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Nick DeLaurentis: Good Boy

Updated: Feb 2, 2020

by Christian Thorsberg

photo by Matthew Flores

I couldn’t meet Nick in a more antithetical location: an abandoned, century-old bakery complete with ominous wall-scrawled messages – “Get Out,” “Help,” “Eat Shit!” – and an unsettling ambience of must and stagnant shadow. Tracing my fingers along the foreboding script, a permanent grey sinks into my skin and lingers. The ground is ice cold, yet I can’t see my breath. Perhaps that would be asking for too much from the space: for any sign of life.

But when Nick arrives, so too does color and perspective. Brighter than the faded oven brick is his fiery orange hair. More vibrant still, his buoyant smile and uplifting personality, silencing the ghosts of the walls’ ill-will and transforming the dingy corpse of a building into an illumined nook of whim and potential. He sees the opportunity to repurpose, to curate unique versatility and aesthetic. To do what he loves and does best: create art with friends.

This was last December, at the first of several dance rehearsals accompanying Nick DeLaurentis’ biggest project to date: the release of Good Boy, his stunning debut album. A true agglomeration of genres, Good Boy introspects on human relationships: navigating the Anthropocene, surprising beauty, and tumultuous love. An immensely talented artist, the album shockingly represents just one sphere of Nick’s musical prowess and involvement – studying classical bass performance at DePaul University, he is also a member of the alternative band Swatches, and an upright bass player in the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

photo by Matthew Flores

With this diversity of artistic scope in mind, I spoke recently with Nick, the 21 year-old Los Angeles native turned Chicagoan, about how these many genres affect his approach to music and the creative process.

“The different things I do enrich me in different ways,” Nick reflects. “With classical music, it’s a way for me to focus and hone in on my skills as a musician. It’s a really special and pure art form. In Swatches, I get to make music with some of my best friends, enjoying the live performance aspect as purely a fun thing. Everything holds a place in my life.”

In all his busyness, striking that balance can sometimes prove difficult. On the day Nick and I spoke, he was fresh off a morning filled with music video editing, an afternoon of songwriting for a different project, and soon to be on his way downtown to rehearsal with the Civic Orchestra.

“My goal is to celebrate life through music,” says Nick. “It’s kind of crazy, but I don’t want it any other way.”

Good Boy: Exploring the Anthropocene Through Instrumentation and Inspiration

What immediately stands out about Good Boy is its rich layered soundscapes – atmospheres of emotion augmented and molded by precise mid-song pacing and key changes. Operating at an immense level of difficulty, Nick navigates such complexity with ease, transforming each song into an unpredictable journey of pleasant surprise. Focusing solely on acoustic instruments, he searched for a “capsizing” sound, distorting guitars in the name of experimentation.

“I’ve always tried to push what I can do with instrumentation,” Nick says. “Sound-wise, I wanted to take things in a new direction by taking a step back. I spent a lot of time figuring out the emotional flow, and how I was going to get one song to go into the next. I wanted it to be more emotional and less thematic.”

While not actively searching for a theme, when inspiration strikes, Nick is quick to storytell. Always considering ecological impact when writing songs, he found man’s relationship with the environment – the epoch of the Anthropocene – to be especially poetic, informing Good Boy’s opening track, “Bone Dance.”

“Last winter I went for a run to Montrose beach, and I stumbled across this Barbie doll that had been thrown around and covered in snow,” Nick says. “It made me consider how we as people treat each other and the world we live in. We’ll use something, or interact with a person for something, and then we won’t really think about the very long term repercussions. This Barbie doll felt like a piece of art, something bigger than itself.”

Later in the album, Nick explores his desire for “wanting so bad to make people dance,” an inclination credited to his move to Chicago, and the local DIY house music-making scene. “Chatter,” one of Good Boy’s most upbeat tracks, is texturized with harmonious background vocals and rapid guitar work, a combination Nick says “goes harder” than many of his other acoustic songs.

But perhaps the most intriguing and uplifting inclusion on Good Boy is the track “Knowhere,” a second iteration of his first Spotify single, released months earlier. The original – a more reserved, slow, acoustic guitar-led folk song – landed on Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, giving Nick a significant platform, including an annotated Genius page and thousands of listeners per week. To understand why Nick made such marked changes to his most mainstream song for Good Boy – including layered background vocals, a louder bass, a slightly quicker pace – one needs just to compare both versions’ final line and consider his ever-growing love for music:

“And we are going nowhere at all” became “And nowhere is somewhere after all”

“That was me saying you can always be better,” says Nick. “The process of making something, and the people you meet, the joy of that is something very powerful, emotional, and worth it.”

Over The Moon

Talking so intensively about Good Boy is an odd practice for Nick, who is moving forward and already “twelve songs deep” into his next project. He promises it once again to blend genres, but in a more refined and focus manner. Whereas Good Boy was a pure expression of himself, a raw “slice of life reflecting inward,” this new project is Nick looking outward, reconciling his musical growth.

photo by Matthew Flores

“It’ll be a coming of age story in a way, where I’m really starting to address the world around me,” Nick says. “I finished Good Boy and was like ‘this is great, but I wouldn’t really listen to it.’ In that sense, Good Boy was somewhat of a concept album. I guess (the new album) is my take on the current indie folk movement that’s happening now. Now I’m making music I’d actually listen to.”

Perhaps his own biggest critic, creating music Nick is immediately pleased with is certainly harder than it looks. With his formal music background and orchestral practice always fresh in mind, it’s sometimes difficult for Nick to let pure creativity win out.

“I study a lot of early 20th century impressionism and classical music, and I think my music is always going to come from that place,” Nick says. “I feel like I’m always coming from a place where I need something to be its best possible version, thinking that I need to write songs at the height of my intelligence. But I catch myself and try not to be too heady, because then it becomes unrelatable. I’m always trying to mix something that’s very high art, high-brow, with something that’s more listenable and down to earth.”

This juxtaposition is perhaps best exhibited on Good Boy’s cover: a renaissance style painting of Nick in a blanket, accompanied by another canvas, sitting casually on the beach.

Nonetheless, despite these influences, Nick remains chasing less of a sound or narrative, than he does a passion and pattern. As we continue to speak, he keeps returning to a simple mantra when he finds himself at a loss for words: “I just love being myself and making music.”

He couldn’t be more genuine. With his home studio now fully set up here in Chicago, doing what he loves most will become more seamless, accessible, and perhaps all the more rewarding.

“No matter what, everything draws me back to writing songs,” he says. “Even if I was in a jail cell or on the moon, I would go back to writing songs.”

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