PNC gets heavy on new, free album (+video)

By Lelani Momoisea

If albums provide a snapshot of a moment in time for an artist, then no title could be more apt in describing PNC’s current state of mind than Under the Influence. And on album number four, PNC's chosen to release the Crooks & Castles and Volume-presented project for free.

'When I started making the album it was under the influence of drinking, drugs - I was quite down a lot of the time while making it.' Photo / Ted Baghurst
'When I started making the album it was under the influence of drinking, drugs - I was quite down a lot of the time while making it.' Photo / Ted Baghurst

"I'm about the drink, drugs, girls, cash, love, hate, power, passion/ If I'm not the realest I don't know who is, under the motherf**king influence."

There are moments of anger, sadness, nonchalance and reflection on PNC's Under the Influence, but the album never quite feels like it covers off happiness. Because even in its most "up" moments of partying and revelry, the highs are artificial.

"When I started making the album it was under the influence of drinking, drugs - I was quite down a lot of the time while making it. It has that sort of up-and-down nature. The first half is quite melancholy and the second half is quite up."

Even with his signature party tracks, it is PNC's darkest album to date. He's covered off grittier subject matter in previous projects, but this is his most emotionally heavy, due in part to breaking up with his long-term partner.

"I've separated from my girlfriend who I'd been with for seven years. I think a lot of times when you break up with people like that, you're either down or you're out partying - especially someone like me.

It's sort of extreme highs and lows. Which I think came through in the music."

There is only one song on the album that specifically addresses the breakdown of that relationship, and it isn't the Gotye-sampling Stranger Pt. 1 & 2, as might be assumed.

It is that kind of chunky sample though that distinguishes Under the Influence. Beyoncé, Adele and Justin Bieber are fearlessly sampled on newcomer Matt Miller's beats, tracks that would never have been considered had PNC set out to sell the album.

With his fourth project, he's following in the footsteps of label mate David Dallas and countless US artists like Drake, J. Cole Wiz Khalifa and Frank Ocean by offering the album for free.

"It was just originally thought of as a mixtape, you know, how rappers have done for the last 20 years, but then it started coming together - especially when I started working with Matt Miller - more like an album. That turned into, 'How are we going to put this out?' because it's quite strange how it sounds. Most of the time, Drake's album or even David Dallas' album, they're mixtapes that sound like albums. But this is an album that sounds like a mixtape."

There's a certain freedom, he explains, that comes with giving away music over the internet that couldn't be achieved through the traditional distribution of an album.

"I wanted to not worry about what samples we were gonna use and just do anything we wanted. I think you just have the freedom to be more creative and you're not trying to make the single to appeal to a certain crowd, which I think creeps into your head no matter how hard you try not to."

The idea of a free album was also borne out of the frustration of simply not being able to get his music heard.

"I'd make albums with 13 songs and people that you'd consider big fans, they still hadn't checked the album. It was annoying me that I was making songs that I wanted people to hear but it was hard to get it to them. This was just the best way."

Under the Influence, while under PNC's name, equally belongs to the young Miller. Miller had commented so many times on the rapper's Soundcloud page that PNC decided to check him out, and it was the 'As I Fly' beat that first piqued his interest.

"I recognised the sample straight away - it was a Boyz II Men sample of a Stevie Wonder cover, and a Justin Bieber sample as well. I'm interested how people can take something so commercial and make it sound completely different. He kept sending me stuff that I liked - I'd say, 'I really like this Adele Take It All song' and then he sampled it. It just really quickly started working out."

PNC says Miller's energy rejuvenated his own work. There was a kind of newness and naivety, a lack of self-consciousness, about the way Miller produced that excited him.

"He's very green, you know. He doesn't know what the rules are in terms of, 'Should I sample this? Should I be using these drums?' He's just all about the vibe of the track. When you've been doing something for a long time, you start questioning aspects of it, and over-thinking it. It does have a very raw sound, but I like that about it."

Raw is perhaps the best word to sum up the project, with PNC still managing to be poignant while he navigates himself from the party to the hangover, exposing wounds like never before and speaking with the kind of honesty you only expect to hear spill out after a few drinks.

PNC's Under the Influence is available for free download from pncmusic.co.nz.

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