Musician and performer Nick Monaco doesn’t just make music, he brings visions to life. Using captivating art, honest lyrics, and compelling beats, Monaco breathes life into his visions. His thought provoking music brings light to issues often ignored in the dance music world. In 2013, Monaco released his first EP Naked is my Nature, and since then has been making quite the splash in the music world. He brings a rare authenticity to his music, aiming to broaden the colours in the language used in our world. Monaco’s newest album Heroin Disco is fun and whimsical, while also touching on subjects centred around the opioid epidemic. We had a chance to chat with Monaco about his music, combining music with art, and his label Unisex Records.
Tell me a little bit about what inspired you to pursue music as a career.
It was something that I just knew I wanted to do intuitively from a very young age. I just remember watching MTV and anytime there was a feature on a producer, or they showed the behind the scenes of recording studios, I was drawn to it for some reason. Couldn’t tell you why. Idk it looked cool and glamorous, I suppose. And then I started my own mobile DJ company as a young boy, and I was DJ-ing high school dances as a 12-year-old. It’s kind of crazy when I think about it.
What do you think makes music an effective medium to discuss social topics?
I think music is easily digestible, and it’s not pretentious. It speaks to your body first, I think. If the song is well written, I think it’s something that you feel before intellectualise, you know? You can write a poem, but nobody really reads poetry, sadly. If you’re able to combine a thought and package it into something that somebody can just feel innately, then it’s pretty potent.
Why do you think there are so many artists in the industry who fall victim to addiction?
You gotta be wired pretty differently to be an artist, I think. Addiction isn’t a new phenomenon in the arts or in music. Artists are sensitive people and I think it can be very overwhelming, especially when you start getting attention. You lose your power over how people perceive you. In the dance world especially, drugs are so readily available. When I started, I felt like I wasn’t cool or credible unless I went to the afterparties, did molly, and I felt like I had to prove how much I can party. To keep up.
What do you think artists could do to avoid falling to addiction?
I don’t have the answer to that as that’s everyone’s personal journey. I wish I had a better answer, but I think people have to go through whatever they have to go through to learn from it. But I do think that self-awareness is something to work toward. It helps when you have good friends and people to keep you in check, but not everyone has that. And it’s a spectrum you know. I think the bigger issue I see is our culture of excess in general. There’s so much media constantly and we’re digesting so many images, it’s hard to have a grip of what’s real.
The opioid epidemic is close to your heart. Tell us a little bit about your personal experience with it, and how that affected your music.
I don’t wanna say I’m a champion of any cause. I don’t wanna take on this stance that I’m an activist of any sort. I was channeling some shit, and I wanted this album to speak on this heroin epidemic as it’s something that I’ve seen around me. My business/label partner, when we wrote the album, his cousin died of a heroin overdose and my cousin, his best friend, died of an overdose as well. Very young too. Early 20’s. I guess in my head I started connecting all these dots, and I personally identify with the sentiment of apathy. Like I was saying before, with the excess of media and information, our generation’s reaction seems to be apathy. Heroin is a perfectly apathetic drug experience. You’re just subtracting yourself from reality. Which sounds amazing, right? You get closer to death or being neutral. You’re so overstimulated. It’s so confusing you know, maybe we’re in this transitional period of what the next era is going to be. We’re going through puberty as a society. I don’t think its coincidental that like, opioids are the presidential drug right now, you know? If you look at the eras of drugs, the 60s were marked by a period of exploration–psychedelics. I think opioids are what LSD was in the 60’s. It’s a counter-effect of our times.
Check out his latest album here:
What changes or effects do you hope to see your music bring about in society?
I don’t know if that’s up to me, you know. I don’t see myself as a saviour or a hero. I’m just channeling shit and recording music and trying to make good music. Maybe if anything, I would hope that my music could broaden the number of colours that we use, you know? To make the conversation more colourful. To open up a new space in whatever culture I exist in, to make it okay to talk about heroin and addiction and drugs openly. It’s still so taboo that we enjoy and indulge in because we’re mischievous little creatures that enjoy hiding in dark corners. I guess that’s all I can hope for. Creating a new space, and a new vocabulary.
Do you think combining art with music make it a more effective medium?
I guess my vision is always 360 degrees. I can feel it and see it. I did an art piece for this album that sort of brings all the ideas home. It’s a vending machine that looks like a disco ball, and then we stocked it with syringes filled with red glitter. And it’s sort of a commentary on the accessibility of opioids in our culture. The glitter is like a symbol. It’s shiny and glamorous but ultimately, it’s deadly and lethal. We live in a world where things aren’t in multimedia. A time where people want to see things and touch them. I want that as a consumer. It’s opening up the palette of what colours you can use as a musician. Our generation doesn’t give a fuck about doing one thing. We’re doing everything that we feel you know. Combining food, art installations, and music and whatever. I guess that’s more second nature to our generation.
Do you have any musical inspirations?
Elliot Smith was always like a big inspiration for me. I always really resonated with his music. Him and Arthur Russel, and other guys like that. Also, like, punk. The spirit of punk music. I’ve always really been interested in applying the spirit of punk music to the dance world.
Tell us a little bit about your recent LP Heroin Disco. How is it different or similar to your other work?
I guess there was more attention paid to the songwriting, and I wrote it with a friend of mine. I’d never really written an album like that. And we wrote it in like two weeks, so it was all using the same instruments and sounds. It feels cohesive, you know? When you use the same sort of sonic palette, it has its own sound and spirit. we also wanted to make a record that sounded like it was made in California. We wrote it in our hometown, an hour out of san Francisco. We wanted it to sound like California. It’s got a dreamy, colourful, psychedelic feelings going on.
Tell me a little bit about your label Unisex Records and what it stands for?
Unisex was an organic experience from just wanting to have more control over the whole process. I was already doing a lot of the work by myself anyway, like the creative direction, the photoshoots, the art. So, sort of made sense to have control over the entire vision of the label as well and create my own identity with that. It happened very serendipitously back when my partner, who is one of my best friends, was making a lot of music at the same time and we were shopping it to bigger labels and were just discouraged by the whole experience. Even if they did like it, it would be like a year before it played out or they would sign it and just hold it. And you also just don’t know the people that are handling it. I’m more interested in things being very personal, and working with people that you like, and having it be more intimate and meaningful in a personal sense. But yeah, Unisex came out of that impulse to make it our own. This is the first year and we wanna just put our own music and establish ourselves and then start opening it up to new artists. But again, that’s a process that has to be organic and has to feel right. We wanna work with people we believe in.