Introducing: Nik Freitas’s “Flowers”

A track premiere, plus an essay on the merits of DIY recording by the artist himself.

I grew up in what was technically a one bedroom house. It was the late ‘70s and my parents had finally saved up enough to afford a down payment on a new home. You could custom build a basic tract home for pretty cheap back then. My parents had been trying to have a kid for  years but it wasn’t working out, so they gave up on the idea and decided the home they built would be a one bedroom house, but with a small loft above the kitchen… just in case. Well, during the construction of the home, little ol’ me happened.  

My room became that loft above the kitchen. There was no door and no walls, just a stairway up to the loft and some simple railing around it. As a little kid, it was so fun living in the loft. Running up and down the stairs, you could use your imagination for anything. It was basically a play area with some windows and I really liked it up there. By the time i was a teenager though, that feeling had run its coarse and all I wanted was a door with four walls. 

From the age of 13 to 18, I spent every minute possible away from my house riding my skateboard. As soon as I came home, I would go to my loft room and immediately put on my headphones. I’d throw a tape cassette in my Walkman and crank the volume. It was my way of putting up walls and a door. The music helped me escape. I think it’s that way for every teenager. I really got in there though, in my mind — dissecting the songs, music and the different instruments. I would put on my own concerts in my head sitting there on the floor next my bed. I’d play every instrument, the drums, the guitar, the bass. All of it. It got to the point where I felt like I really knew how to play all the instruments even though I had no technical know-how to play anything. 

I did eventually get an old used drum set up in the loft and taught myself how to play them in that very same way. Cassette tape after cassette tape in my Walkman with headphones blasting. All those concerts in my head I’d been playing on the floor, I could now do on a real instrument. Bless my parents hearts’ for putting up with that shit. 

I had a job at a restaurant all through my senior year, and as soon as I graduated, I moved out into a house with a couple of my friends. I will never forget that first night in my own room. I remember closing the door for the first time — the privacy, the quiet! I just sat there on the floor for a really long time taking it in. 

Every night was basically a small party at our house. I’d hang for a while but would eventually  slip away without telling anyone and go back to my room. I had a record player and real speakers now. Closing the door and putting on a record, I can’t explain it. I didn’t want to be anywhere else! There would always be a knock on my door after everybody in the house figured out I’d left and gone back to my room. My friend Marshall started calling me “Hermit the Nik” because I would spend so much time alone in there. The funny thing is, the entire party would eventually always make its way back to my room.  

After a couple years of moving around and playing in a few different bands, I finally bought my first Tascam four-track cassette recorder. Once I learned how to play and put all the instruments I’d been playing in my head together into a song all by myself, that’s where Hermit the Nik really took over. I spent every free hour making songs on my four-track. Sun up until sundown. I’d go to work and then record, work and then record. Time didn’t seem to matter when I was in my room recording on the four-track. Don’t get me wrong, I really like being around other people and socializing, but no matter what, I couldn’t wait to get back to my room and record.

My first two albums I did on a four track cassette first, alone in my bedroom playing all the instruments. Drums on one track, then the bass, then guitar or piano, and then finally the vocals. I’d hand tapes out to friends to see what they thought. Once I was happy with all the songs, I’d re-record them in a real recording studio that my friend owned onto a 16-track reel to reel, so they sounded more professional. The strange thing was, all the people that I’d given the original four-tracked songs to said they loved the four track recordings more than the finished and more professionally recorded versions on the record. No matter what I did, the  Hermit the Nik style seemed to translate better with listeners. It made sense too — I just felt more comfortable making songs alone in my room.

It’s been 20 years since I bought my first four-track. The evolution of recorded music has come a long way since then. It’s come a long way with me too. I’ve kept the same record-it-all-alone approach, but now I have a real recording studio built in my garage with professional audio equipment, computers, and high end microphones. After releasing a few more solo records, touring a bunch without much success and seeing the decline of album sales, I realized if I was going to have any type of a career in music, I needed to use what I knew how to do elsewhere. In 2012, I decided to switch my focus from making my own music to making music for other people. It has not been easy, but after a lot of work and patience, I’ve been able to carve out a decent little life for myself and my family writing and recording music that is used in television shows, ad spots, and movies.

Hermit the Nik has never gone away though. I always find time to make my own solo records. I have to. On my ninth and newest record, Cavalo Morto, I decided to get away from computer recording completely and take myself back to the beginning. I found an old used Tascam 8-track reel to reel tape machine on Craigslist for cheap (only seven tracks worked); I bought it and brought it home. Over the span of about two months, I went back down into the studio alone with the tape machine. Each song and their lyrics came really fast and nothing felt forced. I’d fire up the tape deck, put on the reel of tape, arm a track and press record. I hadn’t felt this happy recording my own music in a really, really long time. I hope that same feeling translates to anyone who listens to this new album.

(Photo Credit: Jai Tanju)

Nik Freitas has always been on his own wavelength. The 41-year-old songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer has had a fruitful yet underrated career in myriad sects of the entertainment industry. In the early 2000s he worked as a photographer at Thrasher Magazine; a few years later he was a touring musician in acts like Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band and Broken Bells; and for the last decade he’s been scoring TV shows, movies and commercials for a living. However, throughout all of those creative ventures, Freitas has identified as a songwriter above all else.
On 1/31/20 he’ll release his ninth album under his own name, Cavalo Morto, via Park The Van. The title means “dead horse” in Portuguese and the album’s gloomy cover art depicts a weathered pianist chugging along at his craft while horses fall from the top of the instrument. It’s a reference to the inescapable mundanity of being a professional artist, a glamorized yet often underappreciated vocation that can wear on a person’s soul if they do it long enough. Although the dead horse is sort of a metaphor for Freitas’ lifelong struggle to be heralded for his own art, there’s a healthy dose of irony in that sentiment. Cavalo Morto is an invigorating set of songs that conflate the classic pop songwriting of Dylan, Bowie, and Elliott Smith with Freitas’ own hermetic twist.
(Photo Credit: Jai Tanju)