interview – mister lies

– featured image courtesy of brian vu –

despite – or perhaps in spite of – a string of well-received releases in the first half of the decade, nick zanca hit the pause button on his mister lies project around the end of 2014. after five years in the wilderness, zanca returns to the moniker this week with a self-titled, self-released album.

mister lies is a fairly brief endeavor; its ten songs clock in at around a half-hour and are best digested all at once, preferably without interruption. anchoring the release is “the commuter,” a track whose titular subject would be the ideal consumer of this body of work: perhaps not someone inbound, about to start their day, but someone outbound, retreating to solitude and stillness.

we caught up with zanca in the weeks leading up to his return to discuss his new album, how his collaborative work with quiet friend has influenced his solo output, and the quest to search for influences outside of the realm of music. check out the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, below.

it’s been nearly five years since you released the last mister lies album. what caused you to step away from the project, and what led you back?

stepping away was necessary. i was halfway through my freshman year of college when i put out the first EP on bandcamp and at that age insecurities were still deep and blind spots were still wide. i had learned ableton by looking over friends’ shoulders and stumbled upon my sound almost by accident.

the response to that early material was overwhelming. in a matter of weeks, opportunities presented themselves that usually take years for artists to reach – nearly every weekend in the coming semesters were spent flying out to play shows. as excited and grateful as i was, it was as if i had acquired an audience before a sense of self. 

eventually i would drop out of school to tour after my sophomore year, usually with other young producers who had experienced the same kind of rapid rise in that same strange internet microcosm of “chill”-adjacent electronic music. the absurdity of our individual situations and the privilege of sharing music with strangers was a source of solidarity, but the performance anxiety always persisted. i was quietly struggling to embrace being queer and neurodivergent in a scene that thrives on hedonist aesthetics, male gaze imagery and smartphone solipsism. it was often a musical neverland – unless an audience is on your side, it refuses to grow up. there were a lot of personal and professional endings. i rode the wave as far as i could, but i began to feel like i was wearing a mask. it took effort to take it off, deflate the ego and let life happen.

giving myself room to be human was probably a good start – i finished my degree, fell in love, got closer to family – but developing a intense relationship to listening outside the context of product was what got me back on my feet creatively. starting quiet friend and shifting focus to something rooted in a group effort rewired my brain. it was something i didn’t know how to do for a while. i’ve also worked as a music supervisor for hospitality venues for a few years now, and the site-specificity of sound has become something i engage with daily.

shortly after the quiet friend record came out and we were playing shows around new york, i was sifting through old hard drives and was blown away by the amount of sketches i was sitting on. i started there and recorded alone at home with what free time i had on the weekends. at first it felt like putting on an old shirt that no longer fit, but eventually the fabric stretched out, i followed the ideas that came, and a year later i had a record. 

in the interim, you’ve kept busy with quiet friend. how does your compositional approach differ (if at all) when working independently as opposed to collaboratively?

the two ways of working seem to inform and complement each other, especially now that i’ve found a balance of both. in a group context, you’re mostly letting the ideas of others in, and i was really hungry for that at the time. i tend to internalize a lot when working alone, but with others i found what i eventually recognized to be personal strengths to reinforce themselves and echo – thick textures, bricolage, a sense of place. it’s a great way to get your writers block unstuck and i’d recommend it to anyone struggling with a solo practice – you discover what it actually is you bring to the table and then are able to take that home with you and truly utilize it.

this record i made on my own couldn’t have happened without that experience. steven and i are just getting started, but i’m proud of that record we made and the strange extended family we’ve developed in the process of getting the band off the ground. i’m excited for that music to reach more ears. 

this new album has a fair amount of found sounds and electroacoustic elements – it’s very soundscape-y, for lack of a better term. who or what were some touchstones when you were writing these songs?

i have a tendency to get wrapped up in musical influence, and this time around i did my best to avoid relying on that in favor of inspiration pulled from other disciplines. in general though, i think one of the major differences between then and now is that my taste has started to embrace the longform and lean toward slowness and meditative commitment.

clarice lispector’s writing and chantal akerman’s films encourage those who consume them to have patience for a slower and fluid pace, borderline glacial, and the end result is something so human that accentuates the everyday. my record is the durational opposite – it’s over and done in thirty minutes – but it aims to capture the present and recreate the surrounding world in the same way. 

of course, i am easily impacted by what i hear and can’t ignore that. field recordings and found sounds have been an important part of my practice from the beginning, but i think this record is the first time that they are being treated as the central focus – the environments have become the soloists.  luc ferrarialvin curran and hiroshi yoshimura are all composers in touch with their respective atmospheres and that aspect of their work has had a profound effect on me.

people have always described what i do as “cinematic”. i guess i went into this one with that in mind. 

this album is self-titled; how much of a conscious decision was that?

totally intentional. it feels like the closest thing to pressing the project’s reset button. i see this work as a summation of everything i’ve explored sonically for far, so self-titling simply felt like the move.

listening to mister lies from start to finish in one sitting is optimal, but you’ve decided to share “the commuter” ahead of its release as a preview of things to come. what does that particular song represent to you, and how does it fit into the album overall?

“the commuter” was the first of the batch to feel complete and was also the first indication of the record’s site-specific direction. it’s less of a single and more of an excerpt i was itching to share. of all the tracks on the record, i think it feels the most similar in spirit to the music i made when I was younger, but also works as an introduction to the sonic territory i’ve been interested in occupying lately.

when making records in the past, i would close myself off somewhere and create situations for myself that were unhealthily hermetic – i would let nothing else in but the music. the results produced intense work but the process was not always productive.

this time around, i’ve introduced more balance to my life. anything that i treated as a distraction before – be it the daily routine or the world outside my window – has become a compositional device and fuel for the record. in this case, it’s the introspection and claustrophobia on my way to and from work. 

mister lies is out this friday, august 2nd. read an essay zanca wrote about his album, alongside a full stream, over at talkhouse.

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