Nick Hagelin is an award winning singer/songwriter as well as a dancer who won the hearts of many when he was a contestant on The Voice. He is coming out with new music which I was fortunate enough to listen to when he visited the University of Scranton a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to interview Nick about his musical background, his rise to fame before and after his time on The Voice, as well as where he plans to take his career in the future!
When did you start to be interested in music and the performing arts?
I grew up in a musical family, both my parents were singers who met in choir college. I remember doing a church play and being hooked. My mom was a voice teacher and I started studying ballet at a young age. When I made my first money dancing for American Ballet Theatre at age 12 I was hooked. I never really considered any career path other than performing.
At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to pursue music?
I had a band with my best friends that started in middle school. We were called “Fortnight” and I was became obsessed with songwriting from about age 12 or 13. My best friend Jon Kaiman and I would always be writing lyrics or playing chords and melodies on our guitars. He now writes for the LA times, I'm still writing songs.
Did you ever go to school for music?
I took the same AP music theory course my junior and senior year in high school, which really helped a lot of that information sink in. My real classical training was in ballet. I went to School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in NYC from age 9-18. I got to study and train to live piano accompaniment for like 40 hours per week, plus the act of learning choreography to so much classical music was very enlightening.
When did you start writing your own songs?
I started writing music around age 12 or 13 and recording and performing it with my band throughout middle school and high school. When I was 18 I moved to Raleigh, NC to dance with Carolina Ballet. That’s when I really started writing, with more time and space to be with my acoustic guitar. I entered two songs into a songwriting competition and won first place. I used the earnings to build a little recording studio in my home, and I have been at it ever since.
Is there a specific type of audience you are aiming your music towards?
There were times, especially when I was first signed to my major label deal that I really focused on what I thought people would want to hear. Like “make this song for females age 13 -23” and make it sound like Artist X who has the number one song on the Hot 100. The benefit of this was that it was a great learning experience, trial through imitation. The downside is that I wasn’t writing from an authentic place and the music was not really that great. It lacked the emotional connection of music written from a place of pure inspiration, rather than imitation.
What would you say inspires you the most when writing music?
Life and love! A big lesson for me has been patience; allowing inspiration to unfold naturally. Some of the best songs I have ever written were “delivered” to me in almost complete form, like an instant download, other songs I have labored over for months at a time. In certain writing environments you can feel rushed to deliver a product by the end of the day or the session, and that can be tough. The best is allowing my music to manifest in whatever time it takes. I am often inspired by other people’s music, or events in my life, or co writing.
Who is your musical inspiration?
Sting is a huge inspiration, he represents the ultimate singer songwriter in my opinion, much like Van Morrison. I love everything about Michael Jackson, from his voice, to his presence movement, to his lyrics and songwriting. He represents the epitome of pop music. I love the great soul singers like Luther Vandross, Al Green, Donny Hathaway. More contemporary influences include Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, and Ed Sheeran.
You talk a lot about your family - especially your son Bash. How has your music career affected your family life?
It has been interesting! There was a period of time when I was young, trying to be a “pop star” signed to a major label, but also married with a kid, which was very taboo in the industry. I was encouraged to not share that part of my story, and try and portray a more eligible, single character. We tried this for a while and it ended up taking quite a toll emotionally on me and my family, but at the same time it was the advance money from the label that was supporting me and my family, especially dealing with my son Bash who was born with some special needs and had some serious medical expenses. What a predicament! It wasn’t in God’s plan for me to break out with a hit single under this pretense, and I am glad it didn’t happen. When I went on The Voice, I knew it was time to be authentic, and share my true story. What ended up happening was that the impact of sharing Bash’s story with millions of people was so much bigger than my self-centered aspirations to “be famous.” We were inundated with letters from special needs families expressing how much hope and inspiration my son brought to them when Pharrell invited him to walk out on stage. That little bow that Bash took for 10 million people was the crowning achievement of my music career thus far.
What made you decide to audition for The Voice?
I had a pretty popular youtube channel, and producers from various shows had been encouraging me to audition for a while. I ended up getting a personal invitation to audition from someone I knew when I was signed to Interscope. I was about 8 years into pursuing this dream, and was feeling a little stuck. This was the perfect opportunity and blessing at the perfect time.
How would you describe your time on The Voice?
It was amazing personal and professional development! I remember being sequestered in that hotel in California and my only goal was to give the best performance I could every week. It was like a Temple of Focus and Discipline. The live performances themselves were pretty nerve-racking, but everything behind the scenes was full of love and support. The show really wants you to do the best job you can, and give you all kinds of resources and coaching and rehearsals to give your best performance every week.
What was it like working with Pharrell and Christina as coaches?
The big appeal for me when I was debating whether or not to audition was the opportunity to work with Pharrell Williams who is a personal hero of mine. The idea of building a relationship with the best producer of my generation was so exciting to me. When he turned his chair I was thrilled. He is every bit the humble, grounded and spiritual person that he appears to be, and the limited time we spent together was a blessing. Unfortunately those early rounds don’t allow as much time to develop a relationship with your coach, so when Christina brought me back for the live shows it was a whole other ball game. Her faith in me was so inspiring. From the beginning she encouraged me to play to my strengths vocally, and dig deeper into my emotional expression. She was truly an angel and I am so grateful to have that relationship with her.
What were the best and worst parts of being on the show?
The best part of the show was the exposure, the fans and people who have been introduced to me and my family are still engaged and following me, which is the greatest asset and gift an independent musician could ask for. As I said before, Bash’s light really got to shine and he has been able to use the platform to continue to bring hope and smiles to people today.
The worst part was the “one-and-done” element of the performances. I come from almost a decade of performing live for audiences all around the world, and I love to interact and communicate with the crowd when I perform. On The Voice, its more like the Olympics, you come out and do your one song, full of nervous energy, and then it is over and await the “results.” In reality, music is not a competitive thing, it is an art form and mode of self-expression, so the whole competition show style was hard for me.
Do you feel like the show had an impact on you and your career aspirations?
Absolutely! I am doing many of the same things I was doing before the show, but now I have the edification and brand of being a “Voice Artist.” I think there are also fans who have been following the journey for years who were so excited to see my music reach a bigger platform.
You have multiple singles, albums, and EP’s on iTunes, how much success has come from those releases? Have you ever gone on tour for any of these albums?
I haven’t been on a steady “tour” but do travel around the country constantly, performing and promoting my music. I am so grateful to have so much music out there for people to enjoy. The “major label approach” is to massively invest in and promote one single and hope that it breaks. That process was exhausting for me, because it demanded that every song I work on a “radio banger” or smash hit. After my time at the label I started releasing my EPs independently and now when someone discovers me or my music they have my whole catalogue to explore.
The official music video for your song Blue Moon came out recently, can you tell us about the song and why you wrote it?
I actually wrote Blue Moon in the week I was eliminated from the show, and then recorded it in LA right after the season ended. I think it speaks upon a pretty universal feeling of not wanting to let go of something, be it an ex-lover, or a feeling or time that you can’t accept has ended.
The video itself was an amazing labor of love, me and my director Raymond Scott spent months choreographing the one-shot video, which used slow and fast motion and no edits to create a kind of surreal, continuous sequence. There is a cool behind-the-scenes video on my youtube channel that shows how we pulled it off.
Do you have any plans for an album release or a musical tour in the future?
When I came to Scranton I had some pre-release copies of my new EP The Water, which is now coming out officially this week! I am very excited about this new music, it is my first release since my time on The Voice. You can find it on Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music. My college shows are slowing down for the summer but I will be all over promoting the new EP! You can keep up with the dates at my website www.nickhagelin.com or follow the journey on IG/Twitter @nickhagelin