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.

Phonte and Nicolay remain focused on The Foreign Exchange (via Creative Loafing)
With their fifth studio album, Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey, The Foreign Exchange has perfected its sophisticated take on R&B, incorporating not only a range of sticky sweet melodies, but also a smattering of nuanced romantic themes like domesticity and compromise. But whatever you do, don't call it ''grown man music.''

The Foreign Exchange Evoke Chaucer on 'Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey' (via Exclaim!)
''More than anything else, the biggest crime as an artist is to be boring.'' Phonte Coleman, the primary songwriter, vocalist and animated gif half of the Foreign Exchange, has probably never been at the receiving end of such an accusation. Over the course five albums with partner Nicolay, Phonte has equated love to an excuse, displayed affection through lunchtime chicken wing delivery, and made a gorgeously passive-aggressive ode to the better mate. His songwriting is unparalleled in its combined frankness, humour and relevance in our everyday dalliances.

The Foreign Exchange introduces its own Song of Solomon: 'Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey' (via Washington Post)
Phonte Coleman, the rapping, singing half of the hip-hop/R&B duo the Foreign Exchange, has a complicated relationship with religion. When he was growing up, he detested the mandatory trips to his grandmother’s baptist church, so he joined the choir just to make the ordeal more palatable. At least from the choir stand there was an added element of entertainment. Stationed behind the preacher, young Phonte could gaze upon the flock and see who was fanning themselves, who was trying not to fall asleep and who was struggling to stay on beat.

The Foreign Exchange's Nicolay tours to find new inspiration (via IndyWeek)
Phonte Coleman and Matthijs 'Nicolay' Rook keep their distance. Together, they've made several albums, toured the world, been nominated for a Grammy and built a little independent empire under the name The Foreign Exchange. But Coleman raps and sings from Raleigh, while the Dutch-born Nicolay lives in Wilmington. The space between them must be fertile, as they both pursue separate artistic offshoots. Coleman has his hip-hop and TV endeavors, while Nicolay has just released his expansive fourth solo album, City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto, in which he offers up a Euro-soul take on South Africa's native rhythms.

We Be Spirits interviews Nicolay
Nicolay is one of the most eclectic and innovative music producers around, full stop. His first notable achievement as producer came in 2004 after Connected was released – the debut album of The Foreign Exchange, of which he is half. The album was famously recorded with the 'exchange' of electronic files across the Atlantic; the artists meeting only after it had been finished. He has since gone on to cover new and exciting musical ground releasing albums as a solo artist, as well as part of TFE.

Nicolay wraps his experiences abroad into a jazzy album (via Star-News)
It was around 3 a.m. one morning in May of last year when the Wilmington-based musician Nicolay and his neo-soul band, The Foreign Exchange, crossed Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa. They were dead tired from being on tour, and only hours earlier had played a sold-out show for fans they didn't know existed.

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Roundhouse interviews The Foreign Exchange

by +FE on February 8, 2011 at 7:32 AM · Comments
The Foreign Exchange are critically-acclaimed Hip-Hop duo Phonte Coleman and Nicolay. Their soulful sound has captivated listeners over the course of three exceptional albums, and even earned them a Grammy nomination in 2010. Redtop caught up with them last month whilst they were in London playing their first shows in the capital in over five years.

CO: How would you describe Authenticity in your own words?

Phonte: It's just me and Nic really trying to always define ourselves as a band, and find that thing in us, that makes us truly us. This record is probably the most stripped down record from a production standpoint, in that we've really stripped the songs down to the basics so that people can really get what it is about, and that's where it kind of came from.

CO: What's the reception been like over in the US?

Nicolay: The reception has been really good. People were really picking up on some of the lyrical themes and some of the topics of the songs, and I think that overall as an album it's the strongest that we've ever done. As we go, we're getting better at making albums, we're getting better at you know, leaving out stuff that you don't really need that is extra.

CO: How do you guys work in the studio together? Are the beats created first and then Phonte writes the lyrics or vice versa?

N: It will mainly start with the music, but we have had other examples where it goes the other way around. Normally it's something were I come up with an idea and that could be either a full blown track or a little snippet of something I had in my head, and I'll send the tracks to Tay, and he'll take out the tracks that he has a connection with or gets ideas from.

CO: Daykeeper from the last album Leave It All Behind was nominated for a Grammy. Did you feel any pressure to live up to that success?

P: Nah, I can't say I felt any pressure. I look at it like how they say if you're riding a horse and you fall off the horse, it is important that you get back on it immediately or else you'll be paralysed by the fear of getting back on it, and I really feel it's the same philosophy when you have a widely successful album. I mean not that Leave It All Behind was a record that sold millions and millions of copies, but for us, in proportion to how we are, it was a widely successful album, and me and Nic just knew that we wanted to get back on the horse really quick because if we wait around, and the more you wait, it just becomes "THE BIG FOLLOW-UP TO LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND", so after a while I was just like 'I wanna put out a record'.

CO: My favourite track off the album is Maybe She'll Dream Of Me and I've noticed that that track is totally different to all the other tracks. Did you guys produce it in a different way to the others?

N: No, not really. I think with that track you can definitely consider it as a kind of olive branch to the people that connected to Leave It All Behind, and in a lot of ways, Maybe She'll Dream Of Me is kind of the bait that hopefully catches people and forces them to listen to the rest of the record, and the rest of the record is different to that track. When we released Maybe She'll Dream Of Me we thought that most of our fans would like it, but it would also be an invitation to listen to the more edgy stuff on the record.

CO: Aside from the album, you also run the Foreign Music label imprint. How do you balance the time between working on your on projects and running the label?

P: Well the only artist that we have now is Zo! and he's damn near a self-contained unit so that helps. With other artists you really are just overseeing, but with your own material it's just so much more intense and it takes a long time. When you're overseeing and doing your own stuff it takes a lot of man-hours, especially when you're trying to do it independently, so to the question of how do you balance it, you don't, or you balance it by having no personal life. You don't do anything else, like wife, kids, bathing, eating, like all that stuff goes to the side. It's all music all day long.

N: Yeah it's hard. If you get into a streak like that for a couple of weeks you can get into a real funny state.

P: Yeah you start seeing things. It's like being in solitary confinement. You need to go off and take a walk before you lose your mind.

CO: You guys first got together through the hip-hop community on Okayplayer.com back in 2002. Did it feel any different when you met up and started working face to face?

P: Nah, because we still don't work face to face.

N: It was out of necessity that we worked like that; we were always in different places. We realized as we went along that actually one of our key strengths is the way we worked. I'm best if I can just be on my own; I don't ever have anyone else in the studio as that's really when I feel like I can put my own personal inhibitions to the side, and just do me like 100%, and I think with Tay that's the same thing.

P: Yeah sometimes as an artist there are things in your head that only make sense to you, and sometimes it takes a while to get them to everyone else. Sometimes when there are other people in the room, and I've had it happen to me in other instances, people will try to shoot down an idea before the idea has fully developed and it's like 'dude chill, it's not finished', that's why me and Nic have given each other space to do what it is we need to do. I want him to present the ideas to me in the best possible way he can and I'll do the same thing for him.

CO: What else have you got planned for 2011?

N: We're doing a lot of show's to push Authenticity, the album, at least for another year. We'll be shooting new videos for Authenticity and for Zo!, as we're promoting the SunStorm album. Phonte's working on a solo record that we hope to have out by the fall, so just more work and more music.

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