• Jamie Staples

Interview: Nenci on 'Underneath The Moon' & Allowing Room For Happiness

There are very few Artists nowadays that break the mould. Nenci is one of these rarities. Her vocals draw in the essence of Aaliyah and the rawness of Bon Iver - delivering stunning performances with a proven ability to captivate the mood of any song.

I first came across Nenci, the Vietnamese-American artist at the start of her musical journey - two years ago; with a striking cover of James Blake's 'f.o.r.e.v.e.r'. I was completely in awe of the passion performed in every line, the unmissable reworking of the production by Leviathe all paired with a beautiful performance video.

I think what is most special about Nenci is the dedication to the music. With collaborator Leviathe the pair seem to find the perfect balance of production, melody and lyrics. There's an ability to dive into deeper and complex ideas, without it ever feeling heavy or too much, a balance that provides the perfect harmony for these performances to be great, where many artists seem to shy away from underground genres of electronic music and spacious tracks, the pair use these styles to deliver raw and unique sonics.

The 2019 EP that followed 'Tomorrow, for sure' was awarded a grant from Red Envelope Giving Circle to fund the project. Inspired by early 80's and 90's R&B the EP explored themes of mental struggle and trauma.

This week marks the arrival of the new single 'Underneath The Moon',

I caught up with Nenci to discuss the track. We discuss the departure from where the last EP took off;

"...in a lot of ways ‘Tomorrow, for sure’ was very emblematic of pain. I think if anything it was a way to really face the experiences that were happening at the time."

Sonically she discusses finding this authentic sound, "a lot of [the EP] was much more layered to find a sound rather than this new music being so strikingly clear with its own sonic brand. As much as I am proud of ‘tomorrow, for sure’ it was very hard, confusing, and a farrago but I do still believe it was very genuine and I wouldn’t change it.

The biggest difference from the two projects is the tempo. We wanted to make music that we didn’t have to think so hard while listening to. ‘tomorrow, for sure’ was a very slow digest while these new ones are an immediate titillation. These new tracks are based on California music having major influences, with bay area trap (flute, drums) and fusion synths (LA electronic scene)."

The sonic departure is evident. 'Underneath The Moon' is shrouded in optimism and romance, stemming from a session with Leviathe’s co-worker, Jorge Hernandez at Different Fur Studios - "I recorded a few sketches using my iPhone and sent it to Leviathe to see if any would work. About a year and a half passed and that song was tucked away on a hard drive somewhere.

We eventually revisited the project and ended up immediately feeling the energy from it right away. We went into the process just really enjoying our time.

Since the song was built from a place of genuine fun, we wanted the lyrics to reflect something we both celebrate in our lives, which is the positive side of queer love."

In the current musical landscape, instrumentation is something sparse - Computer music is the norm, especially in electronic ventures. But here the pair interweave natural flute sounds.

"we spontaneously threw in the idea of writing in flute melodies. It just so happened that earlier in the same day, Leviathe asked me for some flute lessons which led us to the idea of experimenting with the instrument in the studio. The flute takes ended up being written within the last hour of the song being completed.

The song was completely transformed because the flute acted as the element of levity the song was missing."

Let me feel the way you move, Underneath the moon.

Lyrically the track reflects on agape love and an appreciation for it, in all of its beauty. Underneath the Moon itself seems almost a symbol for the raw truths in life, no hiding in the night time. Progressing with rich harmonies as the production builds, the outro provides a sense of solid calm and afterglow of the sonic trip.

"Since the song was built from a place of genuine fun, we wanted the lyrics to reflect something we both celebrate in our lives, which is the positive side of queer love."

The Artwork for the single was painted in their home, "We were trying to find new things to do that we never had a chance to do outside the Covid lockdown. One of those things was painting with Oils." Depicting strokes of different colours, made with a palette knife, "It was a fun night of just sitting on the ground and just taking turns each doing a stroke of paint. We made a few pieces and ended up choosing the two that embodied our two singles the best."

What's next for nenci?

I’m hoping to continue on this path of genuinely trying to make music that is healing and ultimately fun! We have been playing with the idea of going minimalist RnB and focus more on just the songwriting rather than layered sonics.

I just want to keep things fresh and not get stagnant even though we just made 2 songs in this particular style... We are also working on collaborating in other ways to see how we can creatively grow just like how we made the cover art together through painting. Right now we are continuing to grow our skills as I teach Leviathe lessons in singing and flute and she is teaching me harmony, music theory, and ableton!

In the near future we have a really amazing remix from our friend Komak of Underneath The Moon that is coming out on 29 Jan 2021 and our second single Lydia coming out on 12 Feb 2021.

Finally, What song did Nenci wish they made?

“nothing thought” by Sonnymoon.

There are many times when I ponder about the stars and wonder how many galaxies exist. The universe feels so magnificently grand and makes me feel so little. That’s the feeling that this song brings me. I really admire songs that can transport me somewhere and influence me to reflect on myself. My interpretation of the meaning behind this song is that being open and observant about your mind and soul can be grounding but also make you feel vulnerable.

There’s repeated lines in this song about the idea of thinking and noticing where your thoughts are shifting to. These lines would always make me reflect on how scattered my mind always feels because I learned at an early age how to drift away from my body when I felt overwhelmed. The lead vocalist in Sonnymoon has such an articulate way of delivering her lines in a gentle yet powerful way that caters to what she is saying. Instead of having her vocals as the main focus of the song on top of an instrumental, her voice is designed as just part of the atmosphere to further the feeling of being in their world.

Underneath the Moon is out now on Text Me Records.

The second single Lydia is out on 12th of February.

Follow Nenci & Leviathe on Instagram to stay up to date.