The Grammy nominated duo of Phonte and Nicolay, better known as The Foreign Exchange, will return to Richmond Thursday, May 1st. It’s the second performance date of their massive 35 date world tour. I hooked up with the R&B/electronica/hip hop duo to talk about the tour, their love for performing live, and their new record, “Love in Flying Colors.”
Cheats: The tour is massive. At least 35 tour dates – all over the world. How do you prepare for such a lengthy tour?
Phonte: I hit the gym, lift weights, jump rope, try to get my diet right. It’s really about trying to get in physical shape, also getting a lot of vocal rest and drinking a lot of water. After a show, I leave pretty quickly. And it’s not because I don’t want to spend time with our fans, I just have to rest my voice. At this point our show is about 2 hours so I have to shut down my voice right after in order to sound good the next night.
Nicolay: A lot of vocal rest too. I honestly prepare for it by not thinking about it too much. When you look at it on paper it does seem like a very daunting task, so it leads to a real day to day lifestyle. You get your clothes right, you get your shoes right, you get your equipment ready, but ultimately it’s just about getting out there and getting it started.
It sounds like NBA players preparing for the playoffs. For people that don’t know about tour life, is the physical grind the most challenging?
Phonte: It’s both physical and emotional. Tour is a pretty repetitive thing. We are only in most cities for a few hours so you really don’t get to see the city. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. The fun part is the time when we’re on stage performing for the fans but most everything around that time is pretty repetitive and taxing.
Do you consider tours as a learning experience or a chance to celebrate the music you’ve created?
Nicolay: I think it’s both. It’s great to perform live and see the reaction to your music at that very moment. We can play certain songs off of “Leave it All Behind” or “Authenticity” and you can see that recognition and reaction. At the same time, tour is definitely a test case for new music. Music that sounds great on a record, may not always translate live. Especially with what we are doing right now, we are building a new show around a lot of new music. A lot of the show we are still figuring out what works. And with a Foreign Exchange show, it’s one of our rules that no one show is the same. That’s how we keep it interesting. We may play some of the same songs but we keep it interesting by changing up some of the cuts and improvising.
“Love in Flying Colors” came out to great reviews. Tell me about the process of making this record?
Phonte: The process is the same. Its starts online with Nicolay sending me a track he made. I’ll add vocals and sometimes other arrangements (woodwinds, etc.) and it just goes back and forth. That’s pretty much how we work.
So it’s the same formula as your first album, “Connected” nearly 10 years ago.
Phonte: Yeah. It’s exactly the same.
Even with the same formula, how has the music evolved since your last record, “Authenticity (2010).”
Nicolay: The music always evolves because we are getting older, living life, and learning. It’s important for me to start with a clean slate. I take a step back from everything I’ve done before and figure out what’s next. Every four or five years, I just take a deeper look and see where I can switch it up. I always want to keep things new. With “Authenticity” we knew it was a very stripped down – dark – record, so for ”Love in Flying Colors” we wanted to do a record that was more upbeat with brighter textures, dance elements, and R&B elements. I think I prepared for the record by listening to a lot of different material and experimenting a lot with new sounds and techniques. “Love in Flying Colors” felt like a new beginning for me.
Where you aiming for a more upbeat record?
Phonte: Definitely. Before we started making music, Nic and I talked about the direction of the record. We knew we wanted to make a lighter record.
There have been a few solo projects that came out since “Authenticity.” Did working solo have any impact on “Love in Flying Colors?”
Phonte: Doing work on your own is just a way to keep things fresh. There are things that we can do as Foreign Exchange and there are things that we can only do individually, whether that is a solo album or writing for Zo! or Nic doing his City Lights project, all of that helps us individually improve. And when we come together we are stronger individually and better as a unit. You need those times away from the group just to improve your individual craft and get your own strengths right to be better for the collective.
Nicolay: I agree. It’s important for artists to have projects where all of the decisions and creative is 100% yours. You learn from that. And you learn from collaborating with other people. It’s like any relationship, sometimes you have to step away and assess the situation in order to come back stronger. With any solo project, it ultimately adds to what we bring to the table as Foreign Exchange.
What excites you about playing the new music on tour?
Nicolay: It’s a sign of progress. We retooled the entire show and put a lot of new music in it. The new music is very fun to play live. It’s more upbeat and lively. The reaction so far has been great.
What should people expect on May 1st at the Canal Club?
Phonte: A great time! Bring your family and come ready to party. We leave it all on the stage every night.
Tuesday Verses Presents, THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE “Love In Flying Colors” tour, Thursday, May 1, 2014, 8pm, at the Canal Club!