Nicholas Brown goes one on one with Brian Peel for a special interview.
How and where did it all begin for you? What drew your interest to the music industry?
The very beginning for me was when I played a lead role in our school musical Antshillvania (which was set in an ant hill). I realised that the stage was for me and that I felt quite comfortable in a black leotard. My professional music career began when I was 8 years old in a boys choir called The Young Sydney Singers. We got to perform at the Entertainment Centre many times, on the Ray Martin show and we were the go to kids choir for hire in Sydney for album recordings. It was the first time I was in a studio and the first time I sang on TV. We even sang with Olivia Newton-John at the Entertainment Centre. Learning to harmonise at such a young age was such a blessing. Most of the songs from our repertoire I still remember – the religious songs in latin were particularly beautiful – Quando Corpus, Ave Maria etc. I feel very lucky to have learnt such challenging, beautiful music at such a young age. I was friends with the man who was our choir master up until his death last year – Paul Bateman was his name and he was an incredible man that dedicated his life to music and teaching. I miss him. He was always a great believer in me and was the first person to give me a leg up in the entertainment industry. There’s something very special about growing up in a boys choir. Boys can be so innocent before their voices break – before they turn into awkward teenagers and then shitty men. It’s a special time and I’m grateful to have had that time singing in harmony with other like-minded kids who were passionate about music.
What drew me to the music industry?
The joy of musical collaboration. The power to reach people and to move people. Music made me so very happy when I was a kid – wanting to give that joy to other people was definitely a draw card.
What motivates or influences you in your quest to make great music?
As much as I love cheesy pop music – I can’t deny the power of soul music and black artists such as Randy Crawford and Roberta Flack. My dad used to play a lot of Randy Crawford when I was growing up. Years later in my first funk band I would sing several of her songs. Having sung a lot of gospel music when I was younger without realising the political messages of freedom and equality at its core, I realised as an adult that I was drawn to music written or performed by people who had to fight for visibility. As a brown queer man, I’ve certainly had to fight for visibility as I saw no representation of people like me in Australia. That’s what drives me now and makes me want to write great songs – the hope that other queer brown people will identify.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish?
I’d love to write a musical one day. I’ve written several plays. My last play Sex Magick was part of the Sydney World Pride Festival. I’d love to write a full length play with songs. I’d also love to write a song that’s strikes a chord with many people.
Another goal is to experiment with Indian instrumentation and work it into some new songs. Make some Aussie Bollywood sounding pop songs.
What can we expect from you in the coming months? Any plans to tour?
Over the next few months I’ll be working on new music. My next song is called I Am Casting Such A Strange Shadow. It’s already been produced and mixed but I think I’d like to add a choral part to it. I’ve been inspired by the song Cry Little Sister from The Lost Boys 80s soundtrack. If only I could travel back in time and get my boys choir to sing on it.
Tell us a bit about your latest release and how would you best describe your music?
The song is called Up And Coming and is a tribute to Italo Disco and Hi-NRG songs from the 80s. The chorus was written to be belted out – to be sung at the top of your lungs – to sing away the blues. It’s a shout out to the heavens about being frustrated with the mountains we so often have to climb in order to be a success. It’s a song for frustrated ambitious people. I’d say it’s a grand nephew of the 80s classic song What About Me.
Give us an insight into your creative process. What gets you writing songs?
Over the last few years I’ve been focussing on the written word and have had several plays published and performed and have only recently returned to song writing. When I was in bands quite a few years ago I’d always write about inequality, my fight for visibility and equality. I’d always write a song for someone that I was falling for and more often than not I’d write break up songs when a relationship ended. These days I’m more interested in writing songs about queerness – it’s taken me a very long time to have the courage to do that. Living in India (despite it being a flourishing time for my Bollywood career) kept me in the closet for many years because it was illegal to be gay over there. I’d like to make up for lost time now and write about being comfortable with who I am now, rather than the struggle.
Is there a hidden meaning in any of your music?
I wouldn’t say it’s hidden. You don’t have to play a track backwards to hear the message of my music. The melodies are very catchy pop melodies but the lyrics definitely have a deeper meaning if you look into them. I love pop songs that are like that. Janet Jackson’s song
Together Again for example is a song about death and meeting her dead friend again but the song is just so uplifting, sweet and gorgeous.
Success, what is the secret to it?
Listen to your Grandma’s advise. I only have two regrets in life. My grandma told me when I was a teenager to not quit French class and to continue my piano lessons. So what did I do? I quit French and chose Agriculture as a subject at school (I wanted to hang out with the goats) and stopped playing the piano. Two things that would have benefited me greatly. If I’d listened to her, I’d probably be a chanteur living in Paris gearing towards Eurovision dressed as an ant in a leotard.
What has been your biggest career highlight so far?
I’d have to say my career in Bollywood.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
Björk has always been a guiding light. I adore Rufus Wainwright as well. Electric Fields are inspirational.
Are there any new projects in the pipeline?
I’ve started writing a musical about Merle Oberon’s visit to Tasmania in 1978. She was an Anglo Indian Academy Award nominated actor who pretended to be from Tasmania to hide her ethnic heritage.
The music industry is constantly changing, where do you see yourself in a few years?
I’d love to write songs for other artists and continue to make music and collaborate with various producers and musicians.
What is your favourite and least favourite part about this line of work and why?
Favourite part is collaborating with other artists with different strengths to you. Least favourite part is the ageism, the auto tune and the fact that money often gets you on the radio rather than a good song.
Name a few of your favourite Australian artists.
Electric Fields blow me away. I love Zaachariah Fielding so much. I’m in awe of Ngaire. Gurrumul’s voice still gives me goose bumps. So very sad that he’s no longer with us. Kylie’s music always makes me happy. I adore ONJ – we were collaborating a few years ago when I wrote an Aussie Bollywood film that was going to have her music in it in the same way that Mamma Mia had ABBA music. The film never got made unfortunately but my love for Olivia continued.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
It’s sad that artists can’t really make money from their music unless they tour but it’s pretty amazing that you don’t need a record contract and a label to get your music out there. The music platforms are a blessing and a curse. I miss the physical form of an album and being able to digest it, the artwork, the lyrics and the ritual of listening to an album from beginning to end. When I was younger I was desperate for a hit record with my band – these days I’m happy if my music makes someone else happy.
How will you continue appealing to the international market?
I feel like I have a novelty song or two in me that would go down well in the UK at Christmas time. They do love a novelty song in the UK. Maybe I could be the Indian version of Pikotaro who wrote that Japanese song about the Pineapple Pen. Or do my own version of Shaddapa Ya’ Face. I say bring back the novelty song! Remember that song Detachable Penis? I wanna write a song like that.
Do you collaborate with others? Who is on your wish-list?
I do. For me it’s all about collaborating.
I’d love to get Owen Pallet to write a string section with me. Would love to do a power ballad with Sussanne Sundfør in the same way that she did the song Mountaineers with John Grant. Would be pretty damn cool to be a guest singer on a Hercules & Love Affair song. I’d love to sing with Electric Fields.
What advice do you give for other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t compare your journey with others. Be open to the creative tangents that come your way – they may lead you to gold. Work hard and manifest! Listen to your grandma.
A message for your fans. How do you best interact and respond with your followers and fans?
Someone wrote on my YouTube Up And Coming Video that is was satanic bull shit. I responded with the Better The Devil You Know Kylie video.
If my work reaches an audience and they’re compelled to write to me – as Björk said at the MTV Awards in the mid nineties : “I am grateful grapefruit.”
Any last words?
Mein tumhe pyaar karta hoon.