Mar 3, 2016

NOLA WREN’S
CRUCIAL GEAR:
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Omnisphere

Omnishpere by Spectrasonic

Digitech JamMan

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Brooklyn songwriter Nola Wren is a perfect case to exemplify how electronic music is tempting more and more musicians through fun, increasingly user friendly products capable of inspiring young artists and unleashing new creative energy. A talented songwriter gifted with an expressive alto (vaguely reminiscent of Kate Bush), Nola in just over one year reinvented her sound, transitioning from her from her early folk recording to a new synth-pop “phase” that is resonating with many fans. Her natural sense for style is only helping the cause.

How much of what we hear on your Soundcloud page is you?

I play guitar, keyboard/synth, and do some drum programming. Drums are probably the area I feel least comfortable in.

Your older material from 2012 sounds a lot more “singer-songwritery” – what happened between then and 2014, when you started releasing synth pop songs?

From 2010 to 2013, I worked with two producers named Rick DePofi and John Leventhal, who are grounded primarily in Folk, Americana, and Country. At the time, I used my laptop as a basic compositional tool when making demos — I was really more focused on writing songs on guitar, and a little bit on piano. Back then, they handled the production side of things. I eventually started itching to go down a different path, and this was right around the time I graduated from NYU. I had a rudimentary understanding of how to map out sessions in GarageBand and Logic, and very little knowledge about production. What followed was a string of trials and errors. I would say I’ve assumed a slightly more refined hybrid role of an “artist/producer” in the past two years, but frankly, songwriting is more in my wheelhouse. By all accounts, I have a lot to learn as a producer, AND as a songwriter. I’m still going through that process of trial and error every day. I’m experimenting with different sounds and styles, collaborating with other musicians, figuring my place in this ever-evolving sonic landscape. Nothing is set in stone. It could all change tomorrow. Lyrics and melody, however, they’re still the things anchoring this ship.

What records have been inspiring you in those transformative years?

If I had to pick, let’s say, six records that nudged me in the electro-synth-pop direction, they might be:

Saturdays = Youth (M83)
Manners (Passion Pit)
808s & Heartbreak (Kanye West)
Phrazes for the Young (Julian Casablancas)
Teen Dream (Beach House)
Drive (the motion picture soundtrack)

There are others that come to mind, but these were in particularly heavy rotation back then. These contemporary records were obviously influenced by earlier decades, so in listening to them, I became more exposed to the music and fashion from the mid 70’s to late 80’s. Lately, I’ve been absorbed by Joanna Newsom’s Divers and Grimes’ Art Angels. Sometimes I’ll listen to the same two or three albums or artists interchangeably for a few months, until I move on to something or someone else for whatever reason. I might be venturing into a Bruce Springsteen or Buzzcocks kick any day now. Who knows? I can’t say for certain that they’ll directly influence what I do next, but they’re certainly inspiring on some level.

You have released new songs consistently in the last year, is an album on its way or do you prefer the single format?

The single format is the most viable option for me at the moment, but I do anticipate on transitioning into extended releases and fully-formed projects. Singles are a good way to test the waters without taking a drastic plunge. I feel like it all comes down to good timing and vibes, and I’m still a work-in-progress.

How did the Lucian remix of your song College happen?

Lucian emailed me this summer and asked if he could remix “College,” a song I wrote and produced the previous summer. I was impressed by his body of work on SoundCloud (especially his remix of Alessia Cara’s “Here”), so I gave him the green light. I sent him the dry vocal stems, and he built the remix from the ground-up. It’s quite different than what I normally do, and that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much.

What is your live set up, band or solo?

I often used to play solo acoustic sets around the city. When my sound started to go in a more electronic, multi-instrumental direction, things got kind of awkward. I was booking gigs under the pretense that my live show would sound like the recordings, but then I’d show up alone with an acoustic guitar. I felt obligated to preface every song with an explanation, like, “Well, this song is actually layered with synthesizers and drums, but if you could just use your imagination…” I quickly realized that I would lose all credibility if I didn’t take a step back and figure certain stuff out. Since then I’ve focused more on developing my songwriting and artistry. So, I’m learning how to use Ableton. My boyfriend is teaching me how to use guitar pedals and loopers. I’m looking at artists like Imogen Heap, Grimes, and Kimbra — artists who utilize a variety of resources and tools to create compelling live performances — and it’s giving me a better sense of what my future shows might look like. I’m not exactly sure what will work for me just yet, but I have some ideas.

What are the pedals and Ableton plug ins you are having the most fun with?

Omnisphere by Spectrasonics is one of my favorite digital synth programs. I don’t use it exclusively in Ableton, but it’s one of the plugins I use most. (I mainly work on Logic.) I have Ableton Lite right now, but will probably invest in the full version later this year when I’ve learned my way around Lite (and also, $$, because it’s pricey.) I’m also looking into getting Native Instruments plugins as well, but they’re quite expensive too.. so one day at a time. 😉
I’m learning how to use: Digitech JamMan, line six dl4 delay modeler, ibanez tube screamer, and electro-harmonix stereo pulsar. The JamMan is fun to play around with. I enjoy making layered, messy little guitar compositions. It’s all pretty much one big learning experiment to me, but I’d like to start incorporating these grittier, organic elements into my songs. Like I said before, my boyfriend is teaching me how to use the pedals (they belong to him, I’m just the lucky gal that gets to borrow them).. what happens is I’ll start a basic progression, loop it, and then we’ll go back and forth adding layers piece by piece. One of the ones we did a few weeks ago, I’ve got saved on my voice memos with a star next to it. It’s got this gnarly pop hook underneath, and I’ve got a feeling it’ll end up in one of my songs in the near future.

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