Interviewing Naud

Being creative, I am always interested in learning about my peers’ process in creating as well as their influences and inspiration. There is no better way in learning about that than with an interview. Today I have a fellow bilingual: Naud.

Naud is a French pop artist, who happens to sing in both French and English. I had the pleasure of meeting him through work. The many conversations we have at work regarding music have sparked an interest of mine in learning more about Naud’s music and process.

Can you introduce yourself? Who you are, where you from, what do you do/make?
Sure! I’m Naud, a curious musician from Southern France. I’d quickly describe myself as an alternative pop music songwriter and producer.

How and when did you first start making music?
That was quite a bumpy ride! But I basically started informally with my sister making me sing a lot of System of a Down and Disney songs when I was 5 or 6 haha. An interesting mix of influences indeed. Then I took on classical piano and classical guitar at 10. I miserably failed at the time and quit less than a year after. That kind of teaching was not really matching what I wanted to play at the time. Then I started learning bass guitar at age 13 as an autodidact first. I learnt with Jamiroquai and Red Hot Chili Peppers tabs mainly. But also from a lot of older musicians I played with. Bassists were are a rare breed in the small town I lived in, so people were stuck with me haha. It made me grow a lot faster. Then I decided to get the help of a teacher and it became more formal, he pushed me to correct a lot of technical flaws I had. At the same time, I started to sing on a daily basis and never really stop since then. At around 15, I started to learn DAWs (Cubase, Garage Band, Logic and finally Ableton) and guitar. 5 years later, after a really bad vocal cords injury, I moved on and started to learn jazz piano with an incredibly talented teacher – Matt Paull – music theory and take a few real singing lessons to recover my vocal abilities and dive a bit more into technique. Since then, I’ve committed a lot more to my practice routine! Practice makes perfect as they say.

What kind of music do you make? How would you define your style? Has it evolved since you first started?
I make what most playlist curators would call “alternative pop” but I fondly call it “melting pop”. I know it’s probably a lame pun but that’s really how I see my music. My music has a pop intention with simple hooks and structures and mostly shorter formats. However, I’m not afraid to mix it with all my other influences which include funk bass, jazz piano, electronica guitar, big swung drum machines. It’s its own thing. I let my songs live as I write them. I indeed never think of the end result/style when I start a project.
I started to release my first songs online on Soundcloud 12 years ago when I was a kid. They were mostly influenced by the bands I was listening to back then (Jamiroquai, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck,…) and were a lot more “old school”, instrumental and guitar/slap bass-heavier than the stuff that I produce right now, which is a lot more synth-driven and relies on sampling and voice manipulations. I guess I was making a chaotic form of funk-rock pop back then? The core of my songwriting has remained the same through the years though. I mostly sketch my songs with a guitar/piano/bass/vocal line/drum beat and then develop it on my computer.

What is your creative process today? Where/how do you find inspiration? Do you use any specific gear?
I’d say my creative process is pretty simple actually. I have a lot of “lightbulb moments” that make me pull off my smartphone as soon as I have a melody or musical idea popping up in my head. It can be vocals, bass, guitar, piano, beats, just noise or texture, lyrics. Anything that comes to mind, really! I usually record these snippets quickly, in order not to forget them and then I come back later to them. Most of the work is actually done later on: it essentially comes to deleting memos that were really bad haha. On that I really trust my guts: after I left an idea sit for a few days when I listen to it, it has to sound good and trigger ideas right away. If it’s not the case, then it means it’s not worth being developed to me. In a nutshell, inspiration comes in easy for me, I don’t have to find it. However, I am convinced inspirations come easy to a lot of artists: the toughest job, for me, is selecting what to work on and what is unique.
After that initial sort-out phase, I generally sit at the piano/guitar to develop the chord structure of the song, find a comfortable key to sing in, write a few lyrics ideas that match the mood of the song. That part is generally kind of short, as I don’t want to overthink the song too much and have 10,000 transition chords engraved in or stuff like that.

Then most of the work is generally done in the box, I use Ableton Live a lot and to be honest, I love it. Maybe I’ll try to include more analogue gear in my workflow in the future… but I don’t feel the need to do so right now. I record a lot of material, resample it, twist it (especially vocals and bass, I always do weird stuff to them)! For me, the most important task to do first is to get the structure and rough arrangement quickly, to avoid only working on a loop for 6 months. As soon as I have that laid down, I record a draft of the main melody (generally lead vocals) and then adjust everything from here to support that melody (harmonies, one-shot samples addition, arrangement variations, chopping samples) and make the track more lively.

I generally mix as I go. Indeed, if I fully develop a given track and make it take all the space it is supposed to take in my mix, then I can have a quicker view of what the final song will sound like and have fewer tracks (less is more I guess?) in it. Once the rough mix is done, I let it sit for a few days… and come back to it to hear it with unbiased ears. Then I send it to my sound engineer for further mixing and mastering.

Can you talk about your latest project?

I have a new single which came out on June 18th, called Piano Girl! It basically tells the story of a girl who used to be quite sad, just because she was dragged down by ill-intentioned people around her. By focusing her energy on her music and not accepting negativity from others, she eventually found inner peace by rocking it on her piano and giving back to other people. This little story really shows in the structure of the tune itself: a melancholic beginning driven by my wailing voice that quickly fades out into a powerful, choir + drum-machine-driven and catchy chorus. That alt-pop song is just me piling up 14 back vocal tracks, misusing analogue drum samples and crushing the sound of my poor guitar to make people sing the blues away feel good about themselves!

I believe that you are also a vocal coach? How was it that going with the pandemic and has that affected the way you work? 
Sadly for my neighbours, I’m indeed a vocal coach/teacher. I started music through singing, thanks to my dedicated elder sister. It’s probably the instrument I love the most because it can be taught to almost everybody (medical conditions aside) and you always carry your voice around. Teaching singing involves a bit more psychology than teaching other instruments because, ironically enough, most of my students are afraid to sing in front of me during the first lesson. I have to find the right words and exercises to unlock their “mental prison”, get their trust and push them to go all the way in public. It’s extremely rewarding to see students grow, open up and become more confident in the way they talk and look at you… it goes beyond singing and music to me. You help individuals assert themselves.

As for your second question, I don’t want to sound like I’m taking advantage of the mess we’re going through currently… but I actually have more students now than before covid hit. I do less vocal coaching (going in the studio and helping singers to record great takes, reduce their stress but also harmonise and stack background vocals) but way more teaching since a lot of people jumped into music when the pandemic spread. I mostly do it through Skype so I had to adapt my lessons a bit. But after upgrading my webcam and lightning gear, I got it working fairly quickly!

Can you share 5 songs that you always go back to and why?
Only 5? Come on! It will be more like “the 5 top songs I can quickly remember haha”.
50 Ways to Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon. That drum intro is just incredible, you recognise the song as soon as you hear it. Plus I really like the mood switch between the melancholic/minor verses and the very upbeat/major/happy choruses. The lyrics go hand in hand with the music and tell a very ambiguous and interesting story anyone can interpret their way. I love it!

Thinking by Louis Cole. Killer track, it’s super short with an unusual structure but still, it’s very memorable and funky. You can hear a lot of well-thought approachable jazz influences there that yet still perfectly blend with the pop orientation of the track. I love the drum + synth bass combo on that one, it’s super groovy and always makes my head bop.

Genesis + Let There Be Light by Justice. – The power of these two songs (I always listen to them in a row) is just incredible. Both songs are massive, raw, and roughly 14 years after their release, still very modern and inventive to me. I just love the very digital and aggressive textures Justice created on these tracks and the abrupt drum machine transition between these two tracks makes me smile every time.

1612 (Live At Madison Garden) by Vulfpeck. A very recent yet crucial influence of mine. Vulfpeck never cease to amaze me: how can you be so good at playing music but still be able to only retain what’s really needed for a track. Pure musicianship, there! The unison groove on that track is so iconic, simple and complex at the same time. Also, the connection between the audience and the musicians is so strong during that live performance… it really embodies what I like about making concerts and interacting with crowds. It’s a super fun, genuine, well-intentioned dialog with a lot of sweat and bad jokes in-between.

Canned Heat by Jamiroquai. It could have been every track from Jamiroquai, to be honest. That band got me into music and really made me curious about a lot of genres. The polyvalence and craftsmanship of their musicians are just out of the charts. I picked Canned Heat because I really love its 70s, “moustache-wearing cop” vibe. It’s just fun, danceable and carries an optimistic (yet sometimes two-faced) message. The funk bass + guitar combo is insane on that one.

You can catch up with Naud on Instagram, and listen to Piano Girl here.

Have a sound day,

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