PLAYING DETROIT: Producer Nydge Confronts Anxiety With Electropop on Datsun Turbo

Detroit-based producer Nydge, born Nigel Van Hemmye, releases his first solo EP, Datsun Turbo, today. While Van Hemmye has spent the last year building an impressive catalog of pop anthems featuring other vocalists, this is his first foray as a solo artist. The EP is centered around Van Hemmye’s experience with severe anxiety and how it manifests itself in different aspects of his life. Although the subject matter is dense, his upbeat electric compositions could easily serve as the soundtrack to a VR race car simulation or modern-day Back to the Future remake.

Van Hymme says the opening track, “Immortal Youth,” is a nostalgic rumination on what life was like before he started having anxiety attacks. It opens with glockenspiel-like synths that recall the innocence of childhood. The lyrics follow suit, reflecting on happier times when debilitating worry didn’t exist. “Immortal youth / we have endless days / to find a happy place / it all comes in waves,” sings Van Hymme.

Datsun Turbo also touches on how anxiety can affect romantic relationships. Van Hymme says “Come Over” is about “the fear of never being able to commit or forgive myself due to my fatalistic inner narrative.” Arguably the EP’s catchiest track, the song tells the story of a yo-yo romance, where both characters keep coming back to a relationship that should be over– a theme that even people who don’t suffer from anxiety can relate to.

Van Hemmye’s also released a video along with the EP that attempts to explain his experience with anxiety further. In the short film, he details his first panic attack: “My heart was racing, and my walls of reality were melting.” The video goes on to give a chillingly accurate visual representation of what it’s like to have an anxiety or panic disorder, melding visions of clarity and beauty with unsettling disorientation. Van Hemmye explains that he started turning to long drives as a coping mechanism for his racing mind and heart. “I think driving has always soothed me because it occupies just enough of my anxious mind to not allow for excessive worrying.”

Van Hemmye says he feels a kinship to the Datsun, an economized version of an expensive European sports car. “That’s kind of how I see myself in music,” says Van Hemmye. “I’m a frugal kid from Detroit who makes accessible and honest music by crafting big pop music sounds in little DIY studios.”

We talked with Nydge about the story behind his first solo project and how dedication to a craft can be the best medication of all.

AF: I heard you were named after a race car driver – who is it and what’s the story behind that?

Nigel Van Hemmye: I was named after Nigel Mansell, who drove in Formula 1 with a thick, caterpillar mustache. After hearing one of the announcers say his name on television one Sunday afternoon, my mom decided not to name me Colin and go with Nigel. My Grandma read Colin as “colon” and that might have influenced her decision as well. Most people I meet associate me with Nigel Thornberry. Every now and then I get an XTC fan sing me, “We’re always making plans for Nigel.” I probably know more dogs named Nigel than I do people. I’m just out here trying to give Nigels a good name.

AF: Although the project definitely feels like electropop, I hear some early 2000’s rock influence — did you listen to a lot of Strokes-era music growing up?

NVH: I was in Germany for an exchange program at 16 for a month. One weekend my new German friends and I went club-hopping in Berlin. All of them were playing The Strokes! I distinctly remember everyone yelling along to the lyrics. Music like Franz Ferdinand, The Shins, and Phoenix bring me back to that moment. Growing up I listened to anything from Nine Inch Nails to Empire of the Sun to really wonderful, obnoxious techno and dubstep. I actually made really bad techno songs under the name “Nydge” in high school.

AF: I know from your film that this album was a coping mechanism for your anxiety, but a lot of the tracks sound upbeat/peppy – can you talk about that choice and how some of these songs came together?

NVF: I think about music as an escape – a place I can go where things make more sense or sometimes don’t have to. There’s an amazing notion in psychology about the concept of “Flow” or being in “The Zone” which I feel like I enter when on stage or producing or jamming. It’s a very soothing and uncomplicated feeling. Anxiety for me has always been the over-abundance of thought: racing mind, paranoia, irritability until it crashes into panic. Learning to do something so naturally that you enter that “zone” or “flow state” is the coping part. It’s the process rather than the product. My greatest hope is to either give a listener a brief escape from the negative or enhance the positive experience they are already having.

Full disclosure – I feel the best foot to put forward is one which is upbeat and peppy. It’s fun to play live, it’s easier to land on movie, TV and commercial work and there’s a huge demand for it on the radio. “Immortal Youth” was actually born out of the skeleton of a song I was writing for sync but decided to keep. “Baby, I” came from what I thought a car commercial would sound like with my voice singing about anxiety.

AF: “Come Over” and “Y U Gotta B” are about how anxiety affects a relationship. Can you talk a little more about the specific experiences/hurdles in a relationship that are a result of anxiety?

NVH: I think from the outside anxiety can present itself in a myriad of different ways. Ultimately for me it’s about stress management. Relationships can be stressful – even the positive parts. Anxiety also presents itself as my relationship with the future. “Come Over was the expression of worry about a future with or without someone. Stress in this way comes from some of the decisions I was refusing to make – either not allowing things to progress forward or not having difficult but important conversations about ending things.

With Kim Vi, Y U Gotta B is a playful take on how confusing and frustrating it can be when you don’t know what the other person is thinking but you’re still very much invested in them. What they do or say is magnified under the lens of your adoration, and anxiety comes in and whispers in your ear: “They’re playing with you. They don’t really like you…” which really comes down to a lack of trust and communication.

AF: This is your first cohesive piece of work where you are the centerpiece – how does that feel?

NVH: It feels great! For the longest time, I felt like I was producing and performing without ever getting to know myself separate of others. I relished in the collaboration and the learning it brought me but I still somehow felt unproven or incomplete. The more I wear the “solo artist” hat, the more I understand the choices other artists make, both personally and within the industry. I’m here to constantly improve, challenge myself and others to create and try their best. On a lighter note, I had these songs, I loved them, I had a platform, and no good answer to the question: why not?

AF: Did making the explanation video for the EP put you in a vulnerable place?

NVH: Yeah, but also no. I’m very up front about my anxiety and panic disorder. I’m not really ashamed of it and I don’t think others should be [ashamed of theirs] either – although I understand why they are. I wrote the whole piece as a short story which I sent to a couple friends who said I should share it. I think I hesitated for a microsecond and then wrote up a shot list for the short film. I acknowledge wholeheartedly I am not perfect and one of the best ways of coping with anxiety is sharing the strategies I’ve garnered over the years with those who struggle as well. At the end of the day, music is my own personal worry stone, something through which I can pour in my doubts, insecurities and feelings and come back with not only something I’m proud of, but a more thoughtful version of myself. The lesson it endlessly teaches me is devotion to a craft or skill is one of the most meaningful relationships you can have with yourself and the world.