Mister Lies captures the sounds of tranquility

Nick Zanca, aka Mister Lies, recorded his debut album in a lakeside cabin, but it still pushes a few boundaries
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Nick Zanca isn’t one of those people who’s afraid of change, having abandoned his earlier life as a teenage pop-punker in Vermont to reinvent himself as DIY electronica artist Mister Lies in Chicago. It’s not exactly a shocker, then, when reached on his cell in San Diego, the 19-year-old musician reveals that it wouldn’t take a lot to get him to load his belongings into a van again and put down new roots.

“I’ve been here for a couple of days visiting friends, just crashing on different couches,” Zanca notes. “I always love travelling on the West Coast. I’m a sucker for hot weather. And especially with California, every time I come over here, whether it’s to play or whatever, I always leave going, ‘I’m going to move here right after I finish college.’ So we’ll see how that goes.”

One of the big draws of the coast, Mister Lies admits, is the nature. More specifically, Zanca loves the fact that the Pacific Ocean laps against shores stretching from California all the way up to Alaska. As anyone who’s ever happily spent a two-week vacation camped out in a beach house will attest, there’s something meditative about being on the water.

Zanca certainly subscribes to that theory. When it came time, after a series of EPs, to begin putting together his debut full-length, Mowgli, he left the Windy City and headed somewhere less busy. He initially planned to work on the record in New Canaan, Connecticut, where he grew up. Quickly, though, he realized that the familiarity of his hometown would somehow prove creatively stifling, leading him to seek out other options.

“I have ADD, so I sometimes can’t stay in one place for too long,” he says with a laugh. “So I decided to relocate and bring all my equipment up to my parents’ place in Vermont. It’s on a lake, isolated from the world, which was really nice. Even though it was completely tranquil, I got a lot of material finished there. I’d wake up, get in the kayak with a pack of cigarettes, and get on the water. Then I’d go back, make some breakfast, and work on material all day.”

That sense of tranquility is all over Mowgli, to the point where it makes a week in a cabin sound better than a month in Europe. At the same time, the album’s eight songs also make it clear that Zanca isn’t solely intent on giving his fans a soundtrack for watching the waves from a waterfront retreat. The goal here is to push boundaries, whether it’s “Dionysian” dragging ghostly cabaret into a creepy lo-fi electronica underworld or Mister Lies doing his best to short-circuit the listener’s synapses in the snap-beat-powered dreamscape that is “Lupine”. “Align” is almost normal sounding until the house-lite synths give way to what sounds like chatter at a tropical beach party in the middle of a thunderstorm, while “Canaan” is poetic straight-from-the-therapist’s-couch spoken word set to fog-shrouded keys and what may or may not be a deep-forest rainfall.

“When I first sent ‘Canaan’ to my label, they kind of cocked their heads a little bit, and I had to go, ‘Trust me, trust me.’ ” Zanca says. “I think that good art brings people together, but that even better art gets people debating what someone is trying to say. I’m happy having my art viewed in a way where half the people are like, ‘What the hell is this?’ and half the people are, ‘I understand where you are coming from.’ That’s much better than everyone singing high praises.”

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