Meet Nick Ward, whose new single with Lontalius is heartbreakingly beautiful
I Wanna Be Myself or Nothing At All is magical, but we shouldn't have expected anything less from the Sydney-based Nick Ward.
Nick Ward and Lontalius are two musicians quickly becoming recognised for their craft in magical, spell-binding musicianship. The Sydney-based Nick Ward made an entrance with his 2018 single Crush and hasn't faltered since; his work teetering on the edges of subtlety and minimalism in a way that emphasises his knack for deeply intimate and personal storytelling. Meanwhile, New Zealand-raised Lontalius was one of 2019's best; his All I Have Record being an incredible - and overlooked, to be honest - snapshot of a multi-faceted musician finding a new peak through hazy bedroom-pop and guitar-rich indie.
There are many edges to each of them that make both Nick and Lontalius their own distinct musicians, but there's a common thread between them both that's been needed in 2020 more than ever. They're both musicians that understand the sheer emotional power that lays within music's storytelling properties, and the wash of feelings - moments of reflection, acceptance, hope, comfort - that sit with people when they find music they can relate to and see themselves within, especially so in a moment of hardship.
Nick Ward's latest single I Wanna Be Myself Or Nothing At All is a song that really presents this at its most magical. Featuring Lontalius ("having Lontalius feature on this song is still mind-blowing to me," Nick says), the single is a moment of reflective acceptance - a journey of self-identity and sexual discovery that Nick experiences while attending an all-boys school, and the wash of emotions that underlie this period. "It's scared the living shit out of me since I wrote it a couple of years ago in the midst of it all," he explains.
As you could perhaps guess, the end result is really something. It's a stirring blend of shame and discomfort mixed with the hope of resilience and acceptance; a song that reflects on the hardships but knows the importance of celebrating the freedom that comes sexual liberation - a strange, confusing, but incredibly important moment in the lives of every queer person out there, a moment that Nick and Lontalius are able to bring to life with the emotional potency that reflects the whirlpooling mix of emotions central to any queer person's development.
Musically, the single's lyricism is elevated by a haze of sounds that move between stylistic timelines and genres, something that as Nick explains, comes from his wide-ranging embrace of music. "The lyrics have been floating around on my phone for a couple years, but the production and arrangement has taken many different forms," he says. "I really love blending production elements from different genres, and I see this song as a blend of boom-bap drums, baroque-style choral arrangements and folk elements."
Anyway, the song is a moment that'll reduce you down to nothing then build you back up again, and there's a real sense in power in doing that. It takes a super incredible musician to show that within the space of just three-minutes-thirty, and if nothing else, I Wanna Be Myself Or Nothing At All proves that Nick Ward has this.
Take a dive into the single below, and better introduce yourself to Nick underneath that:
Tell us about yourself?
I’m nineteen and I live in Sydney, Australia. It’s hard to sum yourself up, but yeh: I eat... sleep. I write and produce songs too sometimes. Everything from the music and production to the visuals is done by myself with the help of my friends.
What’s the ‘vibe’ music-wise?
I’m fresh out of high-school, so a lot of my music is fuelled by those gigantic teenage emotions and anxieties that I’ve felt over the years. Being a teenager is like watching a trashy melodrama in 4D. For this first batch of music, toxic masculinity and queerness are the two most recurring themes. Going to an all-boys high school, I think my understanding of masculinity and identity was so warped by the group mentality that plagues a lot of those places.
Sonically, I’ve never been able to eloquently pin-down what my music sounds like. I don’t mean that in a pretentious way – I just don’t think I have that hindsight or perspective yet. Not to be the 25-year old at your friends’ house party, but I listen to everything. I grew up on Dylan and Springsteen and a lot of those great American songwriters, but I’m usually fascinated by strange production and electronic music. I think my music walks right down that line, of really textural production and traditional pop structure. But to cut to the chase, just tell whoever’s asking that I’m twink Bon Iver.
What are your production and writing processes usually like?
I write, produce and mix everything, and up until now, I mastered it all too. Everything on this first EP began on an acoustic guitar, whether that’s a simple chord structure or a little finger-picked loop. This always takes me way too long. After that, I start to add the drums, bass and synth elements. I see mixing as part of the production, so I usually do a fair bit of that along the way too. For writing, I found this app called Simplenote through Maxwell Young, which is like cloud-based notes that I can write on either my computer or my phone. I start every day with a long walk, and everything gets written then! It takes me a while to write songs because of the subject matter and because I’m a fool.
Can you tell us a bit about this new song, I Wanna Be Myself Or Nothing At All?
This song is the emotional centre-piece of my first project, called Everything I Wish I Told You. I’d say it’s about my own struggles with homophobia and gender identity, but I think the central message is a lot more universal. The title was inspired by a line from Little Women, when Amy says “I want to be great, or nothing”. There’s just something so powerful about that kind of statement. Understanding yourself is such a complex process, not to mention the process of hoping that other people understand us. While I was born the way I am, that doesn’t mean that I always knew, nor did my family and friends. The declaration that “I wanna be myself or nothing at all” is like my mission statement, I suppose.
The song sees you team up with Lontalius, who is someone we’ve talked about a couple of times. How did you two come together, and what was the process of working together like?
I fucking love Lontalius. His music is so special to me, and I look up to him a lot. After I met him at his show last year, I kept sending him music on Instagram. Eventually, I summed up the courage to send some rougher demos over. He seemed to respond to the initial beat of the song, and sent me a verse. I remember losing my mind when I first heard it, and I think that also put pressure on me to really go in. Embarrassingly, I was so excited that I initially turned his feature into the chorus, which didn’t make a lot of songwriting sense. He helped me structure the song so that his verse comes in as this beautiful refrain of “I’ll be there”. My second verse on the song, where I explicitly talk about the homophobic school I went to, has been written for years – as long as my earliest singles. I’m so glad I found a use for it, because expressing these emotions feels so freeing.
What does the rest of 2020 have in store for you?
I’m gonna drop another single this year off the project! The next one is my favourite I think. Another one of my heroes contributed to that one, so I’m stoked for people to hear it. Over the upcoming summer, I will not be quiet. Lots in store!
What do you want people to take away from the project?
Honestly, I just want someone who was in my position to feel seen, the way that Lontalius or Kevin Abstract gave me the courage to make art about my identity. I hope some of you can dance to it, too. Or cry. Maybe both.
Where can we find more of your music?
On all streaming platforms! Just slip me into your That’s What I Call Music! playlist and we’ll have ourselves a good time.