Sometimes it can take a while to find one’s footing, that seemingly the case for Jeremy Nutzman. Before he began meshing space-warp soul and slow-drip R&B under the name Velvet Negroni, the Minneapolis-based musician was involved in an endless parade of Midwestern acts. Do some Internet sleuthing and you’ll come up with a short list that includes Go Ask Alex, Slapping Purses, Chelsea Boys, Spyder Baybie Raw Dog, Nutz, Black Male and the Extortionist, Pony Bwoy, and Marijuana Deathsquads.
Further research will unearth multiple incidences of Nutzman talking about how he’s in many ways got himself centred with Velvet Negroni, the back story being he was no stranger to partying in his younger years. That would seem to be supported by lyrics on the project’s debut album, Neon Brown. “Confetti” finds him singing “Ice-cold cocaine, and yeah that’s my liver,” while “Feel Let” contains the lyrics “I’m crawling in the dirt/Just to find my way home.”
Often, those who’ve found a better place after a difficult patch will point to a moment when they realized enough was enough. For Nutzman, however, the process was a gradual one.
“The lyrics are a look back at whatever was happening as I was settling in with the Neon Brown project,” he offers, on the line from the Twin Cities. “It was a look at how, maybe, things had got away from me, that leading into having some clarity. When it comes to one particular moment, it was more they were sort of sprinkled over a period of time, though. Things came in short waves until it finally got to the point where I realized it was time to get back to the drawing board.”
So Nutzman got busy in the studio with help from friends and producers Psymun and Tickle Torture. Together, they created a record that’s all about textures and mood: consider the teardrop percussion on “Wine Green”, the rubber-band ’80s synths on “Kurt Kobain”, and the echo-bathed guitar haze hanging over “Scratchers”. Nutzman isn’t afraid to get out-there, as the Taxi Driver–jazz jam “Confetti” proves, but he also plays ultra-sauve 20th-century soulman on tracks like “U.Dunno”.
Looking back, Nutzman figures what his producers helped provide was a sense of order.
“Neon Brown shows that I was working with other pros,” he notes. “We really had a good work flow, where we stuck to a schedule. Having two other people there beside me meant that there was always someone to check back to for opinions and guidance.”
Having that sense of structure might have been more important to him than he realized. Nutzman’s childhood was in many ways about regimentation; the singer was raised in a white evangelical family where studying music theory at the piano was considered an important discipline.
After spending time doing spare jobs like lumberjacking for a friend’s business, Nutzman reveals, he’s now at the point where music has become his primary focus. Major breaks have included the fact that “Feel the Love” (from the Kanye West and Kid Cudi collabo Kids See Ghosts) used the hook from “Waves”, off Velvet Negroni’s 2017 debut, T.C.O.D. It also hasn’t hurt that Nutzman guested on Bon Iver’s latest, i,i, and was tagged as the opening act on Tame Impala’s 2019 North American tour.
“Music is the main thing that I’m able to do right now,” he says gratefully. “There have been times when I’ve had to try harder than others to move forward, but music has always been my focus. I have music to thank for standout moments in my life. Even something like just going to get my passport—that’s when you stand there going, ‘Okay, I guess I’m really doing something here.’ ”
Velvet Negroni plays Fortune Sound Club next Thursday (February 20).