words // Zach Despart | photography // Lauren Mazzotta
What do Paul Simon and Coolio have in common? More than you’d expect, really — they both released albums in 1997, they’re both more attractive than Art Garfunkel and they’ve both heavily influenced Nyiko Beguin, the Burlington-based pop artist about to release his second record, Always Always.
Nyiko, who drops his last name for professional purposes, has taken a yearlong hiatus from performing to produce the new record, but he’s jumping back into the game — and raising money to release Always Always on vinyl.
Nyiko, who will turn 23 next week, has been around the Burlington music scene three years — but music has been part of his life as long as he can remember. Growing up in the rough-and-tumble neighborhoods of Hancock, N.H., Nyiko found a love of hip-hop at an early age.
“I was fascinated by hop-hop culture,” Nyiko says. “The first album I bought was Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. I was young and impressionable, and it represented what I thought was cool.”
The impressionable kid penned his first lyrics in elementary school.
“When I was seven years old I wrote my first rap verse,” Nyiko recalls. “It was two bars.”
Nyiko’s influences have grown and varied over the years — from Paul Simon (the first record he ever heard was Graceland) to Ben Folds, Aesop Rock to Hall & Oates.
“I would consider myself to be a music aficionado,” Nyiko says. “I have been collecting and listening to all types of music since I was very young, and I truly believe that everything that I have ever heard has influenced me in one way or another.”
These influences have been both positive and negative, he stresses — some artists he wants to replicate, others help him understand what he doesn’t want to sound like.
“All of my influences represented a turning point in the music I was creating,” Nyiko says. “Aesop Rock — after I heard him I completely changed how I approached rap. Ben Folds — that’s who made me want to learn piano. It’s indie rock, but he did it different than Elton John did. Hall & Oates — I think their whole discography is great, such an evolution of their sound from 70s funk/easy listening to 80s glimmering pop jams to their more folky sound now.”
As a high school student, Nyiko began playing with classmate Ethan McBrien in the summer of 2008 while the pair were camp counselors in Dublin, N.H. The duo, called Whales & Wolves, blossomed into a four-piece outfit when Nyiko and McBrien both attended the University of Vermont, with Peter LaPlante playing drums and McCrae Hathaway on bass. The group played for two years around Burlington — including an opening act at Higher Ground, and released an album, Up To The Ground.
“Since then, we have all spread out,” Nyiko says. “McCrae moved to Maine; he is playing with another band now, Whale Oil. Ethan moved back to New Hampshire to play with his long-time band, Youngest Son. Peter and I are still in Burlington, but we are both working full-time and getting the band back together isn’t exactly a priority.”
While playing with Whales and Wolves, Nyiko worked on solo projects, too. He shifted away from the alternative rock sound of the quartet in favor of a more electronic, pop-oriented sound.
“It certainly has electronic elements, but I try to incorporate live and organic sounds whenever I think it makes sense,” Nyiko says. “If I had to put a genre on it, I would say it’s electronic folk pop. Since I started making music, I’ve recorded songs that could be characterized as hip-hop, pop-punk, grind-core, piano-based singer-songwriter, folk, and folk rock.”
Nyiko released his first solo album, Colchester, in 2010. He and UVM classmate Will Trowbridge collaborated to make a music video for “Off The Ground.”
“Colchester was written during my first year in college,” Nyiko says. “I was still in a relationship with my girlfriend from high school — we were living in different places and having different experiences, so a lot of Colchester is about distance and not being able to be completely present.”
Nyiko is an artist, actor, musician, relentless promoter and, to pay the bills, a credit analyst at a local bank. His paint-on-VHS tape exhibition Caught On Tapes was showcased at UVM’s Davis Center in 2011, and he’s starred in several short films. But he has put performing live on hold to focus on this record.
“Since the start of this project, I’ve been taking a performing hiatus,” Nyiko says. “Performing takes a whole different set of skills — it’s more interactive. I did a one-off cover of a Daft Punk song in the spring, and that was my first performance in a year. Acting is still an interest, but I’ve put it on the back burner.”
Now that production is wrapping up on Always Always, the itch to be onstage has returned.
“I want to get back to it — I want to be touring somewhat in support of the EP.”
Always Always, a five-track release, is a departure from Colchester both thematically and lyrically.
“For me, Always Always really represents a lot of where my music has come from,” Nyiko says. “I don’t think any two songs on the EP are in the same genre, and that’s what I think is really interesting about this EP. These songs were written over the course of two years, so I was in some very different head spaces throughout that time.”
Nyiko wrote the songs for Always Always 18 months ago. He meticulously composed all the parts for the tracks, playing piano and using a MIDI keyboard to create guitar and drum sounds. But, coming to the realization that there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, Nyiko hired a band to record the instrument parts he had written last summer. Dan Smith sat in on drums, and John Flanagan laid down the guitar tracks. The album was recorded at Signal Kitchen Studios in Burlington and produced by Nyiko and Dave DeCristo.
“I’ve spent the months since then listening, note-taking, scrutinizing, and re-working the songs,” Nyiko says. “With the help of a great sound engineer, incredibly talented musician friends, and many critical ears, I believe this is my best sounding release to date.”
Nyiko graduated from the University of Vermont in 2012, where he was probably the only student who double majored in Finance and Art. The combination of creative chops and business savvy enables him to approach both sides of the business. It’s as if he’s his own manager, and a shrewd one at that.
Nyiko performs at the University of Vermont’s Springfest in 2010.
“I’ve always been fascinated with both of those worlds — business and art,” Nyiko says. “That combination has helped me enormously; because of the business side I can see everything from a financial standpoint — what it’s gonna take to make a project successful, the marketing, putting everything together.”
Nyiko is about to launch a Kickstarter campaign to release Always Always on vinyl. He’s trying to raise $10,000, to cover tracking, mixing, mastering and pressing the vinyl copies.
He’ll also be publishing an art book featuring more than 15 artists from around the country, in a variety of mediums — photography, acrylic, oil and mixed-media.
“Their artwork is representative of their experiences listening to the album, and I have compiled the pieces in a book that I hope to publish,” Nyiko says.
Nyiko said none of the Kickstarter donations will go directly to him, and will all go towards offsetting the cost of producing the record and art book.
“Kickstarter is intriguing because you have the ability to not only raise funds, but while doing so get exposure,” Nyiko says. “Even if it’s not successful — everyone knows what your project is.”
Nyiko is holding a launch party for Always Always and the Kickstarter campaign Nov. 1 at Burlington City Arts. Jonny Wanser’s Mixtape Party and DJ Sasquatch will be playing sets.
Nyiko holds a special reverence for vinyl records, and wanted the best format to present his most impressive work do date.
“I wanted the most polished, best sounding thing possible,” Nyiko says. “I wanted the best way to present a grand audio/sonic experience.”
For Nyiko, the sheer space for art on a 12”x12” album sleeve was just too good an opportunity to pass up. The album artwork and design are by Jasmine Parsia.
“I wanted to explore the physical presentation, the artwork,” Nyiko says. “An album is way more than a digital file that only exists in the clouds.”
Nyiko is a collector of vinyl himself — amassing a collection of more than 400 records.
“I’ve been collecting vinyl since high school starting when I inherited my parents’ collection, and then my brother’s when he moved to California,” Nyiko says. “I started going to flea markets, and I’m into buying albums that bands release on vinyl.”
On the success of the Always Always hangs the prospect of a dream realized — the opportunity to take his act on the road and be a full-time musician.
“Ever since I was a kid writing rap songs I had the dream of performing,” Nyiko says. “If I had a following in this part of the country/world, I would first consider touring.”
Ever the realist, Nyiko acknowledges the balance of being a working professional and burgeoning musician.
“I work full time and I’ve got to be realistic about expectations — I can’t do both. The goal is to music full time.”
Ideally, he’d like to get a permanent band together to support the new album. But if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll still be out doing what he loves.
“Even without a band, I’ll still tour no matter what,” Nyiko says.
Despite the challenges of breaking into the industry and the countless hours spent in the studio fine-tuning every track, Nyiko’s love of music hasn’t waned since the day in 1997 he bought his first Coolio record.
“For me, [music] is the ability to evoke a feeling, a time, a place, with sound,” he says. “I think the best songs are the ones that remind you of somewhere or someone. They can make everything else that is happening fade into the background. Those are the kind of songs that I try to make.”
Check out Nyiko’s site, www.nyiko.com
Check out photographer Lauren Mazzotta at http://www.laurenmazzotta.com/