For singer-songwriter Nick Hakim, it all started in a house in Jamaica Plains, MA with collaborators Naima and Solo Woods. There, he put the finishing touches on his breakthrough EPs, Where Will We Go, Pt. I & II, which would later release through his Earseed Records and earn critical praise from NPR and The New York Times. But it was where the sessions for the two-part project ended and the ideas began to materialize for what would become his full-length debut, Green Twins (releasing via ATO Records in 2017), an experimental step forward with emotional heft gleaned from his experiences in the years since.
The story of Green Twins truly began when, armed with the masters for his EPs, Hakim moved from Boston to Brooklyn, spending his time fleshing out unfinished ideas in his bedroom. He came up with lyrics on the spot while playing the live circuit at solo shows including Palisades and NYXO, recording sketches and lyrics on voice memos and a four-track cassette recorder, and embracing the local community of musicians by performing with bands like Jesse and Forever and Onyx Collective. From there, Green Twins came about as a sum of its parts: Hakim took the demo recordings to studios in New York City, Philadelphia and London, and built on them with engineers including Andrew Sarlo (bass, engineering, production), keeping the original essence of the songs intact. Sarlo notes that “for other artists, a demo serves as a potential shape the song could form into. But for Nick, demos are more like creating a temple: a sanctuary that now we have to go into and somehow clean, furnish, and get ready for other people to experience the sermon in.”
“I put a lot of thought to the things I’d say, but a lot of it is what I was thinking in the moment, very specific songs,” he says of Green Twins, “many of them are like self-portraits”. The record draws from influences spanning Robert Wyatt, Marvin Gaye and Shuggie Otis to Portishead and My Bloody Valentine. “I also felt the need to push my creativity in a different way than I had on the EPs”, he continues. “We wanted to imagine what it would have sounded like if RZA had produced a Portishead album. We experimented with engineering techniques from Phil Spector and Al Green’s Back Up Train, drum programming from RZA and Outkast, and were listening to a lot of The Impressions, John Lennon, Wu-Tang, Madlib, and Screaming Jay Hawkins.”
“Bet She Looks Like You,” recorded mostly in his home bedroom, was one of the first songs that “started this fire for exploring this experiment through song.” Each track peels back a particular aspect of his life: on the title song, he gets deeply personal, reflecting on a recurring dream. “All these things reflect how I feel, how I write,” he says. “I sometimes have trouble articulating myself verbally. This is a place I can talk and be myself, with music, this intangible space I create.”
Hakim’s debut comes as the culmination of years chiseling his skills as a musician. Hailing from Washington, D.C., he grew up in a musical household—his older brother introduced him to bands like Bad Brains and Nirvana, and his parents exposed him to Nueva canción—while he set out on his own to discover the DC music scene. He didn’t take an interest in learning an instrument until later in high school, when he taught himself to play the keys. After graduation, he moved to Boston to continue his study of music. In the time since moving to Brooklyn and setting to work for three years on Green Twins, he embraced the live circuit, both as a solo musician and with his band, whom he’s brought together from within his community in Boston and New York.
With Green Twins, Hakim plans to tour through the beginning of the year, and hopes that folks will connect with the songs he’d written. “I think everybody feels insecure about certain things and everybody has lost people dear to them. I think I’m writing about common things that people feel,” he says. “I’m very grateful for anybody that’s listening or wants to be a part of my little world that I’ve created through song.”
Sam Evian, (born Sam Griffin Owens) is a New York-based songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist.
Premium, Sam’s debut on Saddle Creek records, won audience and critical notice for songs that included the first single and video “Sleep Easy” (https://youtu.be/tqjVCNMTd_k). Premium’s release saw Sam Evian (Brian Betancourt on bass, Austin Vaughn on drums, and Adam Brisbin on guitar - often joined by Hannah Cohen for additional vocals) touring throughout the year with Whitney, Big Thief, Teenage Fanclub, Lucius, Rubblebucket and Luna, as well as headlining around the east coast.
Sam Evian returns with a new track, “I Need You,” a collaboration with Chris Cohen, whose solo and band records with Deerhoof and The Curtains were early inspirations for Sam. The musical dialogue took place over five days in Cohen’s garage studio as they tracked together with Sam on guitar and Chris on drums, and then shared overdubs. The resulting three songs will appear throughout the year, and herald a return to writing and recording for the next Sam Evian full-length album.
When not on the road, Sam is often found producing and engineering at Brooklyn’s Figure 8 studio, where he collaborates with artists such as Cass McCombs, Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof, Sam Amidon, Shahzad Ismaily, and many others. Saddle Creek recently released Sam’s production of the Wilder Maker single, “New Streets.”
Former Light Pollution main man James Cicero has hit upon something special with his new solo project, Jimmy Whispers. He sings sincere songs about love and loss with just a chintzy organ recorded straight to an iPhone, and what the music lacks in fidelity it more than makes up for in unself-conscious heart, blissful melodies, and enchanting hooks. He's finished an album, but you can't get it just yet—a proper release is in the works. Cicero plays out often enough, though, that the tunes will stick with you till his next show—and you can still walk away with a copy of his Summer in Pain zine. It builds on themes that also turn up in his music, in his stage banter, and in the crude "Summer in Pain" street art he's plastered around town: there's a collage about Chicago's gun violence, a letter to a woman selling a wedding gown via a flyer, doodles of sharks, non sequiturs about finding inspiration in sadness, and an image that superimposes Cicero on a photo of Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Scottie Pippen. Summer in Pain is pretty scatterbrained and not always easy to understand, but it feels entirely earnest—which makes it a great companion to Cicero's songs.