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.

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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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