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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The Foreign Exchange - An Interview With Nicolay & Phonte (via The Loop Detroit)

by +FE on June 3, 2011 at 7:32 AM · Comments
The Foreign Exchange has long been a favorite of The Loop Detroit. Since the early days of when this site was Renaissance Soul Detroit, Nicolay has been a good friend and great supporter of it all. He's been a true school J. Dilla head. The Foreign Exchange machine continues to troop on with the release of last year's phenomenal album Authenticity. Recently, the band came into Detroit for a show back on May 8th at The Magic Stick, which I ended up DJing at too. It was an amazing show with a great performances and super stellar crowd. Beforehand, I got to chat with Nicolay and Phonte about the band, their childhood, when Nicolay worked with Wiz Khalifa, and all sorts of Detroit stuff.

The Loop Detroit: Talk about the live show for The Foreign Exchange
Phonte: It's really about showing people a good time. It's truly about giving a place for people to escape to. Just enjoy live music being played and the live music atmosphere of us all doing something at one time together. In the culture we live in, thats becoming less and less of the thing. Everybody's becoming more isolated.

TLD: Talk about the new album Authenticity.
Nicolay: We wanted to keep things stripped down as opposed to what we used to do in the past. We wanted to showcase and highlight the songs themselves and the performances. Keep it as simply as possible. A lot of people have really responded to the lyrics because on this album, they are really center stage.

TLD: Given the time between second album Leave It All Behind and this album, what events contributed to the making of Authenticity?
P: A lot happened in terms of restructuring my career. Little Brother came to an end. Foreign Exchange became my main thing.

TLD: The Foreign Exchange used to be a bit more hip hop before with Phonte rhyming, but there is more singing from him these days.
P: The tracks that Nicolay sent me were not hip-hop tracks. To me they just called for so much more than rhyming. For me to just rap over those tracks, it would have sold the track short. For first instinct would be to just sing on them. I've learn over all the years of writing songs that the first idea is usually the best idea because its the most simple idea.

TLD: There always seems to be a bit of a dramatic tinge to The Foreign Exchange's music.
N: In general, albums are just snapshots of moments in time for us. Each of the album really say something about where we were at that moment in our lives. Connected, we were young and on the come up. LIAB we were dealing with being adults and a different kind of life. Authenticity is the logical next step. As you grow older, your interests change. Some of your perspectives change. Some of your viewpoints change.

TLD: What sort of kids were each of you when you were young?
N: I grew up fairly shielded. I had really nurturing and caring parents. They just really encouraged me something I wanted to do. Playing music a lot. I had a very easy childhood.
P: I've pretty much always been the same. Not too much as changed. We didn't have much. We were poor. Music was always my friend. I didn't want to go outside and play with nobody. I didn't want to go outside and shoot basketballs. Other kids always asking me to come outside. I just wanted stay in and play records all day. My mom bought me the Optimus Prime Transformers tapeplayer and I had a LL Cool J tape and a Dana Dane tape. All I wanted to do is listen to records and listen to tapes. I had Michael Jackson's Bad album. I had all the Michael Jackson albums on vinyl. All I wanted to is be in my room and play music. That's all I want to now.

TLD: That Optimus Prime tapedeck sounds fresh as hell!
P: Yeah, I'm sure they are selling somewhere on eBay for something stupid, but was like a tapedeck and put the tape in, you press his head down. That's the play button, you press his head down. Its probably worth some kind of money on eBay if you have one in working condition.

TLD: What Detroit artists are you two fans of?
N: At the risk of sounding obvious, it all started with Dilla for me. Its not a ids to all the slews of Detroit artists that came before him. Outside of the whole Motown legacy, its definitely Dilla. I'm also a huge electronic music fan so I really dig in general some of the electronic music coming out of Detroit.
P: Without question, Dilla. That goes without saying. Outside of that, my man Denaun Porter. I think he's just an incredibly talented musician. Black Milk. He is just another dude that is just elevating his game with every release. Of course Elzhi. That's my sparring partner right there. We definitely keep each other sharp and we got some things in the works. Royce. I did the hook for him on his record. For me, Detroit became the new New York. What I used to go through for New York hip-hop thats what Detroit became. Hard drums, hard beats, melodic samples. Raw dudes just rhyming over a beat that was something raw like. That's what Detroit is for me on the production side of it. On hip-hop side, Denaun Porter or Black Milk. On the house music side, my man Pirahnahead, Theo Parrish, old school shit like Cybotron. I have so much love for that city. Of course, my mans Zo!. Thats the home team. A lot of talent out of their and a lot of cats that have shown me love throughout my career. I just continue to show love back.

TLD: Phonte, would you ever work with any of the Detroit house music artists?
P: Yeah, Pirahnahead actually remixed a joint I did a few years back. I did this track with this group Windimoto. They are based out of Chicago, but one of the guys, Scorpeze, is from Detroit. Good buddy of mine. Sean Haley is out of Chicago. I did a track under an alias in '07 called "Don't Let Me Leave You Alone". Pirahnahead liked it and he remixed it. His remix is stupid. So me and him been in talks for awhile about doing some stuff. Time got away from us. I would definitely do it without a moments notice. I'm a really big house fan. To me, its just sped up soul music. Pirahnahead is a beast. He is definitely one of my idols. I really look up to him because he really does do it all.

TLD: Right, Pirahnahead is a tremendous musician.
P: From writing, producing, his string arrangements, he's an incredible talent. I would do it in a heartbeat doing something with the Detroit house cats. Also, Waajeed. I need to shout him out too. Waajeed was actually the first cat to take me to get a hair cut in Detroit during my first time in Detroit. Waajeed took me to a barber shop. Bigs up to Waajeed. Thats my brother right there.

TLD: Do you remember where you went?
P: I don't remember the barber shop but I remember him telling me 'Yo, it can get kinda gully in here so be on the look out'. I was like 'aight, fuck it, lets go'. I don't remember where it was though. This had to be like 2003 because it was right around the time that 9th [Wonder] had got "The Threat" Jay-Z placement. We was at the crib and Waajeed was like 'Is it true about 9th getting the Jay-Z placement?'. I was like 'yeah'. He was like 'That's what the fuck I'm talking about. Hell yeah man. That shit give me hope. I like to see one of us make it. Like someone cut from our clothe. I love to see that shit! That shit is dope! That gives me inspiration'. That's how I remember the year, then afterwards we were just chilling and took me to a barber shop and we kicked it that night.

TLD: Do you guys have any other Detroit memories?
N: Mainly trying to get into Canada from Detroit. Thats the irony of it. Our drummer didn't make it into Canada. He wasn't allowed in. We even got a sub from Detroit to come to the border and they wouldn't let him. That was a real interesting situation.
P: We would be downtown at Saint Andrews, and afterwards I would always walk over to Sweetwater Tavern and get me some wings or some catfish bites. When we wanted to kill time, we would always go into Greektown and go into Bouzouki's, the strip club. This is like 2003-04. We had a couple days off so we decided to spend the day off in Detroit. We would be in the hotel room bored as shit, so we like fuck it lets go to the strip club. It got to the point where the owners knew us. Every time we come in, there would be the one stripper. This black girl with the fattest ass ever. We would be like 'Yo! We want her!'. They would be like 'You want her to come up. She just finished dancing but we'll bring her back out.' They brought her back out and shit. Bouzouki's. Thats how we would spend our off days. By "we", I mean Little Brother. I have not had the privilege to go to the strip club with my brother Nicolay yet, but I'm sure we will cross that bridge to get there and I would gladly walk with him into the light.

TLD: Speak about your fellow bandmate and Detroiter Zo!.
P: Zo! is a cat that I met in '04. He's just a dude where he'd hit me up and we just talk about music. We weren't even really talking about us working together. We would just talk about music. Just talk about jams. We'd be on the phone for hours talking about records and stuff. He had reached out and he was doing this Just Visitin' series and he had "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson. I was like 'I love that joint. Maaaan, send me that joint and I'll do the hook on it.' He sent it and I did the hook and that was the beginning of our working relationship. That was in '05 or 06. After I finished it, he came to me was like 'Do I owe you something for this? What do I owe you? Tell me how much.' I was 'Dude, its nothing. Your money is no good here.' Then, that is always how we worked. We never exchanged money for anything. I just do stuff for him for nothing and he play on my stuff. We just got so much material together. Its just how we have always done business together. We just do it. He's definitely a rare find in the industry for people that will actually do what they say they will do. There is so many people that you will meet that are talented as hell but have no follow through. They'll just start a million things but never bring shit to fruition or never have a plan for it. Zo! is one of the most consistent cats that I have ever worked with. Thats why, along with Nicolay, my team of producers, my go to guys is such a small circle. There are very few people that can keep up with me in the studio, keep up with my output, keep up with my work ethic, and always produce quality. Zo! is a genius, man!

TLD: You ever see the Zo!'s collection for horrible demo tapes?
P: Oh! We do that all the time. I have added to his collection and he has sent me some. We both curate the Wack Museum together. That's what we do on our spare time. Squeeze or be squoze! [Laughs]

TLD: As far as The Foreign Exchange, whats up next for you guys?
N: Outside of the tour, the first fews thing we got going on in the immediate future is that first we are re-releasing Connected, our first album. Its been out of print for a long time. We used to be on BBE, and they are not really doing a whole lot, so we got all the rights and the masters. So we were able to re-release that to keep that out there because its our first album. The second thing we got going on is our live acoustic CD/DVD that we are going to releasing at the top of next month. Its a recording of a secret show that we did here in North Carolina in February and it's all acoustic. Its just another spin on our music. I different way to interpret our music. We are excited about that. We have never released any sort of live performance before let alone a DVD.

TLD: Nicolay, I find it interesting that on your album "Here" you have Wiz Khalifa featured on it and now he a big rap star now. What's the story behind that because that track was a lot more hip-hop than the stuff he's doing now?
N: That was the point about it because at the time, when I first met him, he was really young. This was like '05. At the time, I got put in touch with him by my contact at BBE Records. He was just a really young kid on the come up but he had skills. From that point on, BBE thought it would be cool to do a track together. That was the track that ended up on the album. Definitely more of a boom bap sort of feel to it. That was what I was doing at the time and he was doing that a lot more at that time. Even back then, he had quite a few people around him that were really trying to bring him there. Interesting to see after the fact that they really succeeded after 5-6 years of continuous grinding. I've been following him from a bit of a distance but it did take him like 5-6 years to do it, but they really did take him there. Thats exactly what he wanted. Its funny though, because these days all of a sudden it comes up on the "Here" album. Its just a funny coincidence.

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