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INTERVIEW: Nomad chats his debut album ‘The Nomadic’ and developing resilience through fatherhood

Earlier this year, we had an in-depth chat with Melbourne rapper and poet Nomad about the meaning behind his debut album ‘The Nomadic’, developing resilience through fatherhood, wanting to galvanize his community, and finding contentedness in his achievements.

What appears to be common amongst numerous creatives is the sense of self-doubt that comes with putting one’s art out for the world to see. By extension, it’s the debilitating concern with numbers and reception of one’s work that can cause alienation from the love and passion that went into the art in the first place.

Throughout my chat with independent Melbourne rapper and poet Nomad he speaks to the significance of taking a step back and realising what you’ve achieved is bigger than what you’d ever envisioned for yourself. Having released his thought-provoking and wholehearted debut album ‘The Nomadic’ late last year, he and I chatted through the process and intention behind the project.

Across his socials during this period Nomad spoke candidly on the whirlwind state of emotions the release process left him in, and having undergone his own inner turmoil had reached a state of contentedness when we chatted a few months on.

“A few months on from the release I say I’m definitely in a better headspace to be able to appreciate its released status a lot more than I was at the time. I realised that it’s still a really solid body of work and the fact that it’s even out there is something that very few people get to say. Like outside of this industry, very few people in my city and the suburb that I’ve grown up in get to say that they have an album out.”

Incidentally, a month prior to putting out his baby ‘The Nomadic’ to the world, Nomad brought his third child into the world, which coincided with the release of his album prelude ‘Birthday Boy: A Prelude To The Nomadic’. Throughout the prelude, Nomad explores facing the internal conflict of staying true to his ambitions as an artist and having people around him suggest that it’s time to settle down following the birth of his third child.

“If anything, I’d say it was probably easier the third time around, than it was with the first or the second. I even talk about it on the album too, when we were expecting my eldest that was a difficult point in time because I wasn’t established. I was still living with my parents and my wife was living with her parents as well. I wasn’t even performing at that time, I had no original music out and was still very much working on myself as an artist, and even as an adult in general,” he says.

“When we were expecting my second child, that was a bigger challenge because I had finally sort of gained my footing in music even though it didn’t appear that way to friends and family – they still saw it as that little hobby. But at that point in time, I was finally starting to understand how to book gigs, get my music on platforms and be an independent artist. At the same time, I’ve got people trying to tell me that I need to settle down and get a real job, and focus on being a real dad and how to provide for my family. But it’s like ‘how am I getting momentum at this time and you guys are still trying to put me down and hold me back from realising something that’s starting to show some – for lack of a better word – reward?’.

“By the time my third child had come around I think people had started to realise that ‘this dude is relentless and he’s not gonna listen to what anyone else has to say’. Which was always my goal, I just wanted to know that people couldn’t stop me from doing what I want to do regardless of what they consider to be logical. I was just going to do it anyway, I’m willing to go the hard route if I see it as an end to a means. My mindset has grown stronger through having each child.”

Photo by @markgregoryphotography

Community is a varying notion Nomad dissects in a multitude of ways throughout ‘The Nomadic’, from the love he has for his family on ‘Why?’ and for the Melbourne music scene on ‘Round Here’, to the anxiety of being shunned by his family on ‘The News’ and feeling a lack of local support on ‘Reach Out’.

“Community’s always been big for me ever since I started to take this music seriously. The big thing for me when I showed anyone a verse that I’d written, even if it was over a YouTube beat, was that I wanted them to not make fun of it. I wanted them to know that it was coming from an authentic and genuine place of just talking to myself in those early years and saying ‘you’re not from New York, you’re not from Los Angeles, you’ve never seen a gun in your life – so don’t be rapping about anything that’s not authentic to you’. And there’s beauty in that because you actually start to unpack some of the real shit that we go through here in our own lives. And there’s some real things that everyone goes through in life, whether it’s parenthood or things in the community,” Nomad explains.

“The big thing for me over the last couple of years has just been the fact that looking around at my peers and just being like wow ‘how much talent we actually have here and how many people are trying to make a good go of this thing in music’. It’s a struggle. Like you see these guys struggling with you and it really feels like you’re in the trenches with each other trying to wage this war against the machine that is the industry. In that regard I definitely made it a point to talk about Melbourne in a sense that it’s revered and that we’re on the cusp of something incredible.

“I feel like there’s so many different dimensions on ‘community’ that you can make a million songs from it. Like obviously there’s the talk of me being Polynesian and Pasifika-born, growing up in Australia trying to understand the community there. Like why is our Polynesian community so different to Australian community? What are the similarities as well?”

Throughout the ‘The Nomadic’ Nomad references navigating an Australian landscape where Pasifika people were and still aren’t in the majority of what he grew up seeing around him, stating on ‘Destined’ that “I came to start a revolution for my people, who ain’t never seen a life in which we all get treated equal”. But as Nomad testifies, there is greater depth to that bar and others of a similar ilk than people may happen upon on the first listen.

“That line itself is one of the multilayered lines of the album where if you look at it at face value, I’m definitely talking about growing up Polynesian in Australia, where there’s definitely underlying tones and stigmas surrounding our community where a lot of people think we just end up in the warehouse. We don’t see a lot of representation in the offices and in higher paid roles, like just in terms of employment it’s that we are usually stuck with the grunt work of being in the warehouse or the factories.

“That’s always been something that I’ve wanted to touch on, that these people we see on TV they might not look like us but their communities encourage them to dream bigger than we do each other. And I want to set an example for those who look like me that it’s possible. That dreaming big is possible, and if you’re willing to work hard for it – and no disrespect to any other culture but our culture is made on hard work so let’s just apply that to some dreams.

“At the same time, you can apply that to the hip-hop industry and being a rapper, that we’re not ‘real music’ and that we don’t make real music. I’ve been in certain meetings and chat rooms where I feel like I’m the only one representing hip-hop and even people of colour in that room where people are having conversations about fair pay in the music industry in Victoria. I was in a meeting recently where it was meant to be about raising the minimum fee for artists to $250 and I couldn’t help but notice that everyone else was white. In circumstances like that you know that it’s not intentional, but at the same time it’s like why don’t we have more representation in the space? It’s kind of a chip on the shoulder sort of thing for both senses – I want to see hip-hop held in a higher regard, I want to see our people in more spaces. It’s definitely something I needed to get out on this album, especially as a debut, just to set the tone for everyone to know that this is what I’m about.”

And by challenging his community to be greater than what they’re boxed in as by others, Nomad hopes to inspire anyone feeling self-limitation.

“My hope is that is does pose that question to whoever is listening, even if they’re not from the same background as me, as long as it inspires them to go ‘what am I good at and why don’t I pursue something with my talents?’ instead of having it be a hobby.”

Across the ‘The Nomadic’ listeners will be privy to tracks that are filled with deep, introspective lyrics, but then the music itself is sonically comforting and warm aesthetically.

“I think the common thread throughout the whole album is that I wanted there to be storytelling and for it all to be thought-provoking for sure. You listen to songs like ‘The News’ and obviously it’s like rapping from two different perspectives and actually telling the story in real-time, I didn’t want it to be that way the whole way through. Every song I wanted to have a concept and we try and execute it as best we can.

“In terms of production I was pretty meticulous in terms of who I was collaborating with, because when I work with a producer, I want to be able to trust them and trust that they’re going to be able to execute their side of the deal to the best of their abilities. And I feel like with the whole album there’s not a song on there where I don’t feel like the producer did their thing and I was able to kind of sit-back and go ‘this is where you shine’. And they all shined, from Max, to Iconic, to 94, Astro, all of them do their thing every single time.

“One of the main things for me too was the track list and making sure the order of it was one that flowed cohesively. I kind of view it as a rollercoaster where I want to start off with some energy and set the tone from the start, and that’s why you kind of get the small skit at the start from Aunty Grace, but then it goes straight into the intro where we wanted to gee you up and give you this energy where you’re so motivated you want to run through a brick wall or something. And then continue that with ‘Destined’ and ‘Doves Cry’, and then we bring it down with something like ‘The News’. We get you all the way up here just to bring you down to ‘The News’, and now that we’ve caught your attention, we can bring you down so that you can really listen to this.”

The presence of Grace Vanilau – known affectionately in her community as Aunty Grace – throughout the album appears to act as a guide and source of reassurance for not just the listener, but for Nomad, who expresses the true extent of her importance to the project.

“Aunty Grace is like everyone’s Aunty. She’s definitely a leader in our community, an OG and an elder. I grew up very much in love with hip-hop and even as a dance genre. When I was around 11 or 12, I joined a dance crew called ‘Fusion’, it was a Polynesian dance crew and she ran it. Since then, her and her daughter Nala have been a part of my life. I’ve always looked up to them for their confidence, they’re both very powerful spoken word artists and are very touch with their culture and their mana. I just knew that I wanted to something in between the songs to tie together the whole album and I just thought to reach out to her to do some spoken word on the album and fortunately she said yes. And it was really just a hail Mary pass, but she caught it and she ran with it and came through with that touchdown.

“I’m just super grateful to her for even just listening to it, because that’s someone I look up to for approval and even doing the right thing in the space that I hold. For her to come through and give it that cosign in the biggest way possible through lending her own talents. It’s something that I still have to pinch myself. It’s kind of like when your dad comes to your basketball game and then after the game tells you, ‘You did well son’.

“During my break from music at the end of 2021 she reached out to me and actually paid for free sessions for me to see a Māori healer, who ended up being my cousin-in-law, Adam. So, she paid for me to have three Romi sessions and it was just that extra step where I wasn’t expecting anyone to help me through it. And she just came through, like even more than just being an artist, like she was there for me during that period. That’s who she is, that’s her character.”

It was in this period where Nomad came to the necessary life-affirming conclusions that he expresses will hold him in good stead well beyond even his time on this earth.

“I felt like during that whole time I really just surrendered myself and didn’t try and control anything, I left it up to the universe. I really felt like they put her in my life to call me on that and give me that phone call to offer those sessions. And those sessions have been life-changing. I’ve learnt things in those sessions with Adam that I take into the rest of my life and they’re gonna change the course of not just my life, but how I treat my kids and so on. And it’s really just been mind-blowing, the universe really… that’s it’s plan. It’s like a saying, that’s where it’s going to push you whether you like it or not.”

As the album reaches its final act the song ‘Why?’ is introduced to highlight a personal voyage through pain that came from Nomad seeing those he held closest to him – the seemingly indestructible family members we all similarly treasure most – pass away.

“A lot of people don’t realise that that was finished over two years ago, it was one of the first songs that we worked on and it was probably one of the quickest songs that we finished. It came from a point in time when we were just losing everyone. My dad actually came to me after the death of my uncle and it hit him hard, like that’s my mum’s uncle and it hit my dad hard. It makes you realise with deaths like that just how significant people can be and the loss of people can be.

“My dad and I were unpacking a bit of his life together and just talking about the man that he was, how it’s going to affect the rest of his family, and he looked at me and said ‘I think you should write something about this’. And my dad’s always been real supportive about my music, but that was the first time I can remember him saying ‘you need to unpack this for us’ and thinking that what I write from these experiences is going to be healing for myself and for a lot of people if I can do it properly. I started writing without a beat in mind and started writing about my uncle, and my friend Jade who passed away, and my cousin who passed away from heart complications.

“It’s definitely one of the more intense songs I’ve ever had to write, I cried a lot just from writing that stuff down. It brought me back to speaking with God as well. I was brought up Mormon in the Church of Latter-Day Saints by my grandma, but I left the church in my teenage years because there were just things I didn’t agree with, with the institution. There are also things I love about church, faith and the lessons you learn. Through writing the song it actually brought me back to speaking with God and having questions for him and why we pray.

“I remember showing what I’d written originally to Pete, Iconic Beats, and him being like ‘I have the perfect beat for this’. He showed it to me and I kind of fixed things so that it would flow better on that beat and we came up with the hook together. We knew that because the ideas were really intense to make it more palatable, we wanted to get a melody on the chorus. And any time you try and take an authentic idea and you start using words like ‘more palatable’ and ‘more digestible to the consumer’ and shit like that, there’s always this fear that you’re going to fuck it up. Commercialise it a bit too much. I remember we were just sitting there for five minutes and that first line of that chorus hit me, the “if you can hear me now” and him being like ‘that’s the one’, the rest of the lyrics kind of flowed from there. It really felt like something was working through the both of us to help finish that message and get it out there.

“I’ve had people reach out to me and say ‘this one hits’ or ‘this one hits harder than I thought it would’. And that’s the ultimate compliment you can get for a song like that. It can feel a little bit dark if it catches you off guard, but if you’re going through something or you’re going through a loss and you come back to it, I like to think that that first verse can be comforting in the sense that you might not understand it now but there is a reason for this and we probably won’t understand it in our lifetime. Sometimes it’s just about accepting that and moving on and remembering those people that we’ve lost.”

The lead-up to the album’s November 26 release date saw Nomad drop a series of live versions performing a select few songs from the project, and a documentary detailing the critical moments along the way of making the album. It is a credit to his own ambition to successfully embrace all aspects of his artistry to deliver an authentic-to-the-album experience for the listener, and he did so with aplomb.

However, being impacted by the ‘numbers’ – streams and viewers – and his own unmet expectations delt Nomad with some muddy waters to steer through. Which ultimately led him to feel reignited in his passion for the art over any exterior noise.

“That’s the side of things where it’s so easy to lose perspective and I did. And you forget that all of that shit is not real, it’s virtual. You can see all these numbers and it’s cool to want a million streams on your debut album and I let myself get down when I probably set my expectations get too high. And I just let it affect me more than it should’ve and ignored some of the cool shit that was happening.

“Like the fact that my partner’s family was hearing ‘The News’ for the first time and it's their first time hearing me talk about fatherhood or even our story of finding out we were having a baby. Even my family in New Zealand and Samoa, there’s people in these countries that I rarely get to see and they’re finally getting a piece of what my life is like over here. When you stop thinking about that stuff that matters that’s when you need to take a break from things. I had my nervous breakdown and I took my break and I’m starting to appreciate that stuff a lot more.

“It’s very much needed for not just me, but for every artist, to check yourself and realise you’re actually doing everything right. And you just need more time and things are going to work out.”

Words by Matthew Badrov

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