Nicolas Pierre Wardell (Beatastic and Xeresa) interview
So far, when presenting an artist, we started by the music first. In the present case, we thought that introducing you to the artist first will help you appreciate his music even more.
Nicolas Pierre Wardell is like one of these very skilled craftsmen that travel the world to become grandmasters. He walks the road, perfecting his craft, discovering new techniques, new horizons, meeting new people that will help create many master pieces.
He is the man behind 2 quality musical projects, Betastic and Xeresa. First let him present his ventures:
"Beatastic started as me trying to do some electronic music, kinda like LCD Soundsystem because it was alien to me. A challenge, something that wasn’t guitar based. A few years down the line Beatastic is a rock band with just a few electronic touches. Gone full circle."
"Xeresa was just something more poppy, more electronic, with the sole aim of releasing a track whenever I wanted to, instrumental. A year down the line there’s guests on almost every song and an album out on cd and songs played on radios."
You will discover on this article, and in his interview, that Nico is a man who will never be happy to stop his journey, never settling on one type of trade, one type of music.
Maybe this is the French revolutionary heritage in him? I think is more like a French chef, not one of those that want to set up a 3 michelin stars restaurant, where everything is too perfect, but this bold and adventurous chef that will propose one year "cuisine du terroir", the year after "new cuisine", the year after "asian fusion" and so on ... Always excellent, always an adventure you want to be part of.
This comparison is not just a figure of speech. When asked how he can write so many songs, Nico's answer is:
"Music is simple, it’s lego, brick by brick, writing a song takes 2 hours. The best teacher is Robert Smith, listen to how things are built layer after layer."
Well, you can give the same set of lego bricks to 2 people and get a totally different result, me and my brothers can tell you this. But I prefer the analogy of cooking. You can get the same people the same ingredient and have totally different "Millefeuille" (a French pastry that can translated as a "thousand layers").
Nico's music may seem simple to him, but I know from experience how frustrating composing and arranging a song can be. Many musicians, Tomo from Ether Feels or Noppanan from Inspirative, to quote just two we collaborated with on Noise Artists, spend a great deal of time until they get the song they want.
And that's were I am amazed: not only Nico's music is excellent but it is also diverse, including really unexpected composition or instrument patterns. His song "l'Avenir" (the future), featured in our June Famous 5 playlist, is a great example.
Like many people that listen to Nicolas Pierre Wardell's music, I have really enjoyed the Journey and hope that he will keep on discovering, searching and being unsatisfied with the Status Quo. It is what makes him tick, and make us tag along. It makes me anyway and I look forward the rest of the Journey.
And now, without further ado, his interview:
Noise Artists (NA): Where are you from originally? Where are you living now?
I was born in Paris, raised in the suburbs, I now live in Brighton, England
NA: Before doing your solo project, did you play in any band and if so, which one?
I played in a band in France called EchO and another one in Oxford called Zinc
NA: Can you tell me the inspiration behind your projects? You can detect the influences of shoegaze and indie rock in Beatastic and more electro in Xeresa. What made you decide to do é different projects. Do you have any other you would be interested in carrying out in the future?
The main influence in all I do is Smashing Pumpkins and that is because they were a fearless band, eager to try things, not afraid of change, never repeating themselves, always involving. I try to do that too.
Beatastic is basically the Smashing Pumpkins of Machina, it’s not my favourite Pumpkins era but it’s them at their most shoegazey and I always liked shoegaze. It’s muscular shoegaze. I like Slowdive but they wear always too meek for my liking I prefered Ride, more noise, big drums. I also like big production. The best compliment I got from a review was “huge sounding shoegaze” I want the drums to pound, I want the bass to drive. The blueprint is The Everlasting Gaze, big drums, fuzzy bass, guitar riffs, shoegaze sounds.
Xeresa is glitchy electronic drums, clean swirly guitars, strings. Poppier. But also weird time signatures, angular guitars. American Football is a big influence, I stole their guitar tunings. Brings a totally different colour to the music. Also things like modern classical music, John Cage, minimalism, Steve Reich , Phillip Glass.
I think the idea is American Football decided to take the vocalists from The Postal Service and hijacked the Stranger Things soundtrack. And Steve Reich produced it. I can’t think of another band doing this, the closest might be El Ten Eleven but they don’t have vocals.
NA: Was there a vision of sorts or did you know what you wanted to do when you started up? i.e. when you started the project was it always a project to create a shoegaze and an electro project? Or was it different from now?
Every idea was followed by going the other way. I think every album is based on a palette of sounds and ideas and you change the palette for each album whilst trying to maintain and identity. It’s not easy. And I write a lot.
NA: Do you have any other musical side projects apart from this one?
Yes but it’s secret
NA: Do you have plans to add new members?
If Dani Mari wants to move to England, yes hahahah
NA: Can you tell us more?
No, I’ve said too much, I’m ruining my reputation as The Great Quiet
NA: How you came to have the projects’ names?
Beatastic was basically a bad idea, I wanted to do something like LCD Soundsystem but Beatastic was a character, a ladies man, the songs were boasting about his musical exploits. It didn’t last long but I got stuck with the name somehow and I’m sure 90% of people see the name, think it’s a rapper or a joke and run the other way.
Xeresa was because I wanted a name that wasn’t taken (hard), that means nothing and starts with a letter that isn’t used much.
I looked on wikipedia for spanish towns starting with X, that popped up, it wasn’t taken
NA: Not only do you write a lot of music, but you are also very present on social media. Is Music your one and only passion?
I take photos , I have no idea what I’m doing, I just point my phone at stuff but it seems to be fairly popular on tumblr, especially the cemetery pictures.
The Creative process
NA: How did you learn to create music and play so many instruments? Most people stick with one or two only.
I started with guitar when I was 17, I’m rubbish at most instruments, it doesn’t interest me much it’s just a means to write songs. Once you can play one thing you can play many.
NA: Do you have your music reviewed by other people before you release it. Do you listen to the advice of other people?
Not before, after in blogs etc… I read it all, I appreciate when the writer sounds like he gets the reference points and has done his homework. But it’s all subjective, the only person I have to please is myself, the rest is a bonus. I care though, it makes me very happy when people like it. The problem with making music is that it’s a bit like screaming in the desert, you’re never sure if anyone is listening.
NA: There’s a degree of unconventional songwriting with you. Was it kind of intimidating going to record knowing people might not be engaging with the songs in terms of hooks and such and trying to deliver an engaging sound on record?
No, I would rather not make music than be like Ac/Dc and record the same album for 30 years. I want to surprise myself, I want to be different, I don’t want people to hear 5 seconds and they like it cause it sounds like Slowdive. There’s millions of bands like that and I don’t care about them. I want people to listen to it and think: what the hell is this? Why is he mixing an egyptian violin with heavy drums and shoegaze guitars? Well I am cause I think it works and I think it’s more interesting.
I know it can put off casual listeners but I’m fine with it. The best music is the one you have to put an effort in. I had that with Soundgarden, being put off by the weird time signatures or Kendrick Lamar by all the swearing and the jazz. Then you put the effort and you GET IT!
NA: How did you learn about composing or arranging music?
Music is simple, it’s lego, brick by brick, writing a song takes 2 hours. The best teacher is Robert Smith, listen to how things are built layer after layer.
NA: Talking about the lyrics: who write them? Is there a common thread in them, a theme?
I write the Beatastic ones, the Xeresa ones are written by the singers. The theme for Beatastic is probably longing and loss but hope. Recently things have changed, the world has changed, the far right, Trump, Brexit, terrorism, it’s horrible. So things have become more politicized, I can’t help it.
NA: Do you labour over your lyrics? Is that something that comes easy?
I hate writing lyrics, it’s the thing I like the least about music. It’s quick but it’s not easy, finding a decent starting point is hard. I like Air’s approach: find something that sounds nice and repeat it, like a jingle, then develop it a bit. Most of my songs have 8 lines or less.
NA: Do you have a message that you want to get across in your music? If so, what are some of the messages you want to spread?
My message is be yourself, be good to each other, be a nice person, do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.
NA: Did your listening habits changed over the years and does it affect what you write?
Oh my god , yes! I started as a metal kid, then grunge, shoegaze, trip hop, alt country, etc… I like everything apart from pop punk and punk rock. But it’s not because I like Wilco that they’re an influence. There’s a thread, I like dreamy stuff, heavy dreamy stuff.
NA: Your output is quite impressive. When you look at all your music, the number of songs proposed every year to your fans in very high. Please tell us more, as there are the creative pressure (ie do you create all the time, are these songs coming now but have been prepared for years, …) and the everyday life pressure (ie when do you find the time, do you have support around you)?
Well, time is limited, so when I have time I probably have a window of 2-4 hours in front of me, so I don’t have time to have writer’s block. So 4 hours will end up as 1-3 new songs complete, written and recorded.
It’s all relative. For Master Of Puppets Metallica recorded 9 songs cause they wrote 9 songs. For Mellon Collie Billy Corgan recorded about 150 songs in 2 years and released a double album and about 2-6 b-sides per single. That’s productive. I’m nowhere near but I have a good 50 songs ready to go I would think.
The path to music
NA: Your recorded sound is very good, which is not easy. Did you engineer the sound yourself, or did you have a sound engineer with you? If yes could you tell us more about him/her?
It’s all me, I’m very proud that people say it sounds huge.
NA: Can you tell us how the recording process was?
I record on Logic Pro X with an interface and various guitars, keyboard, basses, mics and VSTs, it’s quick , I know what I’m doing , I have my sounds.
NA: Could you let us know some important technical tricks you learnt during the process that could help other musicians not as experienced?
For me the drum sound is crucial, I like punchy drums, so compression is a must.
I‘ve learnt from Tom Lugo that reverb can be a very effective tool.
NA: How did the recording work differ over time?
I started on Garageband, then moved to Logic, then Logic Pro X. Different sounds, different options. Then you create your palette.
NA: Is the recording material yours when you are out of a studio or do you borrow/rent it?
It’s all my stuff built up throughout the years.
NA: Do you have one favorite instrument or do you change often?
I use what I have it’s more about the sounds, I have a bass sound and a drum sound and a few guitar sounds, it’s my palette , I expand it for each album and change some things and keep others.
NA: Tell us what you are looking when trying to achieve your sounds? Do you experiment a lot or have a clear idea of what you want?
It’s always clear, sometimes I’m not sure how to get there , that’s when you get happy accidents that become a new colour on your palette.
NA: How did the funding worked for the LP? Did you invest a lot yourself? Was your label supportive in that respect?
It’s all coming from me as I record all myself, all it costs is the equipment and it’s all mine apart from the viola on the next album, it belongs to its owner Thomas Himsworth.
NA: Where does the majority of the money go when you’re paying your own way?
The money goes to buying more equipment
NA: Do you make a decent revenue from your music or is it still very much a hobby?
It’s a hobby that allows me to make enough to buy equipment to make more music, I’m not trying to be Adele , thank god ;)
NA: How do you sell your recordings (shops, online, …)?
It’s online and the Xeresa album is out on CD to order from Vesper Records
NA: I saw that you propose a subscription-based selling solution that give access to all your music. It quite original. How is it working?
It’s actually a normal bandcamp feature, people can pay $20 and get all your back catalogue and new exclusive tracks whenever you feel like it. Right now I have about 12 tracks available. The subscription is valid for a year. I believe music should be affordable, that’s why the Beatastic albums are available on a pay-what-you-like basis and if you really can’t afford anything Matter is a free album.
NA: What is the next album due?
I don’t know, the next Beatastic album will be called 40 Moons i’m trying to see if some labels are interested in it, Blackjack Illuminist will have first pick.
Xeresa’s second album is almost ready but since the last one came out in july, there’s no hurry.
NA: Do you plan to continue music for a long time or are you tired of it?
I don’t know how long Beatastic has, I think it might be reaching the end but who knows. I like making music, I’ll keep making some, god knows what will happen to it.
NA: Anything else you want the reader to know?
Be good go each other, you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.
PS from Noise Artists
In December 2016, Nico gave an other very informative interview to Russell "I was a teenage Shoegazer" Hiscox. You can find it HERE.
When I contacted Nico, some time back, we agreed to collaborate together to present him and his music. Quite busy in the last past months with non-blog matters (pesky little things like family, work, holidays, ...) we continued corresponding together, and he very kindly proposed to help in the form of contributing to the blog. Very serious about it, he took it in stride and has started writing very well received pieces like "Is there rooms for politics in Shoegaze?". Long may it continue.
And the funny thing is that his work has been published before I was even close to publish mine on his music. A small act of faith of which I am very grateful.