New Zealand-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Nick Dow is having a huge couple of months. Having released his debut album Layers, he’s putting the final touches on an entirely new live set to support the release.
But before he takes a trip around the country this June, we hit Nick up to learn a little more about the album we totally fell for. Straight from the artist, here’s where each song on Layers came from, and what makes them special to him.
Listened through Layers from Nick Dow yet? Let this be your step-by-step guide through the debut release from one of New Zealand’s brightest young songwriters.
The most personal song of the album would have to be this one (written in 2016), though not my favourite. With so much to this song, I struggle to explain its meaning in depth. Each time I talk about it, it’s as though I’m telling a different story.
In an attempt to summarise, it represents the way I’ve lived most of my life. Keeping busy all the time, and never quite feeling like I’m doing enough. A lot of people will most likely relate. We always want more than we want.
All the time there are things like intimacy, drugs, alcohol and sugar that some (a lot) of us crave, so this is a song about facing these ‘desires’ and trying to work through them. The second verse “Take all this pride, and put it where it needs to be…” is a prayer. It’s a cry for help, because sometimes I feel like I’m better than I actually am (as arrogant as it sounds), and that I deserve more than what I’ve got. It’s my wanting to be more humble and more at peace with myself and where I’m at.
The chorus “So I grab my bucket and go…” is symbolising the action of putting out the flames these desires create before they get to be too much. Being a fireman to my soul, haha.
Afraid for You
In 2016 I moved back to Auckland from Christchurch after being away from home for eight years. Those years were horrific for my mum. My dad had left, and I ended up in boarding school so my mum was left to survive by herself (which she is so incredible at doing). Not being able to understand the situation fully, the way I reacted to my mum a lot of the time was with such disrespect and anger that it caused such a distinct tear and breakdown of our own relationship.
An only child, I felt a big responsibility for my mum, but never wanted to move back to Auckland, until it started to feel so disjointed that it had to be done to mend what had been broken. I spent a year at home with her while completing my final year of study, and then went through the process of moving out again to flat with friends, which inspired this song.
I was so afraid of leaving her again, even though I knew she was so strong and capable of fending for herself. There was just such a fear in this decision that I struggled to talk to her about it. Thankfully things have worked out really well, and our relationship feels healthy. She is definitely the strongest woman I know. Much love to you, mum!
My mate Michael Howell performed this epic groovy instrumental with a drummer and sax player for his final jazz guitar recital in 2016. It really blew my mind, some of the things he was doing. So I found myself singing along some lines to it, and at the end of his recital asked if I could write to it. With some variations to chord structure and changing the groove quite a lot in the studio, this turned into Run. With the drop D tuning and the crazy harmonic comping, I was stoked with the unique vibe and harmonically interesting intro and outro.
Keeping to my contemplative themes, the lyrics to this song were inspired by a season of my life where I’d been running almost every day training towards a marathon. However, it’s more about running away from conflict, hard work and even from God.
In year 12 of high school, I faced a bout of depression, or that’s what lots of people called it. It probably was. For some reason I still don’t like to admit it. This song was inspired by that particular time where I was confused, frustrated and lost.
I wanted there to be more of a groove to this song, so that it didn’t make the listener feel depressed listening to it. That would be the worst, if I wrote a song that made someone more depressed.
If I Had Eyes
It’s easy to look straight past things. Though I don’t mention God in this song, it is my testimony. For a long time, and still occasionally today (not going to lie), I still become very introverted, self-focused and in my head; ‘the secret place’. Which is probably why so many of my songs are personal.
This song is about the journey. “The night started in fear…oh you weren’t prepared” – this is my realising the darkness and uncertainty that I was in and then my suddenly finding hope and some peace that things would be get better. “I’ll stand in the darkness for a day, making it light.”
This song was written in the first year I started to open my eyes and believe in something way way bigger than me.
For the Record
Got to have a bit of heartbreak in the album somewhere right? This song should speak for itself. Making a decision to end a relationship that you think is for the best, but you can’t always help mulling over the ‘what if’s’ and ruminating on the regret.
Another song that I collaborated on with my mate/guitarist Mikey (Michael Howell).
On a side not, you should check out his new band SKILAA! Some big things coming from them soon.
Playing For the Music
I feel like these track by tracks are getting shorter as they go, haha. Running out of brain power. This song is a strange one. I was never totally sold that it fit in with the rest of the album, but went with it anyway.
During my third year of jazz school I started questioning why I was doing music, particularly jazz. It started to feel too self-indulgent and chaotic for me. For sure it was enjoyable to play, but when it came to listening to it I would switch off and start to get frustrated. I know that may hurt some of my jazz mates and teachers, but it’s just where I ended up.
Anyway, this song is encouraging to let go once and a while and enjoy the job/gift you have rather than worrying about always trying to get better, Featuring a cheeky wee piano solo. Paid all that money to study, I may as well make use of it haha!
Monster In The Mask
Without cheating… I’m gonna use something I wrote when I first released a live and acoustic version of this song under the name Friendly Start. You can check it out here:
Strange how you can write a small poem five years back that seems more significant to you now than it did then. Recently I’ve been thinking about how traumas, relationship breakdowns, and the mistakes we make have such a long lasting effect on our lives. They aren’t necessarily the ‘state highways’ of our lives, but more those secret ‘no exit’ streets that we can become so curious about and sometimes get lost in.
I often feel like two people, one that presents to the world an image that everything is sorted, while the other has a dark side that hides behind the façade – a shadow. This song suggests, I hope, that shining a light on the shadow, becoming more open about the monsters, is a positive way forward.
This song is about a journey of hope towards love and connection. It’s quite a long one that ended up in three parts, not fully connected. The main part of the song was the last of the collaborations with Mikey.
Lyrically I’d rather people envisage their own meaning, rather than my trying to explain it. But it is supposed to be hopeful, as the title indicates. The outro was supposed to be a mellow but string infused ending to the album as a whole, with the idea of potentially leading to my next project…
Thank you for allowing me to express myself through music. I’m excited to develop more as a songwriter and composer, expressing more than just my own thoughts and stories. Would love to hear from you if you have been moved by my music in any way – it’s always a great encouragement when that happens.
Catch Nick Dow live on his Layers tour throughout New Zealand:
13 June – Totara St, Tauronga
15 June – Thistle Hall, Wellington
19 June – Lopdell Theatre, Auckland
23 June – Lyttelton Records, Christchurch