when nik colk void of factory floor met shura
The two musicians talk location, isolation, and intensity.
On paper the work of Nik Colk Void, aka one half of post-apocalyptic improvisational noise merchants Factory Floor, who have just released their second album 25 25, seems a world away from the warm, scuffed pop of Shura, an artist whose debut album, Nothing's Real, weaves snippets of audio taken from childhood home video recordings around delicate synth-pop. But - as you're about to find out from their chat below - where they crossover is in the myriad ways they approach the creation of their music, how location infuses creativity; how intense musical relationships can foster a sense of intuitiveness; how isolation feeds the muse and, most importantly, how a nice holiday to LA can clear the senses and make everything feel better.
Shura: A lot of what you do stems from improvisation, both when you play live and when you're in the studio, what do you love about it?
Nik: With improvising you can't go back and change the happening, but when you sit down by yourself and contemplate what you're doing it becomes something else - it's all about choices, about influences, merging genres that can sometimes work and sometimes not.
Shura: I always get the paranoia of 'is the reason these two genres haven't been combined before because they don't work together?'
Nik: Yeah, you can trust your instincts but you still can't help but be influenced by the past and present and what's going on musically around you. This is when you think 'I have so much more to learn.'
Shura: When you're recording, do you record from the moment you get into the studio on the off chance that there's something that happens that you may really like but might not be able to recreate?
Nik: When Gabe and I worked on our last record we kind of did do that. Half the battle is to get a good sound straight off when you're recording and to make sure everything's working ok, no peaking, everything straight. It's like a security blanket, once all of that is in place you feel safe. My biggest failure is to record live shows especially when I'm collaborating, to actually get my ass into gear and document what's happening at that time.
Shura: When you start a new project with anyone it can take a bit of time to find a dynamic because every collaboration is different, every human being is different. I think the reason I love collaborating stems from being a twin - I have twin brother and although I was sort of the bossy one you always had another person there to confirm 'yeah, you do that.' All of my handles are 'we are Shura' because I still find it really difficult to refer to myself as an 'I', growing up it was never just me. It's interesting to me that you and Gabe now work together as a two-piece because it's a kind of twindom.
Nik: Definitely, we do have a brother and sister relationship. We sometimes fall out and it gets personal but in a brother and sisterly way in that we know we'll make up eventually. Also, you start to think the same and stop worrying about offending the other person. The basis with our latest record, 25 25, was just being completely honest with each other.
Shura: On my album I worked really closely with a guy called Joel Pott who was producing and writing with me and by the end of it, it very much felt like he was a brother, a dad, a mum, a therapist as well as collaborator (laughs). It was such an intense process that by the end of it I almost never wanted to make an album ever again.
Nik: Because it was so intense?
Shura: The two of us poured everything into it emotionally: I don't know whether it's because I'm an autobiographical songwriter and the fact I spent two years writing songs and not doing anything else meant that I didn't really live a life for two years. I was so busy recording I wasn't having any new experiences to inspire new ideas. By the end of it I certainly had a newfound respect for anyone making a second album because I thought, how do you do that? How do you find the energy after pouring two, three, four sometimes five years of your life into something, having everyone have an opinion on it? It's such a weird job, you work up to that one moment and then it's released. It's almost an enormous anti-climax, suddenly you can just press play on Spotify. It seems strange to me because I generally consume everything on vinyl, which is an incredibly tactile way of listening to music, and that's changing for a lot of people now.
Nik: I'm big into vinyl. I think when we listen back to things now we tend to be lazy and listen through a laptop and so going through the mastering of an album process you have to think, does it sound good through a laptop?
Shura: You can drive yourself mad constantly asking yourself if it sounds good through a laptop. Obviously you want it to, because you're conscious a lot of people will be listening to it that way.
Nik: You're living in London at the moment but are you moving around?
Shura: At the moment I've been in the States for what will now be nearly two months, which is a long time for anyone not to really be home just because of work rather than travelling. I lived most of my life in Manchester. I do really miss Manchester actually, but I guess London's very useful to be in for music.
Nik: I think people have started to go towards Manchester because obviously it's a place with a deep history that you can feel. You walk across the road and come across another red brick warehouse that you think to yourself, 'I'd like to make music in there' (laughs). It's inspiring, which is the main thing. I've always found the US inspiring as well. At the moment I'm living in the middle of nowhere in Norfolk and I like being here but man, I wish I was in LA with a pool in my backyard.
Shura: There's something about LA that is so alluring to someone like me who grew up in a rainy grey city. Manchester is amazing but the weather isn't fabulous, and I thought I'd hate LA because I imagined it to be really fake but what I didn't really have a sense of until I got there was how you don't have to participate in that if you don't want to. The colours in the sky are different out there.
Nik: Completely. When I toured America and I would stay in LA because that is where my record label was based. I really noticed the change of light and how it reflected off everything. It was almost like I had new eyes (laughs). You're right, because it's so wide it's totally up to you whether you want to involve yourself in any of the scenes or not. I found when I was over there, having an English accent was useful (laughs). I'd hang out in Silver Lake where people would go to record all of the time in an informal way in this studio called The Ship. I think that's when I first started to understand how collaboration can work and grow or not.
Shura: It's interesting to me that you're in Norfolk at the moment, a place that as you say is far away from the energies of a city like London. Do you find isolation or being separated from somewhere useful for being creative?
Nik: I lived in a warehouse in North London and set up studio, Gabe moved in shortly after, then The Quietus based their magazine there for a while and other musicians where coming and going to use the space, It was busy and rarely was I there alone. A year after we finished the first record the space was sold to developers, so it was time to move on. This was a bout the same time I became pregnant so it made sense to move home to Norfolk where I grew up, somewhere familiar. To record we found a new base outside Manchester, then we took the sessions back to our homes to shape them into tracks. Gabe moved to LA for a while, it worked as we both had basic independent set ups, the same equipment desk, monitors, compressors, in hope we would get close to the same sound. I am in total isolation here - the nearest shop is 5 miles away. Apart from my partner and son I don't really see anyone, so it kind of gives me a lot of space to think. When I was teenager I was so bored, intensely so, but it made me creative and so I'd make things all day long.
Shura: London is really great and useful for being creative in terms of connections, but last week I made a conscious choice not come back immediately. An opportunity arose through a friend of my tour manager who has a studio in his basement in Minneapolis where I can write for two weeks. I made a decision to be homesick and create far away from home as a kind of experiment, as I don't want to make the same record twice. It seems to make sense to me to put myself in a position of discomfort.
Shura: Earlier you asked 'did you get into music to protect your identity or deflect your identity?' I feel like neither necessarily really apply to me. One of the reasons I got into music was when I was very young my parents were under the impression that I may be autistic because I didn't make eye contact with people. I had a real problem with emotions, especially expressing any positive emotions like love. I would always run out at the end of Disney movies, where there would be a happy-kissy-resolution ... Maybe it was because 3-year-old me was already feeling disconnected with heterosexuality (laughs). So yes ... rather than protecting my identity I guess music is my way of feeling connected to myself emotionally, even if it does make me endure pits of euphoria and depression.
Nik: Do you feel like your music is an emotional extension of yourself in a way?
Shura: Yeah, it's the only way for me to communicate with myself.
Nik: It's great when music is done for those reasons. When I was growing up I'd look at my reflection in the mirror and think 'I can't believe that's physically me'. I felt I could give myself more of an identity than what I could see when I just looked in the mirror.
Shura: I'm totally at peace with my mind being me, I have a really strong understanding of 'me' being a product of my brain. Sometimes I look at the body that I'm in, like 'how is this me?' I think that's why I became obsessed with watching home videos while making this first record and using recordings and samples from family recordings. My Dad was a documentary maker so he spent a lot of time recording birthdays and mundane events. I was sampling from that and inserting both me from the past and me from the present into the record. I just remember being really entranced by watching child me; moving, breathing, speaking, thinking and reacting to the environment. I could believe that my hands now are an evolution of those tiny hands on film. You manipulate your vocals quite heavily don't you?
Nik: Yeah, I think it's because I don't want people to have preconceptions about who is behind the voice. Stripping the identity of the voice is almost like another instrument, it's kind of like stripping away gender from vocals. The thing I love about being a woman in music is that it may inspire more women to do it to.
Shura: When I was growing up, I wasn't aware of a single woman making music in a way that I might eventually make it. That doesn't mean they didn't exist, I just wasn't conscious of them. It's exciting how now there are girls in school who can be inspired by female singers and producers through the Internet.
Nik: We're quite hands on in Factory Floor and we do most things ourselves, so before we were known I found it easier to shorten my name to Nik as then I found I wouldn't be treated differently, because in the past that would happen.
Shura: I find talking about being a woman making music can be such a frustrating subject in terms of how it's answered. It's a bit like the subject of my sexuality; there was an interview where I was asked about it and I gave a very honest answer and ever since that moment, in every single interview I've had since, it's been an issue and has taken up a large portion of the conversation, which is not necessarily relevant or interesting to me.
Nik: You don't want to hide, deny or forget about it but also don't want to highlight it because it can take over.
Shura: It's important to have that conversation because it shouldn't be ignored, the more you at least acknowledge a problem hopefully the better it becomes in the sense that people become aware, and hopefully once they're aware then they're mindful. I love that you prepared at least some questions ready for this conversation ... I thought I'd just call and hope for the best, a bit of improvisation, which is funny because that's how you guys perform live.
Nik: We do and we don't. On this last record it's interesting that I'm now starting to feel the need to tighten it all up. It's almost shifted to the stage where I'm looking for perfection, whereas before the imperfection was what excited me the most. If I could have my way, I'd have one beat, one sound. I think it's a result of being subjected to everything being thrown at you and when you start to live in the middle of nowhere, you start to realise how much is thrown at you from all directions.
Shura: People often ask, 'When did you decide to become a musician?' which is a strange question because I think if you're a musician it's not really a choice. I never sat down with a plan, I never even thought of music as a career, it was just a case of getting home to listen to or make music. I'd save money from my day job to go into the studio to record songs. It didn't really matter to me if it was just my parents who heard it or millions of people.
Nik: I did exactly the same. I worked all kinds of jobs to save money to go into the studio. I didn't have a plan to release my music, I did it - still do, ultimately because I'm in love with the process of making it.
Text Michael Cragg