Nero on writing ‘Between II Worlds’ and building their new live show (Exclusive Interview)
Nero are masters of anonymity. Interview opportunities with the group are rare. Fortunately, we tracked down Dan Stephens — one half of the production side of the group — to discuss the trio’s sophomore album and their new live show.
Having freshly released their new album Between II Worlds in September, Nero are once again the buzz of the electronic music world. The biggest story surrounding their sophomore LP has been the formal addition of Alana Watson to the group. With the vocalist appearing on nearly every track on the album, there’s been a shift in focus from heavier club instrumentals to more traditional songwriting.
“As an act that’s known for being electronic dance and writing club songs, it felt like there was a lot of freedom, and we wanted that freedom to be able to just write music,” Dan Stephens says.
While the change of direction may have initially thrown some fans off, for Nero, it represents a new frontier: “It opens up the doors for wherever we go next. We now have hope for a side concept.”
Fans of the old material, fear not: “We’ll always want to embrace both I’m sure. The more heavy stuff for a club, and then the more stuff where we play out on live show, and you can just stand and listen to it and appreciate the artistry of the song.”
Photo Credit: Derek Bremner
It’s no secret that Nero are some of the biggest perfectionists in the industry, yet the reality is much more alarming than you’d imagine. When I asked Dan how many tracks they wrote for the album for instance, he replied “Hundreds… hundreds….” I repeated the phrase, baffled: “Hundreds?!”
He continued in a perfectly cool voice: “We’ve probably got about 50 versions of ‘Two Minds’ for example, all completely different. Like not similar in any way, completely different tracks. There’s so many versions of different songs, and then songs that didn’t make it at all.”
For Nero, this overwhelming sense of perfectionism has almost become a hindrance:
“Maybe one mistake we made with this album was trying to overwork stuff to get it in there,” Stephens says. “And then you end up becoming a bit numb to the music.”
For a group that prides themselves on secrecy, it’s rare to hear such a candid reflection. From a public standpoint, we hear the finished product but can’t nearly fathom the creative struggle it took to get there. Stephens continued the sentiment:
“We were basically just going mad you know? We just heard stuff so much… like what is this album now? And when you’re in that moment of just so deep in it, you end up making some tough decisions.”
One can’t help but sympathize with the group. Having enraptured the electronic world with Welcome Reality in 2011, pressure was particularly high in the run up to their sophomore effort. There’s a silver lining to the situation, however. As a result of their overzealous songwriting process, Nero have been left with a plethora of new music:
“We’ve probably got like another album’s worth of material,” Stephens says.
But don’t get your hopes up quite yet. Just because the music is there doesn’t mean Nero are ready to release it: “Sometimes it’s nice though to draw a line under it and start fresh. I’m sure there will be a couple of things on there that will in some way work into another form and will still make it out. There’s a couple vocals on there, really strong vocals, so those, we’ll definitely have to do something with.”
In the meantime, the emphasis for the group has shifted the emphasis to their fall North American Tour, which sees the trio playing twenty shows throughout the month of October.
For the new show, Nero have made some pretty significant changes. For one, Joe and Dan will be coming down from the booth at various points to play keyboards in front of the audience:
“We felt a bit of a disconnect from the crowd, because the crowd couldn’t really see what we were doing,” Stephens says.
This will all be changed as the two producers showcase their technical abilities in front of the crowd: “We’ve got MIDI to trigger samples and VST instruments, but then we’ve also got analog synths which add a real richness to the sound.”
On top of this, Alana Watson will be more present than ever: “With Alana being on pretty much every track on this album, there’s going to be a lot more of her on stage.”
Perhaps the most exciting part about the show, however, is that it’s dynamic. While Nero have meticulously planned out the production of the show, they’ve left open the possibility for it to change:
“I have a feeling though that this tour — our whole live show – I have a feeling it will actually evolve quite a bit while we’re doing it. Which can be nice, because you come back some where, and the same people can see you play and it’s going to be different.”
Tickets for Nero’s fall North American tour available on their official website.
Nero have also linked up with ToneDen for a special giveaway for two VIP tickets to see them perform at HARD Day of the Dead on Halloween.