The Foreign Exchange

The duo discuss their new album Love in Flying Colors




In today’s music climate, a lot of what we are being fed as listeners is a little formulaic. Somewhere in the median of music with substance and music that sells, artists have become somewhat jaded and more focused on being a household name for reasons other than music. The jaded behavior trickles down to consumers who aren’t necessarily purchasing music in rapid numbers as a lot of what is dominating mainstream America is redundant, boring and unoriginal. This inconsistency and wavering with music today is ultimately the key to duo the Foreign Exchange’s success.

The Foreign Exchange made up of Netherlands-based producer Nicolay and rapper/singer Phonte Coleman of Little Brother fame, have gained an eclectic and loyal following due to their willingness to walk into uncharted territories. With every release, listeners are introduced to a new facade of the Foreign Exchange and mature relationships. On Connected, fans witnessed the forming of relationships, with Leave It All Behind these relationships were honed. Authenticity focused on the demise, and their latest release, Love in Flying Colors, finds the duo in a happier place.

With the new LP, the duo along with their familiar band of characters: Z0!, Carlitta Durand, Eric Roberson, Jeanne Jolly and more, have created a mature effort full of House elements, and an overall more upbeat and cheerful vibe. We got a chance to speak with the duo about Love in Flying Colors, who they would like to collaborate with in the future, evolution, and Phonte’s hilarious “If-Rappers-Were-TV-Shows” rant.

As a fan, I would say that part of your appeal is that your music resonates with so many people regardless of their genre preference. I can listen to your guys’ music and listen to the Soul and Hip-Hop undertones, whereas my dad listens for the Soul and Jazz aspects. I think that is why you have such a wide fan base.

Nicolay: Yeah, we have the best of both worlds when it comes to that. We clearly have a Soul and R&B foundation, and as such, a lot of people that used to listen to R&B and Soul in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s all appreciate that because they can pick it up in our music. And as you said, we have enough modern stuff that is going on that it really is something that is current. Something I don’t want to do is to do a throwback kind of thing where we are really trying to do a sound, or style or time or a decade. I think that we really want to be ourselves and be original, but, our feet are firmly planted in tradition.

I know somewhat how you and Phonte met and formed, but initially, how was that forming in terms of meshing your backgrounds?

Nicolay: It was almost like it was automatic. He heard my music, some of the tracks that I had done, and I heard some of his earliest work with Little Brother and stuff like that and I just think that there was more that connected us than could keep us apart. We really had a lot of the same outlooks on music and tastes and even as similarly as I am eclectic in my tastes, Phonte is too. People obviously know him from Little Brother, but he’s a huge Radiohead fan for instance. I think that both of us knew at that point that we were kind of trying to push the envelope in terms of music. When we really started working together, it wasn’t like we were really thinking about it like that or analyzing what we were doing. I would just send him a track and he would like it and he would take it into the studio and he would write to it and record to it and, he would send it back to me and it would sound absolutely exactly like what I would’ve wanted to hear on the track so it was like a chemistry from the start that we didn’t have to work for, funny enough.

That’s cool, and you guys just released Love in Flying Colors, and the project from everything that I have read has been getting pretty good and positive feedback from fans and writers alike. How has the reception this time around felt?

Nicolay: The reception has been really, really great. It’s always kind of one of those moments when releasing an album is very much like being on a rollercoaster, where you’ve been lifted all the way up slowly and you’re about to hit that first slope right down. You never really know what is going to happen so to know that the reception especially from our fans and like you said with writers from the first reviews that have been out, people are really, really appreciative of it. I think we’ve put a lot of love into the album. We put a lot of love into the making it and it’s really exciting for us to see that people are really picking up on that.

Love in Flying Colors, sounds different than your previous albums. There are definitely some signature Foreign Exchange sounds that you hear when you listen to this album, but as a whole it sounds a lot happier than Authenticity did. From the production aspect, how did you go into creating this album?

Nicolay: Authenticity, was a much more stripped down record. It was very sparse especially in terms of the production. I think for Authenticity, knowing that we were going to go with a little bit of a different subject matter, it kind of made sense for the music to kind of reflect that. Phonte can say more about it, but it’s really the album that is the album after the death of a relationship if you will so, the vibe is more optimistic and the music should really reflect that.

How about you Phonte?  In terms of songwriting, how did you go into Love in Flying Colors? 

Phonte: I think for this record, definitely, as is with all records—the music informs the lyrics. The songs for this record that Nicolay was writing were just a lot brighter, and a lot bigger, and a lot more lush than what we did on the last record. With this joint, I just wrote what the music bought out of me, you know what I’m saying?  It was just a lot brighter. A lot more upbeat, and a lot more of an optimistic record than Authenticity, was.

And was that what inspired the title as well?

Phonte: Definitely. You want an album title to kind of be your thesis statement. You really want your album title to kind of set the tone for everything. That was pretty much it. I would hope that the album literally sounds like “love in flying colors.”

I think it does, it sounds real bright and like the happy aspects of love, which leads to one of the reasons why I am a fan. I feel like with every project, you guys are really working towards creating a new sound or concept definitely evolving.  How do you guys find the creativity to be consistent with evolving and try new things in an industry that is somewhat jaded and formulaic where artists follow suit with what sells for guidance?

Nicolay: I think it’s something that we do automatically in all reality. Like I said earlier, even how we first worked together I think that when we first started the Foreign Exchange project, it was really about us doing something purely for the love of music. We really did it just to see what would happen and it turned out great. I’m not sure why we are as driven to innovate as we are but I think it’s just become part of what we do. We make records that are very much a reflection of where we are in time at that moment, what we listen to and everything. I think for us it’s just trying to keep it interesting and trying to see for ourselves what could be the next thing that we could do that is going to really sound great. It’s keep ourselves sharp as much as it is keeping our fans on their toes kind of.

And do you guys have any personal favorites from the LP?

Phonte: Personal favorites…  I mean, man… Shit. Probably, definitely the very opening song “If I Knew Then” is definitely a favorite. I feel like that just really set off the album and really just set the tone for what the theme of the record was. That one was really just complicated too. There are a lot of different time signatures that were just a challenge for me from writing and arrange aspect because it’s just so much going on trying to find the moment and trying to find that thing in it. It took a little bit of work.

Do you have a favorite, Nicolay?

Nicolay: I’m kind I’m really into “When I Feel Love” ever since we recorded that one it’s one of my personal favorites. It’s really like a warm bath—one of those things you step into. I’m also really fond of “The Moment” because over the last few years specifically, I really wanted to do a lot of really big House joints with the Foreign Exchange. We did “So What If It Is” on The Reworks, and now we have “The Moment” on the new album. For me, it really is a personal favorite just because of the style that it represents and how it sounds and builds up like the soulfulness of the vocals. That’s definitely one of my joints right now.

I know for me I’ve got exposed through a lot of artists from your projects like King, Carlitta Durand, Darien Brockington, Zo!, and YahZarah. Is there anyone that you guys would want to work with in the future. I think The Foreign Exchange collaboration with Disclosure would be crazy.

Phonte: I’m a big Disclosure fan. I love what they are doing. I would love to do something them. I just think they are extremely talented and I like how they have a level of sophistication with their stuff that is really beyond their years—they are young guys from what I understand. They have a certain level of polish with their sound and really well constructed sounds. I would love to do something with them.

That would be tight. Also, Phonte, by now everyone knows that you came from Little Brother. When I read stuff about you guys like reviews, a lot of them preface it by saying how it is a different sound for your or different than what you would expect since you are from Little Brother. Does it make you feel like people put you in a box that you can’t get out of or is does it come with the territory for you?

Phonte: I think that the people that got into me with Little Brother some of them are not used to hearing me sing or they just want me to do Little Brother stuff again, so it comes with the territory. However, the further and further Nicolay and I go, just into our craft they become more and more of a minority. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” The Foreign Exchange is more representative of where I am now in my life and where I intend to be later on. It gives me something to grow into, whereas hip-hop for the most part doesn’t really give you that option in a lot of ways—I’m happy doing this.

Also, based on your Twitter rant about rappers as television shows, I was interested to know what would Scandal be if it were a rapper?

Phonte: Man, I have no fucking idea. What would Scandal be if it were a rapper? If Scandal were a rapper, it’d be Lauryn Hill.


Phonte: It would be Lauryn Hill because Lauryn Hill is what the educated ratchet broads listen to and feel like they are above the chicks that listen to Nicki Minaj. Scandal is that show that people watch and feel above the people who watch Love & Hip-Hop and all that bullshit. It’s not reality TV but come on, it’s a soap opera. It’s that show that the women who try to hide their ratchet watch.  They aren’t just going to be all the way ratchet, but their ratchet lurks beneath.

On the musical side, Lauryn is that artist that you see a lot of people put on a pedestal  and women go to the end of the earth for—no disrespect to her, this is just fact. She’s the artist that a lot of women would listen to and be like she’s this and she’s that, but, if you compare her to Nicki Minaj—you see where I’m going with this? I know on the surface Nicki appears to be whatever, but she doesn’t have any kids out of wedlock that I know of you feel me. It’s whatever, but I would say Lauryn.

How did you even come up with that?

Phonte: Man, I don’t know. Shit just be coming to me and I just Tweet it. It wasn’t like I just sat there and thought about it, it just came to me and I was like all right.

So are you guys going on tour anytime soon?

Nicolay: Yeah, we’re going on tour with Lauryn Hill. No I’m kidding. We’re touring in 2014. We have three shows coming up in the end of the month in: Raleigh, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and Atlanta, and those shows are kind of to celebrate the album release. In 2014, we are going to be touring for real just hitting all of the cities, and the areas everywhere.

Okay, and lastly, I read something that compared you guys’ music to Kanye West’s evolution in a sense. Do you guys think that’s a fitting parallel?

Nicolay: Hell yeah, I got the parallel.
Phonte: I damn sure got the parallel.

Nicolay: I think on a larger scale without really talking about specific artists I think that what you often see is that a group that is truly innovative and truly kind of pushing the envelope will not always get the same recognition as an artist that is kind of building on that but reaching a larger audience. Without speaking for the author, but what I understand from it is that people talk about the Kanye West albums or a lot of those big artists but, don’t really take the Foreign Exchange into the equation. His point was purely as far as a read is that if you  discuss the Kanye album’s over the last few years, you would probably want to discuss a lot of the Foreign Exchanges album’s too. We were pushing those ideas and a lot of those styles without really trying to sound arrogant. I just realize that the Foreign Exchange is pushing the envelope and sometimes, artists that would come after that with certain ideas even if they are bigger and better, can get more successful or recognition.


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3 Responses

  1. Nice article Erin!

  2. “their ratchet lurks beneath” had my dying! Great article Coco.G


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