NEW MUSIC: rhett nicholl- Omertà
After waiting to share his EP Omertà, Rhett Nicholl has finally released it for the world to hear. A blend of sonic influences and cultures, the exposure that growing up in London provides, the project is an insight to Nicholl's mind. Drawing on his Irish & Italian American heritage Omertà pays homage to Nicholl's culture in the forms of its sound and introspective topics. With parents who were involved in the music industry themselves, his mum worked for Sire records and his Dad a tour manager for the Ramones and Blondie, it can be assumed that music was his destined choice, but it hasn't always been easy, having to overcome a 5 year writers block, and finding his own sound. Today, Omertà is out. With his hauntingly beautiful voice, the project is tinged with gospel, lo-fi, poetry and sounds like nobody else. We caught up with him to talk some more about it.
Congratulations on your release, what does this project mean to you, I understand it's been created over the past 5 years?
At this point releasing the project feels like cutting dead weight. These songs have been such a part of my consciousness for so long that I'm kind of glad to be rid of them. I anchored my whole existence and identity on this body of work and I'm not that person anymore. That's not to cast it as a complete disassociation from who I was, but feeling that freedom of a clean slate and being able to redefine myself personally and artistically is really exciting.
The project is a mixture of different sounds, what have been your influences?
...What's interesting to me at the point of releasing this EP is how it channels so many cultural references and nuances that make up my identity. From the kind of detached conviction of my delivery that comes from punk and blues, to the low end emphasis and sense of experimentation that comes from sound system culture all the way back to ska and reggae. I'm fortunate with growing up in London when I did, that a lot of the things I take influence from come from a place of genuine experience. Be it drinking 3 litre bottles of cider outside of punk shows at the Underworld at 12 /13, to early dances at Plastic People or spending nights in the belly of the city to paint graffiti. I think it's as much a conscious process as it isn’t, if this stuff is part of who you are as opposed to something you read about online it inevitably comes across in your art.
How did you choose the features to join you on your debut project?
The only features on Omertá appear in 'Haunty' which were necessitated by wanting to tell a story that is way bigger than mine. Songwriting can be such an introspective process and I wanted to break out of the restrictions of my own experience and skill set. My writing process consists of chopping up longer form poems into a language and structure that can be sung, without being self indulgent. In this case I opted to give it to people un-cut by collaborating with the two best poets in London, who also happen to be two of my closest friends. I have such an intimate knowledge of Bapou Costi and the Nasty Poet as people and artists that working with them is like working with extensions of myself.
You seem to want to speak about real life stuff. You cover a lot of serious topics and with OMERTÁ meaning refusal to cooperate with the police, what made you want to choose this as the title?
Omertá as a concept is commonly associated with not talking to the police, but the culture of keeping things in the family goes back to the absolute distrust of authority amongst colonised southern Italians. This insularity went with them when they immigrated to America and as their position in society flourished, this allowed for the proliferation of 'The Black Hand' and later the Mafia. I wondered for a while why all the things I was attracted to as a kid and still love now leaned towards the oppositional defiant. I realised through learning more about my heritage that what are rights of passage into adulthood for some people, are survival instincts for me. I take a lot of strength and pride in what my family went through on both sides for me to be here, so the title is a nod to that but also to the fact that this mentality is like a sickness when applied to yourself and your emotions. For such emotional people, we struggle with being vulnerable and expressing ourselves in healthy ways and I think this project is about me breaking that cycle. Music comes in all it's different forms to help us in all sorts of ways at different points in our lives. For a long time it was about being in the dance for me, that participatory thing of being a part of something greater than yourself but for a lot of reasons that wasn’t really sustainable. Not least because it’s based around a scene which is unforgiving. This music; jungle, garage, grime etc is all rebel music and is so important in celebrating freedom. It’s so pure and ephemeral but it’s only one side of the coin for me. The other side is the stuff that touches my soul in a more complex way and that stuff comes from honesty, pain and ‘real life’. There is nothing else for me to write about. I don’t want to hear about half the vapid shit a lot of people are talking about in music, it’s either lazy or disingenuous at this point and ultimately kind of safe. I want to hear the things that keep you up at night that you might not be able to tell your closest friends, that’s the standard I try to hold myself to.
Whats your stand out lyric from OMERTÁ at the moment?
I think the Nasty Poet's opening line in 'Haunty' is one of the best opening lines I’ve ever heard “He asked me if I knew how to hide a body…”. When she sent me the first voice note of her poem over the track, it was straight gun fingers as soon as I heard this line because I knew she'd got it. I was so gassed because it was the kind of thing I wish I had written, it’s so cool and slick but has such depth. it speaks to the whole record. Next to this, the line that gives me chills every time I hear it is when Bapou Costi says “Why run a wing when you were born to fly, why settle for less because you’re bored and tired.” This is the crescendo of the track for me as both of us have really turned our lives around and fought through so much shit to be here in a studio together. The wordplay came from conversations we’d had about keeping each other on the straight and narrow and not taking the easy way out and this line is such a profound affirmation for me. Especially when things are tough. The fact that we made it this far to put that on record and the weight those words carry for the both of us- it’s a really powerful and personal line but it think the sentiment resonates far beyond it’s personal significance.
Finally, what do you want people to take from OMERTÁ when they listen to it?
I left it all on the table, it’s up to the listener what they take from that, I just hope people get something they need.