Spontaneity, space and sincerity: Nick Dow talks us through his debut album Layers

New Zealand based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Nick Dow is riding fresh off his debut album Layers. A compendium of heartfelt storytelling and lucid instrumentals, it stands as a hugely impressive first effort.

Ahead of his national tour supporting the record’s release, we caught up with Nick to find all everything we could about his budding solo project.

nick dow interview layers

From his first time in a studio to his first time in an arena, it’s been a whirlwind year for emerging New Zealand songwriter Nick Dow.

HAPPY: Hey Nick, how’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?

NICK: Things are going really well thanks! Have just recently finished a tour accompanying TEEKS on keys, who was opening for Rag’N’Bone Man for his Sydney and three New Zealand shows. That was really fun, and what an experience playing arena shows for such receptive audiences. Was my first time playing in Sydney too! Hopefully will be able to bring my own music that way soon.

What was challenging was that I released my album in the middle of this tour, haha. Was planning on touring my own music directly off the release, but due to these opportunities that came up I stalled a little and had to weigh up the costs. Along with playing for Jamie McDell’s new music in May, I figured why not wait and tour in June. Gives a bit of breathing space for people to discover me.

Also right this moment I am attending Songhubs, which is a week long songwriting/collaboration event that APRA puts on each year. Have learnt so much already.

HAPPY: Layers is out there, going on two weeks now. What’s the reception been like, as a gut feeling?

NICK: I think it’s been good. It’s been hard to judge as I have never released anything professionally like this. Managed to make it into the NZ charts, but I’m trying not to put my identity in a figure. Probably most proud of having finished it and how much this project has helped me build the confidence that I can actually finish songs. Was super lucky to have worked with Ben Edwards, who’s internationally recognised with his engineering/producing, so I’m sure that will have helped push it forward into the public eye a little.

Already pencilled in a time for recording the next album early next year.

HAPPY: It’s your first record, was there anything about the release process you never would have expected?

NICK: Wow yeah, I didn’t realise how much careful planning was needed. On a few occasions I ended up rushing things to be released, not realising there is no rush and that nobody is sitting on their computers waiting for me to put anything out. Thankfully things popped up which meant I had to postpone three or four times, giving me more time to plan and some more space to look at things from a different perspective.

HAPPY: You and your band seem super tight knit. What can you tell us about them?

NICK: So much love for my band. They are great! So my best bud Chris Wethey (on the bass/synth), I met in Christchurch about seven years ago. He played in the jazz band at my boarding school leaving dinner and it was him along with his band that sold me to study jazz. A couple of years later we started doing a bit of playing together and hanging out. One of our gigs was this 6am wedding proposal gig where we ended up playing melodica and acoustic bass live on the radio during the proposal… this was because they forgot to tell us there was no power! Thankfully Chris keeps a melodica in his car for occasions like this… I’d never played melodica in my life before. We definitely bonded over that crazy experience.

3Down the track I moved back up to Auckland and did my honours year at the University of Auckland, where I met the other two guys. Daniel Waterson drummed for me quite a lot during that period and I just found him such a down to earth, easy going guy to work with, always coming up with sweet ideas.

Mikey (Michael Howell) was in my honours class studying guitar. He’s unlike any guitarist I’ve heard. Something so unique and special about his playing, always being tasteful and particular, never playing too much. Also just a great friend too, always there because he loves and believes in what you are doing.

So yeah I flew Dan and Mikey down, and then got Alice Tanner (another good friend) on backing vocals for a few songs and Tim Sellars on some extra percussion.

HAPPY: They joined you recording at The Sitting Room correct? How did it feel to get into a proper studio environment?

NICK: Yeah that’s right. The studio experience was insane. The three weeks went so quickly. So much fun and such a creative space. Only downside was I was quite sick the whole time, so my voice on the record has that flu tone to it, haha.

HAPPY: How much of the album made it on record, as rehearsed? You seem like you’d have some spontaneity in the studio.

NICK: There was only one track that didn’t make it on the album. Strangely enough that was one song I really wanted to be there, but it didn’t suit the vibe of the rest of the album. There was actually quite a bit of spontaneity with lines and a few changes to chord structure, but other than that most of the songs were structured ready for the recording. The string intro and outro to Ripples (Hope), the final track, was fairly improvised and was probably my favourite part of the album to work on. Always love recording violin.

HAPPY: I really love the live videos you put out, what made you want to tee these up?

NICK: Haha, this was the very first thing we did before the actual studio recording. We decided off the bat to hire a space and record these live acoustic videos with the possibility of including them in the album. In the end it didn’t feel like it needed them, but I still got some live videos that I could use as extras. That was a crazy first day.

HAPPY: Talk us through the clip for Layers – it’s pretty sweet. Was that your concept or was it largely something you trusted the team with?

NICK: For the video I wanted it to be related back to the album art and theme of that, while still keeping the meaning of the song. Ben Ningtoutao has been such a great friend and loyal person to work and journey with on my projects over the years. I decided to get go quite basic, concept wise, with the filming but then give the main job to Ben to put his art over top.

Overwhelming chaos is what I was wanting it to symbolise; how the world these days throws things on top of other things and it’s hard to see them for what they naturally are. At least that’s my opinion. Was a lot more ambitious than we had thought and we didn’t have enough budget to paint the whole thing, but he managed to do such a good job with the limited resources he had. Proud of Ben and the team.

HAPPY: What’s a Nick Dow live show look like? Have you brought it up a notch for the album tour?

NICK: Live shows for me change quite a bit. Recently I toured with a five piece band of two guitars, bass/synth, drums and myself on keys, however my album tour is going to be a lot more raw and acoustic than that. I have been arranging for a couple of string players, guitar, piano and bass. Personally I feel my music suits this vibe a lot more, but that’s not to say I don’t love playing with the full band. That will be back soon for sure.

HAPPY: There’s a distinct jazz vibe I grabbed from your album so I wanted to ask, what role does improvisation play in your live shows?

NICK: Improvisation is rather important, but it isn’t quite to the same degree as you might think. There are moments where I allow for improvisation in the live shows but we tend to stick with arrangements. When it comes to the album tour with the strings (without giving it away) it will be different…

HAPPY: Will this be your first time playing in most of these cities?

NICK: Have played several times in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch but it will be the first time bring my own original music to Tauranga. A lot of my family live down there so it will be nice for them to hear me in action (many for the first time).

HAPPY: Well good luck on the tour! Cheers for the chat.

NICK: Thanks for the chat.


Layers Tour

13 June – Totara St, Tauronga
15 June – Thistle Hall, Wellington
19 June – Lopdell Theatre, Auckland
23 June – Lyttelton Records, Christchurch

Grab all the details here.