NÄM Talks 'Body Lotion' And Their Unconventional Creative Process
NÄM makes the kind of electronic music that refuses to settle; instead, their tracks reverberate long after they come to an end, and quickly find a permanent home in the playlists of those who are lucky enough to stumble upon this Austin, Texas duo. Such is the case with the pair’s latest EP, titled Body Lotion; another DIY, electro-pop follow-up to NÄM’s debut Umlaut EP, Body Lotion is as snappy as it is smooth, hitting sharp melodies when appropriate and letting others slide by so nonchalantly you almost don’t realize the track has ended (or at least, you wish it hadn’t).
Body Lotion is the first record that Nora Lueders and Sam Simmons recorded together, side-by-side (Umlaut was created largely while Lueders was in Germany and Simmons was stateside) so there’s lots to unpack with their newly adopted creative process and song selection. MILK.XYZ sat down with the pair to talk both EPs, the success of their DIY process, and what’s next for NÄM.
I heard “Granted” is kind of going viral right now, that’s awesome!
Nora Lueders: Yeah! I think it has like 20,000 listens right now or something.
It’s off of your new Body Lotion EP, right?
Sam Simmons: Yeah, that’s the new one. It’s surprising, I didn’t think people would like that one.
Oh really? That’s interesting, why not?
Simmons: I just didn’t think it would, for lack of a better word, the hit, on the EP. I mean I like it a lot, just ‘cause it’s slow.
Lueders: It’s pretty low energy, yeah. But I like it a lot as well, of course.
As far as the whole EP, can you guys just talk about how it all came together and how y’all work together?
Lueders: I mean the way that we make music together is very different each time we make a song. There’s not really one way that we always go about it. And the more that we work together, the more we’re learning better ways and how to collaborate together and how we both work and stuff. With these EP songs it’s kind of just been a conglomeration of different ideas that we’ve saved and had for a while. And then sometimes we kind of build on that while we’re together, or a lot of times we’ll send each other files through email or online, so we’ll bounce ideas back and forth.
Simmons: Yeah, like for example, “Stripper” was an idea that Nora had that I put acoustic guitar chords to, and one night we recorded her voice and my acoustic guitar, in the same room but on separate mics, and I felt like it wasn’t amazing yet, so I just took Nora’s vocal recording of that song and then, I had made something completely different, and so I just dragged her vocals over it, and that’s pretty much how the song came together. All of our songs are pretty much like that—there’s just a bunch of ideas floating around all the time, and the software that I have, I just use Ableton, I just kind of drag ideas together and see what happens. It’s a weird, long, Frankenstein process [Laughs]
As far as lyrically, are there any themes that you guys were working with or anything that ties all of the songs together?
Lueders: Yeah, to some degree there is. It wasn’t a planned out theme necessarily, so we didn’t write these songs with a theme in mind.
Simmons: My perspective on it is that the themes that kind of pulled the EP together was just what Nora was writing about at the time. It just comes out of maybe what Nora was going through at the time and her style.
Simmons: And when I say “at the time,” you know, it’s like months. It’s not like we just sat down one day and decided to write a bunch of lyrics. [Laughs] But Nora writes all the lyrics.
That’s interesting. So for you Sam, it’s kind of like you’re putting music together for someone else’s life—what is that like?
Simmons: Yeah! I mean, all cool ideas have some sort of emotion to it, and I would imagine that Nora hears it. But sometimes it’s not like that because Nora wrote these melodies and these lyrics to something totally different, and then I just kind of listen to it, go to sleep, wake up, so I have fresh ears, and then whatever seems to work for whatever reason is what I go with. And I guess what comes out of that gives off the illusion that she wrote these lyrics with the intention of really fitting this song really well. But it’s not quite like that—there’s a lot of just back and forth of us trying to fit with each other. And after months of doing that….or sometimes it’s not months, sometimes it’s really quick! It’s weird.
Yeah, so does a song ever start off in one direction and then by the time it’s done it’s completely different?
Both: Yes, every single song! [Laughs]
Simmons: I think the “Intro” song was originally…well the first time me and Nora ever got together in person, I was playing guitar with her and she was singing, and we had everything going into my computer, and I just pressed “record”, and we just recorded a whole bunch, and I listened to it back a bunch and there’s this one section that’s just super badass. Nora was really into it clearly and I just took that one vocal section and just kind of messed with it for a long time and what finally came out of that was something really simple. Just piano chords behind her vocals. And that’s what “Intro” is.
Lueders: Yeah, the actual act of us getting together and jamming together and making songs while we’re in front of each other is something that we just recently started doing. More of our songs are starting that way, but yeah, that is a recent development.
Simmons: It’s hard to figure out…I come from playing in a lot of bands and stuff, up until this project, and I’m still learning so much, it’s awkward and weird sometimes but it’s cool and exciting. Nora doesn’t play any instruments, so trying to find a way to have it be a collaborative, in-the-moment sort of thing, instead of me just making a bunch of random ideas and emailing them to her, that’s not quite as organic. That’s how we did it for a long time.
So for your first EP last year, did you guys work together in person or was that more of like sending stuff back and forth over email?
Lueders: Yeah, the last EP was majority online. Some of the songs that are on that, we weren’t even in the same country when we wrote them, so like I was in Germany when we first met, so for example “Bittersweet”, I remember the melody on that I wrote in Germany, and some of the other ones as well. I would just send ideas to him and he would do the same. And then to actually record them we were together, but the song making process we did apart.
Simmons: Yeah, a lot of the rough drafts for those ideas were like me sending her some stuff, and she would just play it on her laptop and sing into her iPhone. So it’s like this shitty iPhone recording and you can hear the track in the background, but even with that, I was still able to chop those iPhone vocal recordings up and kinda make it fit with what I was doing on my computer with all the instrumentation. My philosophy is that if you can make those shitty recordings sound musical and cool, and express awesome ideas, then once we have that as a reference, then we can really actually record it and fine tune it. It’s only gonna get better from that point.
I mean I feel like that sounds so difficult, so if you’ve already perfected that then working together in person must feel so much easier.
Lueders: Yeah, it’s just different. I don’t think it’s necessarily easier, it’s just different for us. We’re already so used to doing it the other way, and especially because, like Sam was saying, it’s not like I have an instrument to play most of the time, so it’s not like a band who jams and vibes off of each other. It’s like me singing, and him doing electronic things, or using pads and things like that. So it’s trying to find an organic way to jam without the instruments.
Simmons: Yeah, and Nora has a little vocal tune thing that she’ll sing into to. And what really helps get ideas going is that Nora will just start looping her own voice, and she doesn’t even know music theory of what’s she doing, she just wants it to sound cool, and then I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s an interesting chord progression or melody,” and while we do all that, I’m just recording everything nonstop. So I can always go back later and really figure out how to make it work. It’s different everything, but that seems to happen quite a bit these days.
Lueders: Yeah, we’re learning more ways of how to make new songs.
Simmons: And it’s cool because we’re completely self-contained—me and Nora do all the mixing, all that. So we have that liberty to just throw ideas out there and work on it.
Yeah, I’m sure that gives you guys a lot of creative freedom to just do it organically versus trying to force something.
Simmons: Yeah, and we don’t belong to a label, so that helps a lot [Laughs]
So I guess my last question is just, now that the EP is out, what are you guys working on or looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Simmons: A music video is our next thing—
Lueders: A few music videos, actually—
Simmons: And booking more shows, we got signed to Madison House Booking Agency recently, so we’re lucky and excited.
Featured image courtesy of Ceci Sariol
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