I'm thrilled to be doing a SoundLife Student Artist Profile on Nick Palmer, a talented singer-songwriter and a member of one of our favorite SoundLife bands, "TBD". With TBD, Nick has been involved in our Band Coaching program for several years. He started out playing piano in the band, then added singing, then the guitar, and before long, he added original music to the mix. From the moment I first met Nick, I was impressed with his musical knowledge, specifically of songs—he can, in fact, play and sing any Billy Joel song from nearly the entire catalog.
In the last year, Nick has really honed his writing and home production skills. At the age of 17, he took on the challenge of releasing his own original music under his own name. I personally find this to be immensely inspiring, as it takes a tremendous amount of work and courage for that kind of undertaking! Now Nick is gearing up to release his very first EP, which we'll talk about in our interview. The first single from the EP is an epic dance pop track called “Feel Something”, mixed by Hugo Vera. It is absolutely worth a listen. When I first heard it, I was blown away by the track! This song, created and recorded in Nick’s bedroom, is radio ready.
In addition to his solo musical pursuits, Nick’s band TBD is also writing and recording an EP of original music that they all wrote and recorded together remotely during quarantine.
Chris: How long have you been playing music?
Nick: I've been playing music since I was four years old. That's when I started taking piano lessons. I took those for 10 years. Then I first picked up the guitar when I was seven. It was a cheap toy; the strings were made out of plastic. I think the whole thing was 15 bucks. I started playing because my brother started getting lessons, and I just wanted to be like him. And so we started taking lessons together, and then my first guitar that I ever bought was a 1962 Grech Stratocaster. And it was the one that George Harrison played on The Sullivans. It's not the actual one, but it's a replica. And so yeah, I still have that one.
Did you find that piano lessons helped you navigate the guitar?
N: Absolutely, because one of the first things I was taught was how chords are formed and chord progressions, and that totally helps when you're playing guitar. I feel like it's a lot easier if you start learning music theory at four years old, even basic music theory—it totally translates.
Did you feel like those tools, learning to read and learning music theory, help you as a songwriter?
N: For sure. But it’s also just listening to a lot of music because nothing is ever totally original. You always get ideas from other places, and so if you have a basic knowledge of music theory combined with listening to a lot of music, you can sort of bridge that gap, and it's a lot easier to write stuff, I think.
What inspired you to take just playing an instrument and channel that into being creative in writing original music?
N: Well, the first song I wrote, I was eight years old on that same plastic guitar. It was called the "Owl Eyes," and it's about a 10-second song. I actually remember the lyrics… “With my owl eyes I can see. With my owl eyes I can fly. With my owl eyes I can do anything.” So that was the whole song over just a G chord the entire time. It sounded terrible, but once I started doing that, I sort of got the bug, and it started developing and developing.
That's awesome. And so now you have released your own original music, and you're getting ready to release an EP, and you've been doing all of this on your own, pretty much playing every instrument...How did you get from owl eyes to that?
N: It was definitely a development because as I started getting older, the songs started getting more complex in terms of having multiple instruments. Up until about a year ago, I was making them all on my phone with GarageBand, just sort of tapping along to the drums and playing a MIDI bass. I've never taken drum lessons or bass lessons or anything like that, but everything sort of carries over. That's what I think is really good about GarageBand and Logic is that you can actually use your knowledge of music to create a full picture of a song using instruments you may not have, or may have never played before.
Now at this point, you're writing this music on Logic, so you've moved from GarageBand into Logic ,and you feel pretty comfortable with that?
N: Yeah, I'm getting a lot more comfortable with Logic, but there is still a lot to learn..
As a writer, who are some of your biggest inspirations?
N: Based on the music I make, when I tell people my inspirations, they really think that it's kind of strange. I don't make country music at all, but I think Chris Stapleton is one of the greatest songwriters of the modern day. Not only his voice, but he's a really good story teller. My Dad put me on the Beatles when I was about three years old. So once you have that foundation of listening to the Beatles and the Stones and Elton John and Billy Joel, it's tough to find people who are up to their caliber, because I think they're the basis of what great songwriting is, and they combine great melody with meaningful lyrics. I think you can sort of judge new music through that lens, and that's how I think I found people like Chris Stapleton and people like John Mayer. As well as Chris Martin from Coldplay. Those are definitely some people that I look up to.
I'm surprised you didn't mention the Jonas brothers.
N: Oh, yes. Well, here's the thing about the Jonas Brothers...a lot of people don't pay attention to them for great lyricism, and to that extent, I agree, but I think part of the thing that I enjoy about their music is listening to things that just sound good. I think music, most importantly, it has to be enjoyable to listen to. And their production, it’s fantastic.
I think you brought up a really good point. When we talk about a good song... And I get this question a lot. What is a good song? By the definition of the Beatles and Billy Joel, all the way up to Chris Stapleton, I think the consistent thing there is if a song is good, you can put any type of production on it, put it into any era, and it will still hold.
N: Yeah, a song doesn't have to be complex to be good, and I think that's something that I started realizing once I started developing music and listening to and watching people like Jacob Collier. He can play in these crazy time signatures and come up with chords that you wouldn't even think would go together, but they do. I think some people fall into the idea that that's what good music is—the more complex it is, the better. But I think that though there is an art to doing that, you can definitely go overboard and sort of lose people along the way. I think a combination of having some complexity, but just making it really enjoyable to listen to, is my goal.
What would you say your goal is with your music?
N: I just want people to enjoy what they're listening to, because I think as long as they're enjoying it, that's what good music is.
Now tell us about this new project you've been working on, your upcoming EP. Tell us how that came about, and then a little bit about this first single that I just heard, which is amazing.
N: I've had my Spotify up for maybe a couple of months, and I've been releasing songs on SoundCloud, just singles here and there, five of them over the past year. You can hear from the first one to the most recent one I have out, “Surrender,” that there is a big gap in production quality between the first and the last one, and that just shows how much growth there's been. I've sort of gone quiet for the last six months, and I was just writing songs. I wasn't really sure if I was gonna compile them all into one EP or release them all the singles; but over the past, I'd say, couple of months, I made the decision that I have about five songs that I really like, and I think putting them all into one in 18-20-minute record is gonna be the best way to convey them. I feel like they go really well together.
Did you start these songs within this year?
N: Yeah, I started in about March. I wrote the first one. It's called “Crickets,” and it's sort of a mellow, chilled-out song. But I think that that's where I made the turning point in the quality of my music between “Surrender” and the new batch.
Now, tell us about your song “Feel something.”
N: “Feel Something” is probably the most fun I think I've ever had making a song. That's actually the whole point of the song. It's just fun compacted into three minutes. I'll just put it on in my room, even though I'm listening to the song maybe 100 times and just dance around like an idiot listening to it because I feel like that's a song where it's impossible not to at least bop your head to it. It has that sort of 80s good time going on.
Where do you see music in your life in the future?
N: Well, I know I'm going to college, and I don't think I'm going to go anywhere that classically trained people will go to, but I think I'm definitely gonna be working on music in college. I intend to keep releasing songs as long as I enjoy doing it. And I don't think I'll ever stop unless I lose the desire, but I don't think I will anytime soon.
If we broke down music into different arenas, like performance, recording, writing, producing, etc.. What is your favorite?
N: Nothing could beat performing in front of people. Absolutely nothing. Even when I'm practicing in my room, I feel like I'm performing to the window. That has to be the most enjoyable part because that's when you sort of get to let loose in all the work that you did in production and writing and recording. That’s when all that stuff pays off, in my opinion.
Do you find that when you're performing a song you wrote, it's different than performing someone else’s song?
N: I feel like once you perform a song you wrote, it sort of takes off all the navel-gazing that you did while writing and producing it. When you're writing and producing a song, you're thinking “What does this say about me? Do I like this?” But as soon as you play it for other people, it's for them now. I can't do anything about it. It's out there. That's for them to enjoy and interpret how they want. And I think there's sort of a freedom that comes with that.
Okay, so these last five questions need quick rapid fire answers...favorite band?
N: It has to be the Beatles
N: "Pinball Wizard." Elton John’s version.
Favorite song you've ever written?
N: “Feel something.” For sure.
Favorite concert you've ever been to?
N: Bruno Mars 24k Magic Tour, at the Forum.
Nick Palmer's music is available on all streaming platforms. Follow Nick on Instagram and Spotify to support his amazing journey.
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Interview by Chris Vazquez, Founding Partner of SoundLife Music Academy and a professional session musician in Los Angeles, CA.
At SoundLife Music Academy, we make it our mission to continuously bring valuable, exciting, and helpful information to our students. One of the most valuable things a developing performer can learn is that working in music is so much more than just one single path. This interview is part of our ongoing interview series with professional musicians from all avenues of the music industry, where they share stories of their own personal paths to successful and rewarding careers in music.