Nick Ward makes his bold return with his latest single, ‘PRINCESS’. With an epic assembly of strings, drums and heavenly vocals, Nick Ward explores breaking free of the patriarchal view that you are less of a man if you question your masculinity.
“It’s something that I’ve struggled with my whole life, you know? It’s something that I’m only coming to terms with now.” Nick admits to me. Personally, I never felt quite connected with the things that make up your ‘typical ‘bloke’. Growing up in a place like New Zealand where the love for the ‘things that make you a man’ is so high - ranging from sports to the drinking culture, all these conversations seem to end with one question, “But… why not?”.
After spending the majority of his life questioning his identity and gender, ‘PRINCESS’ finds him no longer lingering on his own question of ‘Who Am I?’ but understanding what he can be, embracing the beauty and power of being your own type of man. “Now that I’m entering the real world, it’s very confronting being like ‘wow, that was just a bubble I was in, there actually are other people like me out there, all on the same page as me.” he continues. ‘PRINCESS’ is the first taste of Nick’s forthcoming EP, a project set to further explore the complex and insightful nature of his songwriting.
Tell me a little about the recording process of ‘PRINCESS’
This is actually the first song I’ve ever made that had a demo, normally the demo is just the unmixed song - so Princess was the first song where I had a sketch of the song, and then I reproduced it with the live drummer and strings and brought in a bigger arrangement. It was a nice process, you get to assemble the song in a more intentional way, looking at how you put it together rather than… I usually get demo-itis, the shitty guitar loop that I recorded at 11pm where you can hear my mum doing dishes in the background… Usually I become attached to that stuff, so it was kind of nice to have more integrity and record something the best that I can.
How long did it take to write?
The lyrics came really quickly, but the arrangement took a while because I was a bit of a crazy person bringing in string sections and live drummers and driving to my friends houses to record drums in my friends living room… It was very manic and not very organised and it took a long time just because mixing was an absolute headache as well. There were more than 200 tracks, my computer was dying!
Yeah, there is a lot going on in the song! I love it so much.
Thank you, I appreciate it so much! I think I have a very short attention span when it comes to my music which is why something happens every four bars. I was talking to someone two days after it was released about how weird it is to be working on something for so long, and then it is just out… the way he put it was you can't get fulfillment of nine months of work in 48 hours, and now it is just this weird feeling of not having any control over it. Beforehand I could change anything, but now I can't. Everything is concrete.
You must just want to keep working on it.
I do! I just got the EP mastered last week, and so now I have no control over anything anymore… I'm having a weird postpartum dizziness where I don't really know what to do with myself.
Were there ever any conversations about shortening the song? I love the length of it, I think it's perfect… but I was curious to know what it was like from your side.
I don't think so, in my head the extra-ness of it all and how over the top the arrangement is, it adds to the story of the song, I’ll literally do anything. It’s this giant performance for my partner, so I think it needed that very epic, over the top scale. It would feel weird without that. The original demo was this very Bruce Springsteen guitar song with just my voice, which didn't feel right. It’s so strange that it is classed as a long song, it’s only four minutes? People say it has a long intro, I just think it’s a normal progression for me. There is actually a longer and more epic song coming soon…
I love the story behind the song - I personally feel like in my life, I’ve also felt like I don’t fit in when it comes to ‘typical’ masculinity.
I don't know how Australian masculinity compares to New Zealand masculinity, I would think that it's sort of in a similar world? But yeah, it is definitely a weird thing growing up with a very established idea of masculinity, there is so much sport where we come from whether it’s AFL or rugby or whatever, and I feel like when you don’t enjoy those things, it feels weird because “boys like that stuff” you know? Ever since you're born you have these ideas projected onto you.
What sort of avenues did the song open for you musically?
I don’t know, I feel like a lot of my music is about masculinity and stuff, and I think it’s because it’s something that I’ve struggled with my whole life, you know? It’s something that I’m only coming to terms with now. I finished high school in 2019, not that long ago… so now that I’m entering the real world, it’s very confronting being like ‘wow, that was just a bubble I was in, there actually are other people like me out there, all on the same page as me. It makes me feel seen, and gives me the courage to write these songs. Before I thought I was an alien, I’m not even the most effeminate person, I guess where I went to school made me feel like that.
“It makes me feel seen, and gives me the courage to write these songs.”
Where do you pull inspiration from?
I get inspired a lot by artists who feel like they're actively trying to do something new. boylife’s new album, Jean Dawson’s last album, Rina Sawayama’s album, Dijon’s new album - it’s just that feeling of uncharted territory. People doing something forward thinking is always really inspiring to me. I feel like with this project it's my attempt at that as well. Jean Dawson’s album ‘Pixel Bath’ is almost like… I hate to bring him up, but a Tarantino film in terms of everything he likes just put into one movie. That’s what ‘Pixel Bath’ feels like, he likes shoegaze, he likes rap music, indie music, all these different things thrown together, and I think my project is the same but made up of my taste. Film is a big thing for me as well, before music I wanted to go into film. I try to watch as many movies as I can, I usually play a movie on mute while I make music, it kind of feels like I’m scoring it.
If you could score any film with your music, which film would it be?
I’d love to go into film scoring! I’d probably be into dramas, Barry Jenkins type of movies, auteur directors that really know what they want. I hate when you listen to a film score and it’s just the most wallpaper score, just trying not to be noticed. I love very impressive scores that are stylish and want to be noticed. Maybe I’d want to score Boyhood?
You and your partner have a really interesting relationship, when did you two meet?
It’s coming up on two years. I know other people who collaborate a lot with their partner, and it can be messy or there’s jealousy or competition… but it’s not the case for us. It feels nice sharing something with someone because I feel like music is such an isolating process… especially artists like me and the people I mentioned before. It’s just you in and your instrument, and it is easy to get stuck..
Do you remember the moment you two clicked creatively? When you realised you’d make a good creative team?
We met just before my first EP, and we collaborated a lot on the visuals for that - so I think it would have been around that time. A big part of that EP’s visuals were very candid, shot in bedrooms and things like that.
You mentioned before you just got the masters for your EP - what can we expect next from you?
I think what is so funny is that ‘Princess’ is the worst representation of the project… but I think it’s the closest bridge from the first project, which is why I chose it. In reality, as I said I wanted to make a project using all my influences, whether that be rock music or hip-hop or shoegaze, or folk music… there is everything in there. We have UK garage bangers, lots of hip-hop beat switch type things… I don’t want to give it away, but I was really inspired by listening to a lot of hip-hop albums, and I think the format of hip-hop albums and mixtapes is something really great because it really values the listener’s experience. I wanted to bring that format into what I'm doing, and make something that is full of surprises. I’m so excited, I've never been more confident in my music before.
Have a listen to Nick Ward's latest single 'PRINCESS' below:
Words by Oli Spencer
Photography by Curtis Maguire