Mister Lies Says Electronic Music Is Really a Lot Like Footloose

The 20-year-old musician talks about his recent work and his upcoming projects. But first, he plays Chicago tonight.

Photo: John Taylor

Mister Lies

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Belgium—one of the only days Nick Zanca has off from his European tour to promote his debut album Mowgli, a synth-heavy compendium of downtempo electronica. The affable 20-year-old, who released the album under his stage name Mister Lies, is sprite and chatty, despite not getting a lot of sleep. 

 

Have you found more of a following for your music in Europe, which is so heavy into electronic music?

It depends where you go. I’ve certainly had some crowds in the U.S. that were fantastic, like Chicago, considering it’s kind of my stomping grounds. But I’ve only played like 20 to 40 shows as Mister Lies so it’s hard to say. Although yesterday we played a show and people were singing along with the vocal samples in my tracks—who does that at an electronic show?

Interesting, considering that not even two years ago you were ready to quit music. What was going on at that time?

At the time, I was in my first year [at Columbia College], I was homesick and it was my first winter in Chicago. I started out as a music major but had a huge falling out with it. [Then] I met Different Sleep and some pretty prominent Chicago producers. I was heading to my friend’s house to print out tickets for an Odd Future show and when I got upstairs, these guys were all there laying down this beat that sampled a Fleet Foxes song, and I was just so knocked out. The next thing [I] know, I work on a track with my friends, it gets on Pitchfork and everything started falling into place. I owe a lot to Tyler Andere who runs a blog called Flashlight Tag—he helped me shape this project when I was just an anonymous artist making beats in my bedroom.

Why did you decide to reveal your identity behind the project?

It’s something that in retrospect I regret in a way, but I guess one of the arguments is that anonymity—especially within the realm of electronic and experimental music—is kind of done to death. There’s a way to separate the image from the music but it’s still kind of there as this dark, mysterious thing. I’ve struggled with the idea of balancing the personality of my personal life with the personality of my music. There was a time when I thought those were one in the same but I’ve realized it’s healthier to think of Mister Lies and Nick Zanca as two different people who are constantly working together.

As Mister Lies you’ve been focusing on this musical project and as Nick Zanca you’ve been immersed in school—that seems like a lot for one person. Is that behind your decision to postpone college?

I would like to go back to school and get a degree, but the reality of the matter is Mister Lies is becoming a very big responsibility to live up to, and I’m not the kind of person who throws that away.

What do you think is so attractive about electronic music for younger generations?

I think of the movie Footloose. Young people are bound by a lot of pressure, whether it’s with school or work or family, and it’s difficult to deal with. Dance music is so popular because it’s like escapism in a way, but [it’s] stronger than movies or books. It’s the only art form where you can literally close your eyes and just feel it.

Getting to your album Mowgli, how was that made?

I had just been signed, and I knew that if I didn’t come out with an album in the next year I would lose this opportunity. I didn’t have a whole arsenal of songs yet. So I went to my parents’ vacation house in Vermont. It’s right on the lake and by the mountains. I brought up all my gear and stayed there for some time. I didn’t have a lot of interaction. I collaborated with people through e-mail, like Aleksa Palladino. She’s an actress on “Boardwalk Empire” and the singer of Exitmusic. She sang on my track “Hounded.” Other than that, most of the instrumentation and production was done by myself.

You have a new project now called Wendybird. How’s that different from Mister Lies?

I’m in the process of working on the first full-length release. I’m experimenting more with musical atmospheres and creating certain shapes with sounds. I wanted to make music that wasn’t necessarily pop but was more meditative.

So after this tour, what does the rest of the summer hold for you?

I’m trying to spend most of it working on new Mister Lies music; I’m writing it with a live band in mind. I’ll actually be singing on this next one. I’m also trying to bring new people because I love the idea of collaboration. And then hopefully more tours. I want to support this record for as long as time will allow me to do so.

Mister Lies opens for Girrafage tonight at 9. $20. Schubas, 3159 N Southport. schubas.com

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