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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The Foreign Exchange: Being The Best Self (via Exclaim!)

by +FE on October 13, 2013 at 5:22 PM · Comments
By now, the backstory of how R&B/electronica/hip hop duo the Foreign Exchange came to be is a prime example of the collaborative power of the internet age: virtually meet on the OkayPlayer hip-hop message board, collaborate by sending digital music files (Netherlands meets North Carolina) and create a hot album without ever physically having met (debut album Connected). Well, 2004 feels like a lifetime ago and even though Phonte Coleman and Nicolay (real name Matthijs Rook) now live in the same country, five albums deep the process still hasn't changed -- they still create music the same way, only now it's an interstate exchange (Phonte in Raleigh and Nicolay in Wilmington, NC). The biggest thing about the band's popularity is the devoted fan base and how they interpret the purposefully way each album puts a different spin on the soul and hip-hop elements -- Connected was decidedly hip-hop heavy while 2008's Leave It All Behind was arguably more soul-influenced.

While last album, 2010's Authenticity, took a decidedly stark and stripped-down musical turn, new effort Love In Flying Colors is intentionally brighter, expressed as an sonic exploration of the complex emotion, and represents a solidly consistent album for the duo; Phonte (ex of hip-hop crew Little Brother) has grown tremendously as a vocalist, perfectly complemented by Nicolay's ever-evolving yet signature "electro-soul" sound.

The Grammy-nominated duo state that they hate being put in a box -- as independent artists (and as founders of indie label FE+ Music) mainstream award recognition or underground fan base expectations are noted, but don't ultimately influence how they want the music to sound. It's about making music their way, drawing from hip-hop, R&B, and all points in between.

What did you consciously want to do different with this album?

Phonte: I think that this is something that's a lot brighter. This record is just a complete 180 from the last record, Authenticity. It's just a lot more colourful, a lot brighter. That's all I will say about it.

Does attracting Grammy nomination attention change how you approach the music?

Nicolay: I don't really feel it did change anything outside of the immediate moment. For our immediate family and friends, it was about validation in terms of the work that we've put in all of these years. That was really something we enjoyed. But in terms of our basic approach, we really didn't change anything because our philosophy is really doesn't include the Grammys. We were very proud to be included, because of the music itself. I think going forward it would have to happen the same way. I think we've always put the music centrally and make the music we want to make and want to hear. After that we start thinking about what people might think of it but it really starts with us and what we like.

People have different expectations with Foreign Exchange, so how do you address that?

Phonte: For me, I'm just happy that people are engaged. I mean, it's like arguing what's your favourite Star Wars. If you're George Lucas, what fucking difference does it make? All these shits are mine, so fuck it. But for me, I know, I see that -- people say they want Connected, or they say they want Leave It All Behind -- but that's something you really can't get into as an artist. You really just got you make your music and just let it land where it lands. But I'm just glad people are engaged and listening. And if nothing else, they give us a chance, if just to see where we're going to go next. That's important to me: keeping people interested, compared to keeping people happy.

That said, so how do you define your sound? Do you even think along those lines?

Nicolay: I really don't, to be very honest. I haven't for the last ten years. If you're in the game and want to be part of the music industry, it comes with the territory: people want to know what box to put you in. For us, we're a group that lets our influences steep through our own music. I think as a result you'll see a lot of different flavours, a lot of different styles. You can call us electronic at this point or you can call us organic. You can call us soul, a little bit of jazz, some hip-hop. Ultimately every label that you put on it will fall short. We kind of stopping trying to explain and hope that the music does the talking. Whatever people want to call it, we're fine with it pretty much.

What's the collaborative process like these days? How has it changed from back when you guys were in different countries sending music back and forth?

Phonte: It honestly hasn't changed at all. The only difference now is that we have phone conversations about stuff, just because we are both in the States. At the time, when we made Connected, this was before Skype and Google Voice and whatever. You made a long distances phone call, that shit was expensive. Everything is the same: Nic records his tracks and sends them to me and I just work on them here. Some of the songs on this record I worked on a little bit at a time, one day do a verse, tighten it up, the other day do a hook. Stuff like that. I'm working out of my own studio now. The process is the exact same. The bulk of it was probably done in three months, something like that. I know the first song we recorded for the album was "When I Feel Love," the last song on the album. That had to be late 2012.

Phonte, do you have a different creative process when you're singing versus rapping?

Phonte: To me, they're both exercises but they're working different muscles. With rhyming, I might spend like an hour writing a rhyme but I could just spit it in one take and it's done. But you can come up with a verse in ten minutes but then spend like an hour recording because there are so many different ways you want to try it -- from the harmonies, or how I want to arrange it. So I don't think one is necessarily harder than the other but I thinking that singing is scarier than rhyming.

It's almost like if you watch cartoons and Wile E. Coyote is always running off the edge of the cliff and shit. He would be running off the edge of the cliff and walking and almost make it to the other side and then look down to realize he was walking in the fucking air. It's like that. If you really think about how many things can go wrong in the process of doing it, it will scare you. That shit is very fucking rough. So for me the main difference, I think that this is my best vocal record, where I gain full confidence in my voice. With Leave It All Behind and to some degree Authenticity, I think that was still me trying to find myself and grow more confidence in myself as a singer. But with this record, I know that I left everything on the line. I don't care what nobody says, critics or otherwise, I sang my motherfucking face off on this record. Not John Legend's face, not Jamie Foxx's face, mine. I did the best me. That's what I'm proud of myself for on this record.

Ha ha nice. And Nic, how had your approach to producing and making music evolved over the years, in terms of the sounds and influences that you draw from?

Nicolay: I think for me and for Phonte, we're always trying to get better. I think that when you release an album, it's a good picture of everything that you can do but so a good picture of everything that what you can't or couldn't do. So I always take stuff that I hear after the fact to get better at the next go around so I can get better and there's that consistent quality. I think with this record, because Authenticity was a little bit stripped down and had a little bit more acoustic elements and bare sound, with this record we opened a little bit back up on this front. We both really wanted to do something that was a lot more upbeat and bright. I think that sound-wise, just like how Phonte said he was able to do the best him, for me I think that sonically that this is our best-sounding record. When I put this CD in the car and I listen, it sounds exactly how I want it to sound. And you rarely have that sensation, or at least I don't because I'm such a perfectionist. To hear it and know that it's exactly how I want it to sound is an awesome sensation. I'm really proud it not only the songs but in how they sound.

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