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Listening to Top 40 radio, you’d think all dance music sounds alike: The same drums, the same mid-song breakdown and escalating synths, which leads to the inevitable “turn up” moment. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s grown a bit stale. Nadastrom is different: It’s melodic EDM that you can’t quite dance to. Its sound—a sun-drenched concoction of Caribbean rhythms and creeping percussion—is far more pacifying than abrasive as it moves through you. With Nadastrom (the production duo of D.C. area expats Dave Nada and Matt Nordstrom), there’s a greater musicality at play—more ooze, less oontz.
On Feb. 23, Nadastrom will release its full-length debut album via Friends of Friends/Dubsided. I spoke with Nada and Nordstrom about its creation, what it’s like to live and create in Los Angeles, and whether or not DMV musicians should leave the area to obtain greater success.
How long did it take to create the forthcoming album?
Nordstrom: The initial ideas are like three or four years old. We started an album maybe like five years ago, then we scrapped it and went back to making singles. And then we were just kinda working on a bunch of music. About two and a half years ago, we were in London on a night off, and [DJ/producer] Justin Martin happened to be there as well with a night off, and he’d just finished his album. We went out, had some beers and he was the one who really encouraged us to do it. He was like, “You really learn a lot about yourself as a musician and as a producer.” It was really inspiring. From there, we went full steam ahead.
Nada: The only thing we’ve been working on is this album. It’s been a priority for like three years. Some of the tracks we’ve been developing for years. Others are a bit more recent. But the key thing for this album is that we really wanted it to flow together and feel like an album, as opposed to a couple tracks or singles put together.
What kind of vibe were you going for on the album?
Nordstrom: We started as dance producers, but we also wanted it to be something you could listen to on headphones walking around the city, either by yourself or with a large group of people. The atmosphere of it was a really crucial element that we wanted to make sure was included. For the past couple years, we’ve listened to music for the sake of listening to music, as opposed to just having it on in the background while doing the dishes. We wanted to listen to the subtleties of records. That really helped shape the way we wanted this record to sound.
Nada: I think the idea of intimacy was another element that we wanted to accentuate. We wanted something you could listen to on your own, but just focusing on the music and listening to it—just sitting down and listening to an album. But if you’re in a crowd at a club, and you’re hearing this music, it’s still an intimate thing where you kinda lose yourself in the rave or whatever. Even though you’re surrounded by crowds of people, you’re not looking to dance with anyone, you just lose yourself in the music. To me, that’s an intimate thing. I feel like that’s the vibe for this album. How is the new music different from your previous work?
Nordstrom: The main difference is that it isn’t so club-focused. The majority of stuff that we made in the past had that in mind, where the song is structured for deejaying—”mix into it at this point,” “this is where you’re gonna get a good reaction from the crowd.” Everything was kinda tailored around that, whereas this is built a little more for different scenarios.
What’s the album’s mission statement? What should listeners take away from this?
Nordstrom: That’s always a tough one to answer [laughs]. Honestly, if there’s anything to take away, we want them to take some sort of narrative from it. There’s a beginning, middle and an end to this record, and it all flows cohesively.
Nada: I mean, this is our debut album. It’s our take of an album. Regardless of genre or whatever, it’s more about who we are, where we come from, and where we’re at now—whether it be D.C. or L.A.—it’s like a magnifying glass into our lives. But it’s our first album, so we wanted it to be cohesive and have a certain vibe, and be a reflection of what albums mean to us.
What’s the narrative?
Nordstrom: We wanted to start out subtle and have peaks and valleys. For us, a lot of the sounds have certain stories that we’ll always remember. We wanted it to flow like a DJ set, especially the way we like to play—where we take you up, then take you down. We also like those albums that have an ending, then you notice a couple songs that are meant to be hidden tracks—like a “last song of the night” sort of thing. How much of an influence did living in L.A. have on the album?
Nada: Oh, man. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure Matt can relate: Moving to L.A. was a big move for us personally, not just for work—having grown up in the D.C. area pretty much all our lives. Coming out to California, just being far away from family and what you know, lifestyle and what not. It was definitely a big decision that we made.
Coming out to L.A. was amazing because you have an industry out there, but there’s also a ton of artists doing the same thing—going out there to check it out. You have so many people, producers, and DJs who are totally on the same tip, just hanging out and playing music, going to each other’s studios and playing stuff for each other. Hanging out with cats like that get you super inspired. Plus, it’s beautiful out there [laughs]. You’re influenced by that.
Also, I live two blocks from Skid Row, so there’s always a lot of homeless and mentally unstable people walking around the neighborhood. It’s a balance between 70-degree weather and the fucked up things about it, that reality you’re constantly reminded of. That definitely has an effect on your day to day.
Do you find there’s an actual scene out there versus the one in D.C.?
Nada: Most definitely there are more scenes. L.A. is so huge, then there are so many people out there—not just music cats, but different fairs and festivals. There’s an audience for all of that. Being out there when Odd Future was coming out was really interesting, and seeing Brainfeeder and the institution it is now. If you’re looking for music, there’s no other city like L.A.
Do local musicians have to leave to gain wider exposure?
Nordstrom: I don’t think so. I think there have been a lot of artists over the years—Wale, Thievery Corporation, Fugazi—who didn’t leave D.C. as far as I know. So I don’t really think it’s necessary, in my opinion. There are a lot more opportunities in New York and L.A., but I don’t think you absolutely have to move.
Nada: Especially in this day and age with technology, and the way music is distributed and taken in. It used to be make or break, like “I gotta move to New York or L.A. to make it big.” That’s not the case as much as it used to be.
Nadastrom’s self-titled LP is out Feb. 23 via Friends of Friends/Dubsided. Listen to its Fallen Down EP here.