Modes Of Connection: Nick Hakim Interviewed

Modes Of Connection: Nick Hakim Interviewed

Escaping an emotional rut to deliver a powerful new album...

Nick Hakim is trying to show me Brooklyn, New York, from the roof of his apartment building. The problem is our call keeps glitching so I can only see him frozen onscreen, grinning goofily from behind a thick beard. “Can you see it now?” he says, eagerly, the wind whistling down his headphones. When Nick is finally satisfied with his panoramic shot, he sits down to talk to me. 

The DC-born musician has come a long way since his 2017 album, 'Green Twins'. Over the years he’s collaborated with an eclectic mix of musicians, among them, Onyx Collective, Lianne La Havas and Anderson.Paak. His latest album ‘Will This Make Me Good’ marks a cathartic departure, though, laying bare his deepest vulnerabilities.

“I’m proud of it”, he says. “I’m proud of that mess and I’m proud of that stage of my life.”

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For Nick, the concept - and very real experience - of struggle has been an integral part of his creative process. “I had a real focus on just writing and I think that's really where the vulnerability comes through”, he explains. “Like oh my god, if I could show you my notes, so many pages of research. It was like I was taking a class.” He laughs. “I was so focused. If anyone interacted with me during that time, if they ever asked me how I was doing?”

He stops to mimic himself, hunching over and adopting a hoarse, world-weary stage whisper. “I’d say, oh I’m just trying to write”.

It wasn’t easy. But after a long stretch of writer’s block, Nick finally had a breakthrough - three months of uninterrupted creative inspiration. The result, ‘Will This Make Me Good’, is lyrically ambitious in its scope: battles with insecurity; overmedication; the climate crisis; losing a best friend. It’s dark and brooding. The lingering question he faced, though, was how to find a way out of an emotional rut?

I remind Nick of an interview he did several years ago, where he talked about why so many artists thought they had to be in pain to produce art. After making this album, did he think such misery was the only answer?

“That’s a really interesting topic because when I was younger I thought that was what I needed to create.” There’s a brief pause. “I do feel like if you think you need to be in pain, that’s not healthy.”

Perhaps this is why, for all its darkness, ‘Will This Make Me Good’ has an inherent sense of hope underpinning it. Nick agrees. “You can still find some kind of peace within something that could seem tragic.”

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At this point, Nick clambers back inside and down the stairs to his apartment. I catch a glimpse of a cosy space as he scrambles to get comfy on the floor; a makeshift recording studio tucked in one corner, the walls lined with posters and artwork including one portrait of a rather squashed-looking man with ferociously drawn eyebrows - “I found it lying on the street”, he calls out to me excitedly, as he rummages in a box off-camera. He reappears, clutching a vinyl copy of ‘Will This Make Me Good’. “I’m now starting to remember that whole era of my writing!” he says, beaming.

I find in our conversation that we keep coming back to the question of how to make the complexity of emotion relatable in a meaningful and productive way. It’s something Nick has grappled with constantly in his album. “There are themes in it that aren’t necessarily just about me. I’m really trying to develop my craft into a broader lyrical theme or a bigger picture. I’m trying to explore things that aren’t just about Nick but that affect us all.”

His words remind me of an interview with a playwright whose work I love. I tell him how she urges writers to be vulnerable, yes, but not necessarily confessional. It feels like an apt summary of our conversation. Nick smiles, slowly. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to say. Finding ways that connect you to something that other people can also relate to.”

We all have parts of the past we are still entangled with, even if we have the best intentions to escape it. So maybe that’s why Nick’s earnest creative efforts are so touching. As a listener, you recognise the sense of urgency attached to moving forward in life, especially when you are feeling pain or sadness. More often than not, we accelerate the healing process so we can create a sense of separation. ‘Will This Make Me Good’, in all of its tumultuous messiness, reminds us that growth is an ongoing process.

As Nick says, “Once you just accept where you're at, you don’t put so much pressure on yourself.”

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'Will This Make Me Good' is out now.

Words: Tess Davidson

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