The architect behind NVDES talks to us about building a space where everyone can create without limits.
It wouldn't be right to call NVDES a band. Ask Josh Ocean, the prime architect and songwriter behind the Los Angeles-based project, and he'll describe NVDES as being more like a place; a free zone where existing musical identities get stripped off and tossed aside in favor of embracing creative instincts and just doing your thing. Says Ocean: "I don’t want to put a label on it, because I don’t know where it could go next year. I never want to make the same thing twice, and by keeping it completely open, it opens the possibility to be able to do anything."
So far, that possibility has resulted in some pretty excellent pop music, but it's the striking originality of Ocean's self-contained "universe" that really turns heads. It's also what led to NVDES both soundtracking and being featured in a new campaign from New Balance. The campaign's anthem film, below, is a declaration of Fearless Independence – celebrating the passionate individuals who challenge conventions by carving out their own path in sport, music and culture. This is exactly the kind of spirit that powers the world of NVDES.
Recently, we sat down with Ocean to find out more about how that world came to be. Even a quick conversation reveals that he's bursting with creativity and new ideas, and his borderless, ownerless approach to songwriting is only enhancing his strengths. Read on for Ocean’s thoughts on refusing labels, following your instincts, and why getting “nude” means embracing your imperfections.
On first feeling the pull of music:
When I grew up, my parents were separated. On Saturdays, my mom would wake me up at like 5 o'clock in the morning to bring me over to my Dad's place. I used to sit in the back of the car, this really cold place, the heater was on, and I remember thinking one morning: “okay, all of my friends are sleeping in their beds. And I'm in the back of this car right now. So this is my life, and they have their life." And that was the first time I really recognized that everyone could be different. Like, we all have our things. And that means we have the power to do what we want.
And the reason that memory makes me say “wow”, is because I think about that moment a lot in everything that I do. As I continued in music - music was a thing I’ve always been passionate about, I’ve been writing and writing songs and playing in my own little bands since I was like 12 -it's been something that I think about often. All the pieces were there and then I just put them all the together.
On the origins of NVDES:
When I started NVDES, I wanted to create a place where I could collaborate with lots of different people and just experiment. A lot of my friends are musicians that have other projects and do other things. And when I made music with those people, I wanted there to be a place where it felt like a clean slate. A safe space. A place where people could come and play with me and not have to worry about something fitting in their "box".
A lot of artists have to worry about preserving their artistic identity. I wanted to have a situation where we could enter this "universe", where you could do what you want, you could say what you want, you could be whatever you want. You could just do your thing.
I want it to be a creative experience, whether it's through music, or videos or pictures. Because I collaborate with lots of people on visual stuff, it’s not just music. And that’s where I see it all fitting in. Eventually I want to be writing things like short stories, making a film, a book. Short films. It can all be NVDES.
“I’m going to embrace my imperfections. I’m going to actually push those parts and make those the things I celebrate.”
On how NVDES comes to life:
I make all the music in my living room, and I like to get people involved. If I’m inspired by someone or something that happens around me, that makes its way into a song. If we were hanging out, you and I, and you said something interesting, or a moment happened, I'd do my best to capture those moments and make songs out of them on the spot.
“Turning Heads”, for example. That was a song that was made in like, 40 minutes. It was just me and my friend jamming on guitar, yelling things.
I'm heavily involved with all of the creation process, the artwork, the music, the videos. It’s very much like a flow of creativity from my little workspace or my little universe. I think of NVDES as like a universe I created to make all of this stuff, and it's really about sharing this creation as much as I possibly can.
“I never want to fall into a specific genre. I never want things to sound the same. I want to constantly be doing things different.”
On getting free:
I think that for such a long time before I did NVDES, I was battling with trying to put myself in a box. Trying to tone down all of my imperfections, the sticking points of who I am as a songwriter and producer. When I started NVDES, it was the complete opposite. I was being “nude” with myself. Being nude was a universe where I could create with people, where it was like “I’m going to embrace my imperfections. I’m going to actually push those parts and make those the things I celebrate."
Before, I was afraid to have confidence in my ability to make music that stood out. I was afraid that what I would present wouldn’t be “good enough."And when you’re worried that something won’t be good enough, you’re like “Tweak it, tweak it, tweak it! Change it, change it, change it!" And then you end up with something that is a very watered down experience of the pure inspiration.
And I've always been led by my inspiration, have always followed my inspiration, always been encouraged to follow my heart wherever it went. I think for a while, with other bands, other projects, you’re like 'oh, I wanna be on a label. I want to work with these people, I want to do this stuff…'
And you start listening to other people. And I think that when you start listening to other people and not to yourself, it’s a terrible to place to be as an artist. I was in control of what my inspirations were, but I didn’t embrace them. Some people learn that early in life, some people learn that later in life, some people never get to that point. But for me, NVDES is that point. So those experiences in the past are what made my vision laser focused as far as where I wanted to develop this project.
“Do whatever the fuck you wanna do. Break whatever you can.”
On calling his music "Laptop Punk"
There was just an energy. There was just an independent kind of energy that's inspired me my whole life. Just the whole idea of approaching things with feeling of only doing something for your passion, and your joy, and your energy. That's the kind of ethos that's been with me since I first started getting involved in the music world when I was 13.
And I just like that when I make the music on my laptop, it’s like there are no rules. It’s like: “do whatever the fuck you wanna do.” Break whatever you can. And it’s really just that. Just the way I make music. Because I think there are a lot of people that are more trained, or have certain knowledge of certain things, and if they looked at what I’m doing they’d be like. “What the fuck is this?” There are a lot of things that are technically “wrong.” But I try to embrace those, and that’s where it makes it a punk project.
On repeating himself:
I never want to fall into a specific genre. I never want things to sound the same. I want to constantly be doing things different. And if this was a three piece band, or a solo project, it would be like “okay, this is the thing.”
But because this is an open collaboration, an open kind of project…I don’t know what I’m going to make next year. I like to keep it open. There is a power in possibility.
I make a thing to say “I did this.” I don’t have to do it again. I don’t want to try and repeat myself. I don’t think that’s a really healthy thing to do.
On the future:
When I started NVDES, the only thing I thought about was like “make stuff.” It’s cool, I’m so thankful for all the stuff that’s happening now, all the success, but that just pushes me to dive deeper into being myself and following my creativity wherever it goes.
And ultimately that’s what I want to inspire in anyone who interacts with me and NVDES. I want people to be inspired to be do their own thing. To be nude with themselves. Whatever that is. To realize that you’re in control of whatever you want to be. Like, I make these weird songs on laptop with a cantaloupe as a symbol. You can do whatever you wanna do."