Nightmares on Wax steers a pivotal road trip

When he started pushing 40, George Evelyn felt a significant life change — or at least a warmer climate — was in order. In late 2007, the producer behind electronic soul project Nightmares on Wax decided to move from his hometown of Leeds, England, to Ibiza, Spain, and to write his sixth album along the way. The northern British town is a far cry from the notorious Mediterranean party island, where hedonistic nude dancing and piles of foam come with the tourist season. To celebrate his radical shift in environments, Evelyn found it fitting to write a record to document the move. So he boarded a guitarist, bassist, and guest vocalists into a van and got started on his recently released album, Thought So ... , on the road.

Nightmares on Wax' musical journey is chronicled as a four-part video series on YouTube. In these clips, long stretches of motorway unfold through England, France, and Spain as Evelyn sketches propulsive rhythms on his laptop, joined by bass and guitar. For the second half of the trip, the reggae-toned artist Ricky Ranking jams by his side. Evelyn looks happy as he sits by the sea and says the project has clicked in a way he didn't expect.

In Segovia, Spain, the group holed up in a 400-year-old house to record what they'd written on the first half of the trip, staying longer than planned because the session was working so well. The acoustics of the room helped give the vocals a more intimate sound, as heard in the group harmonies on songs like "Be There" and "Bringin It," which evoke elements of Motown's Studio A. Throughout the album, Evelyn leaves in bits of clapping, whistling, and laughter from his players, adding to the record's approachable, casual feel.

Thought So ... helps to shift the perception of Nightmares on Wax as a group rather than as a faceless individual in a bedroom studio, the nonimage Evelyn had set for himself from the beginning. Signed to England's Warp Records for 20 years, Nightmares on Wax provided the acclaimed electronic label with its second-ever release (the single "Dextrous") and remains its senior artist, both pre-dating and influencing longtime labelmates such as Autechre and Aphex Twin.

Evelyn's longtime DJ moniker, EASE, stands for "experimental sample expert," and his early Nightmares on Wax work is rife with cut-and-pasted pastiches of bleepy techno and old-school hip-hop, the latter a throwback to his breakdancing days in the '80s. He was careful to clear the more obvious samples, even writing to Quincy Jones for permission to lift some keys from "Summer in the City" for "Les Nuits," a signature Nightmares on Wax tune from the blunted beats of the 1995 album Smokers Delight. These days, though, the collage expert eschews most outside sources for his tracks. Instead, he craftily samples his own work when he gets the itch. "Hey Ego!" closes Thought So ... with lingering strings, piano, and scratching, employing the vocal loop of "Me + You" from Smokers Delight as an almost subliminal bassline to a party winding down.

With just one road trip, Evelyn has discovered a new way to vibe and create music with collaborators. He says in the YouTube series that he now wants to make all of his albums while traveling around the world. Aside from the songwriting it inspired, the methodology behind Thought So ... is significant in one other way: It also provides the opportunity for Nightmares on Wax to tour America for the first time.

 
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