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Lipstick, Bros, and the Grateful Dead: A Conversation with Nick Monaco

Nick Monaco is getting coffee in upstate New York when he answers the phone. He’s in the woods for a few days, spending time at a place called Dreamland. The recently opened summer camp-style retreat is owned by electronic duo Wolf + Lamb, with whom 26-year-old Monaco—who’s been DJing since he was a teenager—is tight. The 60-acre property functions as a sort of summer camp for musicians looking to escape the grind of life on tour and on the internet. Over the phone, he’s thoughtful, affable, caffeinated, and excited that Dreamland will soon have a farm.

There’s an allure to that, and there’s a general curiosity, I think with music especially, to add another dimension. Music has become so one-dimensional. Especially when musicians talk about digital compression and how that’s even changing the dimension of how music sounds. To connect music with the body again, the physical, is something I’m tapping into that I’m now realizing.

While Monaco, a native of rural Healdsburg, California, came up through the club world, making his full-length debut with 2014’s house-leaning Mating Call, his current immersion into nature falls neatly in line with the honest, intimately human themes explored on his sophomore LP Half Naked, out now via Crew Love.

Recorded at a San Francisco studio owned by the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Half Naked features cameos from vocalists Roland Harper and Richard Kennedy and finds Monaco leaning into complex, guitar-tinged pop—with achingly beautiful and unabashedly sexy results.

The album’s companion project is a collection of ten fragrances, each of which correspond to a track. Created in conjunction with Thai perfumer San, the fragrances are intended to create a double-sensory listening experience, and will be available via Monaco’s website and a series of listening/smelling parties that he will host. The perfumes are Monaco’s second foray into cosmetics. His debut was released with a customized lipstick called Freak Flag, which Monaco—a longtime wearer of lipstick onstage and in daily life—made in an effort to challenge conceptions of gender and sexuality in the increasingly bro’d out world of dance music. The profits from Freak Flag were donated to the Jim Collins Foundation, which funds gender confirmation surgeries for people in need of financial assistance.

We spoke with Monaco about the new record, gender fluidity, and his close encounters with the Dead.

NOISEY: You have a really tactile element to your work, with the lipstick and the perfume and the video you made of yourself taking a bath while listening to Half Naked. Are you doing this stuff in order to consciously create tangible connections to your music?

Nick Monaco: I don’t know if I’m doing it consciously, but now after the fact, I do realize this push for intimacy—it keeps coming back to intimacy for me. My music, I want it to be like I’m in the room with you, speaking to you and singing to you. The lipstick absolutely connects with people on such a physical level, because it’s touching their lips, and perfume is something you can smell. Those are very human experiences.

There’s an allure to that, and there’s a general curiosity, I think with music especially, to add another dimension. Music has become so one-dimensional. Especially when musicians talk about digital compression and how that’s even changing the dimension of how music sounds. To connect music with the body again, the physical, is something I’m tapping into that I’m now realizing.

Read the full interview by Katie Bain at Noisey





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