Nico & Vinz Are Making Pop Without Boundaries

Nico & Vinz Are Making Pop Without Boundaries

The Norwegian electronic pop duo talk racism, tropical house, meeting Taylor Swift, and their new EP 'Cornerstone.'

November 6, 2015 7:35 PM

Nico & Vinz moved to Los Angeles a year and a half ago. The electronic pop duo, who broke out in 2014 with the world-smashing single "Am I Wrong," decided to pull up roots from their origins in Oslo and head to the West Coast for work reasons—but they're not calling LA "home" just yet. "Norway is a place for us to reconnect with family and relax," Vincent "Vinz" Dery opines, as the duo get cozy in a spacious Warner Brothers conference room, their home label. "You want to see everybody in a short amount of time."

"Growing up in Oslo was great," Kahouly Nicolay "Nico" Sereba remembers of the group's origins. "We grew up in neighborhoods where there were lots of immigrants—a lot of different cultures. That was a reward for us—we got to see a lot of different cultures and it made us appreciate other people."

Similarly, with their 2014 LP Black Star Elephant, Nico & Vinz reached many cultures far outside their Norwegian confines, blending EDM's titanic sound and the airy echoes of arena-sized pop with influences from their own African roots. Their new EP Cornerstone, out today, continues the duo's taste for cross-genre pollination with smooth R&B moves and, with "That's How You Know" featuring Bebe Rexha and Kid Ink, profane country-rap.

"We've been open to trying new stuff," Nico says about the curse-laden jangler. "It's definitely different than what we've done previously—we're just trying to experiment with different sounds. There's no deeper thought behind it."

On the whole, Cornerstone moves away from the tropical house sound that "Am I Wrong" undeniably kicked off: Felix Jaehn's chart-topping remix of OMI's "Cheerleader," trop-house don Kygo, and Justin Bieber's entire recent output all owe debts to "Am I Wrong." It's something that Nico & Vinz are good-naturedly aware of.

"There's always a reaction to things," Vinz explains on the cultural shift from the bruising synths of EDM circa 2012 to today's chilled-out dance climate. "So the reaction to that very electronic sound was the complete opposite: something more organic and easy-feeling. You still hear dance music, but it's more chill and vibey. It's a good thing—or progress, anyways."

The generation that's coming up right now is extremely into dance music. Why do you think that is?
Nico: Young people like to gravitate towards what's new and cool. We don't like to do what our parents did—we want to do something that's ours. When we grow old, we're gonna look at our kids and be like, "The hell are they listening to?" There's something timeless about dance music, too. It's easy for people to say, "It's just pop music," and dance music from previous eras maybe gained a negative reputation at the time, but they're still strong songs with strong lyrics and strong melodies. Dance music has changed into something more... [pause]not real, but, respectable.

Vinz: The biggest change in music in the last five years is that it's becoming even more real. When I'm listening to the charts now, it doesn't follow anything. "Where Are Ü Now?" could've been just a SoundCloud record—that would've be super dope. That's what we want to listen to at this point—dope music. It's not about, "Oh this sounds like a radio record." Those records don't even work anymore. People are like, "Give me something that's real, that feels proper—something that almost doesn't feel like it's supposed to be there."

Growing up in Europe, what was your perspective on how racial relations occur there compared to America?
Nico: America has a lot of different cultures—everybody in the world really wants to come to America. It's a different vibe in Europe, though, because they're very far apart. Europe has an older culture and longer history. We have African roots, and Europe is somewhere where I meet more Africans. I don't feel like I meet that many Africans in Europe, though. I haven't tapped into African communities here yet, but it's just a different vibe. Racism is everywhere, though. There are different race issues in different places.

Vinz: In Europe, it's more about immigration—people having problems with immigrants bringing a different culture in, and the conflicts that may occur because of that. They're different types of issues than here, but at the same time, they're the same.

Between the upcoming American election and the Syrian refugee crisis, immigration is definitely at the forefront of people's minds.
Nico: We, as people, know what we have—and we like to have what we have the way we have it. Somehow, it's always difficult for human beings to share. We see that in Europe. We see that some countries are very open to the Syrian refugees, and some countries aren't receptive at all.

What was the music you were raised on?
Nico: My dad is an African artist, so when I was born I was born straight into African music. My mom was at school at the time, and he was at home with me very often, so I would hear African music all the time. When I grew older, my taste was more pop—Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls. That's when you're still a young boy not caring about what's cool. After that, it was East Coast hip-hop—Wu-Tang, Jay Z, Nas. When I started making music myself, I opened myself up to everything from Bob Marley to country. No boundaries at all.

For this current generation, hip-hop operates in a similar lane as punk when it comes to opening up young listeners' minds.
Vinz: Hip-hop became the equivalent subculture—an "F-You" type of thing. Right now, it's blended into the mainstream, and it doesn't even sound like what it was ten years ago. I got into hip-hop when I started breakdancing—my teacher played The Chronic, "Forgot About Dre," Snoop Dogg's Tha Last Meal, and Xzibit, I was also into graffiti and DJ'ing. All that stuff was punk, for us.

What was the first concert you ever attended?
Vinz: Xzibit had a group called Alkaholiks, so they came to Norway and I went to that concert with my mom. There was drinking and a lot of cigarettes. I was like, "Whoa!" That was my first concert and it was a hip-hop concert, but it was a proper one so it was incredible.

Nico: The first big artist I saw was Craig David. I think I was eight years old and I fell asleep at the end of the show, but I was a huge fan of Craig David.

What's the craziest performance experience you guys have had recently?
Vinz: We definitely had a lot of fun on stage with Taylor Swift. That was the first stadium performance we've done and it was to 50,000 Swifties going crazy. That was a very memorable moment. Her people got in touch with us at the last minute, and we were like, "Yes, of course." We met her and she was fantastic—such a nice person, super humble, very aware of everything. That was very good to see and aspire to.

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