A decade ago, R&B duo the Foreign Exchange released its first album without having actually met in person, after rapper/singer-songwriter Phonte Coleman (of Raleigh hip-hop trio Little Brother) heard Dutch producer Nicolay’s work online and the two began trading tracks.
Nicolay, who moved to Wilmington eight years ago, spoke to The Observer about the group’s upbeat fourth album “Love in Flying Colors,” American dreams, and music as a common language. The duo plays The Chop Shop Thursday with a full band and guest vocalists.
Q. What solidified your decision to move to the U.S.?
A. For everybody who grows up in Europe as a musician, to a certain extent the U.S. is the promised land when it comes to certain musical traditions – jazz, soul and funk. Playing music and touring in the States has always been a dream of mine. When we dropped our first recorded in 2004, the majority of the success was concentrated here in the States. If I wanted to do anything with those opportunities, I knew I’d have to be here a lot. We still do our respective part of the pie on our own space, but (moving) allowed us to be a live group.
Q. Your connection with Phonte speaks of the idea of music as a language.
A. Even though we grew up in two very different cultures, we were able to relate. It’s a subject that continues to fascinate us to this day. ... As far back as 2002, when we started working online, it was clear. We understood where the other person was coming from without needing a whole lot of words. Telepathy is taking it too far, but there are situations where we think the same stuff at the same time.
Q. What was the first American music you got into?
A. My mother played Nina Simone, Neil Young, the Beatles, and classical. (One) artist that I distinctly liked and my mother distinctly did not like was Prince. From 1986 on, he was everything I wanted to be – maybe not literally, just the way he created his own empire based on what was essentially a brand-new and very edgy sound. That fascinated me. There was a hint of danger with Prince. It’s not wholesome. You knew your parents weren’t down with it. You couldn’t sing the lyrics at school.
Q. Where is the upbeat tone of “Love in Flying Colors” coming from?
A. When you look at our records, to whatever degree, they’re all about love. We’re very content. (2010’s”) “Authenticity” was a much darker record, pre-shadowing a breakup and everything that comes with that. We both wanted to come with a new album that reflected a more sunny outlook, even if it’s not a castle-in-the-sky situation. All the songs have to do with optimism or moving forward or seizing the moment.
Q. A lot of today’s music is either blatantly retro, or so futuristic that it’s robotic. You seem to try to balance the two.
A. I’ve always wanted to make sure we were not a throwback artist. We have a huge number of influences, and we incorporate them into our sound, but it’s important the music we make is of “right now.” Even the technology, that’s at our disposal. We build on the whole foundation that came before us and put a sauce over it that is current and distinctly our own. I think that’s what sets us apart from a lot of our contemporaries.
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