From uploading covers to YouTube to busking on the streets of Lincoln, for years Nick Wilson has been practicing and developing his skills, biding his time until the moment was perfect. But faced with the quiet uncertainty of the pandemic, he took inspiration from Taylor Swift’s surprise Folklore release, and set to work recording his debut album.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen next year, you don’t know what’s going to go down,” Wilson animatedly explains across Zoom, smiling with a little disbelief. “The whole music industry, the whole world, was just up in the air. It was actually the Folklore album that made me think like, ‘Shit. This is the biggest pop star on the planet. She’s just done an album and it’s like, there you go. Why am I not putting an album out?’”
The first half of last year was a dizzying experience. While many of us sat dumbly refreshing the news, Swift managed to remotely write and record the GRAMMYs Album of the Year. For Wilson, it gave him the jolt he needed to create and compile his debut full length. Out today, Now I’m Falling is a collection of intimate, stark and affecting songs that gives an authentic introduction to an artist who’s been a long time in the making. While it might not come wrapped in kitsch knitwear, Wilson’s roots could rival any cottage-core Pinterest board.
Wilson grew up in Great Missenden, the quaint village in Buckinghamshire where Roald Dahl lived and wrote. “The Roald Dahl thing is basically the one exciting thing about Great Missenden,” laughs Wilson. “There’s occasionally loads of hype, whenever there’s a Roald Dahl film coming out. I remember when it was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the one with Johnny Depp. For a week there were A List celebs just in the village, like Johnny Depp and George Clooney, and you’re like, ‘What?! This is literally a village in the middle of nowhere!’ But that’s our one claim to fame.”
Hollywood superstars aside, Great Missenden’s usual quiet and peaceful atmosphere, coupled with its location, created the ideal incubator for Wilson to work on music. “It’s this tiny little village out in the middle of nowhere that’s perfect for writing songs and not thinking about the scary big side of music. But also, you can get on a train and get into London in forty minutes,” he smiles. “It was actually the best of both worlds when I was first properly taking on music, because it was like, I can stay at home and just work on the creative side of it. But then when I need to do gigs, meetings, see anyone, I could just get on a train.”
One of five siblings, growing up he was exposed to all different types of music from Queen in the kitchen to Mariah Carey in the car. “I remember one of the first proper albums I seriously invested in was the first The Killers’ Hot Fuss,” he reminisces. “I remember listening to that in the car, track after track. You can over-listen to music, but I was at that age where I couldn’t, and I was never bored of any of it. Whereas now, even my favourite albums, if I listen to it too much I’m like, ‘I have to not listen to this for like, a year.’”
After initially rebuking from guitar lessons, Wilson came back to the instrument, teaching himself how to play by ear and from YouTube. “I’m the sort of person where if I can’t pick something up relatively quickly, I’m just like, nah. I’m the laziest person when it comes to learning. I remember hating it. I couldn’t pick it up, I couldn’t figure out what notes were or anything,” he laughs. “Then a couple years later, I just picked up a guitar again. I think this was once I’d started properly falling in love with music.”
Despite his growing passion, the theory side of lessons left him cold. Instead, Wilson worked out his own way to learn and perform. “I remember in secondary school when we had music lessons, I’d always switch off when it had anything to do with the technical side of it. Even though it’s obviously interesting and I appreciate the need for understanding that, for me it was just like, if it sounds good, I’m in,” he explains, before conceding, “Probably not the best way to think about music when you’re professionally doing it.”
In 2009 Wilson began to upload covers to YouTube, raw recordings filmed in his bedroom which he shared with no agenda. “It was that prime, classic era of YouTube uploading for covers. Viral videos were a thing, but it was like, Charlie Bit My Finger! or whatever it is, where it’s like, one viral video a year and everyone’s like, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen! It wasn’t quite as saturated,” he says. “I remember, I was uploading covers for myself to progress. It was never, I’m going to upload these covers and see if I can get a following. I didn’t even think about that. And when it started building views I was like, ‘What is going on?’”
If you try and search his old clips out now, you’ll be left disappointed. Wilson recently privatised his backstory away from prying eyes. “I privated a whole bunch because so many of the early ones are like, bad. Looking back on really old videos of myself, really makes me cringe,” he laughs, a little too awkwardly.
After school, Wilson moved to Lincoln to study drama. “The next most reliable source of income,” he jokes. “University, for me, was fully about people, and meeting people, and building my confidence on stage, which I think I carried over to performing live. That’s all really valuable, but it’s always strange teaching or learning about something that’s creative. Something that’s completely different for different people.”
Talking with Wilson is an endearing experience. He’s warm, self-deprecating and speaks with an authentic passion. His ability to connect with people is due in part to the time he spent busking, dealing with whatever passersby would throw his way. After several failed attempts to busk in London, where he’d find himself down “some back alley off the side of Canary Wharf or something,” the streets of Lincoln proved a nurturing new territory. “I don’t know if it’s the northern mentality but everyone’s so nice, so you’d just have chats to people and it was just a really wholesome experience,” he smiles. “And also terrifying. You really have to stand out to make an impression, so there was that weird pressure there, but I think it really helped. I think busking was one of the most valuable experiences for me in terms of live shows. If you can busk for a while and you can become good at doing that, you’re kind of set for any gig.”
Before leaving for Lincoln he’d self-released one song, 2012’s “I Won’t Let You Go”. “It was absolutely awful,” he cringes. While at university he continued to write music alongside busking, recording during holidays at home in his old bedroom on GarageBand. “I was too scared to use Logic because it felt like this really scary professional audio software. Even though GarageBand is basically logic but a little bit tamer and smaller,” he laughs. “I was producing on GarageBand until 2018. I feel like the limitations of GarageBand are really good for learning how to produce. You’d have to be really specific with reverb, delay and any of that stuff. You couldn’t just pile loads of stuff on. I feel like that taught me how to be creative in the way that you’re making sounds, sound the way they are.”
During his time at university, Wilson released five EPs of bedroom demos. However, it wasn’t until 2016 after graduating that he began to see things pick up and realised he could make music into a career. It was the same year he met his manager Bjorn Franklin after working together on a video shoot. “We were just chatting for a couple of hours and we got on really well,” he explains. “We met up for a pint and we realised that we firstly, had the exact same passions, what we liked and what we didn’t like aside from music. But secondly, we had the exact same thoughts of what we’d want to do with my music.”
For Wilson, sharing that special affinity is important when it comes to building working relationships. “Everyone I’ve worked with so far in my career, has come about quite organically and not through the obvious means,” he says. “For me, the most important thing in anything creative is the people you work with. If you love them, aside from the actual project you’re working on, if you just really love and respect them and get on well anyway, they’re the best people to have around, and they’re the people you should work with. At the end of the day, when people are passionate about you as a person, or if you’re passionate about each other, it’s gonna be an easier time.”
It’s an approach that makes sense for an artist whose ascent has been as organic and genuine as Wilson’s. It’s been twelve years since he began to upload covers to YouTube, his style, approach and talent developing and changing as the years progressed. “When I first started working in music it was very singer-songwriter classic – The Fray, Gavin DeGraw, John Mayer. I’m still obsessed with John Mayer,” he smiles. “But it’s interesting to me to see how other people work. The more I started collaborating, the more I was opening my eyes and ears to other sounds I hadn’t necessarily listened to that much before.”
While he used to be a self-confessed pop snob, Wilson now names Taylor Swift’s 1989 as “one of the best pop albums of all time.” His experience making music has taught him how difficult it is to create something unique. “I remember when I was fourteen, fifteen, I was like, ‘I hate all of the chart pop stuff, it has to be Damien Rice or nothing else,’” he laughs. “The things that excite me about music is when it’s classic songwriting pop dressed up in a way where you’re like, ‘That’s really interesting.’ That’s why I love Taylor Swift. It’s country, but it’s dressed up in a way that’s really not country. She’s made her own style off the back of it and that fascinates me. Same with Bon Iver.”
It’s not difficult to see how last summer’s Folklore release could have made such an impact on Wilson. A longtime fan of Justin Vernon, some of Wilson’s later YouTube covers (the ones that haven’t been hidden away) take on tracks from 2016’s 22, A Million. “I just think it’s so interesting when different genres collide,” he explains. “That’s Bon Iver in a nutshell for me. I love that it is just a bunch of genres, like boom, let’s throw a bunch of shit together and see what happens.”
You can certainly feel Vernon’s influence across Now I’m Falling as glitching electronic loops rub shoulders with Wilson’s flirting falsetto. It’s less like a shitshow of genres, more like they subtly pass each other in the night, as folk verses ride over crunching samples before exploding into pop-fortified choruses. The production is soft when it needs to be, leaving plenty of space for Wilson’s velvety vocals and emotion-inflected delivery to hit with the weight of his sentiment.
Wilson’s decision to work on his debut album came during the lead up to previous EP Love and Heartache. Speaking to his debut EP to Best Fit last October, he promised that “bigger things” were on the way. “For me, it was a matter of when everything went to shit last year, it made me realise like, what’s the point in holding off on certain things?” he asks. “It’s definitely a lockdown baby because of that.”
In conversation, and especially when discussing his music, Wilson has a penchant for the concept of perfection. “I should probably see someone about this,” he jokes. “I definitely had this weird internal pressure on myself that when I do a first album it’s gotta be when I have the most money ready to put everything into it and it has to be like, this huge deal.”
Through the space which lockdown provided, and the calm, introspection and uncertainty of the pandemic, Wilson finally broke his need for everything to be fairytale perfect. “I feel like every song I’ve released, it’s never been perfect, and that’s what I love about music, there’s always something you can change, you just have to go with it,” he smiles. “I know what EPs are like and I know what singles are like, but there’s this romanticised thing about a full, feature-length LP that has to have a story, and has to be like this. For me, last year was the perfect realisation of, ‘What am I talking about?’”
Wilson ran back through old folders of songs from across past years, pulling out the ones that had never found a home but still held emotional weight. What it lacked in romance, it made up for in function. “I realised there were ten songs that I loved, that I always found myself going back to, but I could never figure out where they could fit in terms of previous releases. They always felt like they wanted to fit on something a little bit bigger,” he explains. “And then I was like, ‘I’ve got ten tracks here that I absolutely adore, let’s make an album.’”
He reached out to producers Martin Luke Brown and Mark Elliot, both of whom he’d worked with before in various capacities. “I was like, ‘Do you wanna just get in a studio? I really wanna do it, just us. I don’t wanna do multiple producers and all of that. I just want to do an album together and just have this project,’” he grins. “Thankfully, we’re like, ‘Let’s do it!’”
Working quickly during a break between lockdowns, within a couple of months the record was in the can. “We got it finished, production-wise, before the shit hit the fan, which I’m very thankful for,” he laughs. “There was definitely a window of time where we were like, we’ve got to do it now otherwise, who knows?”
Now I’m Falling certainly doesn’t sound like a fast-tracked album. It’s tender and regret-fuelled, soaked in heartache and romanticised hindsight. It almost makes you want to be heartbroken, just to relish in the indulgence of sadness. On opening track “Halfway Over” Wilson sings, “Same mistakes, bigger consequences. Same old texts with a few less x’s”. It’s storytelling that’s so honest and relatable, at times it’s uncomfortable. Tracks are packed with a heavy atmosphere and slide across genres with a striking fluidity. On “Lead Me to the Water,” Wilson’s delivery is as delicate and soft as quietly exhaling. He layers rich harmonies, the dynamics an uneasy construction that mirrors the song’s unsettled sentiment. “Love Can Be So Lonely, Sometimes” finds him at his most Vernon-indebted. Samples echo and flirt like call and response and his treated falsetto packs a raw punch.
For Wilson, the record brings him full circle on his early years, hustling online and for shows. Released via Gabrielle Aplin’s Never Fade imprint, she also features on an alternative version of “Love Can Be So Lonely, Sometimes”. “My first big gig was at Shepherd’s Bush in 2013 because I won a competition to support Gabby,” he laughs. “This was right at the beginning of my career so I didn’t know what I was doing. Then fast-forward to now and I’m signed to her label and she’s a really good friend of mine. That’s one of those things where if I could tell myself seven years ago that this would be a thing, it’s like, you’re lying mate.”
Another thing that’d shock a younger Wilson is previous single “Lead Me to the Water”, which he co-wrote with Amber Run guitarist Joshua “Joe” Keogh. “When I was first doing covers, a couple of years into it, I went through a phase of really loving Amber Run and I did a cover of one of their songs called “I Found”, which is still one of my favorite songs of theirs, and it did really well on YouTube,” he explains. “I remember at the time, Joe literally tweeted from Amber Run, like, ‘This is really amazing’, and I was starstruck. I’m always laughing because I’m just like, ‘I was a fan of yours! I was literally such a fan that I covered your song on YouTube and was fangirling when you messaged about it on Twitter!’ Little fifteen-year-old me would be absolutely losing my shit.”
The video for the track is a tense and slick cinematic clip filled with uncertainty and beauty. It was created by Wilson’s manager Franklin and his directing partner Johnny Marchetta after being given free reign to get creative. “I read the treatment and I was just like, ‘This is so cool. How are we gonna pull this off because it feels like an actual film?’” explains Wilson, laughing. “And they did! It was like a proper shoot, and they managed to time it just after things slightly relaxed again but there were still some lockdown rules. So we got this really cool hotel that was empty and we shot this video and it’s incredible.”
While no-one would have wished the pandemic into existence, for Wilson it has brought some silver-linings. From a discounted video location to the motivation for his debut record, it allowed the space for creativity and a fresh approach. He can save the cottage-core romanticism for album two, on Now I’m Falling Wilson has found his stride.