Nas Leber is a composer, vocalist, designer, and DJ born and raised in the Bronx. His discography spans the emotional and philosophical landscape of a young creative: it is a winding journey and one that always leads with respect for artistic expression over a need for attention in a climate so riddled with self-absorption. Each passing season brings a quiet thoughtfulness upon the artist like a stone turning under the current of the indigo tides. And as you follow him toward the future, you will be sure to encounter a song that looks you as deeply as you look at it.
NF: I’ve noticed a change in the shape of your music over the years. Part of that is of course the inevitable jadedness that comes with age. But can you talk to me a little bit about what kinds of things have recently opened up to you for exploration in your tracks?
NL: I decided to completely let go of any preconceived notions of what my music is supposed to sound like or what I’m supposed to talk about and chose to go with whatever gut instinct comes to me regarding creating. I pour my soul into the music completely and instead of trying to make a song that makes sense, I aim to make a song that will take the listener to where I want them to go emotionally or spiritually. I usually just want you to feel what I feel, whether that feeling is triumphant, sad, ambitious, or even if I was just high out of my mind, I want you to feel that too when you hear the song. Because of that, my music can take the shape of many genres and vibes. Also, DJing for years and liking so many different types of music definitely plays a role in me just wanting to make the music I would personally want to hear—if I had a great idea for an opera song I would probably try it out and put it out if it were good enough, lol.
NF: Your musical practice certainly takes on many shapes and styles, and that’s what has always drawn me to it so deeply. I think—as the years accumulate—your discography represents a three-dimensional person, the peaks and valleys of a lifetime. What is your process like right now, from the kernel of an idea to the release of a song?
NL: I get in the studio, watch some TV, change the color of the lights in the room to adjust whatever mood I’m in (sometimes after a long night of heavy consumption of drugs and alcohol when I’m especially tender and emotionally raw/filled with some level of shame), and start scoring to whatever movie or show I’m watching until I find my true feelings and what I really want to express in the moment. Once I find the chords or melody, I just mumble different melodies into the mic until I find one I really like—sometimes words manifest and sometimes I can’t think of words, just feels and melodies, and later in life I find what I’m really trying to say. Once I find it, I build up the song and go from there.
NF: The other day I wrote that your recent track “Moon Rocks” reminds me of certain scenes from the ‘80s Japanese anime film Akira, and you mentioned that the film had been on your mind as well. Before the pandemic, you’d also had the DJ set entitled Drive at El Cortez in Brooklyn. The general aesthetic of this was also rooted in the look and sound of the ‘80s. What is it from that period that moves you?
NL: It’s not necessarily the ‘80s specifically, but I just love art that reflects an excitement and mystery of what the future looks like—I get really inspired by writers like Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Phillip K Dick, or certain movies like Blade Runner, artists like Alejandro Jodorowsky—basically any art or ideas that exist beyond this regular world and take you to other dimensions and explore the mind and space. I generally love anything sci-fi or comic book related, and a lot of ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s music also uses frequencies and instruments that have a very raw analog psychedelic feel. So yeah—it’s not really about the ‘80s specifically, but more so any art that has fun with sci-fi/psychedelic/futuristic/interdimensional ideas.
NF: How have you been releasing your music in lieu of the pandemic? Do you find that people have been engaging as frequently? What do you see the next few months looking like?
NL: To be honest, while I do care about the success of my career, I also kind of stopped caring if people immediately listen or not. I decided I don’t want only my close friends or I being the only witness or fans of my music and I’d just put it out to the world whether it catches on or not. Hopefully it will one day.
NF: I’m personally always interested in hearing an artist’s thoughts on their own medium. What is it about the power of music that keeps us searching for new songs and returning to the old ones? Why are you a musician above all else?
NL: I think the cool thing with music is that while it isn’t seen, it’s felt—but even bigger than that, you sort of become whatever you’re listening to—it can affect not only your mood, but the pace at which you walk or move in general, your emotional outlook on things, even your whole personality. Music has such a strong association with people’s entire identities and sense of self, even if you don’t really listen to a lot of music like that.
NF: It is only half-jokingly that some of us call you the Mayor of Brooklyn. Talk to me about how the landscape of music has changed—or not—over the past decade. What do you hope things will look like in the future?!
NL: LOL. Just as long as it’s known that I didn’t call myself that. I think when big music venues closed and nightlife shifted to bars, a lot of the raw energy and strength of the culture was sort of lost. But with the pandemic and venues closing, a lot of new underground parties and raves and stuff like that have fostered a new generation of young hungry party-goers who are with all the shits—and maybe that might affect the kind of music that comes out? On top of that, with streaming services dominating the way people listen to music, it’s forced a lot of artists to either increase their output for algorithmic favor, turn to labels and other services for help, or just kind of give up, so a lot of music has kind of gotten bland—but who am I to say?—as long as people keep making things and putting it out, it’s whatever, as long as artists care about improving the soundscape and culture of whatever genre they’re working with, even if it’s creating a new genre.
NF: What is some practical knowledge you’d like to share with artists who are just getting started and who might feel overwhelmed by the prospect of the music “industry”?
NL: Just keep doing it—it will never be good enough, and it will never look like it’s working at first, and then one day you won’t even notice that people like it and you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do.
NF: Tell me about something—anything—that has been on your mind for the past few weeks.
NL: Other than the inability to get the lyrics from Future’s verse in the song “Live From the Gutter” out of my head, I’m trying to quit drinking and hard drugs completely and become a calm, gentle stoner as I finish my next few projects. Wish me luck!