Music has been in my veins for as long as I can remember. When I was 10 years old I used to sneak my red twin Sony cassette player under my bed sheets each night and listen to Charlie Parker and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I would lay an extra blanket on top of my quilt so as to provide additional protection from any unwanted parental attention. There was something mystical in the way these musical magicians of the past could weave incredibly complex melodic tapestries seemingly out of thin air. How did they do it? How could these superhuman’s get themselves into such a state of flow? I wanted to be just like them I decided.
Like most boys I elected to play saxophone, but my teachers in all their wisdom felt that flute would be my zone of genius. It turned out the only way to get the woodwind I craved was to prove myself first on this most dainty of instruments. And so I did.
After one year I was asked to sit in on a senior concert band rehearsal, a privilege reserved for only me and Marnie Bryant (my first major crush). This wasn’t enough for me. In an attempt to get attention from the punk rock looking conductor, Mr Mase, I closed my sheet music and played the entire song with my eyes closed. It worked. Not only did this propel me towards a career on a much sexier instrument of my choice, but I actually had a chance of now attracting some girls. Win-win!
But there was one other lesson I learned on this day that stays with me even until now; music is not about how well you can read music and play verbatim, but how it makes you feel at your core. My hearty rendition of “When the Saints Come Marching In” was my first experience of being in a state of flow, where time stood still and intuition takes over.
Enter the sax. I often wonder why kids would choose any other instrument over this crowd pleaser. Even my son has opted for Oboe (I’m working on that). My desire to be noticed was now actually being encouraged. Any opportunity there was to take a solo became mine, and after learning all the blues scales I had found my own fabric from which to weave. It was like a game. How fast, how high, how complex could I go? I have never been the most technically brilliant player, but one thing I always had was an innate sense of how to really feel music and not get in its way. As I worked my way up through high school I became known as ‘Solo’, a name I loved. I never played for attention anymore, I just played to feel high.
After a few ill-chosen attempts at university, some very average jobs and some compulsory (for Aussies anyway) travel around the world, I found myself in my early twenties wondering what was next for me. I still loved music, but how could I turn this into a ‘real’ career. Then one night I found myself at dinner with Sarah-Jane Clarke (fashion icon and co-founder of Sass & Bide) and one of the most eccentric and colourful characters I had ever met in Daimon Downey, aka MC Double D. Daimon mentioned that he and two mates had started DJ’ing, with him rapping over the top, and that I should come and have a jam. Why not?
The following Sunday night I pulled out my Yanagisawa 990 tenor from under my bed and ended up at a tiny club called Point of View in Bondi Beach, surrounded by 120 sweaty bodies having the time of their lives. The sardine like conditions made condensation drip off the ceiling, but it all added to the perfectly beautiful orchestrated chaos that would become known as ‘Sneaky Sundays’ and the epicentre of the emergence for a new fashion and music culture in Australia. It was the hottest ticket in town and Sneaky Sound System was born.
While we never really knew what we were doing, the one thing we did know how to do well was have a damn good time. Word spread about our parties and quite quickly we found ourselves being picked up in limousines in the Gold Coast (I was impressed at the time but now realise that everyone rides in limo’s on the Goldie) and flown around Australia for all sorts of exotic events and gigs. Fast forward six years and Sneaky was on the precipice of serious success, but I decided it was time to fly. Angus McDonald, aka Black Angus, was always the brains behind this strong musical brand, and ultimately I knew it would never truly be my baby. I was supporting someone else’s dreams so I decided to go out and create my own… in real estate of all places.
I didn’t quite sell my soul, but I certainly paid a hefty price for ignoring every creative cell in my body. Every day I would have this internal battle to convince myself I was doing the ‘right’ thing by getting a real job. There is nothing right about ignoring your intuition, and there is always a price to pay when you do. After rapidly rising to the top of the industry, from the outside I looked like success on all levels. Married with a beautiful son, beautiful house, beautiful cars… ugly soul.
I spent years trying to be someone else, ignoring the essence of who I really am at my core. Music was always there. It was impossible to ignore any longer. I could always feel the potential bubbling away inside me and knew if I didn’t start to see my art manifest, I could quite literally burst. It took a pretty spectacular fall from grace in my personal life and some serious health challenges for me to choose a more truthful existence. I had always felt bullet proof my whole life, but all of a sudden my health was taken from me and a bad case of meningitis turned into three years of hell. The universe was screaming at me…
“This is not your truth! You have a bigger mission here! Wake the f*k up Nick!”
“Shut the f*k up, this is my life Mr Universe, what would you know?! Let me suffer! I like being in pyjamas all day!”
I was living in struggle city and it sucked. But slowly I started to crawl my way out. My strength and health started to return and I found myself in a new relationship with a beautiful woman who could see some potential in me. She was a true purist when it came to music, so her word meant a lot to me. If she likes it, maybe others will too? It was the first time someone heard me sing, in fact it was the first time I heard me sing like that.
Out of nowhere it seemed a new voice had emerged. Melodies and lyrics started to flow and I found salvation in my newly acquired piano. Life started to make sense again. I sat for hours willing myself to go deeper. That sense of flow returned and I started to remember who I was at my core… it felt damn good. It was a simple case of showing up each day and doing soul work.
I had almost lost myself in the darkness of hopelessness, but now I could well and truly see the light, and it led me to where I am today (and to my soul mate).