Nelson-Mandela K. Nance, a.k.a. Norvis Jr., makes art informed by the detritus of digital culture. He experiments building on degraded and cracked sounds looking for how to better himself through music and evolve on waves of virtue and dedication. “Lately, I’ve been thinking about darkness,” Norvis Jr. offers causally, “not wanting to indulge in darkness, but going there to better understand the light.” His EP’s, released with a steady flow on Soundcloud every few months map out extended riffs on psycho-drama politics, social networks and romance circulating with a hazy effortlessness and woozy grace.
“There are times when I'll think, man this sounds bad and I'll just keep pushing trying to make it better and then, parallel I'll be thinking really about my life and man, I'm taking bad situations and making them better. So when I'm in a situation like that and trying to see where it goes, that's when the better situations happen.”
Free floating melodies weave in and out gut slung beats and bass-lines bending and warping around the brittle sound of early video games. “It’s not nostalgia,” he says, “it’s more, how do I make something that still involves and feels like something lush using cracked software and cheap gear?”
As a kid, Norvis Jr. was inspired by how attainable the sounds of those games were. The composers aiming for the grandiose and cinematic with imperfect tools, shot for the stars on limited soundcards and ended up someplace all there own.
“So, how do I have something that feels like an 808, that involves the same patterns but is made with whatever limited tools I have? If I stick to the tools I have, so, if all I have is this stolen version of Ableton, and not too many extra plug-ins, let me make something that sounds more than this.”
At times the vibe is karaoke from planet 9, some weirdo galactic outpost decked out in whiskey soaked ashtrays, a disco ball down three mirrors and dj lights swiveling off beat. It’s four in the morning; a soulful voice croons low-bit jazz evoking intimate worlds of futurist introspection glitched-out and splintered. Underling this worn out and weary façade however, is a methodical and complicated sense of harmony, melody and rhythm. This is no accident and speaks to a childhood well steeped in music and art.
Growing up in Dallas the son of an actress and photographer, Norvis Jr. played saxophone and went to a performing arts high school to study singing. Art was always around and discussed, his brothers a filmmaker and musician; it’s a talented brood inspiring and challenging one another. At an early age he learned to play drums from his jazz musician uncle and through his father learned Djemba and Dundun.
“I didn't go into the religious aspects but I did go into the function of it on a historical level. So, I understood what these drums were used for specifically, and then what time period they were made and then re-made as a novelty in an American space. Because that's really interesting when instruments are made nostalgic. There was a time when the 808 was nostalgic in rap but now it’s everywhere. So it went from being this new thing to being nostalgic and now being present and current.”
Simultaneously raised to be comfortable inside digital audio workstations, using the laptop as an instrument to be performed on and much as a tool to create through came natural to him. The laptop transformed into folk instrument for creating devastated Rn’B.
“An instrument is just a part of the tool box that's independent of the contextualization of its understanding, so like slavery brought instruments like the banjo into America and you see how those instruments were used by other people to make something totally different. You have these people who have no understanding of these tools so they have to use it to say something they are used to and understand. It becomes a new thing then. It’s a tool that has its own history to a certain people but not the understanding that these new people have. Over time, that new style becomes solidified as its own thing and maybe remembered more than the original. And it can happen for a lot of reasons, migration; it also happens as a result of time passing, it happens because of mishandled knowledge.”
Part of Norvis Jr.’s evolution is his constant output. His Soundcloud brims with new ideas and constant updates. Tracks come out as distorted covers one day emerging as fully formed originals later, sketches, interludes re-configured beats and scraps of inquiries and textured processes filter out in a stream of conscious meditation. EP's arrive expanding certain lyric strains into mini-concept records, a defined attitude world-building and drawing the listener in deeper.
“A big reason why certain things sound the way they do is because some people are told, ‘oh, that's what that goes with,’ like reading from a recipe book. Really what you have is something totally different because you didn't read the fine print.” All of this is a deep investigation into states of self and a restlessness desire to find a place where a young artist and grow and learn.
“I don't act like I'm not a narcissist because I am, but I hate how narcissistic everyone else is. You can't have your cake and eat it too. That narcissistic culture of always wanting to look at yourself, the image of who you desire yourself to be and so much of it is that, it just is that, it's unnecessary commercialism of the self.”
Alert in his restlessness, Norvis Jr. dreams big plotting multi-media iterations of his music that push and blur lines between code and real, music and theater, light and dark.
“When I’m focused I'm aware of my feelings, attuned to wondering how the song works and how it is making those feelings happen as opposed to doing what is expected. That’s the same as being force-fed something, being told this is what it is and this is how I should react to it. Things that are made often focus too much on the surface instead of just making something new, that's just a problem across all the art disciplines. That's the last thing you should be thinking about. Instead of focusing on what you want to make, you’re stuck in some other conversation, you're keeping that thing from ever existing, hiding yourself from the world. The world needs you whoever you are, to evolve into a better place.”