INTERVIEW: Getting To Know Now Ex

Today we talk to a brand new band that you may not of heard of but should definitely keep an eye on. Now Ex are from East London and are a group that are becoming known for their unique electronic sound that has a cinematic edge. Now Ex is made up of Film director Nick Hampson and collaborator Harry Brokensha and their latest single First Light has been receiving raving reviews from the critics. They have an EP to be released later this year as well as new music so it is an exciting time to start listening to this band. I caught up with Nick to find out all about what is in store.

Hello Now Ex – tell us three unknown facts about yourself?

  1. I star in a famous 90s music video swimming naked as a 1 year old. A pretty epic entrance into the world of music and entertainment at a young age, though no one quite understands the pain and torment of growing up the second most famous 90s music video baby after the Nirvana kid. Hate that guy. 
  2. My first name is actually John, not Nick, which is the same as my dad. I guess he just wanted the ego boost of having a second version of himself. My parents claim I was always going to be called Nick, but the jury is still out.
  3. I’m half Tennessee half Newcastle, which I feel must be the most niche trans-Atlantic blend, but I’m into it.  

How did you get into music?

My grandmother was a well known concert pianist in the states, so I guess music just ran in my family. I started playing the piano and singing when I was 5 or 6, and then went down a classical music rabbit hole for like 14 years, including a stint as a soloist in the Royal Opera when I was 13. I think a lot of that classical influence came from my mum’s side, but my dad’s definitely can take the credit for getting me into rock and pop music. I stated playing the guitar when I was 10 or 11 and dad used to take me to guitar lessons on Monday nights after school. Every trip was a new lesson in the greats. We’d listen to Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses, the Small Faces, Lindisfarne, Cream etc. It wasn’t long after that when I wrote my first song and started to record demos in my bedroom. 

Who do you find your inspirations?

When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Bright Eyes. I can’t think of any artist who has influenced my own creating, and even way of perceiving the world, as much as Conor Oberst. I’m pretty sure all my early songs sounded a bit like his music. But I also believe imitating others is super healthy when you’re starting out and actually it’s somewhat fundamental to developing your own sound. These days I think my inspirations are pretty diverse. I’m really into bands that blend electronics and more traditional instruments in a novel or exciting way. I think the 1975 are great at that, as is Bon Iver, James Blake, lots of people really. I try to write music that sounds like it’s from a movie, and there’s a number of artists whose work I think evokes that sense of narrative and image who I’m inspired by too. 

Tell us all about your latest single First Light?

First Light is a sort of electronic punk pop ballad. It’s incredibly energetic and sort of dives straight in deep and doesn’t really come up for air. It’s got this through composed narrative about a late night outing between two young people in a big city who have obvious chemistry but just ultimately want different things and are in different places. It’s a song about the constant lures towards unsustainable things, which is such a major part of your twenties I think. Ultimately, the protagonist feels lost, but that dark, selfish kind of lost – the one that is happy to bring others down too. But I think we’ve all been there. 

How long did it take to write the song?

It’s hard to say, because First Light was originally a few different songs that I was working on at the same time. I remember having a zoom session during lockdown with Harry and playing him these various bits I’d been working on. It was pretty clear which bits he liked and so I think I took those and created one song from them. Normally I find I write pretty quickly, but more recently I’ve been taking a little more time with songs, somewhat deliberately. I think it can be useful to live with something for a little while. My production process sort of dictates that anyway these days, whereas when I was a teenager I used to write songs in like 3 hours then spend the following 12 or 15 hours recording it before releasing it at like 3am the night. I used to do that all the time. I think I just got too excited. These days I guess I’m better at reining that in.

Where does the inspiration for the song come from?

I try to always write from what I know – from experiences I’ve had, or just from ideas. I often find myself daydreaming plots or scenarios, coming up with characters and thinking of their backstories. I guess that’s something I get from being a filmmaker too. First Light was a blend of all of these and was largely intended as a sort of snapshot of my early twenties living in East London. I wanted to create a narrative that was super transient, about a moment in time or in this case an evening, but representative of themes much bigger than itself.

Have been making music in lockdown?

Yes, I actually feel like I’ve written a lot this year. It’s been a really difficult time for us all in different ways and I tend to find writing and creating is the way I can best process and digest all of that. I’m lucky to have that outlet I think. 

What is the most challenging thing when it comes to producing a record?

I started working with this incredible duo of up and coming producers recently who go by ‘9Pockets’. They have their own studio in London Fields where we work on my records. I’m sure they could easily come up with difficult things about working with me, but it’s hard the other way around! I love working with these guys and our flow is becoming really strong. I honestly love the process of producing music, so it’s very hard to pick something. I tend to write on the piano these days, and a lot of my music starts as these quite soft, late night bedroom tunes before becoming these energetic, large production pop tunes. I think it can be quite hard taking the original piano versions and deciding on the direction you want to take it in the studio, which often for me means deciding how loud it’s going to get this time! The answer usually is, pretty loud. 

You have an EP coming soon as well, what can you tell our readers about that?

We were aiming for an EP before the end of the year, but honestly we’re really enjoying releasing singles at the moment. I really like how focussed a single is and how you can really build a world around it with the content you create to promote it and the whole PR campaign. We release our next single, ‘There used to be a rave here’, on October 30th which we’re really looking forward to. I think in some ways it’s a blend stylistically of First Light and No Coming With You, our first single, and it’s definitely one of my favourites things I’ve written. Regardless, we have enough material in the wings for an EP, so I’m sure it won’t be too far away. 

How do you warm up for a show?

I have all sorts of bizarre little vocal warm ups I like to do, starting like 12 hours before the show normally. None of them are very deliberate things, just stuff I picked up in the classical singing world when I was doing that as a kid, constantly having to warm up my voice. I think I actually do it quite subconsciously these days, and I’m pretty sure it drives my flat mates absolutely nuts. 

Also let’s talk tour – will there be live shows coming next year?

I really hope so. We will be back playing as soon as we possibly can and have been looking into options for later this year, so fingers crossed that works out. 

What is one of your favourite songs to perform live?

Honestly, Now Ex is such a new project we’ve not done a lot of live shows. But I think First Light is probably the most fun to perform live. 

What is the toughest songs to perform live and why?

No Coming With You. It’s super high…

How have you been keeping creative during lockdown?

Luckily I don’t think I had to force it. I took a lot more walks during lockdown, which actually really helped with coming up with ideas for new music and film projects. I think pre lockdown I was really bad at keeping still and always felt I had to be rushing around and living life at a million miles an hour. But lockdown reminded me how important stillness is to making good art and just being happy, and I hope I’ll retain that going forward. 

Has it led to more songs? 

Not necessarily more songs, but perhaps better ones. 

Our site also is about improv – in a music sense, what have been some of your favourite improvised melodies that you have created and been able to use in songs and why?

My flat mate got blown off by this guy on Hinge recently, who she had evening plans with, while I was sat next to her. It became pretty obvious to her that they might have different hopes for the direction the evening would go, culminating in him saying ‘I think we might want different things from our night’. This never normally happens, but I instantly got up and played a C sharp major chord and sang the line ‘I think we want different things from our Wednesday nights’. It remains one of my favourite Now Ex lyrics and is the opener to a song that should come out early next year. 

What are your plans for 2021?

More of the same plus some live shows and I’ll be happy. 

And finally why should people check out your music?

I try to make music you can either dance to or cry to. So if you’re not in one of those moods then I suggest staying away…

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