Melbourne duo, NYCK (pronounced n.y.c.k) – comprised of Nicholas Acquroff and Dominique Garrard - are known best for their paired-back pop balladry, which is reminiscent of the vocal styling’s of Hozier, and the hauntingly spacious arrangements of London Grammar. Having received positive reception on their 2016 release, ‘Decision’, as well as their latest, ‘Speak my mind’, the duo – just fresh off of a tour with Amy Shark – are eager to tighten their grip on the Australian music scene in 2017.
Backyard Opera caught up with Nick to chat about the groups beginnings, the stories behind their songs and more.
Backyard Opera: How did you two meet and come to form NYCK?
Nick: Dom and I met when we scored a film together for a friend. Kyle Tickell, another friend, had written and produced the song, and then Dom and I performed it together by sending stuff back and forth over email, me the piano, her the vocal.
Then a few months later, when I’d written the bulk of the first NYCK EP, I called her up and she came over to sing with me in the room in the basement at my parent’s house where the piano is.
BYO: Tell us about your latest release, ‘Speak My Mind’. What’s it about?
N: It’s funny - you go through these times in life when you think you have yourself and everyone else around you figured out. I went through that massively. I was so comfortable in my early 20’s. I was going to be a musician, I was going to stay with my best friend forever, family, kids, dogs, markets, blah blah. It’s funny how when those things start falling away you don’t know who you are anymore. ‘Speak My Mind’ is about realising you’re about to fall of a cliff and the only way you can get out of it is being honest about what you want, which means hurting the person or people you love the most. It’s the start to our EP, the beginning of a shit storm, but also the beginning of better things to come.
BYO: ‘Speak My Mind’ presents an empowered, individual voice that seems to convey refutation and self-empowerment in the tragic context of a fracturing relationship. How did song come about?
N: Thanks so much.
I don’t want to go all ‘art wank’ on this, but until I started writing songs for nyck, I’d never really seen music as a way to get through something or help me better understand something. To be honest, I’d quit music before I started writing this EP. But then I went through this time where anxiety hit me really hard and I was all at sea and I just started writing songs about that. They weren’t for anyone. I never wanted them to be. So Speak My Mind was just about one of those stages. The idea, I guess, that no matter how much empathy or sympathy or care you have for people, you always have to put yourself first in the end. That’s what a shit time has taught me, and that’s kind of what Speak My Mind is about.
BYO: ‘Speak My Mind’ precedes ‘Decision’ thematically, in that ‘Speak my mind’ refers to the lead-up to the ending of a relationship, which plays out in ‘Decision’. Is there are a reason you released them out of chronological order? Was ‘Speak my mind’ written in retrospect?
N: Fuck I love how much research you’ve done. Thank you.
You’re bang on. Speak My Mind was written in retrospect. I think when you’re in the middle of something it’s impossible to write about it. I didn’t write any music in the storm. But then in the days after, the first song to come was Decision, because I had this incredible feeling of sadness but also this incredible relief. And there was something happy too. Then when I had Decision, I went back and wrote about the time that lead to that sadness and relief - the days and weeks before.
BYO: What can you tell us about your musical backgrounds? Who are your biggest influences?
N: I was in a band called ‘Sons ET AL’ for years, with my best friends, who are incredible musicians. Dom’s still in three bands: nyck, an electronic project she does with her boyfriend Nick (Fira), and an acapella group called ‘Market Lane’.
As for my musical influences, I grew up on The Beatles and Crowded House and Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. I love Nick Drake, Van Morrison, The Strokes, The Streets. There’s millions.
BYO: What is your creative process like? Would you say it’s collaborative, or more independent?
N: With the first EP, I wrote all of the songs myself and worked up demos, but Dom was really instrumental in the way they came together, the production choices, and of course the harmonies. Now, we’re writing in a few different ways. We’ll write together, I’ll write alone, and then Dom will bring in her own songs. A few of which are fucking incredible.
BYO: How has nyck’s approach to song-writing and production shifted since working with Melbourne-based producer, Hayden Calnin? What’s he like to work with?
N: Dom always gives me shit because I have a massive man crush on Hayden. We’ve become really close mates, all three of us, really quickly. I really respect Hayden musically because of what he doesn’t do. His own records are so thoughtful and restrained. They’re so big because there’s so little in there. With us, that’s what he brought. He was always pushing us to leave stuff out, to do less instead of more, to let what matters sit above everything else.
BYO: There’s a more contemporary feel to ‘Speak My Mind’. Electronic drums and your voice in particular reminds me of London Grammar and Hozier. Were you aiming for a more contemporary sound?
N: So true. I think with this EP I’d often land on something in the demo stage that we’d stick with. I think it was the same with Speak My Mind. I had these shit electronic drums in the demo but they seemed to work, and we didn’t want to lose the feel we had. Then Hayden just made them better. We don’t really try for anything in production. It’s more led by how we think it should go at the time.
BYO: How did your collaboration with New York-based photographer, Ben Morris come about? What drew you to his work? What are you wanting to achieve in marrying the photographic with the sonic?
N: Ben has been my best friend for years now. But because he’s been really successful in what he does and taken photographs for fashion magazines all over the world, I’d always been hesitant to ask him about collaborating. Then one day I put it to him over the phone. I thought it would be cool for a photographer to hear the songs and go and take photographs while listening to them. For every one of our songs, that’s what he did, he walked around the streets of New York (where he lives), and took photographs inspired by the songs. There are hundreds of them, and they are beautiful.
BYO: Finally, there must be an album in the works for NYCK. What can you tell us about it?
N: Yep, there is. But it’s super early. I know there will be conversations in it. We have three or four songs. But apart from that it’s all super loose. I don’t want to push it in any direction yet. I’m just waiting patiently for the next mental breakdown.
Catch NYCK at Brighton Up Bar this Friday, the 20th of April