Come to the Darkside: an Interview with Nicolas Jaar


For most people the name of American-Chilean musician Nicolas “Nico” Jaar is one that brings to mind his solo career as wunderkind producer extraordinaire; creating strange, slow, minimalist beats on releases such as his critically acclaimed 2011 debut, Space Is Only Noise. The phrase “side-project” has therefore been bandied about in regards to Darkside, the sublime astral, ambient musical duo consisting of Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington. For Jaar, however, such a label detracts from the reality of the project: “Darkside is my band,” he states, matter-of-factly, highlighting the notion that — for the foreseeable future at least — it is really his solo work that one might consider as Jaar’s “side-project”.

The pair met back in 2011 when Jaar was looking for a musician to join his live band to tour the newly-released Space Is Only Noise. Harrington had graduated from Brown University the year that Jaar first got there, but mutual friends meant that they were brought together, “I asked my best friend Will [Epstein] if he wanted to be in the band — he’s a saxophone player… And because he knew about the music scene at Brown, I asked him, ‘who’s the best musician here at Brown or anywhere, really?’ and he said it was Dave.”

From there, the two seem to have gelled beautifully, and Jaar speaks with marked fondness of his experiences collaborating with Harrington so far: “Dave and I have a personal, special relationship where we really let each other speak and let each other do our own thing. Like, I can trust him with my work and he can trust me with his. It’s something that’s beyond music, it’s something about… you know, the fact that we’re both Capricorns, the fact that we’re both born in New York, the fact that we both like each other as human beings.” He pauses, then adds, “For me, a collaboration starts with a human process and that’s what makes it so beautiful and sacred.”

Certainly, when listening to Psychic, the band’s debut album, there is no denying there is something quite beautiful and organic about the whole thing. It is an odd, genre-defying listen quite unlike anything else, with gorgeous brushes of funk, elements of tribal beats and hints of spacey psychedelia all interspersing the layers of Jaar’s signature slow, mesmerising dance stylings.

“For me, it was very much about, you know, ‘oh, here are some things I’ve never done before’,” Jaar explains regarding the conception of the album, “I’d never worked with someone else, I’d never worked with a guitar player, never worked with a bass player. I’d never worked with someone who has an experimental jazz and experimental noise upbringing. All of those things were exciting to me, as a producer — because that’s what I primarily am, not necessarily a singer-songwriter — it was an exciting colour combination.”

This almost whimsical means of musical experimentation and production was also seen when the pair went down a slightly different route last year, releasing Random Access Memories Memories, a fun yet surprisingly dark remix of the Daft Punk album done under the pseudonym, DaftSide. “That came about after the record [Psychic] was completely finished and we, for the first time in two years, had absolutely nothing to do and we were touring maybe, like, a month later. And so, one day, we were just sitting down in the studio and we’re listening to ‘Get Lucky’ and I asked Dave, ‘How come this song is playing everywhere?’. I didn’t really understand back then why it was so catchy… And Dave said that he thought it was because of the Nile Rodgers part, and he said that no one can play the guitar like Nile Rodgers can.” Jaar’s candid admission of his ignorance of a genre is surprising, perhaps, but there was something quite refreshing about his sense of musical curiosity when he continued. He describes how he took the song apart in the studio, attempting to glean the exact reasons behind what was so good about the ‘Get Lucky’ riff: “I really wanted to know, and get deep in it.”

There is such a palpable sense of passion when Jaar is talking about the creative process of Darkside. On the one hand, he laughingly speaks of the more amusing anecdotes of creating DaftSide, “The day that Random Access Memories came out, I didn’t even listen to the record — just, you know, five seconds of each song and I remixed one of them and sent it to Dave as a joke — like ‘haha, look, I’ve done another one’… and then he sent me one back. After a week we had six songs and the album has twelve, and I was just like ‘wow Dave, let’s just fucking finish this’.” But on the other hand he speaks more seriously about the workings behind Psychic, “I guess it was me having this vision of ‘Wow, I wonder what my music would sound like if it was a little noisier, a little dirtier. If it had more references to rock’n’roll than it does to…’”, he hesitates before continuing somewhat wryly, “You know, whatever I reference.” It seems there was never a concrete plan to Darkside’s sound, but rather a sense of desire to find out what the music the two of them made together would sound like.

The future is already fairly mapped out for Darkside, as the duo have some songs ready and are waiting for the tour to end so they can get recording album number two. “We’re very excited to start putting it together,” Jaar said with enthusiasm. What this means for his solo work, he was more hesitant to say — he tends to produce a song a day and put anything he thinks is good up on the internet, but he was less willing to expand beyond this, “I’d rather not talk about that.” His solo career ultimately seems a little irrelevant — with his own disarmingly slow sounds on the side for now, Jaar can focus with Harrington on the project that seems to have him captivated: his band.

Interview originally published in tn2 Magazine.

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