Getting To Know: The Foreign Exchange

Though you should know them already…
The Foreign Exchange

This is normally the part where I give an overcooked explanation of the artist in question. This is where I wreck my brain to detail the sheer magnitude of the music, in hopes of getting you to see things my way.

So I’ll try another approach: If you like Rhye or Quadron, you’ll love The Foreign Exchange. For almost 10 years, the Grammy-nominated duo has created the same electro-soul as the aforementioned acts, but with a deeper soul slant.

Beginning with 2004’s ‘Connected’ album, Netherlands native Nicolay (the producer) and North Carolina MC/singer Phonte Coleman have captured stellar results. They show no signs of slowing down.

“I mean honestly, what the f*ck else I’mma do?” Phonte says with a laugh. “This is pretty much who I am. Music’s always gonna be in my head, even if I worked at a grocery store or wherever. I figure, hell, as long as it’s in my head, I might as well figure out a way to get paid for this shit.”   

The Foreign Exchange is never the same band twice. The pair’s new album, ‘Love In Flying Colors’, is far brighter than 2010’s ‘Authenticity’, which detailed the struggles of breaking up.

Clash catches up with Phonte and Nicolay, to get a detailed account of the new album.

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‘Call It Home’, from ‘Love In Flying Colors’

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What sound were you going for on ‘Love In Flying Colors’?

Phonte: For this record, we definitely wanted to do a 180 from ‘Authenticity’ and make a brighter-sounding record. ‘Authenticity’ was really dark and really sparse in a lot of ways. But with this one, we definitely wanted something that definitely was a lot brighter, something that embodied the title, literally “flying colours”. For me, the opening track on the album, ‘If I Knew Then’, I saw that as the full embodiment of what we wanted to do. If I had to describe the album with one song, that would encompass what ‘Love in Flying Colors’ sounds like.

Nicolay: I’d say that a lot of my influences for this record have been a lot of European-based dance music. I think Phonte and I really talked about having a strong dance element to it. Whereas ‘Authenticity’ was more of the sound-based performance record, we wanted this one to have a bit of a dance feel to it. I’ve listened to a lot of 4Hero, Jazzanova and Disclosure. So I think they definitely found a way into the sound. We set out to make a record that’s very bright and optimistic.

In some ways, ‘Love In Flying Colors’ sounds like a continuation of ‘The Reworks’ album you recently released. Was that done on purpose?

Phonte: In a way, yeah. We didn’t want it to sound exactly like that, but we believe in giving our fans a taste of what’s to come. With us putting out ‘The Reworks’, especially the ‘So What If It Is’ record (listen below), that was a hint of what was around the corner. Me and Nic have always wanted to do that house-y kind of record, but at the same time, just keep it us and still keep the shit soulful. To me, that’s the most important thing. With The Foreign Exchange, we like to put our spin on any kind of genre, whether it be rock, jazz or country, but always keep an element of soul in there.

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Earlier this year, Rhye blew up out of nowhere. But you guys have created that same type of music for almost a decade. What is your take on the emergence of electro-soul?

Phonte: It’s something that we’ve seen happen a lot in music. Whenever black folks create some shit, whenever we do something, it always gets reinvented with a new face. In the early 2000s, everyone was talking about “the mash-up”. So I’m like, “What the f*ck is a mash-up?” Then I actually heard a mash-up and I was like, “Oh, this is a f*ckin’ blend!” That’s the same thing Ron G. did on all his mixtapes back in like ’94.

But now when a DJ or producer of the moment does it, now it’s a mash-up. With the re-emergence of our particular sound, that’s really how the game goes. Sometimes, it takes somebody new putting it in people’s faces for them to realise what’s always been there.

What were the personal influences behind the album’s creation?

Phonte: In the time from ‘Authenticity’ to now, a lot of stuff has happened to me. I went through a divorce, it was a painful experience and ‘Authenticity’ covered that. As a writer, that album along with my solo album ‘Charity Starts At Home’, they served as bookends for a certain chapter of my life. Once I finished ‘Charity…’, I felt like I made it out. Coming through all that and re-emerging, I wanted to make a record that represented that new outlook, that new sunshine in my life. That’s what ‘Love In Flying Colors’ was, ya know. It represents that new chapter.

Nicolay: I’m not writing any lyrics, so for me, the subject matter is always something I kinda work with. I’m working with what I’m given. So I think an album really shines when the subject matter meets the music. A track like ‘The Moment’ is a really good example because it captures us in our essence. It’s just Phonte on the vocals, and just me on the music. I feel like once we decided that ‘love in flying colours’ was gonna be the general vibe, I tried to get the music to fit the subject matter. Even though I’m not directly involved with the subject matter, it still ends up being a very personal album for me as well.

What do you want listeners to take away from the album?

Phonte: To enjoy the music, first and foremost. One of the great things about doing what we do is that you have no idea what people are gonna take from your work. You can write a song that’s sad and people can be like, “Damn, that’s my morning song! I listen to that to get me up in the morning!” (Laughs) But it’s all in how it hits them. I hope that people enjoy the record and that it finds a place in their lives, wherever that place may be. I hope it’s music they can live to.

Nicolay: We feel really, really good about it. I think we made the best record we could make. I’m just really looking forward to people checking it out. As Phonte said, you never really know and that’s a good thing, I think. It’ll be really interesting to see what are people’s favourite songs, their favourite moments. I can’t wait, man.

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Words: Marcus J. Moore

‘Love In Flying Colors’ is out now on Foreign Exchange Music.

Find The Foreign Exchange online here

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Stream tracks by The Foreign Exchange via Deezer, below…

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