Interview: Nicolay (of Foreign Exchange)

Interview: Nicolay (of Foreign Exchange)

Nicolay is a busy bee. Projects with Phonte (Little Brother), Kay, productions for a big number of artists and a lot of (instrumental) releases. Time to check what’s happening in Nicolay’s studio as we speak.


According to Nicolay, best known as one half of Foreign Exchange (with Phonte of the North Carolina group Little Brother), many “producers” don’t deserve their title. Well, if anyone has room to talk, it’s him releasing superb efforts every year since 2004’s Foreign Exchange ‘Connected’ sonically recreating a soulful blend of hip hop/house and jazz. Now, being at the helm of a new label along with a new release, Nicolay had a chance to talk it up about the future for him and his take on the industry.

Preview: Panacea – Pops Said (Nicolay Remix)

Tell us about yourself and what it is that you do?

My name is Nicolay and I am a producer/musician originally from The Netherlands, Europe and currently living and working in North Carolina.

What instruments do you play and who have you played for/with?

I play keyboards/synthesizers, guitars, bass and drums. Most people know me as one half of The Foreign Exchange and outside of that and my own albums I have produced music with and for Little Brother, Median, Supastition, Kay of The Foundation, Darien Brockington, Oh No, Yahzarah, Sy Smith, Strange Fruit Project, Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, Chip Fu, EMC, Zion I, Roy Ayers, Bob James, Jaguar Wright and many many more.

Being from the Netherlands, do you see a difference between how hip hop is seen there as opposed to the states?

I get that question a lot but really I always have a hard time answering it, mainly because for me personally there is not a lot of difference. Yes and no. On the one hand, Europe is very much focussed on the USA when it comes to movies, music, fashion, etc. but on the other hand, Europe does seem to have a little bit more of appreciation for the original aspects of the art-form.

So many people complain about what they don’t like about hip hop music, what is it that you love about it?

Honestly, I don’t necessarily consider myself strictly a hip-hop artist or producer. Hip-hop does seem to be one of the red threads that runs through my music, though, but so are soul, so many people are complaini jazz, dance, down-tempo, etc. I think the number one reason that so much right now is the large number of subpar releases, but it’s never too late to turn it around.

How do you feel about the future of music and record labels etc.?

I think that we can all see clearly that the future of music will more than likely not include any traditional major record labels. More and more major and not-so-major artists are either going the ‘indie’ route or releasing their product themselves, as they no longer really need a label to reach their core fan-base. A lot of major labels and music execs have really placed themselves ‘outside’ of the music by being obsessed with SoundScan and other numbers that say nothing about the quality of the music and, if you ask me, and they are presented with the bill right now.

Tell us about your new imprint, and some of your plans to make sure that you can overcome some of the hurdles that seem to be effecting the music industry.

The most recent (and last) experience I had with a record label while releasing my HERE album (2006) was not a positive one, and so I wanted make a change and be responsible myself rather than having to depend on other people. I have felt for a while now that I could do a better job myself and keep the money that the label would normally take, and now I get to put my money where my mouth is. We are focussing all of our efforts on one release at a time, and hopefully that will keep us in a good course. So far it has been going very well.

Other than live instrumentation, what do you use when making beats?

I have always been a PC dude, since day one I have mainly used this free program called Modplug Tracker to do all of the sequencing. I currently record, edit and mix in Pro Tools.

How do you feel about the new Foreign Exchange album? Also, was their anything different this time in creating it as the last one?

The album is done with 11songs. There’s a lot of things that are different about this second album (none of which I can comment on right now), but one thing has stayed the same: we are still working on it via the internet.

Greatest advice you’ve ever gotten concerning your music?

Get educated. Even though I didn’t always enjoy it at the time I am very thankful that I got to learn music theory the way I did. Never think you know everything. There’s always something new to learn.

Is it a struggle to do music full-time? What made you finally make that plunge?

Of course it’s a struggle, and it depends on your ability to “hustle” whether you’ll sink or swim. I decided to stay working my dayjob for as long as I could, and so I worked a regular 9 to 5 all the way up to December 31st of 2004, when things were going well enough for me to support myself with the music. I quit January 1st, and have not looked back since. It’s probably easier for a producer than for an emcee as there’s many different things that I can try and exploit, from productions and remixes for others to your own albums to DJ gigs, etc.

Ideal scenario what would it be concerning your music?

My ideal scenario would be to be able to do this for life, until my very last day.

To up and coming producers/mcs attempting to get heard, what advice do you have?

Learn to play an instrument. Learn about arranging for different size ensembles. School yourself on recording techniques, EQing, compressing, etc. A lot of cats “claim” to be producers, but very few actually deserve the term.

Words by: Preach Jacobs
More info: Nicolay
Credits: Rawrap

Just an ordinary guy always on the hunt for extraordinary music. Not just as the founder of The Find Magazine & Rucksack Records, but also as a freelance music journalist (bylines at Tracklib, Bandcamp, Wax Poetics, DIG Mag, among others) and—above all—out of love for all kinds of good music.