Nylon Smile Recollect the Bleak Reality of the Road on "Only You Know" (KEXP Premiere + Interview)

KEXP Premiere
10/05/2021
Jasmine Albertson
photo by Eleanor Petry

I feel like over the past year and a half we’ve been so focused on getting back what we lost that we forgot that some of it actually kind of sucks. This could apply to many things that we can all agree on, like going on vacations that include getting on an airplane, making out with strangers (maybe just me), and just a general trust in humanity but there’s one thing that we’ve overall been collectively been openly mournful about losing, myself included, that often isn’t really that great for the people doing the job. Touring.

While I myself am not a musician, I did dabble in tour managing for a spell and can attest to those who have never been on one that while it has its incredible, awe-inspiring moments during the actual shows, for the most part it’s a lot of driving, waiting, getting lost, sleeping in uncomfortable spaces, shitty gas station snacks, and miles upon miles of endless road. In those moments, at its best, it’s mind-numbingly dull; and at its worst, it’s a disorienting fever dream.

Nylon Smile encapsulates this idea of the emptiness of the road and the loss of identity that can occur when untethered from home and routine for the single “Only You Know.” Churning synths and throbbing guitar strums bring us into the delirious headspace that comes from days on end of staring out a car window, while Nik Soelter’s partially hushed lyrics tell a story of wanting to encourage a friend who’s also with you on this vast, bleak journey but not quite having the words or ability to do so.

The project of Soelter, Nylon Smile fits squarely among his Los Angeles-based peers that make haunted, swirling soundscapes as equally inspired by Slowdive as they are Elliott Smith. Among them is the KEXP-beloved Melina Duterte, better known as Jay Som, who teamed up with Soelter to produce both his 2018 EP Angel of Doubt and his forthcoming debut full-length as Nylon Smile, Waiting for Oblivion.

Out November 5th, the album sees a bevy of contributors with names you probably recognize. Annie Truscott of Seattle’s Chastity Belt added sprinkles of violin throughout the record, Moaning’s Pascal Stevenson contributed synth design, and Taylor Vick of Boy Scouts lent gauzy harmonies, to name a few. This combination of talented contributors, alongside Soelter’s pensive songwriting, makes for a captivating and commanding debut.

But don’t let the word “debut” fool you, Soelter is no wide-eyed newbie to the music scene. His first major burst onto the scene was in the Bay Area punk band Never Young, which was gaining significant traction before their split a few years ago. With years of experience in the DIY world, Soelter utilized that to start doing artist publicity and management. All that being said, the record feels less an introduction and more of an inevitable pit stop on a long trip.

Waiting For Oblivion is due out November 5th via Citrus City Records. Below, listen to "Only You Know" and read an interview with Soelter about his attempts to keep his publicity and music-making worlds separate, how the relationships with the long list of collaborators on the record came to be, and the self-proclaimed "cheesy" impact turning 30 has on the album release.

 


KEXP: I'm really excited to talk to you in person and not email correspondence!

Nik Soelter: Yeah, I know! It's very cool. I was super excited when George was like, "Jasmine's super into the record and wants to chat!" I was like, "Oh, that's amazing."

Yeah, when George sent it to me, I was like, "What the fuck? Nik is in a band?!" I don't know how I didn't know that. I guess just because our relationship has been on the basis of you being a publicist.

Yeah. I mean, that's how I got into working music was through playing in bands. I used to do this band called Never Young, that was kind of my first time being in a band that was... you know, I got started bands in high school and into college where it was just all super DIY, like booking tours through MySpace, just meeting people that way. And so Never Young was the first time we had a manager and a proper label and it kind of showed me this other side of music. And then, by the time that band stopped, I was so many years out of college that I was like, "Okay, what am I going to do now?"

 

 

All that band experience was hands-on learning about how to do publicity and management just by doing it for yourself.

Right, exactly. But yeah, I try to keep the two worlds super separate, between the music and work stuff, which is, I guess why I'm not super public about my music that I make rather than all my kind of work-related things.

Yeah, even on your Twitter just says your PR and management info but nothing about your music.

Yeah. Maybe I'll have to change that once we announce the record.

Do you have a separate page for your music?

No, I just have my personal stuff because just from all the years of playing in bands, the people I've met during that time know me through my own personal social accounts so it's just an extension of myself.

Sure, that makes sense. But I guess just for the record coming out, I don't know, maybe you might wanna add something about it. I don't know. [laughs]

[laughs] Yeah, maybe.

But, I get wanting to keep the worlds separate. I do find it super fascinating because I have this  perhaps inaccurate  idea that there's a reason artists hire PR and management that often has to do with creatives perhaps being less, I don't want to say capable of, but maybe inclined towards the kind of left brain work that goes into that. Am I wrong in thinking that?

I think it can definitely be tricky because you can burn yourself out doing all of the right brain stuff and then not have the kind of capacity left for being creative. I think with being creative, you have to give yourself so much downtime and room for play and to have that kind of spontaneity that leads to making something you're really excited about.

Absolutely. So how do you balance the two?

Yeah, it is always tricky, especially on the work side of people being like, "Oh, you make music too. And you do work?" I think just working really hard and being like, "Yeah, I can do both" is how to do it. But, as far as having time, a lot of these songs had been kind of brewing for most of my twenties. Some of them, parts of the songs go back to when I was like 23 or something and it just never found a home.

I recorded an EP when I was living in the Bay Area with Melina and just kind of put some songs together that were way different than anything I was doing and just tried it out. Then, in 2019, I had a lot of downtime during the winter and I accumulated all these demos and just got super into working on them and experimenting and was like, "Oh, I think I have like a record's worth of material here." I actually started practicing with a friend of mine, this amazing drummer, Taylor Jewel, who actually plays in a lot of screamo bands in California. That's kind of how I got my start in music, too, was playing in screamo bands like emo, screamo stuff like Rites of Spring and Fugazi.

And so we had these plans to go up to the Bay to record with my cousin. My cousin used to do this band called Weekend and is kind of a producer now. I'd always wanted to record with him and we've been talking about it for years and I was like, "All right, I'm going to come up. We're going to make this record together. We're going to bond and it's going to be really special." And then the pandemic started and my person who is going to play drums for me was living with their parents. They're like, "I'm not comfortable driving up to the Bay and putting them at risk." And I was like, "Okay." And then I texted Melina and I was like, "Hey, Melina, do you have time this fall to record another record with me?" She was like, "Yeah, let's do it." We just did it over months, going in a couple of days a week or on the weekends. I kind of feel like you just make time for whatever is important to you, you know.

Right. And it probably feels, because you have a day job and you aren't relying on your money from music, that there's less pressure.

Yeah. I think also from playing in bands for years and actually with my last band, Never Young, I definitely was very focused on it and kind of tunnel vision about like, "We've got to tour. Got to do these different things. I want this band to be a thing." And when it kind of fell apart and I'd been like, "Wow, I was so tunnel vision on that." I just moved down to L.A. and I started getting involved in a lot of different stuff. I started playing drums for a lot of different people and just broadening my creative and collaborative horizons a lot, because I had had this experience of like, "Oh, it's really unhealthy to put all of your stake on one thing." And feeling like your personal happiness is so dependent on how that one thing goes.

So approaching music now, I'm like, just as long as I'm really happy with the songs, then I feel like I did what I set out to do. It's more of an art project to me in that way where I'm like making this collection this like sonic thing that I can share with people. And wherever it goes, once I let it out of my world, is out of my hands.

Yeah. And it sounds like you kind of just brought all those people you connected with on the album. It's a killer list of contributors on this album and kind of feels like maybe a friend thing? I'd love to know how everyone became involved. You've got people from Moaning, Chastity Belt, all these musicians involved. How did this all come about?

Yeah, it's all just relationships that have developed over years of playing in bands and doing DIY stuff. I was booking shows a lot and then just meeting everybody and developing friendships over the years. I used to be very, I feel, like a perfectionist with music stuff and I've been really trying to let go of that and just invite people in and be like, "You should sing some harmonies, just make sure they sound sad." [laughs]

Like Taylor [Vick, of Boy Scouts] sang on my last EP and so I was like, "Of course, I want Taylor to be involved." And so I made this big, like lyric document and I highlighted all the ones I wanted her to sing harmonies on. And I was like Chris [Adams], who does Pendant, "I want you to sing some harmonies too." We used to do this band together where he kind of yelled a lot and I was like, "Here are the sections I want you to yell." [laughs] And I just highlighted it all for both of them. Then they just recorded it at home and sent it to me.

And Pascal [Stevenson] from Moaning, she had invited me when I first moved to L.A. to play drums for her band, Fashion Club. And I was like, "You've never seen me play drums. Why do you think this is a good idea?" But they were just like, "Yeah, I think you should try it." So I started playing with them. And then when I was working on the record, they're just an amazing synth designer, so I just sent them a bunch of different songs and I was like, "Do whatever you think sounds cool on these songs." I had a couple of ideas for some of them of what it would sound like but they just sent back a bunch of different stuff. They had this crazy modular synth and they would just run the entire song through and it would turn into these crazy kind of bit noises and then Melina and I mixed that in with a bunch of stuff.

And the Chastity Belt connection was my old band, Never Young, went on tour with them. Also, Annie [Truscott] from Chastity Belt lives with Melina, and they date so Annie was just around while we were recording. She plays the violin and I was like, "Oh, I think there could be a violin part on this song. Do you want to play some violin?" And she was just like, "Yeah, totally."

 

 

That's beautiful. So all just very natural.

Mm hmm. Yeah.

Would you say Melina's contribution is that of a producer or that of a co-creator of the album?

I would definitely say producer. Like, I came in and I had actually all the songs kind of demoed out at home and we actually even used a lot of stuff from some of the demos. But, uh, she was just really great with lots of ideas on how to make things sound a certain way of like, "Oh, we should do this with the vocals." I mean she definitely had a creative hand in parts of it too. Like there's one song she added this crazy break right before the last chorus that totally changed the feeling and I love it. So yeah, she's definitely a very creatively involved producer. I was bouncing ideas off her the whole time.

When I saw that Melina was involved, it made me curious because you do press for Justus Proffit and Melina and Justus are collaborators. So it made me think, is there a group or scene in L.A. that you're all a part of?

Yeah, I would definitely say there is. Especially when you're doing a lot of DIY shows and everything, you start to meet all the people who are involved in that. And yeah, I've known Justus for a long time. Back when I was playing drums in Boy Scouts, we actually did a tour with Justus and, yeah, I would definitely say, in music, there's always these scenes that develop and those are people I feel close to.

Are there any thematic concepts or ideas or trying to explore on the record?

I think so, yeah. I think a lot of the songs kind of are about breakups, but not really necessarily romantic breakups. I was going through a breakup at one point and I was also going through creative breakups with people I used to make music with. And I was going to a lot of therapy and I feel like I was kind of like breaking up with myself in some ways. So I think it's just about breaking up with an old version of yourself and kind of looking back at that time.

Oh, I love that. We're premiering "Only You Know" alongside the interview. Tell me the story behind this one.

Yeah. This one's actually different than a lot of other songs on the record. This one is, when I think about it, it's about being on tour with somebody and just like believing in them so much and just being like, "I want you to believe in yourself as much as I do." Or just that kind of feeling of being on tour, which can be super bleak sometimes. Like your life is on pause and there's long stretches of just emptiness and wondering about people back home. So, it's kind of a song about being on tour. I had just right before the pandemic actually been on like a two-month-long tour with Boy Scouts, when I was playing drums at the time for her. So I think this song is kind of remembering a lot of different years of being on tour and how it feels during a time when it was like, "Maybe touring's over."

Yeah, I feel like touring has been kind of romanticized in the past, but especially post-pandemic where it's like, "We're finally touring!" But there are some really bleak sides to touring.

Oh yeah. Super hard and you have to have a lot of good practices, I feel, to stay mentally healthy while you're on tour just because it can feel really untethered.

Absolutely. Are you planning on touring behind this record?

Before Covid I had a band and I was playing some shows in L.A., but I have not put the band back together yet. And I think I just have to see how I'm feeling as it's like coming out and when it comes out.

Understandable. Still exciting though, being on the verge of releasing a record! How are you feeling being on the artist side of the album release promo train?

I'm excited! I'm super excited to share the songs. I'm really happy with the place they're all in and really happy. I like how the art for the record came together and, yeah, I definitely need to figure out how I'm going to play some of these songs live, but I'm very excited to share. It was really important to me to get the album out, which this is so cheesy, but I'm turning 30 in November and this album just feels like a document of my 20s. So I just really wanted to get it out right before my birthday.

Oh no, I love that! The 30th birthday is a big marker.

I know it's annoying how big of a marker it is!

[laughs] Yeah but it's exciting that you have something that you can put out for the world to see and say like, "Okay, this phase is done and we're on to the next."

Mm hmm. It definitely feels — and especially with the feeling of the record kind of being this like looking back and kind of breaking up with old versions of yourself — it's nice to have it kind of closing out a chapter.

Oh, absolutely. I think that's beautiful. I don't think it's cheesy at all. But if we're gonna go cheese then I'll finish off with my classic cheesy closing question. Since KEXP is the station where the music matters, why does music matter to you?

Music matters to me because through music I feel like I've found my entire community and kind of like chosen family in a lot of ways. And that's just been an invaluable support throughout my whole life.

 

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