SoulTracks reviews 'Glaciers'
The music man behind much of the signature tones that have come to define The Foreign Exchange (+FE) sound continues his alchemist trick of making instrumental electronic music feel organic for laypeople who swear they don’t care for electronic music. Following a tradition initially established in jazz by artists like Miles Davis and in soul by Stevie Wonder’s experimentations in Songs in the Key of Life (peaking in the woefully underrated In A Square Circle), manipulating electronic music to distill the innate robotic coldness of its confines to cultivate something emotional and resonating is a hard row. Most lean into the coldness, creating music that stretches from the industrial and dystopian to the nihilistic and metallic.

Indie-soul collective Foreign Exchange plays the Cat's Cradle (via The News & Observer)
It seems like only yesterday Phonte Coleman was just a North Carolina rapper/singer, one-third of the up-and-coming hip-hop trio Little Brother. Back then, Coleman was also exchanging music files with an Internet help desk employee and aspiring producer in the Netherlands (Matthijs “Nicolay” Rook), hoping the two could make music together.

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The Foreign Exchange won't rest on Grammy laurels (via Creative Loafing Atlanta)

by +FE on February 10, 2010 at 7:32 AM · Comments
Sleep is a luxury Phonte and Nicolay still can't afford.
Say what you will about the commercial excess of the Grammy Awards, for an artist, there's nothing more validating than receiving a nomination. It means even more for independents with no major-label backing. So when Phonte Coleman's wife woke him up to tell him that his alt/soul group the Foreign Exchange had received a Best Urban/Alternative Performance nod for the song "Daykeeper," he reacted like any exuberant artist would - he fell back asleep.

"Honestly, I had been working so much, it didn't hit me until I completely woke up," he laughs.

His reaction was fitting, considering the life of an indie artist. Phonte and his partner, producer Nicolay (born Matthijs Rook), do everything themselves, from writing, producing and engineering, to fighting what Nicolay calls "David versus Goliath" business battles with iTunes. Add to that their tour schedule and extra projects like the recent formation of their label, the Foreign Exchange Music, and sleep has become a luxury.

"I have no personal life," Phonte says, adding that he and Nicolay are wrapping up soulstress Yahzarah's upcoming album, The Ballad of Ms. Purple St. James, due this spring. "There's no 'Phonte enjoys kayaking in his spare time.' It's nothing for [us] to work 24- to 36-hour stretches."

Being independent may not support a balanced lifestyle, but getting the Grammy phone call is its own reward. It's also an encouraging sign for unsigned artists who've come to view such recognition as a pipe dream.

"A lot of people still say the Grammys are a popularity contest," Nicolay says. "But in our category, it showed a bit of guts from the committee that we were in there."

Though they lost to India.Arie this year, the "Grammy-nominated" label is one that they'll be flashing when they return to perform in Atlanta at Shameless Plug's Hey Love show Feb. 12. And with new releases from affiliated artist Zo! and the Foreign Exchange scheduled to drop this year, they plan on riding the wave into the sunset. "I ain't no fool," Phonte laughs. "I know we have to stay on people's minds while we have their attention."

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