“Writing is enormously therapeutic. It externalises the problem, normalises it, consigns it to the past.”

It’s quite rare that we hear about artists who are pulling double with acts that are musically not exactly opposite, but definitely operating on different spectrums of the musical scale. Throw in doing so concurrently, and you’re observing quite the feat. Enter Nick Lewis.

Nick Lewis, who is a former Brighton resident and current Austrian-based multi-talent, works in the world of blues, jazz, punk, etc. influence with his band Nicolas and the Saints. He then turns and walks right into an atmosphere of electronic with the duo The Non-Functional Saints. The former work came from a place of overcoming personal struggle, the latter was born from reconnecting with an old friend.

When asked for a chance to speak with him, Lewis kindly engaged with us. He dove into facing his depression head-on, when the music just “clicks,” his personal connection to Vienna outside of merely living there now, and balancing the two projects.

The very generic question that we always start with – what’s your background? Who were you listening to that led you down a path to creating your own music? Were there influences behind just who you were listening to that got you into writing and recording?

I’ve always played music. I had piano lessons when I was five. But it was the late, great Martin Read who looms over everything I do now. He was my Music Tech teacher at college.

He taught us to love Stockhausen as much as The Pet Shop Boys, that Never Mind the Bollocks was the most important record in pop history and made us buy Kind of Blue as our first piece of homework. Every time I handed in some mad minidisc of music composed entirely from hitting stuff I found in the shed he’d say, “It’s great, but it doesn’t go far enough.” Whenever I get stuck, I ask myself, “What would Martin Read do?”

Prior to recording Goodbye to Brighton did you have any history making music?

I’d been in a few bands before but never really did anything with them. Before Goodbye to Brighton I made another Nicolas and the Saints record – Years in the Making. I’d been making it for years, just by myself. It’s an attempt at fusing serious electronica and trip-hop with traditional songwriting.

You’re pretty open that the album deals with your battles with depression and saying farewell to your former city. Was it difficult facing these issues in recording, or did you know that you had to get these situations out in the open?

They were difficult to go through, but not to record. By that point it’s already down on paper, it’s done. Writing is enormously therapeutic. It externalises the problem, normalises it, consigns it to the past. But I was conscious of being open about my depression.

When I first started taking anti-depressants, I would tell my friends and nearly always get a response like, “That’s great man, I was on them for a few years,” or, “My girlfriend’s on them.” These are people I’ve known for years. Why had they not told me about it before? It was the first time I’d been confronted with the stigma around mental health. As someone who’s okay with it, I do feel a responsibility to be open about it.

Related to that, did you ever have moments where you thought maybe it would be best to just stay with what you knew or where you thought about not recording the album?

Before we recorded, I was living alone in a basement flat on this grand seafront square. I work alone, too, so I would go days without seeing anyone. I’d racked up a good two years of heartbreak, and I just realised this wasn’t working. I had to change something because what I was doing wasn’t going anywhere. Leaving Brighton at that point was the best decision I ever made.

But of course it was difficult. I’d spent my entire adult life there. All my friends were there. All my work contacts. I was frightened of leaving but I never doubted its necessity. And I needed to make the album to feel like it had been worth something. To me, it encapsulates ten years of growing up, loving, grieving, and moving on.

For the album, you went in a direction that fused blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, early era punk, and a few other sounds. Was it difficult experimenting with these collision of sounds, or was your vision of where things were going pretty clear?

I always know where I’m going, the difficulty is getting other people to see it too. There was a moment when Chris was tracking the sax on “So It Goes” where he went full Coltrane, and everyone just got it. It had taken months of playing live, a hundred arguments about the relative virtues of Getz, Adderley, and Coleman, but finally it clicked.

Your ideas are always obvious to yourself, but unless you’re operating within the strict confines of genre, they’re not to other people. If your ideas are obvious, they’re not worth doing.

So how long after completing the album was it before you went to Austria? Did something in particular draw you to the country?

I flew to Vienna two days after we finished tracking. I was intending to move to Berlin like any good Brightonian hipster but wanted a couple of months in Vienna by myself to just write. I met my girlfriend two weeks after that, so I’m still here a year and a half later.

I’m a quarter Viennese, so Austria’s always been a big part of my life. My grandmother moved to England just before the war, but we used to come here a lot when I was a kid. I’d not spent a lot of time in Vienna as an adult, and my German’s terrible, but it’s my culture. Every time I see a grand Viennese dame on the Ubahn or eat Nudelsuppe in a Kaffeehaus I’m reminded of my Oma.

“To me, it encapsulates ten years of growing up, loving, grieving, and moving on.”

You make it back to the UK every few months, but does Austria feel like home now? Do you think you’ll return back to your home country to repatriate anytime in the future, or have you adjusted to your new surroundings? As a site that’s ran by a former expat and a current one, we’re always interested by artists who move away to a different country while still creating.

Home is an odd concept. When I first moved to Brighton, it took me a couple of years before it felt like home. It stopped feeling that way a while before I left.

Vienna does feel like home, yes, but not a permanent one. After so long in one place I feel like I’ve got more exploring to do, and I’m lucky enough to have someone to do that with now. It’s the people that make a home.

England feels oddly foreign to me now, but I do have a few plans that depend on returning for a bit. Aside from anything else, I left my record player in London.

So your side project, The Non-Functional Saints, how did that come about?

I’ve known Phil – aka Non-Functional Harmony – since we were at college together. We used to spend lunch breaks writing off-kilter beats while everyone else was smoking weed in the sun.

We largely lost contact after that, but when I needed a place to stay last September, he put me up at his place in Berlin. I suggested we use the month to make an EP. So we did.

Have you always had electronic ideas that you’ve wanted to pursue? The sound is just so different than your other work, so it’s pretty cool to see an artist move in such a different direction.

My Dad gave me my guitar when I was 12, and I bought a sampler when I was 16. I got into jazz and IDM at the same time. I don’t really see myself as rooted any more in one side than the other. When I was 17 I wanted to be Tom Waits and Richard D James. Still do, really.

Which side I pursue really depends on mood. Sometimes I’m sick of staring at a computer and just want to play guitar. Sometimes the logistics of being in a band make me long for a few hours in headphones. One person can be many different things, given enough time.

Do you have a clear vision of what you’re thinking about in your head works best for which project, or do you ever try out a concept or influence using both sounds before settling?

The two projects have very different approaches. The band is led by songwriting. I bring a song to the room with a few arrangement ideas. Usually something about ?uestlove, something about Coltrane, and some nonsense or other about James Joyce and The Velvet Underground.

The Non-Functional Saints has so far worked in a very particular way. I come to Berlin for a fixed amount of time, we start with a blank Cubase project, and before I fly home it has to be finished. It’s pretty intense and doesn’t allow much time to question ourselves. It’s more emergent.

“It’s the people that make a home.”

Moving forward, do you imagine to balance the line between the two projects, or are you feeling a heavier pull from one more so than the other at this point?

The plan is to balance them, but I suspect it will largely be dictated by logistics. We have plans on both sides, how quickly they come about depends on real life.

Finally – you’ve got these two projects, so what is ahead of you in 2017? Shows, more releases, yet another collaboration that we don’t know about yet, etc.?

We (the band) recorded an EP of love songs in April that’s currently being mixed, and I’m writing new material. There’ll be a few shows in Vienna – I’ve been playing with a drummer, violinist, and backing singer in a ‘Viennese edition’ of The Saints. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of playing the same songs in different contexts.

We (the duo) produced a 22 minute through composition in March that we’re figuring out what to do with, and have an EP of 17 remixes due out in the autumn.

I’ve also been producing a couple of singer-songwriters here in Vienna. Got an EP from Jonathan Pinto that’s close to being done, and Aleesa’s first album is nearly finished too. He’s a brilliant writer with a punky swagger. She’s this outrageously creative heart-on-her-sleeve popstress with an R&B lilt and this beautiful homemade aesthetic. I’m tremendously excited for people to hear what we’ve been working on.