Vires rebus adversis. If The Nomad had a classical bent he might have named his latest album so, but in the event Daimon Schwalger rather more efficiently settled for ‘7’ – it being his seventh album. Duly released on 7/7/14, it’s a powerhouse amalgam of various dnb, trap and grime, bass-laden backdrops, adorned with vocal takes from a global medley of rappers and singers. Michael Hollywood found an excited Schwalger busting to get on with promotion of the album that adversity has led to being the strongest of his producer career.
Not so long ago, a DJ was someone who played other people’s records. A producer was someone who worked behind the scenes, out of sight, sprinkling fairy dust on someone else’s art. Not anymore. We live in an age where the DJ and producer are now the same entity, the perfect hybrid of private artist and frontline performer.
Massive advances in technology have changed the game completely, and Daimon Schwalger – aka The Nomad – has been operating at the forefront of those developments in Aotearoa for the best part of two decades. The first Nomad release, 1998’s ‘Movement’, is widely held up as NZ’s first ever drum and bass album, and he’s gone on to embrace – and master – a veritable potpourri of sub-genres as they’ve come and gone over the years since.
Think about that for a moment… 1998; the internet was still in its dial-up infancy, Jenny Shipley was our first female PM, and a young man called Darcy Clay won most Promising Male Vocalist at the NZ Music Awards. Now contemplate that in context of ‘dance music’ being the most fickle of all genres. In a here today, gone tomorrow, existence, you might say The Nomad is well-named as the ultimate survivor.
2013 could hardly have been worse for Schwalger. A series of events conspired against him, resulting in a Queenstown court-awarded sentence of four months home detention. The drug-related case reeked of entrapment and the defended verdict may have wasted a lesser creative spirit. Schwalger says his first instinct was to just get on with it, and the first six months of this year have subsequently proven to be the most productive of his career.
Working from his detention base of a garage near Westport, Schwalger has produced his seventh Nomad album, a bass-heavy gem made in record time. Simply called ‘7’, it’s one he rightly feels pretty good about.
“I take a lot of situations in my life and look at them as a positive experience, I turn them around, and that’s what happened there. Making a record in eight weeks… I’ve never done that before. By doing it like that it has a nice gel and feel to it.”
Like all past Nomad albums, ‘7’ is rich with the diversity that tends to come with collaboration. It features vocals from Melbourne-based Londoner Lotek, Jamaican up and comer Dexta Malawi, and Byron Bay songbird Caroline Agostini who has featured on his past work. Then there’s the local talent – ace guitarists Oakley Grennell and Aaron Tokona, hall-of-famer King Kapisi, Twelve Tribes prodigy Israel Starr, and the unheralded but hugely talented vocalist Christina Roberts.
“I wasn’t really thinking about vocalists initially, I was just trying to make really solid tunes that sat by themselves as instrumentals. But with the help of the internet, it really made a whole lot of things possible, so far as being able to collaborate internationally.
“I was set up in a garage on the West Coast, which had carpet, and for some reason it was the best sounding room I’ve ever had in my 16 years as a producer. The key was for everyone to record it really well, to record it to the best of their ability. They sent the stems to me, and that was basically it. Some of the vocals I had to chop up a little more than others but most of it just came back and I used that as a base to just produce it.”
There is a strong sense that making ‘7’ was about much more than just process. Short of calling it a cathartic experience, Schwalger clearly recognised the need to bring some degree of control back to his life. He gave up alcohol, tobacco and coffee, in favour of a renewed sense of self, isolation and bloody good carpet.
Embracing sobriety was about reclaiming all that is most important in his world.
“I’ve put all my time and effort, and money into the Nomad thing, which I’ve been pushing for a long time now, and I actually feel, personally, this album – the way I’ve done the release, the way I’ve booked the tour, and the way everything’s been going – is by far the most professional and the best job I’ve done to date. So I’m really stoked with the little sacrifices I’ve made.”
Despite the imagined challenges of working from Westport he’s more organised than ever before, planning every last detail of the upcoming tour himself.
“Before I start touring I’ll release a remix EP, seven or eight tracks, so that’ll tie in [with the tour]. We’ve got t-shirts, USB sticks, slip mats and the limited edition vinyl. This is actually the first time I’m going on tour with a merchandising person, doing it properly with an eftpos machine and all that carry on. I’ve been working on either ‘7’ or the tour every day for five months.”
There’s also been the Brok Out remix competition. Dozens of entries “…from beginners to up-and-comers, vying for a package Schwalger quickly put together after the single hit #1 on RDU. An impressive remix by Friendo claimed the main spoils; a support set in Christchurch on the upcoming tour, with the remix getting an iTunes release after being mastered at Kog Mastering.
There’s a strong element of mentoring at play here and, gasp, quite possibly tacit acknowledgement that The Nomad is now an elder statesman in production circles.
“I’m all about new talent and giving people the chance to get involved. A lot of people hold the music industry close to their chest, but my philosophy is the more you give out the more you receive, so… you know.”
With so much that’s new going on, it’s no real surprise he almost forgets to mention the release of ‘14 Years’, a brand new The Nomad ‘best of’, covering 2000 through to 2014. As if that isn’t enough to be getting on with, the weekend I speak with him he’s in Wellington, about to play a gig at Laundry on Cuba, with a video shoot lined up with Christina Roberts – for Seductive Wolf Eyes – the following day. He’ll edit that, do the same for Put On Ya Turban after it’s shot in Kingston, Jamaica, and then again for Brok Out which is being shot in Shanghai… naturally.
The two overseas video shoots were only made possible because of friendships and relationships forged over a number of years, something he’s rightly appreciative of.
“It’s good to have those long relationships, also with sponsors, radio stations and the press. You ring people up and you personally know them from over the years, they like the product and you get on a roll.
“The support this year has been huge, a lot of people have been with me on the journey, but making those sacrifices is what this whole thing’s been all about – taking some energy that’s negative and putting a mirror there and turning it into the exact opposite.
Commencing at Vinyl Underground in Queenstown late August, The Nomad’s 11-date album tour concludes at the Boat Café in Wellington on September 27.