Nic Sharp, recent graduate from our HND in Music Performance chatted to us about his Graded Unit project and other compositional musical ventures under the moniker “Data Decay” , outside of his work with The Plastic Youth.
You were recently involved in composing a soundtrack for a film project?
Yeah, so I got the chance to score a short-film back in November called Hideous. It was a kind of psychological / surrealist piece, highlighting themes of the bi-polar nature of love, corporate influence over the individual, the disturbing nature of social experiments – and probably a million other things I didn’t pick up on.
It was great, I really got on with the director and we were both contrived perfectionists so besides all the tedium of getting things precise, we were both willing to put in the hours that went with it.
This was beneficial not just for experience and composing more of your own music, but you also used some of these elements as part of your Graded Unit presentation?
Yeah, the timing was convenient. I was doing my own project Data Decay, and I’ve always been keen on either big and grand, or dramatic and cinematic kinds of sounds, but at the same time I was also starting to worry how I was going to get a project to score for with my Graded Unit. So, when the opportunity came to score a short-film with some interesting people, whilst I needed a plan for my Graded Unit, it all came together. And I have to admit, it was rewarding and helped me look further afield and beyond with Data Decay in an industry context.
"The graded unit gives you a bit of perspective in that sense, it can overwhelm you, humble you and then really encourage you when you realise what you can actually do as a creative individual in the “real world”, so-to-speak."
Tell us more about the origins of Data Decay
Well Data Decay as a whole came about from just being a bit of a scatter-brain person, a bit genre-manic. I like the studio aspect of creating as much as the band aspect and collaborating, but the main difference is the amount of time you have in a rehearsal space versus the amount of time you have in a home studio. The studio way of creating without deadlines is creating with ultimate leisure, and no pressure of any kind (time, money, people).
"So, after a couple years of bedroom recording, and then coming to a place like Riverside, you pick up a couple tricks, you try them out and just like that, you made something you're proud of – a product you either share with listeners or a piece for the sake of your own creative process and evolution."
What influences this side of your music and songwriting? How do you decide which ideas to utilise for The Plastic Youth- i.e. do you write something knowing it would be for a certain projects or do you approach them different from a songwriting point of view?
Well, I think both Data Decay and the Plastic Youth are integral to one another in a lot of ways, and I try not to really separate them in terms of what I do in both projects. I like to think that I bring my own sound to both projects, and they just get to feed off of different elements of my abilities. In regards to the influences, I think I like the more dramatic, perhaps ambient, synth-driven stuff, but then again if you’d asked me on a different day, I’d probably have said something completely different!
Another thing I’ve realised from studying at Riverside, when playing with so many different musicians, you find that if you are willing to adapt and compromise when collaborating, you get to find out exactly what it is that you bring to each group dynamic, and through that process you work out a kind of “musical identity” for yourself.
I guess as a band you want a bit of coherence so your album doesn’t sound like a mixtape, which isn’t a bad thing but just not what The Plastic Youth are going for… So, depending on the sound we are aiming for with our collection of tracks, there are sounds and arrangements that I know will definitely not fit. In that case, they get regurgitated a couple of times at home into something else depending on my genre-manic taste at the time!
For instance, in the last six months, I’ve gone through a really weird trip-hop/ hip-hop phase, and a synth-wave phase. I’ll actually be releasing the results of these phases either mid-Summer or at the end of Summer - Both are collaborative works! One of these is with Alice Neil - check her out, she’s got a couple of cool things coming out over the course of this year.
Before that, I was going through a huge Sigur Ros/ Eno phase, and that resulted in the Sequences Series (available on Spotify and iTunes now)
where I collaborated with a photographer Ben McMillan for some really interesting visual inspired pieces.
Strangely enough, I’m now enjoying a bit of indie-folk/ country from Neil Young, to Big Thief and Ben Howard’s latest album.
My influences vary, and so they should. I do hope that there is an element I bring to all of these genres though, so there is still a sound I have that is not genre-dependant. Well I guess the point is to try and find that.
All in all, the approach, creatively-speaking, is quite different. One is a random, mood and taste dependant process without pressure or deadlines, the other is more ordered in a sense of direction, form and structure with the Plastic Youth guys, for now anyways!
How have the units on the Music Performance course helped you in creating different types of music?
Well DAW (Digital Audio Workstations) has given me the ability to comprehend Ableton, which is my go-to for everything because even if I don’t record anything, it is just the perfect excel-loop station for working things out. So that has been creatively super rewarding, and probably led some of my interest in my synth-wave/ trip-hop phase.
I really like Jazz, and having a lecturer in the HN Courses like Kevin Kerr for Music Theory has helped me engage a bit more with understanding all the things that make that genre enjoyable for me, how tension and release actually works, how to use and apply modes, modal interchange, etc. That kind of thing can apply to breaking down almost any genre; so that helps as a starting point in creating most types of music.
Music History has also been useful in creating different types of music. Understanding the lineage of a sound gives you a remarkable sense of appreciation for what it is and how it came to be.