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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Getting To Know The Foreign Exchange (via Clash)

by +FE on October 10, 2013 at 6:43 PM · Comments
Though you should know them already...
FE-press6.jpgThis is normally the part where I give an overcooked explanation of the artist in question. This is where I wreck my brain to detail the sheer magnitude of the music, in hopes of getting you to see things my way.

So I'll try another approach: If you like Rhye or Quadron, you'll love The Foreign Exchange. For almost 10 years, the Grammy-nominated duo has created the same electro-soul as the aforementioned acts, but with a deeper soul slant.

Beginning with 2004's 'Connected' album, Netherlands native Nicolay (the producer) and North Carolina MC/singer Phonte Coleman have captured stellar results. They show no signs of slowing down.

"I mean honestly, what the f*ck else I'mma do?" Phonte says with a laugh. "This is pretty much who I am. Music's always gonna be in my head, even if I worked at a grocery store or wherever. I figure, hell, as long as it's in my head, I might as well figure out a way to get paid for this shit."

The Foreign Exchange is never the same band twice. The pair's new album, 'Love In Flying Colors', is far brighter than 2010's 'Authenticity', which detailed the struggles of breaking up.

Clash catches up with Phonte and Nicolay, to get a detailed account of the new album.

What sound were you going for on 'Love In Flying Colors'?

Phonte: For this record, we definitely wanted to do a 180 from 'Authenticity' and make a brighter-sounding record. 'Authenticity' was really dark and really sparse in a lot of ways. But with this one, we definitely wanted something that definitely was a lot brighter, something that embodied the title, literally "flying colours". For me, the opening track on the album, 'If I Knew Then', I saw that as the full embodiment of what we wanted to do. If I had to describe the album with one song, that would encompass what 'Love in Flying Colors' sounds like.

Nicolay: I'd say that a lot of my influences for this record have been a lot of European-based dance music. I think Phonte and I really talked about having a strong dance element to it. Whereas 'Authenticity' was more of the sound-based performance record, we wanted this one to have a bit of a dance feel to it. I've listened to a lot of 4Hero, Jazzanova and Disclosure. So I think they definitely found a way into the sound. We set out to make a record that's very bright and optimistic.

In some ways, 'Love In Flying Colors' sounds like a continuation of 'The Reworks' album you recently released. Was that done on purpose?

Phonte: In a way, yeah. We didn't want it to sound exactly like that, but we believe in giving our fans a taste of what's to come. With us putting out 'The Reworks', especially the 'So What If It Is' record (listen below), that was a hint of what was around the corner. Me and Nic have always wanted to do that house-y kind of record, but at the same time, just keep it us and still keep the shit soulful. To me, that's the most important thing. With The Foreign Exchange, we like to put our spin on any kind of genre, whether it be rock, jazz or country, but always keep an element of soul in there.

Earlier this year, Rhye blew up out of nowhere. But you guys have created that same type of music for almost a decade. What is your take on the emergence of electro-soul?

Phonte: It's something that we've seen happen a lot in music. Whenever black folks create some shit, whenever we do something, it always gets reinvented with a new face. In the early 2000s, everyone was talking about "the mash-up". So I'm like, "What the f*ck is a mash-up?" Then I actually heard a mash-up and I was like, "Oh, this is a f*ckin' blend!" That's the same thing Ron G. did on all his mixtapes back in like '94.

But now when a DJ or producer of the moment does it, now it's a mash-up. With the re-emergence of our particular sound, that's really how the game goes. Sometimes, it takes somebody new putting it in people's faces for them to realise what's always been there.

What were the personal influences behind the album's creation?

Phonte: In the time from 'Authenticity' to now, a lot of stuff has happened to me. I went through a divorce, it was a painful experience and 'Authenticity' covered that. As a writer, that album along with my solo album 'Charity Starts At Home', they served as bookends for a certain chapter of my life. Once I finished 'Charity...', I felt like I made it out. Coming through all that and re-emerging, I wanted to make a record that represented that new outlook, that new sunshine in my life. That's what 'Love In Flying Colors' was, ya know. It represents that new chapter.

Nicolay: I'm not writing any lyrics, so for me, the subject matter is always something I kinda work with. I'm working with what I'm given. So I think an album really shines when the subject matter meets the music. A track like 'The Moment' is a really good example because it captures us in our essence. It's just Phonte on the vocals, and just me on the music. I feel like once we decided that 'love in flying colours' was gonna be the general vibe, I tried to get the music to fit the subject matter. Even though I'm not directly involved with the subject matter, it still ends up being a very personal album for me as well.

What do you want listeners to take away from the album?

Phonte: To enjoy the music, first and foremost. One of the great things about doing what we do is that you have no idea what people are gonna take from your work. You can write a song that's sad and people can be like, "Damn, that's my morning song! I listen to that to get me up in the morning!" (Laughs) But it's all in how it hits them. I hope that people enjoy the record and that it finds a place in their lives, wherever that place may be. I hope it's music they can live to.

Nicolay: We feel really, really good about it. I think we made the best record we could make. I'm just really looking forward to people checking it out. As Phonte said, you never really know and that's a good thing, I think. It'll be really interesting to see what are people's favourite songs, their favourite moments. I can't wait, man.

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