jimmy Page to this conversation, too. John Mayer being the number 1, for sure.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think your hometown has affected who you are as a musician and the art that you create?
Oh god. Hahaha. My hometown… well, I grew up in a city called Folsom. You know like Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”? That Folsom. It’s a suburb of Sacramento – about 20 min east of downtown. Great place to raise a family but I quickly learned after I graduated high school that it wasn’t a place for me to grow. Very little big town feel. Everybody knows everybody. I was definitely a loner growing up and people probably thought I was quite the weirdo. I didn’t have the best social life because I was playing travel baseball year round (something I definitely don’t regret. I love baseball. Go Dodgers!). But it was something that only allowed me to socialize in a sports atmosphere and, since that’s all I did, that’s all I knew. Throw that on top of a city of people that simply had a different style of life I was seeking we ultimately didn’t blend well. I was that kid that had more friends that were my teachers than those who were my own age.
As far as how my hometown affects my music, the only thing I can think of is how I don’t want my music to sound like a representation of what Folsom symbolizes for me.
Let’s talk about your debut album, “Shapeshifter” that you hope to release this December. What was it like putting this collection together and how long did it take? Did anything surprise you about the process? Were there any unexpected challenges or successes? How long did the whole process take?
Yes lets! This record is a collection of songs from the last five years. Through that five year period, I grew a lot as a person and musician and that, in turn, resulted in an album that has a very ‘mixtape’ feel to it… hence the title Shapeshifter. I think the biggest challenge was learning how to be a producer. This is my ‘trail run’ at being a producer/songwriter and sound engineer and, as I kept learning, my music kept maturing. What you hear on this album is everything I’ve learned as a producer/songwriter and sound engineer. I also kinda learned how to sing while writing these songs. It’s a new revelation – less than a year old. But let’s be clear, KINDA learned how to sing.
What was the inspiration for the songs on “Shapeshifter”? Do you find that you have to write about your own personal experiences for the most part?
The lyrics are definitely pulled from life experiences. There isn’t any one inspiration for the album but, rather, a collection of various experiences and influences throughout a five year period.
Can you talk about the creation of a few of the songs on this album? Do you have a favorite by any chance?
Yes, absolutely! I love this question so much. I just love nerding out about the intricacies of each song. I love all my children but for different reasons.
“Across Your Thumb” is special to me because it’s the first song I wrote for this record and, additionally, I just love the journey the song goes through. You get some Mayer, some Radiohead, some Kimbra – it’s the best representation and combination of all the musical influences I used throughout the album.
“Gold & Hopeless Love” is dope because it doesn’t follow your traditional song form. No one section repeats. It also starts smooth and mellow and then travels towards a pretty angry place. I really like that about that song. Definitely wrote that song in the peak of my Radiohead obsession.
I love “Grip” because it’s the song where I had the revelation of figuring out how to sing. The creation of that song represents everything I’ve always wanted to be as a musician, a singer AND a songwriter… not just a songwriter. Before this revelation, I was looking for somebody to sing on “Severed Souls” but after I “figured it out” I thought I give the vocals a go on “Severed Souls.” I liked it so much I decided to keep them!
As far as production is concerned, “Talking Like This” is the apple of my eye. It’s a song that, at it’s conception, was nothing like I’ve ever produced before. The 808’s, the super cracky snare fills and programed drums, all of it was new to me. It was a completely new way to write a song and it pushed my production knowledge to the edge.
How did you go about choosing “Talking Like This” to be the lead single? How did you meet the very talented Angela Muhwezi who also sings on this track?
I chose “Talking Like This” for the single because I feel it’s the best introduction to the album. Great vocals, great production, great lyrics. To Angela and myself, it has it all.
Yes! Angela is just a wonderful soul. Supremely talented and very easy and fun to work with. She probably can’t say this for me but I’ve been aware of Angela’s work for a few years before we actually met. She has been on projects with some of my friends and got familiar with her work through that. It wasn’t until our mutual friends’ wedding where I officially introduced myself and, shortly afterwards, we started working together.
How is the GoFundMe campaign going? Were you surprised at all by the immediate reaction and donations?
The campaign is going well! The positive response I received was a total surprise and I can’t thank those enough who have donated, you included! Thank you for that!
How did you and all the musicians meet each other? Besides performing with you on the tracks, were they involved at all with the songwriting?
Everyone who worked on this record I met either through music school or working on previous projects. As far as songwriting is concerned, it was me, Angela, Jeff, Rudy and Miriam. They contributed on their respective songs. My friend Nicole also contributed on “Across Your Thumb” solely as a writer. In my opinion, though, I consider those who performed on the record to be songwriters, too. The traditional definition of a songwriter are those who wrote the lyrics, melody, etc. but, without the drummers, bassists, and keyboardists who contributed, these songs wouldn’t be what they became. I have to give them mad props for their songwriting contributions (Scott, Jackson, Marco, Will). Honestly, I wish it became industry standard that everyone who recorded on a song received songwriter credit, not just the person(s) who wrote the lyrics and melody. I don’t play drums so when I ask a drummer to WRITE a drum pattern shouldn’t they be considered a songwriter? I couldn’t do that myself. Same goes for any other instrument. I feel that’s only fair. Okay, rant over.
Do you have plans out perform live this fall in support of this album? Perhaps an album release party here in LA?
As of now, there are no plans for shows or a release party. I’m torn about it. I would love to perform these songs live but I wouldn’t want to do it unless I was able to pull together the number of musicians needs to do some of these songs. There are songs on this record that have three plus guitars or multiple basses and keys/synths going at the same time so realistically it would require quite the musician power. If I can herd enough musicians together then quite possibly there could be live shows. I’ll keep you posted.
With the summer being just about over, what was your favorite part about it? What was something fun that this group did or tried? Did you play out live at all?
I had a lot of time this summer to be a hermit and get back to working on being a guitarist. I really haven’t spent time learning new licks on the guitar since I first started 10 years ago so that was really fun. I hope to go out and give these new ideas a run around sometime soon! Other than that it was just a lot of vocal sessions and mixing. Nothing too glamorous.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? Do you think that new music being created today is going to reflect these hard times?
Oh absolutely. It’s human nature. Every songwriter pulls from their life experiences and how the events around the world affect them. Me and my friends joked around when Trump became president, we said, “Well, at least we know now that Kendrick’s new record will be dope as fuck.” Shitty times bring out heightened emotions in all of us and, for those creative types, that is reflected in their work.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Lots. John Mayer, Radiohead, Kimbra, Jack Johnson, Mayer Hawthorne, Kendrick Lamar, Civil Wars, Anderson Paak, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and Pharrell WIlliams. I love them all and I want to work with them all. I think John Mayer, Radiohead and Kimbra the most but let’s be real, that shit will probably never happen.
What do you hope is the message of your music and what do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
Happiness. Whether is through feeling good or helping someone through shitty times, the end result is always happiness.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
Obsess. It’s okay to obsess in music. That’s how you become great.