Nick Leng sits down with Atwood Magazine to talk about his new album ‘Spirals’, a product of blocking out the noise and doing it for yourself.
Stream: ‘Spirals’ – Nick Leng
Nick Leng spent the last few years falling in love.
Before a lover crossed his path halfway through the writing of his sophomore album, he spent the other days cooped up in his room writing the same songs over and over again. Now, after coming out of hiding with the rest of the world, he presents his new album Spirals, out July 22 via SOTA Records. Nick Leng wrote Spirals in isolation and came out the other end with a deeper connection to each and every one.
The Los Angeles indie singer/songwriter presents an album full of love songs. He puts the butterflies aside and delves into bitterness, each corner of the album something new. What we are left with is a complete picture, from waking up with “My Mind is A Mess In the Morning,” laying in bed with “Spirals,” and going to bed with “Ruth.”
Leng described one of his biggest challenges being choosing the album cover. He needed something that said everything, that touched on every syllable of the album.
He chose an oil painting with every color imaginable, with a texture you can reach out and touch. Spirals is the same, an album you can live in and live with.
The whole thing was about writing for myself. I had the vision after the single, not necessarily the songs that were going to be on it, but the experience I wanted to create.
A CONVERSATION WITH NICK LENG
Atwood Magazine: Nick, thank you so much for your time. SPIRALS is pretty epic! You’ve talked about this album being a pandemic baby, can you expand on that?
Nick Leng: The first song which came on to this album started during the pandemic. This one was called “Candles.” It was an interesting thing because for a lot of artists the pandemic was a unique point in time where we got to make music for ourselves again. Especially living in LA, everything is so industry-forward, the conversation is how will the new song look or when will it be released? I wrote “Candles” for me, with no expectations. It was more of a coincidence where the songs I wrote during the pandemic ended up on the record.
At what point did those songs turn into an album?
Nick Leng: After I put out my single, “Fine Little Rhythm,” I put aside all external pressures and made something that feels pure to me and that I like. The whole thing was about writing for myself. I had the vision after the single, not necessarily the songs that were going to be on it, but the experience I wanted to create. What I wanted to touch on artistically. There were originally 20-something tracks on there. I had to go through and say “Oh, this song takes care of this element” with each one. Each one says something sonically or emotionally, and on purpose. The pandemic let me make something that (originally) was never going to leave my room.
How long have you been in LA? It sounds like that pressure has been drilled into you.
Nick Leng: I’ve been here for nine years. It’s hard to tip your hat to the pressures while also staying true to yourself.
Your tracks have a consuming quality to them. Big, bombastic sound is your signature! Why are you drawn to this quality?
Nick Leng: I’ve always been obsessed with sonics and textures. I think it comes down to making what I want to listen to. I’m big on limitations, so this record was more about live drums and organic piano. The big words and textures are what my ears like! Now I’m into more minimalism, so it changes. But I definitely grew as a songwriter and a producer from LEMONS to now. There was less insecurity and overcompensation.
What were you listening to during the process?
Nick Leng: I always listen to the farthest thing from what I’m making. Lots of classical and techno/house. Also African and Brazilian music. Sometimes it can be inconvenient to get inspired by the same thing, so I try to visit different worlds. I’ve also been DJing a lot, which has caused an obsession with finding new and interesting music.
I know this is true of most albums, but SPIRALS seems like it’s a chunk taken out of your mind at a specific time. Would you describe it in this way?
Nick Leng: I think so! I was initially exploring duality with this album. There are some dark elements and a lot that is packed with life and joy. I fell in love again during the making of this album. As life just is, there was also the flip side. I wanted to capture these two sides of myself. The first song. “Forget About Me” might be considered dark and weird. Then “Coffee and Fruit” is literally about how my girlfriend brings me coffee and fruit in the morning. It’s very forgiving.
You have to spend time with the record, the duality and holistic approach you mentioned is not the immediate impression.
Nick Leng: Right! “Spirals” is like four songs in one. It takes a few listens. It’s a dream for me if people live with this album, if they associate it with a time in their life or with memories. I wanted to make something that can be put on in the background, can flow through and make you feel like “there we are.” But also, if you want to zoom in and get things out of it, it can show up for you as well.
I find that some philosophical or “meta” type albums just don’t land. But Spirals is catchy and definitely good listening.
Nick Leng: Thank you. It was an interesting headspace, but I think it just rolled about. It was a lot of doing what felt right in the moment and stepping back after a while.
Your records are wonderfully unexpected. We jump through completely different worlds, like from “Bobby” to “Morning.” How do you approach a record?
Nick Leng: Before working on the album, I was listening to a lot of Pink Floyd and The Beatles. I loved how patient some of those albums where, with long silences and little details. The beginning of “Morning” was recorded while I was traveling through Spain and France. It’s an unexpected turn, even from “My Mind is A Mess In the Morning” to “Bobby.” I wanted to capture the listener’s attention.
I wanted to make something that can be put on in the background, can flow through and make you feel like “there we are.” But also, if you want to zoom in and get things out of it, it can show up for you as well.
Can you talk about the songwriting process?
Nick Leng: I journal a lot. I was writing the phrase “My mind is a mess in the morning” whenever I woke up. I would do a stream of consciousness exercise. I was really struggling (laughs). I was living in a trailer park in Topanga. All the songs were written during this time, mostly in an effort to be honest with myself.
I really like this lyric from “Candles”: “I’ll hold on to the things that you said, there’s glimmers of hope, our candles not spent.” It has a different message. Can you expand on the track?
Nick Leng: This song was written about my mom. During the pandemic, I was thinking about what it will be like to lose my mom. She always wears linen, always preaches hope to me. I was struggling with the idea of losing my parents. The song naturally came out of me. It made sense coming at the end for me.
What did Spirals teach you?
Nick Leng: An easy question to write, a hard one to answer (laughs). This might be contradictory to what I said, but usually when I finish something I’m very insecure about it. But here, I did something that is very true to myself, and I learned the value of that during the process.
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