Bwana is Nathan Micay, a 20 year-old producer hailing from Toronto, and one of the most exciting prospects in the current bass music scene. His debut release, a free digital EP on Montreal-based record label Infinite Machine, came out in August to critical acclaim. His deft layering of sonal textures and interesting use of vocal samples on this EP and on the underground hit ‘Baby, Let Me Finish’ have earned him an ever-growing band of fans, who are undoubtedly awaiting with baited breath his next offering, a 12″ EP entitled ‘Over & Done’, a mellow affair which retains some serious dancefloor flavours. In the run up to his second release, we spoke to him to find out more about this fresh young talent.
I’m a full time history student in Canada, although I’m currently on an exchange at the Univeristy of Leeds in the UK. However, truth be told, I came here for the music haha. Besides making the tunes I love sports and going to the gym. I used to play allot of ice hockey and nowadays you can find me at the gym everday day from Mon-Fri. I also enjoy a nice glass of scotch, it is a must have when I’m making a tune.
Haha, nice. A quick glance at your soundcloud page tells us you’ve only been producing for 10 months, yet it sounds like you’ve been making tunes for years, what made you suddenly want to get into production?
Wow, thank you very much. When I listen to my own stuff in comparison to people like say Koreless, I think it is pretty clear who has been doing this longer. My songs sound very rough and cluttered I think. However, enough people have told me that is what they like about them, say it gives it soul. I think it is just my lack of production knowledge. Before I took a stab at production I’d had a long history of playing various instruments. I taught myself to play guitar, mandolin and the banjo(I love bluegrass). My parents also forced me as a child to play viola. I hated it at the time, but looking back I’m very grateful as I think it laid the foundations for me to understand basic musical concepts. As for the production, I got a trial version of ableton in the fall of 2010. I tried it like four or five times and couldn’t make anything and just was incredibly frustrated. Finally at the beginning of January of this year I decided I was gonna really give it a go. I got a pair of monitors, a keyboard, everything I needed and stayed in my room for about six months learning all I could. I never actually expected people to listen to my stuff though, so it has all been very surprising as well as humbling.
You’re an inspiration to all would-be producers! The well thought out and inventive vocal samples you use in your songs seem to nod to a bit of an R&B heritage. What music did you listen to growing up and how has it influenced you?
It’s funny, people ask me if I’m a huge fan of R&B and to be honest, although I’ve listened to it all throughout my life, it is not my favorite thing in the world. My parents raised me on jazz and classical music. I still listen to alot of classical even today, although mostly opera. I think having a childhood full of listening to Mozart, Haydn and other composers gave me a really neat understanding of vocals and the interesting things that can be done with the human voice. The same can be said for jazz. My dad used to force me to listen to all kinds of jazz as a child. I didn’t understand it then, but I’m now thankful for the long rides in the car with old Charles Mingus cassettes. There were a few years where I only really listened to hip hop, but I discovered country and bluegrass music around grade nine and that essentially dominated what I listened to throughout high school. Bluegrass has some of the most interesting rhythms and vocals in music. Alot of people don’t give it a chance unfortunately, but I think it has above all else had the biggest influence on me in terms of my understanding of vocals. You can listen to any old country tune, and some of the harmonies are just insane. It has only really been now with making these tunes that I’ve really started to dwell into R&B, I still have a ton to explore!
You’ve drawn comparisons with your fellow countryman Jacques Greene, but also artists like Koreless among others. How does it feel to be compared to these greats in contemporary bass music?
It is mind blowing as well as daunting. To be compared to those two in particular is insane for me as they have both been huge influences, in-case that wasn’t obvious. However, they also are both very seasoned and experienced producers. I’m still very new to all of this and have tons to learn, so there seems to be some expectations now. I never even thought people would wanna listen to this stuff, I just made it and put it online for kicks and to show some friends. I just hope I can continue to deliver and become more and more involved in this scene that I love.
We hope you do too! What frame of mind do you feel you have to be in to create music? Is it a natural flowing process or more a case of trial and error?
When I sit down to make a tune, my mind just needs to be clear. Can’t be stressed, angry or anything. Just got let it all go for the few hours of free time I have. So school and this move have made it a bit tough, but I’m adjusting in turn. At this point, I have an idea of how I like to make my tunes. What synths I use, etc. However, with each tune I try to add a new element. For example with the tune ‘Baby Let Me Finish’, that was the first time I’d ever used anything from an 808 before and with the sounds I was already using I think it made a pretty cool result. Sometimes obviously I’ll try something new and it doesn’t work at all, so I’ll move on and try something else. I still have tons to learn about production, but with every song I gain a better understanding of the process.
Cheers for the insight! To briefly play devil’s advocate, what do you prefer, DJing or producing? And what sort of sounds could someone expect to hear in one of your sets?
Well the only reason I ever started djing was because I was getting offered gigs because of my production. I had always had an interest in it, however when the choice came to either get decks or production equiptment, I chose the later. I think it was a wise choice. However, now that that I am actually djing quite a bit, I like it, but I still prefer to sit down and really create something. I think there is much more satisfaction in that. I’ve started to develop a live set, similar to what Koreless or Fantastic Mr. Fox do. Hopefully it will be ready to play live sometime in 2012. In my sets at the moment, you can expect to hear my own tunes, tunes from other producers in my scene, random snippets of hip hop and alot of dubstep. I still have a huge love and appreciation for dubstep and try to use it in all my shows. I think alot of people have gotten so clouded in hate for the genre because of its association with loud, obnoxious producers that shall remain nameless, but there is still tons of quality stuff coming out. I try to keep very up to date with the releases on Blackbox, Punch Drunk and Hessle and might even try to make some tunes of that style in the future to play out.
Sounds rad. Think we all have an idea of which producer you’re talking about there as well… We’re really looking forward to the release of your forthcoming 12″. The Sibian & Faun and XI remixes of ‘It Ain’t Done Till It’s Over’ are big, how do you feel about their contributions to the song?
Nice one! I’m very excited as well, never thought I’d see a release ever, let alone a 12”. I’ve been an avid vinyl collector since I was about 13, so this is very special for me. I love both remixes. I think the Sibian and Faun remix is very cool. I’ve never really gotten into the whole juke and footwork scene, however after hearing this I think I’m going to have to look further. I love what they did with the chords and the vocals playing off the percussion. As for the XI remix, I’ve been a huge admirer of his for years. Not only for his tunes, which speak for themselves, but also for what he did for the dubstep scene in Toronto. I couldn’t be more honored that he remixed my a song for my debut and the remix is as amazing as anyone would expect from such a class producer. There is one more remix as well of a different unheard tune on the EP, it is something special.
We’ve since heard this – ‘When Their Is Nothing Left’ (Jack Dixon Remix) – and it is indeed special. So Nathan, now you’ve given them a taste, people will be avidly watching for releases from you, have you got anything in the pipeline looking towards the new year?
Nothing signed yet. I’ve had a pretty rough start to my move to Leeds, so that production has been at a bit of a halt as of late. However, I’m getting back into it now and hope to have a b-side to Baby Let Me Finish completed by the end of November and hopefully that can come out sometime in 2012! Aside from that, just the odd remix here and there.
Sweet. Lastly, what made you choose the moniker ‘Bwana’?
The name Bwana is a little joke that goes back to about grade 5 between some friends and I. I had this old Simpsons comic and at some point in the story Principal Skinner says “call me Bwana”. For some reason we thought that was the funniest thing of all time. My friends started to call me Bwana and so I decided to choose that as the name for my productions. I’ve only found out now that it means ‘bossman’ or ‘boss’ in Swahili I believe, so that is a plus haha.
Sick. Well thanks for answering our questions Nathan, it’s been a pleasure.
As previously mentioned, Bwana’s ‘Over & Done EP’ drops on the 21st January 2012 on Infinite Machine (digital) / 12″ distributed by Kudo Records .