“Make sure you get really close to him…he speaks very quietly.”
The man who’d usurped my interview time with Nick Hakim was now giving me journalistic advice. What gall! It was nothing some fried chicken and bourbon couldn’t mend, not to mention the company of my sexy best friend…she’s a real olive branch that one.
I got to Baby’s All Right at 6:25 sharp, after taking a cab four blocks because I got lost on the way, a common incompetence I’m not proud of. I sheepishly asked the bartenders where Nick was and they directed me to the Green Room where aforementioned man was still interviewing him. I stood there like a large, idiot deer in leather shorts and lipstick, hoping my creepy presence would initiate a wrap up. No such luck. But a lovely employee ushered me to the bar where I shed my pre-probe jitters into a tumbler of Whiskey. Must have been fate.
I popped my head around the Green room curtain twice, trying to maintain an acceptable blend of politeness and passive aggression.
“Just five more minutes!” The other interviewer pleaded.
Another whiskey you say? If I must. Nick eventually came out at 6:55.
“Sorry about that. You ready?”
“Well, yes, but, don’t you have soundcheck at 7?”
“Oh shit, yeah.”
After soundcheck it would have to be.
When I sat down with Nick, he seemed a bit shy, and a lot sweet. Misled by the articles I’d read up on him, I imagined he’d moved to Brooklyn from his native D.C. only weeks before.
NH: Oh, nah, I’ve been here since September.
AF: Oh, other interviews make it sound like you’re fresh off the Mega Bus. Most people’s first years in New York are rough…how has yours been?
NH: It was a mix…there’s been cool things, but I was just trying to figure out how to pay rent.
AF: What’s your favorite part about the city so far?
NH: I just like being around my friends, I have a lot of friends down here. Obviously New York is like, the Mecca of everything…we all come here for a reason.
AF: You studied at Berkley College of Music in Boston. There is a lot of dissent on this among musicians, but do you think that a formal music education has helped or hindered your songwriting?
NH: It’s interesting because there are a lot of things I’ve learned studying music that I feel like helped my musicality or my production but I also think it’s important that you take it [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][formal music education] with a grain of salt.
AF: What were you mostly listening to when you were writing the EP? Did you find stuff influenced your songwriting?
NH: Yes and no…I don’t think I really thought about it like that. I kind of don’t remember, it was so long ago. I wrote these songs like three years ago so I’m kind of over the whole process of when it went on, but I was listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions and Marvin Gaye, and Harry Nilsson.
AF: Yeah I’ve read in a lot of interviews that you’re a big Harry Nilsson fan…did you ever watch The Point growing up?!
NH: Not growing up but I heard the album before I saw the movie…I have it on DVD now. It’s a really amazing cartoon; it’s really fun.
AF: I hear that you’re heading to Europe in September, have you ever been there before?
NH: Yeah I’ve been to Amsterdam. Last year I played a festival out there.
AF: But you’re going to London and Germany as well.
NH: Yeah, London and Germany and the Netherlands and France.
AF: You excited?! You have some buddies out there?
NH: Yeah, I have friends in London and Paris.
AF: Where are you most excited to go?
NH: Ah man, um, Paris. I’ve never been and it’s such a romanticized city and I just feel like I really want to see what the whole place is about.
AF: What’s your favorite song on the EP?
NH: I don’t know. I don’t think I have a favorite one anymore.
AF: I think “Cold” is getting the most press.
NH: Yeah, there’s a lot of different ways I’d like to play that song.
AF: I think “Pour Another” is my favorite.
AF: Yeah, it’s like, the weirdest one to me…it’s a little stranger, I like that.
NH: Yeah it’s a little more airy.
AF: I read that your whole family is musical!
NH: Yeah, both of my brothers, my folks are. It was just a hobby for my folks, like it wasn’t a profession; they were both in bands though. My little brother plays in a band in Philly and I grew up listening to my older brother play drums in a bunch of punk bands.
AF: Yeah, DC has a pretty solid Punk scene. Did you ever find yourself in any particular music scene as a kid?
NH: Yeah I went to a lot of GO-GO shows and then I went to a few hardcore shows…the whole hardcore scene in DC is pretty small and I definitely had a lot of affiliation with a lot of those guys.
AF: So having spent so much time in DC and Boston and New York, do you feel pretty at home on the East Coast, or do you feel like you’re still finding your home?
NH: I’ve never been to the West Coast so I don’t really have that experience. I’m definitely an East Coast kid.
AF: I get that; I’m an East Coast transplant.
NH: Where are you from?!
AF: I’m from the West Coast! But I got the fuck outta there!
NH: (Laughs) I want to check it out.
AF: No, you definitely should, it’s great.
So, are you nervous to play tonight?
AF: (Laughs) You don’t get nervous?!
NH: Well, I get nervous in a different way I think. It’s weird because I used to have the biggest stage fright, but I’ve gotten used to playing and I still get a little nervous and I still get little chills and whatever…little oogly wooglies. But I’ve learned how to channel it in a different way.
AF: Do you see the audience or do they just go into one big blur?
NH: They go into one big blur but it depends. Sometimes I perform without my glasses on or without contacts, so I can’t see anything. It helps me kind of get lost in my own little head. Which is fun. I mean it’s like a blackout kind of for a second. I mean, I remember parts of it but…
I would never expect that as Nick played with precision and fervor, that all he saw before him was a blur. In the interview he seemed bashful and endearingly humble, but on stage he became a professional–more man than boy as his beard would also suggest. Nick’s stage presence is engaging and grateful. Within the first ten minutes he’d introduced his entire band: a crew of guys each as adorable as they were talented.
The crowd Nick drew said a lot about his appeal as a musician. As the kick-off show to his month-long residency at Baby’s All Right, the floor was packed, but there was no defining trait that connected one person to another. Though Hakim’s sound is certainly traceable to particular genres–jazz, soul, R&B, to name a few–his true triumph as a composer is his universality. It must be difficult to dislike his music…I can’t imagine someone honestly shunning it. This was apparent by the hoards of people dancing at the show. Some had on collared shirts, some leather pants, others sported massive afros. The only thing we had in common was a love of this music, this damn-fine, sexy, sad, gorgeous sound.
Nick’s EP is produced so tightly, I was curious if a live performance could top it. It did. Between the seamless, well-oiled performance of his band and the love he threw the audience (at one point he called us all his “babies.”), it was a pleasure to witness the launch of Hakim’s career.
During his last song-a mash–up I hesitate but must refer to as a “jam-session”– Nick’s reserved nature burned away as he fell to the floor with his guitar, writhing away and shrieking more like a Birthday Party-era Nick Cave than a subdued man of soul. Perhaps there is some residue from the DC Hardcore scene in Nick after all. Whatever the case, I’m excited to hear what’s next from this kid. He certainly has something going for him.
Check out Nick’s EP1 below, and hold your breath for EP2