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WPGM Commentary: Rhett Nicholl Tries To Find Clarity On His New EP ‘La Bas’

My name is Rhett Nicholl, I’m a singer, songwriter and artist from North London. My second EP is called Là-bas, taking its title from the 19th century French book about the underbelly of Parisian metropolitan society roughly translating to ‘The Damned’.

It also inspired the tattoo on my neck by my close friend Charlie ‘Esa’ O’reilly who passed away last year, our friendship was formed in the belly of this city so there are layers to its significance but in the conceptual framework of the EP, it functions to set the scene of a period in my life where my illusions of myself had become so warped and shadowed by addiction and mental illness that I thought of and embraced myself as damned.

The title draws the focus and gives context to the songs, which for me are windows into my story, I like my songwriting to be codified and cinematic and as a result the songs themselves don’t offer much in the way of explanation or explication, instead acting as vignettes of human relationships that place you in the midst of the scene.

I wrote and recorded the songs on this EP fresh out of a 2-month stay in hospital with a life threatening heart condition during which time my focus was pointed sharply inwards. I’d had a lot of time to examine and reflect on my path in life, facing your own mortality is definitely one way of getting a dose of clarity. I came out of that period with a crystallized vision that I just needed to put into words.

I jumped into sessions with Aston Rudi, George Moore, Felix Joseph, Ali Blah Blah and Dan Holloway, and over the course of a few months, prior to Covid hitting, I got the project mostly finished. The songs for me that stand out and achieve artistically, almost exactly what I’d envisioned them to, are probably “Hold On” and “Love In Vain”.

“Hold On” was probably the first song I wrote in this period. In need of some affection and intimacy, I rushed into a relationship with someone whose mental health probably looked similar to mine 5 years previous.

I’ve always had a deep rooted saviour complex and the clarity I was experiencing didn’t stop me from repeating this behavioural pattern, karmically I find there’s a big difference between doing something in ignorance and doing the same thing knowing full well what you’re walking into – the consequences don’t wait to make themselves known.

At the time of writing the lyrics, it felt like I was seeing into the future, I knew how it would end. The lyrics appear as if written retrospectively but in reality I wrote them in the first couple of weeks of that relationship. It’s really not hard to predict the future when you’re repeating the same patterns over and over.

“Love in Vain” is definitely the most artistically ambitious on the project, it takes the cinematic thing and really runs with it and it’s definitely my firm favorite as it stands right now.

George Moore’s musicianship and composition is on a level I really didn’t think I could match up to, if I stuck to the conventional routes of songwriting. I knew I needed to take both of us way out of our comfort zones to make the most of the situation.

I came up with an off kilter beat with a piano in a weird time signature that I took to him and through sheer force of his skill and sensitivity turned it into the track as you hear it. I gave him free reign over the strings and ambient composition, I think I asked him to just paint with sound. We sampled my friend ‘The Nasty Poet’ and I channelled the feelings of walking through the places I haunted at the lowest point in my life.

My latest single “Tell Me” really drives home the idea of following the same patterns and expecting a different result. The song itself was written maybe 6 years prior and taken a bunch of different forms. In my mind, Dan Holloway’s strengths as a producer, while resting on a foundation of classically trained musicianship are really in his grooves and the tasteful way he makes what would ostensibly be pop songs.

He has something about him that rings of an older guard of producers that he undermines with his general silliness. His openness as a human and positivity as a producer made these sessions a lot of fun, we come from very different worlds but there wasn’t any lack of common ground to meet on.

Aston Rudi who produced “Sins” is probably the producer I’ve built the most sustaining relationship with and I think that’s probably true for a lot of the artists he works with.

His seriousness about his craft is counterpointed by his completely laid back attitude to pretty much everything, working with him you feel completely free to be vulnerable and make mistakes completely un-judged, knowing in the back of your mind that his ability and quality control will get you where you need to be in the song.

He’s got two songs on my next project and most of the when we’re working it’s just fun. If it’s not fun we’ll probably just allow it and do something completely unrelated and I really value that in an industry that is so numbers driven.

Ali Blah Blah and I wrote a song for this project called “All That You Came For”. Coming from producing and helping to shape an artist like Hak Baker who stands completely apart from the industry at large and has made a point of doing things his way, I knew that Ali and I would see eye to eye on a lot of stuff.

Our experiences in life definitely overlapped in their own way and I think I knew going in that he would want to draw out a more guitar based thing from me. We built on a riff I’d been playing around with for ages and came out with a song that was poetic and anthemic but also mixed big drums and low end with a Pixies-esque ghostliness.

Covid probably had the biggest impact on this song and at points, it got quite difficult especially in the midst of him having his first child and moving countries, so I really appreciate the commitment he made to getting it done and getting the best out of me.

These songs are as much about the human relationships described in the lyrics as they are informed by the relationships I developed with the producers over the course of making them. That’s kind of the alchemy of the experience of making art for me; taking something painful and overwhelming and being able to let go of that baggage by sharing it with another human through the process of writing and recording songs.

Listen to my Là-bas EP below and stream it everywhere else here.

Words by Rhett Nicholl // Follow him on Twitter + Instagram

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