Nick Hakim Is in Constant Pursuit

“I wanna explore that approach of letting the music control me, rather than me trying to control the music so much.”
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Nick Hakim seeks peace. On “BOUNCING,” the third track off his sophomore effort, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD, Hakim, 29, sings of the damning sensation of restlessness and his attempts to beat his nightly anxiety. It’s an emblematic moment, speaking for the majority of WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD, which is altogether more challenging and tortured than his 2017 debut, Green Twins. To create this album, the New York-based Hakim fought writer’s block, hopelessness, depression, and himself to heal and make a record worthy of his broad artistry.

“I started to realize that in the summer of 2018,” Hakim tells me of the moment he knew he was working on an album. “There was a batch of music I had been working on in my apartment and my studio. I built a space, and that changed my output and my work habits. I started to put a lot of these demos in a folder and listen to them all together. At that point, I didn’t have lyrics for most of it. I just had the music with rough vocal ideas.”

Slowly, these rough vocal ideas transformed into one of the most challenging and fulfilling records of the past 12 months. Nick Hakim pushed himself through insecurity over the subject matter to pen an unabashed crop of songs. WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD is rife with questions and pursuit. You can feel Hakim’s honest effort to make weighty music. Too, you can hear Hakim fighting to heal: “To have this microphone and this opportunity just to get it off, doing that, you get adrenaline. I get chills. I need to step out. But I’m doing all this by myself. It’s definitely—everyone says this—therapeutic.”

“For a while, I couldn’t write,” Hakim wrote in a note he affixed to his album advance. “I worked on new music but couldn’t find the right words. But that time was just a build-up to the three months of expression that led to this album.” 

Now on the other side of his search for language, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD stands as a wounded anthem for our troubled times. Of course, Hakim did not know the world would fall into a horrific turmoil at the time of writing, but even so, the album itself feels eerily timely. The crannies of WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD teem with longing. Across this record, Hakim claws through the darkness in search of purpose.

Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

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DJBooth: I wanted to start with the title of the sophomore album, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD. What does goodness mean to you?

Nick Hakim: That’s a good question. I think it’s “good” in the eyes of the system that controls us, you know? It’s like conforming to what that means for us. For me, the word “good” comes from the systematic way of thinking: a good student, a good citizen. To answer your question in the context of the record—I have a pretty specific meaning, but I used it for the album title [because] it can mean so many different things. It doesn’t have a question mark. I made that choice just to make it even more open to interpretation.

At what point did you realize you were putting together a full-length album and not just scribbling songs down?

I started to realize that in the summer of 2018. There was a batch of music I had been working on in my apartment and my studio. I built a space, and that changed my output and my work habits. I started to put a lot of these demos in a folder and listen to them all together. At that point, I didn’t have lyrics for most of it. I just had the music with rough vocal ideas. There were a lot of unfinished songs.

How do you know a song is worth finishing?

You don’t! Until you just spend time doing it. It is a weird thing. But you have to go down that rabbit hole. I cut out a bunch of songs off this record, to be honest. It’s a gut thing. It’s like, what else can you do [to] this? I would mess it up if I kept fiddling with it. Let it happen the way it was supposed to. It’s a lot of trusting yourself. It’s this weird puzzle you’re trying to put together.

This album is a lot more challenging than 2017’s Green Twins. What was the intention behind making your music a little more knotty?

I don’t know if it was super intentional; I just think it reflects where I’m at with my mental space. I was left alone for two years. I don’t have an industry person down my neck, being like, “I need you to finish this!” No one’s A&Ring me. I’m just doing my thing. I have all the creative control. I just made songs that felt good to me and felt therapeutic to make. It was challenging to make that record, for sure. Even for me! I had to battle myself to do that shit sometimes. Sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes, I would force myself to stay in the studio. It was important for me to focus my energy. The intention is purely that I was making stuff that felt right to me regardless of what anyone would think.

That can be hard, too. When you start thinking about an audience or what people think of when they read your stuff, that can be detrimental to someone’s process. For me, at least. Also, I spent a lot of time overthinking writing, because I didn’t wanna write about the things on my mind. I was avoidant. This whole process of making music is… It’s so intertwined with what’s going on with me. Personally, it can be hard to gauge what you wanna put out there and what you wanna keep to yourself. I struggled with that for a second, but when I got into it, I would write regardless because it felt like the right shit to talk about. I appreciate the response to the songs we put out so far. I think people can relate to the things I was thinking about.

Speaking of your personal challenge, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD has a lot to do with fighting to heal. How did this record help you heal?

I’m a relatively happy person. I’d say I have a lot of love around me and the people I care about. I just tend to see a lot of the shitty things that happen around us and focus on it, maybe to a fault. Just having that microphone in front of me… I did most of the vocals by myself, especially all the crazy vulnerable ones. To have this microphone and this opportunity just to get it off, doing that, you get adrenaline. I get chills. I need to step out. But I’m doing all this by myself. It’s definitely—everyone says this—therapeutic. And I was seeing a therapist at the same time.

Shout out therapy.

No shame! That helped [with] what I needed to work out—no shame in that.

Was there one song in particular that felt like a necessary exhale when you finished it?

The last song on the record, [“WHOO,”] felt like a huge exhale. I’ve been working on that song since Green Twins. [When] I started that song, I was subletting a room in Montreal in 2015. It went through all these different phases of arrangement and lyrics, and melodies. That was the last song we finished for the record. “QADIR” felt that way, too. But it was weirdly easier to navigate through.

The album came to me with a written statement from you. This part stuck out to me: “There’s so much pressure on artists to commit to being one thing, or to restrict an album to exploring just one subject or sound. But my life isn’t like that, and so my music can’t be like that either.” How did this album act as a vehicle for your evolution as an artist?

It opened me up to working with more people and to bringing in and letting other people’s contributions be more of a part of the record. That’s something I love about making music, feeding off of other people, letting things happen naturally. That’s always been the case with me, but I wanna step into that even further. This record was important for me to make because I just said what I wanted. I’m always gonna do that, but I didn’t have any filter. I wanna explore that approach of letting the music control me, rather than me trying to control the music so much and letting things be. Using music as a way to clarify and lead and not think so much. Just do. Accepting where you’re at, what it is, and what you’re doing.

I’ve always been hard on myself for not being where I wanna be. That’s helped me grow, but it can be painful sometimes. A lot of overthinking over here, you know?

Finally, on “BOUNCING” and elsewhere on the album, it sounds as if you’re in search of something. What were you looking for, and did you ever end up finding it?

No! That song is a reflection of a strange world. It takes place in the winter in like a blizzard. “BOUNCING” has this repetitive—this is intentional—hypnotic chord progression. But the arrangement and the melody structure changes. That was extremely cathartic! The vocals at the end? I just completely blacked out. I don’t remember doing that, and it’s just one of those things that just happened.

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