Hailing from Chicago, IL, (We Are) Nexus is producer/composer Nick Gunn and vocalist/lyricist Carmen Rainier. Exploding onto the EDM scene in August 2013 with their debut EP “It Feels So Good,” a cover to Sonique’s 1998 smash hit of the same name, the duo is a force to be reckoned with.
(We Are) Nexus Interview:
Now, you’re a fairly unique pair in that you’re an EDM duo, with Nick producing and Carmen doing all of the vocals, and you’re also a couple, so of course we want to know, how did you originally meet? How is producing music different as a couple? What’s the best ‘couple moment’ you’ve had in your creative life?
Nick: I like that you think we are unique, that’s awesome! It’s true, there are few couples producing, writing, living and going through life together, in business and in a relationship. We met in 2010 in Santa Barbara, CA at a local wine bar. Since then, it’s been a wonderful relationship for us. We don’t have this crazy back story of fights and passionate exchanges. We both have exactly the same goals and find ourselves exactly at the same point in our lives. We have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. We believe respect is the key to success, in both our personal and professional relationships! You have to completely trust one another, the choices, the commentary, the decisions and the outcome. We both understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths and come to each other’s aid in the moments it matters most!
Carmen: It’s funny, we have a number of colleagues who don’t actually know we’re a couple! At the last conference we attended one of them actually asked me, because she and another guy were debating it and taking bets! Yeah, working together as a couple does present challenges a lot of other couples don’t have. We have a lot of friends who look at us and say, “I could never do it!” They don’t know how we manage! But it’s the relationship we’ve built, so we don’t really know any different together. We’ve become excellent at communicating and tackling problems together based on each of our respective strengths and weaknesses. We hold nothing back. I’ll blatantly critique Nick’s production choices while creating a song and he’ll do the same if we’re recording vocals and he’s not getting what he needs. Yet we know everything we say to each other is out of mutual respect and love, because we’re both striving toward the same goal. Our work is our life and our life is our work, they’re not separate. But, yes, sometimes we need to unplug! But I think that’s something every couple could benefit from, that’s not unique to us. We plan dates where there are no cell phones allowed and no talking business or music, at least as best we can! Our best couple moment creatively? Every song we produce! Each of them are an expression of us really, and our growth together. Our best experience working creatively together? I would say it was the first time we ever recorded together. I remember I was so nervous and Nick came up behind me and just put his hands on my shoulders and said, “You’re gonna do great!” and the whole session he had this huge grin on his face and was so excited, which made me at ease and excited, and it was just awesome! So we’ve been doing it ever since!
What’s different about (We Are) Nexus, stylistically? —-
Nick: We don’t follow trends. We simply write and produce our music, that’s it! I mean, yeah, we follow a market segment which is dance, EDM or whatever you want to call it. However, within that market segment we want to write music that has meaningful lyrics, and layered and memorable instrumentation that emotionally moves people. The one thing we have noticed about music that follows trends is that it can become quite linear. Once you listen about five times, there’s nothing more to explore within the piece. It tends to become quite boring. We like to think the adverse is the case with our music. The more you listen, the more you like and can uncover!
Nick, tell us about your musical history. You’re a classically trained artist, had a successful career as a World musician, and owned and ran your own label, how does that shape your approach to producing music in today’s market? How many instruments do you actually play? —-
Nick: Yes, I was fortunate growing up in the UK to have a classical education at the Royal Academy of Music. I studied the flute, of all things! I became quite proficient at a young age and used the flute in a lot of my World Music recordings. I also played drums for years and think I covered every club on Sunset Blvd in my late teens playing in rock bands. I have a general knowledge of piano and use that in my everyday productions. Since my early 20’s I’ve self-produced over 14 albums that ended up selling a few million units in the World Music market under the name Nicholas Gunn and eventually ventured out into owning my own label and representing over 75 artists and a few hundred titles. What did I learn from all of that? Ha, I learned I just want to produce and write music and not run a label! Carmen and I balance each other beautifully in the fact that she handles a lot of the business affairs with Shotgunn Productions which allows me to focus on my strengths-music and production. We apply the knowledge from my past career towards developing and marketing (We Are) Nexus. It has been an invaluable tool for us. The market is different today, but the fans are the same! I learned so much about understanding my audience and realizing that it’s not so much about us but about what our music represents to them. Today, with (We Are) Nexus, we feel we have an incredible grasp on giving our fans what they want. The rest of the industry, technically, is just necessary interference between us. There are so many people monetizing on that interference: distributors, social media, radio, promoters, venues, etc, etc. It’s obnoxious, really, but at the end of the day they’re the largest conduit that connects musicians to their fans within our complex business and society. How to manage that interference and keep the fans #1 ahead of all that interference is the most important thing I learned early on in my career.
What’s the biggest difference between producing music in the early 90s and now? —-
Nick: The tools, I would say! Back then I was working on open reel magnetic tape. I went from a Fostex 16 track to a Studer 24 track and a 96 input analog console. I mean, the maintenance and set up for each session was insane! De-magnetizing heads, prepping reels, syncing all the devices, etc. The cost was crazy too. A reel of Ampex 2″ tape for 24 tracks was about $250 a reel. Recording at 30ips (inches per second) you could squeeze around three songs on one reel. That, plus the actual cost of the gear, a Studer 24 track deck would run about 75k, not to mention the cost of the console, outboard gear and overall maintenance! It was insanity in comparison to today! Now, I walk in to my studio, turn on the drive and I’m ready to go! I’m not a purist, I believe in the evolution of an industry. I have a chuckle when I see these young producers going out of their way to load up on vintage gear. Don’t get me wrong, some are still incredible, but it’s so much easier to do that when you don’t really have to!
You’ve worked at every level in the music industry, if you could focus on one for the rest of your life, which would it be? —-
Nick: Being an artist, composer and producer-that’s it! I also love mentoring young producers and talent. There are some nasty pitfalls out there in the industry and there are a lot of people that are driven by greed and fame rather than being a prolific and meaningful artist. It’s important to avoid this part of the industry and it’s hard to navigate.
Carmen – What does your lyric writing process look like? A lot of musicians express themselves artistically in other areas, do you have any artistic hobbies outside (We Are) Nexus?
Carmen: My best writing happens one of two places, or ways. My favorite place for planned writing is this little cafe around the corner from our apartment. It’s a cool little spot where they rotate the art every few months and all the barristas rock hipster-staches and tats and it’s just full of people working on their laptops all day long. I’ll grab a green tea and a bagel, curl up on their brown arm chair, and just sit with my headphones on in my own little world for hours. I probably look crazy mouthing words and mumbling to myself in the corner, but no one’s ever said anything! Usually Nick already has some instrumentation down that I write to, which helps give me a feel for the tone and emotion of the piece. Whatever emotion I feel from that instrumentation conjures up personal experiences I’ve had, or my friends have had, and from there I kind of mold the story or message I want to express. The other place ideas tend to strike is at the gym, usually on the stair stepper or something repetitive. It’s bizarre, I know, but it’s usually when an idea will just hit me or a block I’ve been having will release opening a floodgate of ideas.
When it comes to other artistic mediums, I consider myself a creative more than I do just a lyricist or a singer. I don’t really understand the need to stick artists into one box labeled “Singer” or “Painter” or “Dancer.’ Artists are creatives, we have creative and chaotic, non-linear minds and we approach everything from that perspective. Personally, I’m a very visual person. I’ve always loved photographing things, especially landscapes. Being visual, I get put in charge of a lot of the design of our websites and social media, all the banners and profile pics and meme’s, our overall branding and images, stuff like that. I also handle a lot of our marketing because that’s also creative based. In what new ways can we speak to and reach our fans? What can I do creatively to grab their attention? A lot of times, when I’m writing lyrics, I’ll get pictures in my head rather than words, and it’s those images I’ll go to to draw inspiration. I also use to dance – salsa, bachata, anything Latin and with a partner – and was an actress for years. Acting was actually my first major in college… before I took a six year gap year! lol
You work with some pretty phenomenal remixers, Dave Aude, among them, what do you look for in a remix when you’re preparing for an EP?
Carmen: Well, obviously people who are talented. Specifically, we listen closely to their production techniques and how they approach vocals. Vocals can be tricky to work with and they have to be done right! I also think we tend to naturally lean towards people who are musicians, who understand music theory and implement it in their remixes. It sucks when you have to tell a remixer, who just spent hours producing a track for you, that it’s in the wrong key. It’s even worse when they don’t have any clue what you’re talking about or can’t hear the dissonance. Programs can’t tell you everything you need to know in music, people, you need to have a musicians ear and understanding! Personally, I like working with people who act professionally. Don’t ignore my emails or texts asking how it’s going or completely blow off deadlines. I mean really, come on… At the end of the day it’s about quality music and enjoying working with that person. I have to say, I loved the mixes we got and talent we discovered when we did a remix contest. I can confidently say we will definitely being doing more of those!
About (We Are) Nexus:
The list of accomplishments on their freshman outing was impressive, including a #1 Breakout position on Billboards Dance Club Songs, a peak position of #14 on Billboards Dance Club Songs, iTunes Top 100 Dance and Billboards Top 50 Dance/Electronic Songs. Their follow up single in January of 2014, “World Around Me”, also made the iTunes top 100 Dance and once again graced the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. Combined with incredible radio support, such as Music Choice EDM/Dance adding the “World Around Me” original mix six times a day, proved the duo’s strength and staying power within the ever growing and competitive EDM market place.
Their follow up singles to “World Around Me”, titled “Shamelessly” and “Better off Without You”, captured an experimental side to the duo allowing them to express a more unconventional approach giving depth and breadth to their music. “Experimentation and the freedom of musical expression, we feel, is the key to longevity as an artist” says Gunn.
No stranger to the music business, Gunn comes with an impressive resumé that expands multiple musical genres and roles as both a classically trained musician and producer. Gunn, having produced multiple albums selling over two million units worldwide, today finds himself as the producing and composing force behind the (We Are) Nexus sound.
“Carmen and I have accomplished a tremendous amount in a short period of time. We care immensely about our sound and vision and have never worked harder in our lives to see that vision take form”.
Rainier, the other half of the EDM duo, has been sinking her teeth into Gunn’s productions with an approach to intelligent and clever lyric writing. “Carmen’s style and provocative approach is the mortar to what we do” says Gunn. Rainier also handles a tremendous amount of the business affairs behind (We Are) Nexus. With their studio and office located in Chicago’s famed West Loop, Rainier finds herself at the helm controlling everything from distribution to social media and how the world experiences us.
“It’s quite empowering to be in control of your own destiny” says Rainier. “I have been in the business for a few years now and have learned so much on how to become a successful music act in the business. It’s more than you can imagine, it’s a lot of work!”
What’s next for (We Are) Nexus? Scheduled for January 13th, 2015 the duo are releasing an edgy and enticing new track titled “They’ll Never Stop Me” complete with an acoustic live video version of the song and remix contest winners. “We feel we are finding our groove and we are really excited about what this next year holds for us.” Follow and keep up to date with everything (We Are) Nexus at www.wearenexusedm.com