When indie rocker and multi-instrumentalist Nik Freitas isn’t on the road playing with Conor Oberst or Broken Bells, he’s crafting his own brilliant solo albums, like the upcoming Saturday Night Underwater. We talked to the California native about playing all the instruments himself on his records, who he prefers to tour with, and the art of songwriting. “Lyrics are the hardest part,” says Freitas, “I wish the music could do all the talking.”
What instruments do you play? which do you like to compose on the most?
I play piano, guitar, bass, and drums. I usually write songs on the guitar or the piano.
Compare and contrast the experience of touring with Conor Oberst and Broken Bells.
Touring with both bands were equally great. The main difference was that i wrote a lot of the guitar parts i played with Conor, and with Broken Bells I was playing parts that I didn’t write, I was just playing what was already recorded on their album. They were both really rad to work for. I was a big fan of Brian’s music and had been listening to the The Good, the Bad and the Queen record a lot the previous year, so getting to meet and hang with him was dope. James is the chillest dude with the most incredible voice. There wasn’t a night that went by where i didn’t stop for a second and listen to his voice and think “god damn this guy can sing.” Conor has helped me out a lot the past few years, taking me on tour as an opener and stuff, he’s more like family. I will say this, Both Conor and James are incredible songwriters and lyrically, their choruses are never the same, and if you are singing harmonies its hard to remember all those words!
Why did you choose to record and play all the instruments on Saturday Night Underwater yourself?
That’s how I’ve recorded all my albums. I started out on a 4 track playing all the instruments and that work ethic just continued through the year. It does make the process longer, but i really enjoy it. I can already hear what i want on a song, so rather than try to explain it to someone to play, I play it myself. I usually have a drummer play on a couple tracks to switch it up, usually on songs that i want a more live feel.
Who are your major lyrical influences?
I have a few. I think Dylan because of his utter ability to just cut through with his words alone. The first Dylan record i got was Blood on the Tracks and it just blew my mind. the Beatles, anyone of them, they had an amazing way of writing songs that you were going to remember lyrically while still staying totally true to the craft. I love the way Paul Simon writes, His lyrics are so rhythmic. I also love the flaming lips in that respect too, I’ve always loved the space in between their lyrics. Timing is such a huge thing in a song. Jim James of My Morning Jacket writes incredible stuff. Bowie is also one of my favorites, but more for his delivery and voice, his voice is its own instrument and when he sings he takes the song to another world. Same thing with Damon Albarn, he’s one of my favorites too.
What moves you to write a song?
Music. The music is constantly happening in my head, Melodies, chords. The past few years I’ve been writing a lot of my songs all in my head before actually sitting down and picking up a guitar. I had a full time job hanging Plasma TVs for a few years, and i would have songs come into my head, but had no time to pick up a guitar, so I would just remember it. I have a lot of songs like that now too. I figure if had some melody thing that i had from a while back and I can still remember how it goes, then its probably worth trying to finish and record. If I don’t remember it, then it probably sucked.
Has your songwriting process evolved over the years?
Yes, totally. Like what I just talked about, when i first started, I’d pick up a guitar or sit at the piano and start playing chords and try to come up with something, and that still happens too, but a lot less now. I think lyrically it’s changed too. Also playing and touring with different bands the past few years, you learn so much by just listening. I like space in songs, lyrically, maybe a less is more approach? I should probably start reading more books though, my vocabulary is getting pretty weak.
What’s a song on your new album you really want people to hear, and why?
I really like the second song “The Light”. That’s a song I had bouncing around in my head for a while. I had a lot of the music and the chorus line “the light”, I knew what the song was going to be about, i just had to sit down and write all the words. I just really like how it all turned out.
What’s a lyric you’re particularly proud of on the album?
Hmm. I can’t say I’m really “proud” of any of them. I think “Saturday Night Underwater” is kind of cool.
Are there any words you love, or hate?
I don’t like “you” or “me,” but its really hard not to use either one of those words sometimes. I guess its more that I don’t like songs that are so self involved. Lyrics are the hardest part, I wish the music could do all the talking. I think its hard because I never want to write about the same thing, but no matter what, even if every song I write is about a totally different subject matter, it always seems to come out the same. Like it always sounds heart felt or whatever, and i think people just think Iam always singing love songs. I really dont have any love songs , but, what are you gonna do.
How do you typically write songs? Words first, or melody?
Melody first, but it usually happens at the same time. I have a melody with some words as like a chorus, i kind of say them as the melody. That’s where it usually starts, then from there I just figure out the rest of the music, and then finish the words around the original couple words I was saying with the melody.
Do you find yourself revising a lot, or do you like to write automatically?
It’s definately a balance of both. Like I said, the lyrics are usually last for me, and I try to be as creative as I can with them. I like them to follow the music, like the voice is another instrument in the music itself. I feel like less is more with lyrics, you can get a lot across with minimal words if you can choose them correctly. There is a lot of editing in this process, but if it goes with the music right, then it can have more of a meaning in a way.
Who’s an underrated songwriter, in your opinion?
What’s a song you wish you’d written?
“Kingdom of Doom,” by The Good, The Bad and The Queen.