IN CONVERSATION WITH NIC BILLINGTON
Interview by Marie-Pauline Cesari
Numéro Netherlands presents Nic Billington, a trailblazer in the realm of dark pop, originally from South Africa. From YouTube covers to chart-topping hits and recognition from pop icon Britney Spears, Nic's journey is a testament to his global impact. As we anticipate his upcoming album "Dark Horse," released on February 9, 2024, Nic unveils the mesmerizing single 'Slasher,' a thrilling exploration of passion and danger. Collaborating with renowned producers, his music defies pop boundaries, blending contemporary and vintage influences. Nic's move to London in 2021 marks a new chapter in his artistic evolution, continuing to captivate audiences with his unique blend of sounds and visual storytelling.
Hi Nic! For our readers who don’t have the chance to know you yet, can you introduce yourself a little and tell us how your journey into music started? What sparked your passion?
I’m an independent musician, based in London but originally from South Africa. My love for music started at a very young age, and I knew that I wanted to do it as a profession at the age of 6. However, I was incredibly shy and introverted growing up, so I only started putting myself out there once I finished high school. In 2008, I started recording covers in my bedroom and uploading them to YouTube. By some miracle, one of my covers got featured on Britney Spears’ official website, and as a result, I started receiving a lot of media coverage in South Africa. I was soon approached by an A&R scout and referred to an independent record company, where I recorded my first album, Overload.
Who were your musical icons when you first started your journey into music?
My mom and uncle were music fanatics, so naturally I was influenced by the artists they listened to, like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Madonna, Prince, Tears for Fears, Kate Bush, and Billy Idol. Although, I would probably say Madonna was one of the most influential for me. We had her “The Immaculate Collection” VHS and I watched it daily until it eventually warped.
How has the transition from singing covers on YouTube to writing and singing original music shaped your artistic identity?
Singing covers not only allowed me to experiment with different vocal styles and tones, but it also taught me how to share stories through lyrics. Having learned this from a very young age, I’ve been able to hone my craft so much faster. It also helped me understand what styles of music better suit my voice.
How has your move to London in 2021 influenced your artistic direction and musical style?
People in London seem to be a lot more open and liberal. It shows in everything, from fashion to music. Living in London has really helped me be more myself and break free from years of conditioning. When it comes to music, I no longer hold back from saying things that I feel strongly about, and I’m not afraid to have an opinion, experiment or explore.
You seem to channel your emotions and personal experiences into your music. Do you see it as a form of self-expression or even therapy?
Absolutely! Emotion is what grabs my attention when I listen to music. A good producer and friend of mine always said,’ You can fix a flat note with software, but you can’t add emotion’. When I write and record, it comes from a very deep place, either from something I’ve experienced or felt from someone around me.
How did your collaboration with South African producer Paul Gala and London-based musician Todd Blackmore come about for the single “Slasher,” part of your upcoming album?
I was very strategic about who I wanted to work with on this project. It took me several months to find the right producer, and then I stumbled across Paul Gala’s work and fell in love – Paul produced the bulk of the album. For “Slasher,” I wanted something a little edgier and sexier with 80s undertones. I reached out to Todd Blackmore to add some extra punch with guitar – with complete artistic freedom to do whatever he wanted – and I was blown away by the result.
Your video clips are not only music videos but true movies. What role do visual elements play in your music, especially for “Slasher,” a true ode to American Horror Story?
Music and visuals go hand in hand because you can tell great stories through both mediums. Since the very beginning of my career, I’ve been producing, directing, and editing my own music videos because it’s a form of creative expression. With “Slasher,” the theme was a little darker, and I wanted to emphasize how we as a society have normalized going home with complete strangers from dating apps even when they could very well be serial killers.
Can you share the creative process behind your new single, “Dopamine,” and why you chose it as the lead single for the new album?
I wrote “Dopamine” in 2021 while living in South Africa. The song went through many changes over the years, and just as I was about to shelve it, I sent it to Producer Paul Gala to play around with. He worked his magic on the track and changed the style of it completely. When I heard the first mix, I was blown away and so overcome with emotion – and I knew at that moment that it would be the lead single for the album. It sounds dark and twisted, yet it’s very uplifting and positive, which really sums up the bulk of the new record.
What inspired you to explore the darker facets of pop music in your upcoming album, “Dark Horse”? What are the darker facets of pop music?
As a child, I was obsessed with Horror movies and music videos like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” so I’ve always had an affinity for darker things. My first album came out in 2013. The sound was fun and playful – which was perfect at the time – but I wanted more depth and edge with the new record. I’ve experienced a lot in the last 10 years, both good and bad, so this new album really reflects where I am right now. The darker facets would be about exploring the things we don’t always talk about, like dealing with low self-esteem, losing a loved one, or questioning one’s purpose.
Are there any specific themes or messages that you consistently strive to convey through this new album? What can fans expect from it?
Honestly, I just wanted to lay it all out on this record. I don’t claim to have all the answers or keep everything in perfect order. I’m just a person. I like looking at things from different angles, and that spills into my work. I’m big on asking questions and exploring various viewpoints, hoping listeners can vibe with it and maybe do a bit of soul-searching themselves. Expect real emotions, deep thoughts, and, of course, some good tunes.
At Numéro Netherlands, we are music aficionados, but we are, first of all, a fashion magazine. What is the role of fashion in your life, and how would you describe your personal style?
I am obsessed with fashion. Just like music and visuals, you can really express yourself through the clothes you wear. I would describe my style as a mixed bag of rocker meets combat – minimalistic yet avant-garde. When it comes to my wardrobe, I’m aware that I’m still dealing with years of conditioning, so there is more to explore, and I often feel overwhelmed when I have to dress myself for an “everyday event”. I tend to only want to wear music video clothes all the time.
Is it a medium that you would like to explore more in the future?
Most definitely. I’m currently working on a men’s underwear line now, called SVINT BLVD. It’s something I’m extremely passionate about. I want to break away from the traditional formalities of men’s underwear and offer something truly unique, sexy, comfortable, and sustainable. I’d like to eventually branch out into men’s swimwear, gym wear and casual wear. It’s all very exciting!
To conclude this interview, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians looking to follow their passion for music?
Firstly, I would remind them that making music is not about fame, money, likes, followers, or streams… It’s about self-expression. If you are truly passionate about making music, you will succeed through consistency and determination.