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It Takes A Village: The Many Moving Parts of NERVE

14 April 2020 | 1:34 pm | Parry Tritsiniotis

Brisbane rapper Nerve continues to shake things up with his ever-evolving style and refusal to stay the same. We dive deep into his world.

Nerve is a name in the Australian rap scene that’s been bubbling away for a little while now. One of the country’s most versatile on the mic, Nerve’s a force now too big to be reckoned with. To understand the Nerve project, it's easier to think of him as the CEO of a creative vision rather than a traditional musical artist. He utilises his friends and community and resources around him, as well as his undeniable skill to create a complete visual, sonic and physical product that extends beyond the common tropes of a rapper. 

Sonically the Nerve project has evolved tremendously. He came up in the well known Australian grime scene. He’s featured on cyphers across iconic platforms ILLEQWIP and Bodybag alongside thriving peers and frequent collaborators Huskii, Chillinit, Wombat and Alex Jones. With this came his breakthrough project ‘Sober’ in 2018. Riddled with tales of his come up and an arrangement of grime, boom bap and fast flows, the project is a spectacle highlighting one of the most versatile wordsmiths in the country. A 14-track grime infused epic covered every base of Nerve’s project. 

After this came singles including big streamers A BOMB and Big Switch as well as online series Walk & Talk. A change in sonic direction started to become apparent here. Grimey beats flooded with bars were traded for more calculated, put-together rap songs. Inspired by hip-hop across the globe, the new direction still had the underlying Nerve feel but now with a new, polished vision. He followed this up with his first conceptual EP, Mumma’s Boy and took the Nerve brand to a new level. A tight EP telling intimate tales from his childhood, Mumma’s Boy had a clear concept and visual direction, and saw Nerve elevate himself and his craft yet again with trap bangers and moments of real vulnerability. 

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Fast forward now to 2020 and Nerve’s latest single ‘Hopscotch’. An extension of the integral groundwork he laid in 2019, with ‘Hopscotch’  he sets aside his hard hitting, bass fuelled previous efforts into a more pop-leaning single. His undeniable flexibility is on show here. Throw in a Kyel Golly (one of Nerve's best friend) directed video clip and you’re inside a fully immersive Nerve-created world. 

Helping with this is No-One Network. The collective, including rapper Nerve is a group of Brisbane creatives from graphic designers, videographers, rappers and everything in between. They take care of a lot of the visual direction of the Nerve project, including collaboration merch, hosting cypher series on their social media and directing his videos. Nerve produces, mixes and writes all of his songs, so having him utilise his community and friends through the No-One Network infrastructure adds a unique layer to the multidimensional rap project that Nerve already is. 

Now having finally broken through into the wider mainstream of Australian music, Nerve finds his feet over and over again by shaking things up and remaining hungry to keep going. From selling out his own shows to supporting the likes of AITCH (despite the shows being cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak) to being booked for Falls festival (despite that being cancelled due to weather risks), his unwavering belief in himself and his community along with his ever-expanding abilities in making his music mean that with each release, more and more fans jump on the Nerve train. Now it's just a question of where to next.

What era of the NERVE timeline did you write Hopscotch in?  Was it in the Mumma’s Boy period or after that? 

It was just after the AITCH Remix. We got the beat and I noticed that the tempo of that pop rap and those types of beats is, it’s the same tempo as boom bap which is what I came up on. I think it might’ve been in the next two days, I just woke up and had a free day so I made a beat and I was like, “Okay this is sick.” I wrote the track and got the whole thing done in two hours, and then I just sat on it for ages. I sent ‘Hopscotch’ around and didn’t expect much but all these people I really look up to in music that I’ve been working with, like elders and stuff, they were all like, “This is mad, I really like this one.” We had a really busy end of the year so we just had a lot of ideas brewing about it.

Eventually, the video was kind of a rush job but Kyel Golly and his new crew just fucking smashed it. There’s some shots that look so effortless but it was like 15 takes and Golly’s screaming at everyone. It was pretty mad that we pulled it off. The whole shoot was 12 hours. It was 6am-6pm and then edited in a week. It was crazy how well it all came together. The one dude break-dancing, he wasn’t even there for that. He was a BTS photographer and as we were all dancing he told us he could break dance, so we were just like, “Get the fuck in there!”

How’d you first meet with Kyel Golly?

He lived in this janky ass Queenslander with five other people. I was mutual friends with a guy and he invited me to a Halloween party. This was four, maybe five years ago. I went to this Halloween party, it was weird as shit but it was funny. Everyone was lit, all 18 and 19 year olds at a sharehouse so it was extra loose. I followed his photography Instagram from when he was 15. When I started uni and started psychology and he was in my cohort with 500 other people. I didn’t know him and we never chatted until we met at that party and got lit. Then I hit him up to do a video for my mate and I asked if he could do a video for me. I think on his birthday, I’d known him for a couple of months and I bought him a shotgun mic for his camera. I was like, “Okay now you can film a video for me because I’ve just bought you a shotgun mic.” That’s pretty much how shit’s always worked. We went halves on his first stabiliser and then he shot a clip for me and Wombat. As things got bigger it got more professional. 

Starting up the favour for favour thing is so important. Everyone’s got their own little skills and no one’s making money at that point. 

You can’t just have it be one way because then it’ll never change. 

One thing I find interesting about your project is it’s very you. You produce it, you mix it, you master it. You’re not afraid to show that off.

Not afraid to push that in everyone’s faces and flex!

Exactly! But at the same time, you’re known as a community man. You’ve got No One Network, all your features are with people you’re very good friends with. I think that’s so cool and important. How do you find the balance between “this is my baby” and “this is our baby” at the same time? 

It is a constant balance. I think “NERVE” as a project is my baby, but No One Network’s and Golly’s baby as well. He’s massively involved, especially all things outside strictly audio. Obviously I handle all the audio, but that’s only a small part. He’s doing the merch, the videos most of the time and running shows even. It’s a good balance because there’s a whole lot of shit that wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that. NERVE wouldn’t be NERVE without No One and No One wouldn’t be No One without NERVE. It just works. There’s always give and take and little tug of wars, but if you can’t handle that shit you shouldn’t be doing it. Me and Golly have disagreements but we handle it because we’re adults. Somewhat!

I’m a bit selfish when it comes to my own projects, but when I bring someone in to do the new logo or the merch, it re-grounds me. It’s nice to have a new perspective. 

Me and Golly are both control freaks though. It’s funny, because I’m just naturally a control freak because I do all the shit. He’s similar, he does heaps of shit too. It’s always funny. We always work it out. He pretty much does everything I don’t do and vice versa. We just form like Voltron and make it work. 

Hopscotch came after Mumma’s Boy which was a big statement, it’s bit more conceptual and very packaged. Is there an extra bit of creative freedom when you put a statement out like that and then come back and think, “we can have a bit more fun now”?

You know Chazza? He watched it and I swear, we would probably get along. Every time he watches my videos I’m like, “This guy gets it!” A lot of people don’t. There’s a lot of levels to our shit and you have to watch a decent amount of content to get the levels and he always gets it. I feel like with ‘Hopscotch’, we’re playing into a new fanbase rather than just catering to the old stuff. We’re always changing. He gets it, he said my music is getting more natural and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I want to be me as much as I possibly can be. You can’t help the fact that a lot of Australian music is influenced from overseas because that’s where everything is popping. I’m listening to that shit and enjoying it but I’m trying to not let it get too… Man if I listened to drill all day, I’m not going to go make a fucking drill song because that would just be cooked. Everyone would be like, “Who is this guy?” I’m just trying to make stuff that feels authentic and that was fun, we had fun with it. I’m always just having a bit of fun. There’s always a message but you don’t want to be preachy. 

The message can be, “Have some fun, don’t take life too seriously.” Even on Mumma’s Boy, there were some fun tracks on that but they always levelled out. I think it’s important to show that perspective because we can be serious and we can have fun at the same time and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

That was Hopscotch. It was a bit cheeky but it was heaps of fun. It was a vibe. I’m so happy with it. 

I even wrote down in my notes for today, “Have you been confronted with people asking for the old Nerve? If so, how do you combat that?”

No one has said that to me in person because I don’t think I’d say that to someone in person. Definitely people have been like, “You should jump on grime” or do more shit with Wombat or whatever. You can’t be looking at what people are saying if you want to stay authentic, you gotta make shit for yourself. I think that’s something that people struggle with. You’ve got people out there like Cardi B who doesn’t give a shit. Everyone’s got their moments when they think too hard about shit. I’m definitely an overthinker, I try not to look at that shit too much. Also if someone’s asking for the old you, it could be a bad thing or it could be that I’m progressing as an artist. If you want the old me, go listen to my old shit. I’ve heard a lot of artists say that.

Tyler [The Creator] says it all the time.

Yeah and think about how much he’s changed. He used to say crazy shit in in his first albums and then he drops Flowerboy. You gotta respect that. People change. Music changes. Deal with it. Maybe listen to my old shit, listen to someone else or get with it. 

Do you relisten to Sober much? 

No, I hate listening to my old shit. Everything is evolving. If I get a little high or a little drunk I’ll listen and be like, “Damn this was hot!” It’s interesting listening to where I was at. With Sober and that period, I was just trying to rap my fucking ass off. I sometimes listen to old stuff and I forget about tracks that were on that. That was a big body of work and there was a lot of different… There was 15 tracks, maybe more on that album, and I think I made 13 of the beats. That was a massive amount of work, and it’s good to have that stuff out. There’s a bit of something for everybody now in the discography and I’m just trying to keep that going.

You’ve been a bit out of luck recently. From the Falls cancellation-

I’d say Falls is probably more out of luck than me but yeah! [Laughs]

Then the Aitch tour as well which doesn’t help either.

Everybody’s out of luck, bro. 

Everyone’s saying “We’re all in this together,” but it would obviously take a hit on personal levels as well. How do you get back up? How do you find motivation again and remain optimistic in the face of bad news?

My initial reaction is just to not get too cut by it. I was a bit cut, but some of the stuff I’ve done and been through, it’s more like when that shit happens you just absorb it and be like, “Okay how do I make this a good thing?”

I’ve had enough shit probably from academia, like being at uni and trying to build a circuit board and every day spending eight hours on it and every day something horrible happens. It just teaches you that when something fucks up you just absorb it and fix it. At the end of the day, I’ve got maybe the short end of the stick but there’s someone getting a way shorter end of the stick further up. Obviously the country was on fire. That’s pretty shit. It’s already a privilege getting offered those gigs. With the Aitch tour, still went on holidays to New Zealand so that was alright. Still got to see my sister. As long as it still happens in October, I’ll be happy. I think with what’s happening at the moment with all this self-isolation stuff, I really hate being on social media right now. Just the way the world is at the moment it just gets mad echo chamber. Like I said, I don’t believe shit until I see it. I don’t want to buy into hysteria. I’m not scared of contracting anything. I’m scared of spreading it. I think that’s most people our age. Staying home actually sounds pretty cool to me because I’ve had a pretty hectic year. I need someone to lock me in a room and tell me to make music because sometimes I just get lazy. Maybe I’ll do that!

GOAT Isolation tips? If you’re not making music what’s the GOAT TV Show or GOAT Uber Eats order.

Have you heard of Supreme Leader? Do they have Supreme Leader here? It’s this new fried chicken joint, it’s popped up in Brisbane really recently. It’s Korean fried chicken and it’s really funny because I was like, “Is this North Korean fried chicken?” It’s boneless, it’s not greasy and shit. Get yourself some Franks hot sauce, goes good on anything. Not too spicy, got a nice tang to it.

I’ve been watching a lot more Netflix lately and I think that’s why I haven’t been sick in a while. Last year I just didn’t chill, I just did not know how to chill. Now I’ve been relaxing properly lately so I’ve been watching more Netflix. I got back into Stranger Things but I don’t know if it’s that good. I think it’s good. I think it’s the art style of being in the 80s. I don’t know if I really like the show that much. I watched ‘You’, fuck! I watched the whole thing and I kinda hated it. I’m giving really bad recommendations… Big Mouth obviously but everyone’s seen that shit right? If you haven’t seen that, watch it. Maybe learn an instrument! Maybe I’ll finally learn an instrument. As a producer, I feel like I should learn keys. I’ve got an ear for music but it makes it slower in the studio when I’m trying to find the right note.

Obviously exercise heaps. I just bought a skipping rope, that shit’s been wrecking me. Just trying to stay swole brother! Get swole for October, that’s when everything has been rescheduled to. Then I can go do mad guest appearances. Hit up the Netflix, stream my music. 

You spoke about how you couldn’t relax last year. How did you learn to relax? How did you learn to take a step back? 

I got sick so much. I got so sick every time we went on the road. I think it was a by-product of uni and having a really hyper-productive end of my teen years and start of my 20s where if I was home and I wasn’t doing something, I’d be like, “What the fuck is going on?” There was stuff I needed to do that didn’t feel productive like wash my clothes and clean my room, but I’d always be in and out being out and doing all sorts of shit. Then I’d crash super hard. There were a lot of times where I’d come back from four shows... With the Triple One tour last year, I had four shows in four nights -two in Brisbane, two in Melbourne- which was Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then I had an exam Monday and Tuesday and I had to study every day on that part of the tour and then go back and do the exams. That shit just fucked me. I think spacing things out and doing more self care. I’ve been doing bulk face masks. Lately I’ve just been going to movies, doing face masks and hanging out with girls and women. It’s relaxing bro, you gotta do that shit. 

Sometimes it takes being really sick or crashing and burning to realise. 

Even go out and get drunk and spend the next day in bed hungover. I don’t maybe condone that but sometimes you just need a day in bed to just chill out.

'Hopscotch' is out now.

Interview by Parry Tritsiniotis