Nathan Stocker, also of Hippo Campus and Baby Boys, is taking big strides to expose himself as his own artist. Behind the upbeat indie-pop sonic he may be most commonly associated with lies a hidden darkness that has not yet seen the light of day. In an effort to offer a debut record fuelled solely by pure self-expression, Stocker is cramming all his most crazed and degeneration impulses into a big black box and erecting it as a shrine for all to see.
Brotherkenzie’s debut album ‘Nathan’ is a sprawling manifestation of self, putting into dishevelled words all the destructive, cyclic, shameful and selfish fragments of his behaviour. Twangling guitars, grand production, distorted sonics, haunting sentiments, varied regrets and, most of all, brutal honesty can be found within.
Clash spoke to Nathan about his desire to be seen but his unwillingness to embrace the limelight with a record that feels distinctly tied to his specific and true identity.
You’ve already put out two records under Brotherkenzie – ‘Barncat’ and ‘BIG WHAT’ – what’s different about this debut LP?
The difference with this album is I wanted to take it out of my bedroom a little bit more. Produce it out, make it a little more hi-fi. this record feels a little more… like the next chapter. A world I was able to build more so than a bedroom project. It’s just a little more fleshed out and succinct as a vision.
Your lead single get on it mentions building yourself a big black box, and this features prominently on the album cover. What does that represent?
It’s a physical manifestation of my narcissism and my ego. It started as a joke, as most things do in my life, and then evolved into an actual thing. My partner has connections to a welding facility and I was able to actually physically build a big black box. It’s a 400 pound steel monster and just represents one of the small lengths that I’m willing to go to in order to erect a shrine to myself. It’s a throne, a dark silly pretentious throne.
Normally when people put their worst qualities into a box, they’d want to hide those away. You’ve chosen to expose them as a thematic focus for ‘Nathan’ – was that a difficult decision?
The whole thing is I want to embrace what I know is bad for me. I want to be seen. The source of pride and ego is for me being seen and feeling acknowledged. In erecting a 400 pound box that only I can fit inside, I want everyone to be in on my masturbatory habits. It’s a striking image, at the end of the day, it was a pretty easy creative decision to make. All of this deeper meaning stuff is very much from the hip and people can take what they want from it, but the expression at all is where I get off on it.
There’s a lot of darkness that you were presumably sheltered from during a religious upbringing, particularly sexual demons. Was navigating them a difficult task or deliberate mission for you?
It’s always been present in my song writing, and my lifestyle as well frankly. At the time I was writing it, it was reaching a peak and not in a way that was super healthy. In response to my upbringing and childhood, it’s been a gradual mission of mine to push the limits of familial ancestral beliefs and practices, carving out my own lane in a really instinctual way, almost purely instinctual – that has come back to bite me in the ass several times.
The beauty of this project for me is not having anybody that I have to answer to – I’m making my own rules and can do whatever the fuck I want, which is super liberating and fun. Therapeutic, even. It’s a learning process at the end of the day, I feel like I’m giving people a window into my mental processes – I guess the word for that is self-expression.
Does that make it difficult to fulfil the industry-standard approaches to self-promotion?
Yeah, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do this interview. I’m always battling that; what feels extra and what feels appropriate. I want people to see me but when I’m talking about my own music in this way it gets to a point where I don’t know what else to say or do. It makes me shy away from wanting to do it ever again. That’s probably my biggest struggle – self-promotion.
Speaking on that, the internet and the way we promote ourselves online, I fucking hate it and have less and less interest in doing it despite making all these songs and a big box to put it online for people to see. There comes a point where it’s too much. If I was looking at myself, or this ‘brand’ from a consumers standpoint, would I unsubscribe? I’m always in fear of that, I’m always imagining myself like that; if I saw myself online, would I hate me? I I’m always struggling with my own frustrations.
‘DIE BROKE’ seems to be about not wanting the best for yourself. Do you ever find yourself settling for something you didn’t sincerelt want?
No. I think there’s a compromise that you have to make when you get up every morning. In reflection of the times, I think a lot of people are asking themselves that question: how am I spending my life? There’s a level of crazy that I’ve had in my head that just wants to light everything on fire, and doing that with my own life first seems the most natural way of progressing; destroy, rebuild.
‘DIE BROKE’ is about milking that to the nth degree. My mom told me a story about a guy who said, “All I want to do is die broke. What good is it if you have things left at the end?” That resonated with me and I applied that line of thinking to unhealthy measures, unhealthy and unrealistic relationships… things that existed from afar but up close meant nothing.
Speaker of your mother, ‘MOMMA is a very confessional opening up to maternal expectations. Would you have these self-questioning conversations with your mother candidly?
I have said those things to my mom since, but I wrote it as a letter to her; things that I would say, things that I wouldn’t say, things that I have said. Above all, though, we’ve talked about that song candidly one on one and it was a pearl clutching moment, it just makes her sad. It makes her not want me to think that way, walk me back from the ledge I’m purposefully putting myself on throughout the record. A very motherly and wholesome reaction, god bless her.
“Am I the kid you wanted now?” is a really interesting question. Do you that, when putting things out into the world in general, you have to let go of your attachment?
When you get out of bed, you’re taking things on but you’re also letting things go. There’s a compromise there and I think that as parents of kids that you raise, songs you write, the image that you put out – there’s inherently going to be a give and take. Finding common ground and balance is incredibly important to just functioning and being able to put one foot in front of the other. To know where that balance lies, you have to experiment and take either end of that to lengths that you wouldn’t normally go to – that’s what this entire album is about. Going so far that you lose your sense of self, and everything that you were previously. You wake up not knowing fully what your name means or where it came from. You then have a choice to reclaim yourself or keep diving into that experience.
These songs touch on topics you’re clearly open to expressing in music but find harder to talk about conversationally. Do you enjoy shrouding yourself in the mystery of that art or do you appreciate a chance to be honest?
I value honesty above a lot of things, it’s pretty high up there for me. Now you you’ve got me thinking about whether honesty is self-endowed or something allowed by whoever you’re presenting it to; whether it’s a service to somebody else or a service to yourself. Either way, I like talking about it because I think these things are worth talking about, and context is everything behind art or music. It’s equally as important as notes, words or visuals. Within this record, or the vague envelope in which its being presented is kind of the defence mechanism, the first wall that I want people to get over.
With context in mind, which song and moment on this record is the most potent for you?
‘SPRING PEELS’ is a really tough one. I wrote that probably during the first or second wave of Brotherkenzie songs. It’s an older song I wrote probably five years ago now, and it’s definitely the oldest on the album. ‘BIKE MORE’ was a tough nut to crack musically and narratively, putting myself in that place of wanting an abusive partner to stay despite the abuse; putting myself or the character in that song in that position… it’s hard to meet that emotion, to get on that level. It’s not all entirely first-person with Nathan talking, but these are all fancy ways of dressing up my reality.
Do you have any final messages on what people should expect from ‘Nathan’ as opposed to your past projects?
Piano. A little more darkness, diving into a new world or era of how I approach myself, song writing, the music industry at large and my place in it. Do what you want, think what you want, but at the end of the day I’ll keep doing this shit. The embracement of my name in album format and my person in song writing – in its simplest terms, it feels good. I feel like I’m doing what I need to be doing for myself, that’s all I’m focused on.
‘Nathan’ is out on August 26th.
Words: Finlay Holden