ABOVE: MISTER LIES. IMAGE COURTESY OF JOSH OHMS
It’s a rainy Thursday afternoon in Chicago, and Nick Zanca wants some Jamba Juice. “Superfruits,” he says with a wide grin. “I really like pomegranate and açai.” And, for all the mysticism shrouding his musical mantra, “Mister Lies,” Zanca comes across as a strikingly relatable individual. “Everybody thinks I’m a child,” he explains. “People are like, ‘This kid is five!’ And Chief Keef is younger than me.”
Zanca, 19, attends Columbia College in Chicago, where he studies both fiction writing and philosophy. “Dramatic writing, too,” he adds. A beatmaker on the weekends and student during the week, Zanca burst out of left field when he was discovered by perennial tastemaker Pitchfork. “I owe a lot to Larry [Fitzmaurice],” he says with gratitude. “My friends who work at Urban Outfitters, they text me every time [my song] ‘I Walk’ gets played.” Dionysian, out this week courtesy of Lefse Records, is a dense foray into the progressive politics of trip-hop—simultaneously airy and weighty, the contemplative drums and warped samples ground the listener in a meditative haze.
Interview followed Zanca all around Chicago—from a record store (“The last time I was here was when I was living in the dorms. We used to have listening parties in my room and drink cheap boxed wine”), to his apartment, where we discussed being a former theater geek, a career boost from Pitchfork, kayaking, the pointlessness of labels, and why he loves Chicago.
HOMETOWN: Ludlow, VT
CURRENT CITY: Chicago, IL
OVERNIGHT SUCCESS: It’s funny. I was not confident in “I Walk” when I first released it. It was literally that sort of thing where, “Does this the mix sound good?” I put it on my Facebook, and was like, “I’m not sure if the reverb at the end sounds pretty. I don’t know.” Then I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll release it anyway.” I woke up the next morning, and was on Pitchfork. [laughs] I’ll never forget. I was going to St. Louis that weekend to celebrate my cousin’s 21st birthday, so there was already going to be a lot of partying. I was in the cab on the way to the airport, and my friend who I went to high school with, he posted it on my [Facebook] wall, like, “Dude.” I open it up, and I’m on Pitchfork. And, “Holy fuck.” Everybody starts texting me. So, I’m in the back of the taxi, and I screamed. The taxi driver freaks out. It’s just like a movie. So I get on the plane, and I’m freaking out. It’s hilarious, because at that point I had only released five songs.
SOCIAL NETWORKING: We either hit each other up on Twitter. Like, I talked to Flying Lotus for about five minutes. I didn’t mention that I was an artist, or anything about that. We just talked about his set, and the new album [Until the Quiet Comes]. He was really goofy.
CHANGE OF SCENERY: I recorded at my parents’ lake house. I was pretty isolated the entire time. I was on the water. I was really sick of being in Chicago, and [the house] was my Eden. Sometimes I would get up at six in the morning and I would go kayak, or paddleboard as the sun was going up. I would go there, and make breakfast, and then I would go and just start recording. The whole setup that I had and all the synths that I used on the record were right there overlooking the water. It was really… I’ve always had a huge connection with water. Just, always being out on the lake. Kayaking, swimming… going out to beaches. A lot of bands do it, and I can see why. It’s very meditative. It’s isolating in the best way possible. I’m super outdoorsy. [laughs]
DOUBLE LIFE: It’s a Peter Parker situation. I’ve had a couple people come up to me and recognize who I am, but I try to keep it humble.
LABELING: Well, genre itself has been done to death. If I were held up to gunpoint right now, and, “What do you call Mister Lies?” I’d probably just say “experimental pop.” I don’t believe in genre like I don’t believe in sexual orientation. You listen to what you listen to, and you love who you love. I think that’s the best analogy for that.
SEAPUNK’S NOT DEAD: Oh, that’s the one exception for like, genre. It’s just so mystifying! I see all these girls on the [train] on my way to school with blue hair, and I’m just like so attracted to that. I’m a child of the Disney, VHS era—I was in love with Ariel and shit. So, something like that being brought into the music world is really cool.
CENTER STAGE: I did five [theater] shows a year. And, we’re right by New York City, so we had—this is so weird—the lighting designer for the show Spring Awakening, which won a bunch of Tonys, he did our production of Cabaret. I was going to go in [to college] as an acting major, and then the theater department basically, like, sucked all the love I have for acting. [laughs] Oh, my God. I find it so funny when people in the industry are theater kids in high school. Like, Azealia Banks. My sister’s also a theater major. I was dragged to a lot of shows in the city. I loved doing theater, it was just really, you know, after a while it started to get really old and I wanted to play music. I had albums worth of music, but I wasn’t able to really apply myself until I made it out here [to Chicago].
HAPPY MEDIUM: Chicago? I love this city. New York, everything in art is super business-oriented, and it’s strict. Grounded. Complete opposite in LA. Everybody’s really fucked up there, you know, naked. It’s this performance art piece. Chicago is grounded, but everyone’s got fucked up ideas. And I love that. It’s the perfect balance. That’s why I’m here.
THE FUTURE: I owe it to myself to finish my degree. Plus, like, I don’t know where I’m going to be in five years. Like, Youth Lagoon, who just turned 23, he just bought a house. I want to believe that [I’ll be successful], but until I graduate, drop out, or whatever, it’s just about balancing things out.
MISTER LIES’ 7″ DIONYSIAN IS AVAILABLE NOW, AND HE PLAYS TONIGHT AT CAMEO GALLERY IN BROOKLYN. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HIS FACEBOOK PAGE.