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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Pump Up The World - A Conversation with The Foreign Exchange (via kinetik*culture)

by +FE on June 13, 2011 at 5:40 PM · Comments
Brought together via the message boards on Okayplayer.com, rapper Phonte Coleman and producer Nicolay Rook have made some of the most progressive, evocative soul music of this decade. Their indie approach to the business and art of music has garnered them a Grammy nod, worldwide recognition, and a flock of die-hard fans. They took time to speak with me in the thick of their "Authenticity" tour, and had some interesting reflections on touring, the birth of the "Return the Mack" remake, and making magic happen.

Authenticity is a lot moodier than your last two albums, and you are definitely touching on relationships issues that people usually don't bring to light. Do you find that people want more happy material from you guys, or is your audience growing with you musically?

Phonte: I think for the most part the audience has grown with us. They have faith in us to pull through with whatever it is we're going to do, even if it's not as up as they're used to. They trust in us to execute it to the fullest. Me and Nic knew, releasing this record, that this would probably be a slower burn than our other records. 'Connected' and 'Leave it All Behind' were very much records that you 'get' from jump. 'Authenticity' was a much more subdued record, and really is something that takes a lotta listens to really understand. Truth be told, I didn't really 'get it' until two months after it was out, just because I needed the time after completing it to have some space away from it to regain perspective. One night I was up working and going through emails in the middle of the night and I let the album play from top to bottom, and I was like "damn, I get it now." Which is odd, we made it, but that was really how it was.

The lineup for this tour is new, and Phonte you are singing most of the male parts. How has that changed the dynamic of the group, and how do you think it helped you grow as a performer?

Phonte: I would just say that it really made me man up a little more. In the past, I had room to kind of just chill or not go as hard because you know I had Yaz[ahrah] or Darien [Brockington] to do the "heavy lifting", but now with it all being on me it forces me to hone my craft a little more, and be more disciplined. After the shows I used to be the first one out in the crowd signing autographs and taking pictures, but now after the shows are over I have to go in the back and shut it down and go on strict vocal rest. Overall it's made me a lot stronger and more confident as a singer, knowing that I can pretty much carry it all by myself.

How do you all keep the energy up? You guys are on this incredible cross country tour, and I can't imagine that you get too much sleep.

Nicolay: I mean it's mainly the crowd that gets us going and keeps us going. A lot of the touring is very tiresome, very boring even.

Phonte: The only fun time on tour is the time onstage.

Nicolay: Right. It's the 2 ½ hours you get to do the show that you've been getting ready for all day. That is actually the easy part. You know, I always find the energy to go out and perform no matter how tired I am, but a lot of the elements of our tour are very difficult. The shows are what it's all about.

Phonte: To me, I just keep the fans in mind. Even though we have done the show a hundred times, it may be somebody's first time seeing us. No matter what I'm going through or how tired I am, I keep in mind two things: A. it could be someone's first time seeing me and I want to make a good impression and B., I could be working a fucking office job.

That was actually my next question, what were each of you doing before you just said "F it", and went full time with music?

Nicolay: I was actually working at an internet help desk. You know how that goes. When the time came for me to quit, I did it with every inch of my body, I never looked back.

Phonte: I did some of everything. I worked retail, I worked at an insurance company, I was a bouncer in the club for a little bit. It was all legal though, it was all legal. I did some of everything, but through it all my mind was always on my music, and I knew that was what I ultimately wanted to do.

What was the livest show you've ever done?

Nicolay: The Paris show in January was really crazy, that one comes to mind. People were just ready to see us; they were incredibly loud and just had incredible energy. I would definitely say Paris is one of the ones that sticks out in my mind.

Phonte: Yeah, Paris was definitely dope. Man let me see. Baltimore. Man. The audience would start singing the songs before we even started singing them, that's crazy. It's always just an amazing thing to watch other people else sing your songs. That's like every musicians dream just to know your music affected somebody in that way, you know what I mean? That's really something that never gets old.

Do people ever come up with crazy stories of how your music has changed their lives?

Phonte: All the time. One of the things I can remember fairly recently. We were in Cincinnati, I think, and we met this cat who said, "Yo man, 'Leave It All Behind' helped me get through my divorce," and he rolled up his sleeve and had a tattoo that said 'Leave It All Behind', and I was just like 'damn.' That's probably one of the wildest ones that I can remember. People hit us up all the time; you just never know how your music is going to affect people.

Ok Nicolay, this question is for you. There seems to be a certain "opening" sound that appears on all three of the records, it's at the very beginning of 'DayKeeper'. Is it an actual thematic sound you use to tie the work together, or am I tripping?

Nicolay: Well for the very first record, it was a part of the intro on the first track that lead into the Foreign Exchange title theme, and when we were getting ready to work on 'Leave It All Behind' we just really played with the idea of bringing that sound back but in a slightly modified form. We also start our shows out with it, and we start our third album with it. It's become our sound logo, the sound that people identify with us, and at shows it's really cool, because it's the bell for the madness, they know it's about to go down. It's interesting how it developed over time

Ok. Return of the Mack. Incredible receptions at your shows with this song. What about it spoke to your soul? Have you seen Mark Morrison's new video?

Nicolay: (Laughter)

Phonte: I have, unfortunately, seen Mark Morrison's new video. I will not take the blame for that, because a lot of people have tried to put that on me, and they'll say, "Are you and Zo the reason why he's back," and I'm just like nah bruh. That sword does not fall on my head. But I did see the joint. I was very entertained by it. I thought it was fucking hilarious, actually.

To me, it was always a funny song on so many levels. From the adlibs to his singing, everything about the song was hilariously over the top. Like dude how can you not like this? This is how it started...the birth of Return of the Mack. Me and Zo were clowning, and Lil B put out that he was going to title his next album 'I'm Gay', and from that point somehow we got on Return of the Mack and we were talking about it on Twitter. So, my homegirl Jodine was like "I hate that song, that song is the worst." The thing about me is once I see that something is getting under your skin, it's like in the schoolyard as a kid, cats might pick on you and talk about your clothes, and you can shake it off and they'll leave you alone, but when they see they're getting a response? It's over. You're gonna have a long day. And I was like word? Ok. Zo went to my keyboard and started playing it (laughter) and I hooked my mic up, and we just did it and put it up. From Lil B's "I'm Gay," to Mark Morrison to Twitter, that was the genesis of the Mack.

Woooooooow. Ok. (Laughter)

You guys seem to be very active in your social media outlets and you are very good at engaging your audience through those networks. Do you have someone to strategize that activity or do you do it yourselves?

Nicolay: We don't really have anybody to help us with that, and that's not a coincidence. There's no point in having someone do that for you. I could understand if you're Prince or someone like that, then obviously you're not going to be doing your own tweets, but for us a big part of our appeal is our..

Phonte: ...our authenticity.

Nicolay: That's right. You name it, everything that comes out of our camp, we do all of that ourselves

Outside of music, what do you guys enjoy doing most?

Phonte: Oh, God. Probably just nothing (laughing). That's something I wish I could do more of. Like just, nothing. Some people are like do you have hobbies? No, I don't want to do shit, I just want to chill at the house, and just sit and do nothing. I probably sound like your boy from Office Space. But that's really how I feel.

Nicolay: I'm pretty much the same. I do enjoy going to a movie every now and then, I like to have dinner at a nice restaurant here and there. Other than that I enjoy being home, I'm definitely a homebody. Obviously work takes up so much of our time that there really hasn't been a heck of a lot of free time.

Last question, it's kind of fun. If all curse words were taken away, which one would be the one you would want to hold on to?

Phonte: Probably bullshit, because sometimes there's no other word to describe some fuckery other than bullshit. Sometimes you just have to call bullshit bullshit. I would have to hold fast to bullshit.

Nicolay: I mean for me, it's not really the meaning of it, but it's how they come out of your mouth. I think I'd be sad, and I don't want to offend anybody, if they got rid of gotdammit. When shit really totally hits the fan, there's nothing like a good long gotdammit to really give your opinion about the state of things. And it can be a 'c-o-t', there is no religious connotation for me in saying the word, it just pops, and it feels good.

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