Finding All the Noise: An Interview with Drummer/Producer NAH
NAH is a percussionist, sound manipulator and visual artist from Philadelphia, but currently operating out of Belgium. He has been recording, touring and developing his own dynamic synthesis of textured noise and genre smashing rhythms since 2011. Recent years have found him not only producing his own work but also collaborating with artists like, Wiki, Mike, Iggor Cavalera, Moor Mother, Cities Aviv and more. His most recent project, Mortal Glitch is available on all streaming platforms and directly from NAH here.
Read on to learn more about NAH's work and how he integrates Sensory Percussion, and to watch a new video from Mortal Glitch.
How do you describe NAH?
Generally, I try to avoid describing it. Ethos wise, the name in itself is basically a refusal to be classified by genre titles or even creative approach and live presentation. If I had to break it down for myself, NAH is just my mantra or method of operating. Never allowing myself to get stuck in one place or catch myself doing things that have already been done. To describe NAH from a musical perspective is a bit tough for me though. I'm really just interested in two things. The first one would be my obsession with obliterating perceived genre expectations and finding all the noisier intersections between punk, hip hop, jazz, industrial, and even new age sounds. To me there is this common rebellious attitude behind all these types of sounds and I'm super set on surprising myself with all the ways they can work together to form something new. The second aspect of NAH is my perspective as a Drummer and Producer. How can I blend the organic and synthetic in new ways? It's something that I haven't grown tired of exploring yet.
How can I blend the organic and synthetic in new ways?
When I listen to NAH it feels like I’m entering a bizarre world that mirrors reality in a raw emotional and chaotic sense, well done! Can you tell us about your compositional approach to writing music? Where do you start?
Yeo, thank you! Yeah, I'm not entirely sure what reality is and NAH is totally my response to the complexities of existence or something something something. Compositionally it has been a long journey. I've dabbled in more structured pieces, but it generally all comes from a place of improvisation. I usually spend a large amount of time building a sample library to grab from. Then I'll either get behind the drums or drum machine, start spacing out, create a few different patterns and then after 20-30 minutes I'll just record a couple improvised takes. I don't really like to overthink things, so this method usually keeps me engaged and surprised with the results. After the tracking process I'm super into spending a lot of time exploring post production techniques to take things to the next dimension.
Can you tell us about how Mortal Glitch was made?
When lockdown struck I pretty much spent every single day from 8am-5pm exploring and recording things from March through the end of June. It was all done with sequencers, samplers and a SP set up with mesh heads. Probably recorded like 7 hours of music and I wasn't really feeling any of it so I ended up scrapping everything. My friend Stefan owns a studio in Ghent, BE called Audiotheque. He needed to get out of the city and offered me the space for a few weeks. I hadn't been behind a proper kit in 4 months and it felt amazing to be loud as hell and lose my shit on the drums. Being locked up for 4 months straight, and processing all the terrible things happening in the world is how Mortal Glitch became what it was. All the tracks and collaborations happened super naturally and the main elements were finished in two weeks.
The overall glitchy aesthetic of the recordings ties in beautifully with the chaotic lyrics and tells a story of class struggle and personal mania, can you tell about your lyrics and overall sonic vision of the album?
We are truly living through a glitch in humanity at the moment and it doesn't feel or sound clean at all.
Lyrically this project deals with frustrations on cyber surveillance, police brutality, and the pure insanity of existence in modern times. I was incredibly lucky to have some amazing vocal features from Cities Aviv, BLK LEXX and ZekeUltra, who were somehow on the same wave as me and offered their fiery perspectives on the same issues. Sonically speaking, I had been listening to a lot of Tony Allen and Art Blakey records during lockdown. I was obsessed with the panning of the drums and raw organic feel of everything and I wanted to incorporate something like that in the process. I recently acquired an overdrive pedal and was just blasting all of the triggered samples through that. I think the combination of lo-fi jazzy drum sounds, absolutely destroyed samples, and a fusion of jazzy punk style blast beats ended up creating the perfect space for the overall message of Mortal Glitch. We are truly living through a glitch in humanity at the moment and it doesn't feel or sound clean at all. It's a constant, scary and confusing overload of horrible information, but I think underneath it all there is a lot of human compassion and desire to create a better world for all that are suffering.
How do you integrate Sensory Percussion into your music?
That is actually ever-changing. At home I tend to use mesh heads and create softer, more ambient pieces. However, live and in the studio I like to use a 3 sensor setup on the kick, snare, and floor and I only use two zones per drum. Center and Rim. I'm fairly brutal when I play and I've found it's better to keep it simple. Also saves a ton of time at sound check. But creatively I mostly focus on sample cycling and choke features to create loose structures for me to improvise live. I also send the SP audio through a few sampler effects and pedals for further manipulation.
NAH's setup for the Mortal Glitch video:
- One Sensory Percussion sensor (on kick)
- Roland SP404
- Electro-Harmonix Operation Overlord
- An old Ludwig kit
What has it been like touring and recording with SP?
Touring with SP has been a learning process for sure. There are curveballs being thrown at you constantly. Different backline kits, running out of magnets and developing weird techniques to reuse them, lots of gaffer tape, and loads of trigger misfires lol. I usually play in super raw venues like warehouses, squats, and basements. The sensors tend to get a little pissed off when your drums are suddenly soaked in beer and sweat, so I've started triggering the software via midi and some piezo triggers to avoid damaging the sensors and making sure everything triggers when it's supposed to. It's a much more primitive approach, but it's possible to come up with some hard hitting live cuts. Recording in the studio is always fun though. I've finally started using the DAW plugin to record the separate outputs to Logic and that has been very cool.
Any future projects in the works that you want to talk about?
There will be a trippy new Michul Kuun ep dropping very soon, and I'm always recording new NAH ideas. Also working on a collab album with NYC legend WIKI. Really stoked on that. THANK YOU