You might know him for his singles FWB and Make It On Me (featuring Airliftz), but NYK has actually been doing music for quite a while, dabbling in the open mic scene with an acoustic guitar and writing short stories on his blog. There’s more to this pop/R&B singer than just an artist who sings about sex and love. We get to know more about his hopes and dreams, his time in Sweden and more over a cup of coffee!
If you haven’t checked out his music yet, here’s Make It On Me. NYK also has a single in store for May and EP coming out in July. Stay updated on Sony Music Malaysia.
THE DAILY SENI: You went to Sweden to make the song ‘Make It On Me’, and you mentioned that you need to find a good producer in order to get that ‘international quality’. What do you mean by ‘international quality’?
NYK: That was a very general statement just to make it easier. I really just mean good production. There are a lot of good producers in Malaysia already, but there are still subpar producers in Malaysia as well. That’s where there is this whole stigma comes from, the whole ‘local music is not international’. That’s what people mean.
I’ve seen some live acts who do really well live, and then they drop something on Spotify and the production is just bad.
TDS: So you’re saying the stigma against local production is inaccurate? It’s not true that local production means bad?
NYK: Again, there’s a mix of good producers and bad ones. I understand that there are good producers who are a little too expensive to work with, but I also understand where the stigma comes from. It’s a multi-layered problem. Every step of the supply chain from the producers to the artists themselves, to the platform you put the music on, all the way to the listeners – there are issues at every step of the way. There’s a stigma, a quality problem. That’s the Malaysian music scene. It’s a very wide problem.
TDS: How did you get to meet those Swedish producers, and what was your experience like working with them?
NYK: Credits to Sony, I don’t think I would have ever met them, (Andrei Amartinesei & Putte Pettersson). I met these guys, some of them have worked with The Sam Willows from Singapore, but I worked with a slightly different team of producers. They were really chill, but they were also so good. We vibed so fast. We just bounced our ideas back and forth.
The difference between FWB and whatever material I’m releasing now is that the producer back then (Fredrik Haggstam) wrote Paris for The Chainsmokers, so there was a pop EDM kinda vibe. There was a little bit of conflict about how the song would sound like. But with this new EP and the new single, Make It On Me, these guys are already in tuned with R&B. They worked with a lot of artists in the genre. We immediately knew what each of us wanted. It was much faster, but it was still such a chill process. And Sweden is such a chill country, and Stockholm’s a great city. Such a good two weeks.
TDS: Just every day in the studio for two weeks?
NYK: Yeah, pretty much. It was like a 9 – 5 job. I’d go to the city, get a coffee, come back make dinner and then go to sleep, repeat the cycle.
TDS: Are the Swedish producers just involved in the single or is there an upcoming album that you were collaborating on?
NYK: No. We went to Sweden with the intention of making an EP. It’s not even really an EP. We just told ourselves “Let’s make as many songs as we can without running out of creative juice”. We wrote about 6 or 7 songs, of which only 4 is going to be on the EP. Other songs are just backed up in a Google Drive somewhere, we don’t know what we’re going to do with them yet. But there is an EP … and more!
TDS: Anything else you want to tell the readers about what you have in store?
NYK: We’re gonna have an EP launch some time in July, and I don’t want it to just be a typical launch party. I want to really design the place. Wherever we’re going to do it. I want to make it look like something memorable. A whole visual experience.
TDS: Is there a release date yet?
NYK: No specific release date yet. But there’s a single coming out in May, and the EP is going to come out in July. As for the title, we are arguing about that *laughs* .
TDS: Are the arguments intense?
NYK: Nah, the producers are on my side, but it’s more of an argument with Sony Music. It’s not intense really. It’s more of a discussion about do we go super pop or do we wanna go more indie R&B. I have this song called Pretty Burn which is easily my favourite song on the EP. It sounds a little it more like HONNE – a little less mainstream. And then there’s the song Anymore, that’s a little more pop-centric, based off of some Mura Masa sounds.
They would be more inclined to release Anymore as the next single and I totally understand that choice, but as for me, I’m leaning towards Pretty Burn because in my opinion it is the best song from the entire EP. We don’t know yet, we’re still deciding.
Crossroads and lyrics
TDS: This crossroad is very interesting, choosing between indie R&B or pop because just several years ago you were not doing R&B. You performed at open mics, made acoustic songs on Soundcloud like Pretentious, so I’m just wondering when did you decide to be more R&B or more pop?
NYK: I think I was always listening to R&B, but with an acoustic guitar I could only write anything else but John Mayer *laughs*. I had a creative block. I mean, John Mayer is still a huge influence on my songwriting, but I just couldn’t go beyond that. Until I picked up Ableton which is a software for production, and I started learning production. That was when I could play around with synths and I had a good friend called Isaac who helped me out as well. It was that really. Then slowly, I became more able to write R&B. I could finally put my ideas not just on paper but on the computer too. It was always something I wanted to do, but I was frustrated by the creative block. Like “Oh god, I can only play John Mayer chords, and blues sounds”.
TDS: From a lyrical standpoint, do you think ‘present NYK’ is way different than ‘old NYK’? Have you changed or matured?
NYK: I’ve just gotten more sexual man. *laughs*. Everything is just a bit more explicit and dark. There was a song called Golden and Sweet Thing and they were all cute acoustic pop songs. I think my lyrical style is still the same, but it’s just edgier and darker. It’s just because I’ve got the medium to put lyrics like these down already, so I can get a bit more intense and sexual. It’s a matter of time and sound.
Open mic scene
TDS: You were in the open mic scene for quite a while, I’m just curious about how much does that scene contribute to your growth? Or do you feel like you’ve come to be your whole self after Sony took you in?
NYK: The latter might have been it. The open mic scene didn’t contribute much to me, but it did make realize that it wasn’t the way to go. I felt that it was a very stagnant scene. People were very comfortable going to the same places and playing the same song over and over again. They did play originals, which is very cool, but they never got around to producing them or pushing them out. A few of them did, but a lot of them stayed at that ceiling. I felt that ceiling and I was trapped by it. That’s why after that, I made a rough draft of FWB and then Sony picked it up. It was really Sony that was my turning point.
TDS: You said in an interview with Millenials of KL, and I quote: “The funniest part was that at open mics, you’d get the same people watching and clapping for the same people at every show, just different locations-Merdekarya, The Bee, and Laundry Bar at the Curve. I personally think that it wasn’t doing anything for the music scene, in fact it may be damaging the scene”. What exactly do you mean by ‘damaging’ the scene?
NYK: Oh man. Should I be super straight?
TDS: Whatever you want.
NYK: I think the stigma that local music is bad and that’s because either the good musicians don’t want it enough and that’s why people don’t listen to their music, OR there are people who are – here we go – deluded. They’re so blinded that they think they’ve made it when they actually haven’t. A lot of them act like they’ve done it, like they’ve made a change in the music scene, when they haven’t. But they still complain “Why are there people who say local music is shit?”. You act as though that you solved the problem but you haven’t and you realize that the problem is still there because people still think your music is shit. That’s why it’s damaging it, because there are a lot of people who are like that in the music scene. They are very sensitive to criticism, they don’t like it when somebody suggests that they should do it more. They get very triggered.by it. It sucks, man.
They’re just in this bubble of self-affirmation. Everyone’s just giving each other Facebook likes and nothing is being done about it. When someone else comes in to the play and say, “Maybe you guys need to come out more”, they’ll say, “Fuck you,you have no right to say that. We’ve done so much more than you. We’ve been in the scene longer than you”. We’re just trying to be constructive, but they don’t wanna hear it.
Like I said, from producers to the artist themselves, to the platforms, to the listeners – there are problems at every stage. Producers aren’t good enough. Musicians either don’t want it enough, or they are deluded into thinking they’ve made it, when they haven’t. The platforms are big but they have no reason to push you guys because you’re so tiny, that’s another issue by itself. And then there are listeners who are so segregated. There’s the Malay market, Chinese market, English market. And in the English market there are these people who comment on Airliftz’s YouTube Channel and then they say “Eh kenapa tiru barat?”. Like, bro.
TDS: Yeah, don’t stifle people’s expression. If they want to sound Barat, let them.
NYK: Yeah! And it’s a very multi-layered problem, and that mindset in the music scene is not helping it. Literally, you can’t change anything else in the supply chain. The only thing you can change about it is themselves, but they’re not doing anything about it. They’re not doing anything for themselves. That frustrates me.
TDS: The problem is not with people who choose to stay in the open mic scene, the problem is with people who stay AND think they’re all that?
NYK: Yeah. i feel like they could do more. Actually, although it disappoints me, I don’t think these people suck. It’s their music career so they can do whatever they want. I just think in terms of the bigger picture, in terms of changing the culture here, it’s not helping. I”m not saying they are bad people for doing it. It’s just how I see it.
Short stories and intense relationships
TDS: Let’s go back a little to the NYK of the past. I wanna talk about your short stories that became the basis for your lyrics.
NYK: Wow, you went really far into the research *laughs*. You actually care!
TDS: Well, we do that with all our interviews. I’m just curious, how many of those short stories have you not used yet for your song and what were they about?
NYK: They have always been a mix of dreams and this one particular relationship that fucked me up pretty bad. I don’t consciously think of these short stories or the dreams I have. But they definitely influence most of the EP. The whole EP is chronological, from Make It On Me to FWB and then into the other songs like Anymore, Pretty Burn, and the ending song is Faded. It’s every step of a continuous breakdown of a relationship. The lyrics definitely borrow from the stories without me realizing it. They’re definitely related. The short stories turn into music.
TDS: Do you still write short stories or have you transformed fully into a lyricist?
NYK: It’s all music now *laughs* I’m a little disappointed with myself. I don’t read as much and I don’t write as much anymore. I’m definitely producing and writing music more. It’s a transition. But I do miss that side.
TDS: Since the ‘short story writer NYK’ is probably an entirely different person to you know, do you ever look back at those blogs and think “Why did I write this? This is embarrassing”?
NYK: Definitely. I hope you haven’t found my first blog. I think I privated that. The moment I saw that I thought to myself, “I gotta delete this”.
Even stories from a few years back, they’re very different. I think I can write much better now. But it doesn’t change the fact that they’re definitely the same stories. Just written in song form, and in an edgier way.
The 1975 before The 1975
TDS: When you did your degree in the UK and your Masters in Australia, did you get a chance to dabble in their music scene?
NYK: In the UK, I watched The 1975 for 8 pounds – when they were nobodies. When Robbers was like super-rocky, super-screamo stuff. When Matt Healy was super-screamo. I watched him in my university hall, and that blew my mind because they later became big.
I actually didn’t listen to the 1975 album, and then I Like It When You Sleep came out and I thought, “I watched these guys back in 2011/2012”. That moment was pretty inspiring. I asked myself why Malaysia wasn’t like that. That’s when I started taking an interest in live performances.
In Melbourne, I watched a couple of live acts, and did some busking, here and there. That was pretty much it really. Most of the time, I was just listening to more music. When I was in these countries I would hang out the people there and learned about what they listened to. In the UK, I found out about 1975. I heard about Last Dinosaurs when I was in Melbourne, which was pretty late *laughs*
TDS: Would you follow the footsteps of the 1975, and change your sound in the future? Is there a possibility of a future NYK that’s more indie or is your goal to perfect the R&B sound?
NYK: The goal is to have a sound. You don’t really need to have ONE sound. You can get super big, and not have ONE particular sound. Like Charlie Puth is just pop – as pop as he gets – but he’s Charlie Puth. But then you have people like Drake, Mura Masa or HONNE who have sounds, plural. Mura Masa or HONNE aren’t as huge as Charlie Puth but the moment you listen to their song you immediately know that it’s them. Beyond being big and everything, it’s about having a sound that makes people think, “Oh, that’s NYK!”. It doesn’t have to be R&B. Kinda like FKA Twigs. It’s not really R&B, but it has influences. So it might go there, I’m not really sure. But at some point, I wanna find a sound that people associate with me.
TDS: Speaking about standing out, do you have a persona that you put on when you’re on stage? I saw you perform at The Bee once and there was this debutante kid with an air of cockiness about him, wearing Gucci and whatnot.
NYK: *laughs* I just like fashion. I think everyone has an outlet, and my outlet is fashion. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. But I don’t exactly just buy expensive clothes. Like what I’m wearing is J.Crew but it’s thrift, so it’s RM5. Whatever that looks good. Just so happens that some of them are expensive. I do want to be seen as someone who dresses well though. I do want to be a fashion icon of some type. Not just good music, but a whole artist. It’s more of an artistic side, than just a singer side. Designing myself.
TDS: You’ve mentioned that you wanna be a part of the new wave of people who are ‘carrying the Malaysian music scene’, citing Talitha Tan, Alextbh and Airliftz as examples. What do you mean by carrying the music scene? Are you referring to a new R&B/hip hop wave in Malaysia?
NYK: Not really a new R&B wave. Just a wave of musicians who produce good music, pushing their stuff out, and trying their best to start from Malaysia and make it in Malaysia. It’s going to be a strong message for the scene. These guys are from Malaysia and doing shows in Korea some time in the future. It’d be nice to know that there are these guys who are starting from Malaysia and they made it. Without having to go overseas. Overseas means that you’re not really born-and-raised in terms of your music career. Which isn’t wrong, just a point I’m trying to make.