Santa Barbara native, Nick Long, came to Los Angeles playing punk rock music. After spending time in a couple different rock bands (RIP Dead Country), he’s now exploring a softer, more electronic side of himself with his new project, Dark Waves. The Dark Waves EP released in September showcases a moodier and – yes – perhaps darker side to the artist.
For a sense of the tone, just press play on the picturesque, yet mildly disturbing music video for the Dark Waves single, “The Heartbeat The Soul” and be swept away. You won’t be the only one. With soulful, puppy dog eyes and a voice destined to sing about heartbreak and longing, it’s really no surprise that Nick’s music is fast finding a place in the hearts and minds of music lovers. After the pulsating electro-ballad, “I Don’t Wanna Be In Love” found a place on The CW’s The Vampire Diaries, the song leapt up the most popular chart on The Hype Machine.
With opening spots for Brooke Fraser and Manic Street Preachers, a successful trip to South By Southwest and an invite to play Bonnaroo Music Festival this summer, expect the Dark Waves buzz to keep building up to the album release: something that will, hopefully, happen later this year.
In a sit down with Nick over tea, he shed some light on Dark Waves – but not too much light because he’s very nocturnal. So if you’re in Los Angeles, you can explore the beautiful darkness of Dark Waves at the Roxy on Friday May 1st, opening for Manic Street Preachers at the Fonda on Saturday May 2nd, and his final residency date at the underground Hollywood bar, Dirty Laundry on Tuesday May 5th.
High Voltage: You haven’t been around as Dark Waves for that long. It astounds me how popular this has become. All the buzz: do you feel that at all?
Nick Long: A bit, but I definitely live like a thousand miles inside my own head during many moments of the day, so it’s hard to keep perspective, I think. Sometimes I’ll stop and think, “These really cool things are happening. This is really cool.” Then I’ll feel amazing and I’ll feel really grateful and in the moment, but then it’s easy to get lost and get caught up in a song I’m trying to write.
HV: How did this project come about? It’s a little different than your last.
Nick: It kind of started, I guess, honestly as that band [Dead Country] was falling apart,…it kind of started toward the end of that, when I was living alone in this studio above a garage and would just hole up and not leave my house for days at a time and drink a lot of coffee and stay up all night and write non-rock music. Then that band fell apart. I was dating this girl and that was an explosively crazy break-up and I couldn’t stop writing music. I started working with my friend, Yeti Beats, who’s this kid I went to high school with who had been down here doing hip hop for 10 years. I started doing stuff with him, that’s how it started.
HV: It was a very natural progression: it wasn’t thought out, let’s go to this genre for whatever reason?
Nick: No, it was me losing my mind in my house.
HV: That makes sense. I read this description of Dark Waves as being “electro-romantic”…
Nick: I read that somewhere, too.
HV: Is that something you can get behind?
Nick: I probably wouldn’t personally say that, but I’m not offended by that. It’s cool.
HV: How would you describe it?
Nick: I guess the elevator pitch I would just say was like “dark indie pop”, but fuck, I don’t know.
HV: Do you have any happy songs?
Nick: I have some happy songs. I wrote a love song recently called “Bloodsport” that is a pretty positive song. It’s about being far away from someone, not being on tour, but personally it’s about being across the country from someone and so it’s a positive song. It has sad moments, but….
HV: So positive. Maybe not happy, but positive.
Nick: Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve just always been drawn to music that deals with more trying moments in someone’s life and relating to that, I think is really powerful. That’s the stuff that really touched me when I was a kid. We all have our own struggles when you’re a kid and growing up. Listening to songs – like other people had gone through shit – even if it was their own version, relating to that was always really what got me, so that’s really what I strive for.
HV: Dead Country, that sound, 180 degrees to Dark Waves. Where do those two meet? Or what part of you is Dead Country and what part of you is Dark Waves?
Nick: When I was first learning how to play guitar when I was eight years old, I was obsessed with the blues. My dad and I – Thursday nights – would listen to this blues show and play gin and it was my favorite shit, my favorite moment of the week. I love stuff, like Howlin’ Wolf. I just related in this weird little kid way when my family was falling apart. And I was like, “This guy is amazing!”
Blues and punk rock: I feel like those went hand-in-hand and there’s always going to be that spirit in me. The Dark Waves stuff? I went to record these horrible sounding demos in Garage Band and, sometimes, when I was living at home I was embarrassed about singing. So I would drive around at night and smoke cigarettes with my laptop on the passenger seat and record vocals. Then with Dead Country, I was making these really lame demos at home because I didn’t really know how to record, then I would take it to Dead Country and we’d turn it into a big rock song. I kind of like these better the way I make them in my house, then I found people who can make that thing actually sound good on recordings. I was trying my best and it sounded like shit, and then I found people that could make it sound better.
HV: Speaking of relatability and lyrics, one of my favorite songs – lyrically – is “Outsider.” There’s the line about sheets in the windows: I was wondering what that means to you? I know what it means to me,…
Nick: Interesting. Can I hear it after I say mine?
Nick: Basically, the song deals with some stuff that I struggled with a lot when I was younger and those led to late nights and the sun coming up. It’s just this anxiety and fear of the fucking day is beginning again and I’ve done this to myself again. I lived in this place with a girlfriend of mine for a year or two, and the window in our bedroom had tack holes everywhere. Just coming from multiple times a week, just tacking my sheets up in the window to block out the sun.
HV: Are you a night owl?
Nick: (laughs) Yes.
HV: In the bathroom of the place I’m currently living I have a pillowcase of a window curtain, and to me that’s one of the indicators of, “I’m not meant to be here, I am just here temporarily. It’s not my home and there’s something missing from my life.” This sheet in the window kind of represents that.
Nick: That’s cool.
HV: What are you up to right now with Dark Waves?
Nick: I’m doing this residency. I’m playing at the Fonda on the second [of May]…
HV: You’re opening for…
Nick: Manic Street Preachers. I go to the UK for two weeks in May, then I come back and I’m playing Bonnaroo and some other festivals.
HV: I’m so jealous. Bonnaroo is my favorite festival.
Nick: I’ve never been.
HV: It’s everything you actually want a festival to be.
Nick: I’m excited.
HV: I’m excited for you. Are you just going by yourself and your little “band in the box” or are you going with a band?
Nick: I think another high school mate from home who was in my last band is actually going to go with me.
HV: Last week what really blew us away is we saw you setting up on stage and we were looking at each other like, “I don’t know.” But we were blown away.
Nick: Thanks. Honestly, my ideal situation is not having a computer with me on stage. I just did the first tour for Dark Waves and I was on the road for, like, five weeks. I had three of my friends playing with me that are all professional dudes and I paid everybody. Honestly, it’s super expensive. I kind of started this on my own and that’s been really great in a lot of ways. Also, I see now I’ve put myself in a strange position where I don’t have a big label. I don’t have the big budget to pay people, but I’ve already written most of the songs. So it’s like, “Hey bud, buy you dinner if you come play.” I’m working with what I have. I have a ton of super talented friends and sometimes I get to play with them and other times I’ve got to just go for it. I know it’s…I mean, look: I grew up playing in punk bands. Seeing someone get up on stage with a fucking computer and a guitar is like, “Seriously, this is what you are doing?”
HV: Everyone I share your music with is really connecting with it. To see your social media stats skyrocket, congratulations. You know Jodi [Jodi Lee Haddon]?
Nick: I know Jodi now, yeah.
HV: I don’t know why she wound up seeing you, but she did. She fell in love with your music, she went to see you at merch but you didn’t have your CDs. You took her address and said you would mail one, and you did. That was so sweet, that you actually remembered to do that.
Nick: I mean…I wanted her to have the music.
HV: Not everyone would do that. That’s really impressive.
Nick: She was super nice.
HV: I thought about that because, since you’re something of a new artist, starting all over again, I’m assuming you have a feel of how to relate to fans and build your fan base. Being conscious of actually responding to a fan’s needs, simply and very personally, that is the start. Have you ever had any fan experiences, as a fan yourself, any band experiences that were models of how a band or artist should be towards their fans?
Nick: I’m a huge Jawbreaker fan and I went and saw one of Blake Schwartzenbach’s recent bands, Forgetters, at the Echo a couple years ago, and I went to go buy merch from Blake. He was there and he had a Bob Ross afro and I was mind blown. I only had a hundred dollar bill, and he was like, “I’ll save these things so they don’t get sold,” and I went and got change and came back and I thought that was awesome.
I met Paul McCartney one time. I was working on a job at his daughter’s store in Beverly Hills, and I was working for the event producer, so I was doing labor work. I was carrying tables and furniture and shit, and I was clearly the grunt worker there, and Paul McCartney walked up to me and introduced himself. He was like, “Hey, I’m Paul.” I was like, “No shit,” you know? He was the nicest dude. Went out of his way to introduce himself to everybody. I was just thinking, he knows that I’ll never forget when I met Paul McCartney, right? He could be such a dick if that was him, but I thought it was really cool.
HV: Now that’s excellent. Go Sir Paul!