words by Anna Tehabsim
Will This Make Me Good is the second full-length album by Brooklyn-based musician Nick Hakim (American, b. 1993), released in May on ATO Records.
Nick Hakim just woke up. He’s still in bed. He hasn’t even sipped his first cup of coffee. He’s not wearing his glasses, and through half-open eyes, he sees a “grey blob” outside his window of his Bushwick apartment. It’s a gloomy day in New York City. Over the phone, he apologizes—he feels he’s not articulating himself fully as he talks through the inspirations behind his new album, Will This Make Me Good. He’s “scatterbrained.” I can relate. It’s the global mood. “Exactly, that’s just it.”
The themes in Will This Make Me Good are strangely prophetic, capturing something in the atmosphere of our current moment. While the singer and songwriter’s debut album, 2017’s Green Twins, explored a rich inner world through intoxicating psychedelic soul, its follow-up looks outward. It’s an exploration of community, touching on how we treat our neighbors, checking in with our loved ones, the madness of the world, collective healing.
Sound familiar? While these ideas should resonate with listeners upon its release in May, Will This Make Me Good was inspired by the movement of NYC, prior to our current stupor. Far from bleak, the album feels warm, spacious, out of this world, lifted by his love for those around him. Nick grew up in Washington, D.C. before majoring in music therapy at Berklee. Since relocating from Boston to NYC to pursue music further, he’s become part of the fabric of the city’s explorative music scene. A hungry, nebulous group of peers and collaborators including Onyx Collective (the jazz misfits come up various times during our conversation), whose sound evades definition but carries a certain spirit – of raw, emotional expression informed by their experience of life in the city.
Will This Make Me Good is built in part by this community, who helped Nick out of a rough patch of writer’s block in 2018. It started in February with a “ridiculous” tour stop in London, during which he played six shows in four days. At the end of the trip, he realized he had no clue where his notebook was. He’d been collecting all kinds of writing in there, and a lot of lyrics. He’d lost so much work, he was devastated. “I panicked. It was a real moment of shock,” he says. “I had to start over, but I wasn’t in a good state of mind. I didn’t have the energy or confidence to push myself, because I’d already done so much.”
When his feet touched the ground back in New York, the haze stretched on for six months. It wasn’t like he was doing nothing: he went on tour again with people “amazing at writing” and wished he could do the same. He moved into a recording studio in nearby Ridgewood, where he worked on compositions and melodies. In May 2018, he put out the simmering single “Vincent Tyler,” featuring the only lyrics he was able to write at that time, and did a split release with Onyx. But the block was still testing his abilities. “People would send me stuff and I just couldn’t write.”
He knew he needed help to see the project through. When a good friend joined him at his studio for a week, and encouraged him to stop overthinking it. Gradually, he got out of his head. Something just shifted. “It was an amazing release,” he remembers. “It was really fucking intense.” Every day for three months, Nick stayed up all night by himself in the studio, “writing, recording, researching, reading.” He was totally consumed. “My friends that checked on me were really understanding, but if I wasn’t in the studio I was like, ‘I need to be there, I need to be writing.’”
At some point, he’d slowly tuned back into his surroundings. On his walks back from the studio around 5am, he’d see people starting their morning commute, observing the shifting infrastructure of the city and its communities. “The cycles of different people, how they live… it’s so expensive to live here.” He also saw the overstimulation of people around him. The new album’s title is a reference to a society kept overmedicated. “I’m sure we all know people that have substance abuse issues, or being prescribed things,” he says. “As a kid, I had experiences with being overly medicated. There’s a lot of issues with a society trying to make everyone a certain way.”
He started to enjoy being around others again, inviting people into the recording sessions. “What’s really amazing is people bring things out of you,” he says. With this renewed energy, he’d have people play over some parts he’d written. They started having fun with it, and the album came to life, a gorgeous, street-level view of the city it was born in and the experiences of its people “I’m really excited for its release, it feels like, ‘OK! We dealt with that phase, and let's keep writing,’” he says. “I feel privileged to make music. This is all I have. This is all I can do.”
To keep up the pace and tap into the energy for his next project, he still visits his studio when he can, but like all of us, he’s had to adjust in light of COVID-19. Now, as he walks the streets, the scene is very different, but he’s still inspired. “One time the sidewalk was completely empty and 7PM hit,” he recalls. As the daily round of applause for healthcare workers kicked off, Nick put down his groceries to join in. He looked up at the people cheering in their windows. “There’s a lot of older families in my neighborhood, people that have been here for a long time. An old man playing saxophone, an old lady playing violin. People hitting pans. A young couple with their baby in the window. It felt like a movie,” he says. “It was really beautiful.”