Nick Lashley: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Nick Lashley Interview

Feature Photo courtesy of Nick Lashley

Nick Lashley Interview by Andrew Daly

UK-born Nick Lashley is an Oscar-nominated songwriter and producer. He co-wrote and produced the song “Lost Stars,” which has over 1 billion streams for the hit musical film Begin Again and was performed by Adam Levine and other songs on the soundtrack.

Other notable producing and co-writing work includes The Struts, The Kaiser Chiefs, Ronan Keating, Alanis Morrisette, Natasha Bedingfield, The Unlikely Candidates, Robbie Williams, David Archuleta, and Greyson Chance.

Lashley also frequently collaborates with Grammy-winning hit songwriter/producer Gregg Alexander, formerly of the New Radicals. ​Lashley is also known for his guitar work and has worked with various artists, such as Alanis Morissette, including the famous Jagged little pill era.

And on top of that, Lashley has worked with the likes of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, The B-52s, Lisa Marie Presley, Michelle Branch, Carly Simon, Sass Jordan, Robbie Robertson, Chris Isaak, Avril Lavigne, Ben Taylor, Natasha Bedingfield, who he played the earworm guitars on her worldwide mega-hit “Unwritten.”

During a break from the action, Nick Lashley beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to give the rundown on his career, gear choices, exciting moments, and more.

What first sparked your interest in the guitar?

Initially, it was listening to various records that my parents had around the house, especially the Beatles (Beatles for Sale, Revolver, Rubber Soul). I would sit for hours listening to them on a mono record player. This was the late-60s. I was probably only four or five years old. Around this time, my uncle came to stay with us for a few months, and I would watch him sitting around the house strumming and singing on his guitar; I was just hooked after that!

I would mess around on a guitar but probably didn’t get more serious about playing it until years later; I got a new acoustic when I was 12 and started playing chords properly, and by 13 had my first electric guitar, a crappy plywood thing from Woolworths [laughs]. It was the mid to late-70s, and all this amazing rock music was happening, bands like Thin Lizzy and Queen, and then when the punk band scene exploded onto the U.K. scene, it really inspired me to get going on the guitar.

What early moments shaped you as an artist, and how do those affect you today? 

When I was young and obsessed with learning the guitar, I was like a sponge. I tried to absorb everything/anywhere I could. I had a friend who lived down the street who was a little older and more advanced than me so I would pick things up from him, or it might be seeing some guy playing at a local music store or gig or seeing my heroes playing on TV.

Also, my father was a college teacher with a strong work ethic. One day, I remember him telling me that if I was serious about music, it was up to me to have the right mentality and dedication to make it happen. I guess any good musician out there knows that, but it stuck with me.

Can you recall your first gig?

I was 16, and I think my band played a Battle of the Bands contest at a college in Leicester. And I seem to remember that we won and were awarded time in a local recording studio [laughs].

How did you sign your first record deal? 

The first signed band I played in was a band called King Swamp; they were already signed to Virgin Records when I joined. It was an exciting experience at the time, my first real pro-level band and tour. The band had some great musicians like Dominic Miller (Sting) and members of Shriekback, who were all older and more experienced than me.

I was fortunate to get the gig as they had tried out many other players, including some top pro guys in London, but I auditioned last, and they picked me. I was also so impressed that Bob Clearmountain produced the first album! I went on to record their second LP with him producing.

What have you learned since?

So many things! It was interesting to watch the vibe with KS’s label change as the band ceased to be a priority on the second album, so that was an initial learning experience on how fickle the biz can be. But mostly in my career roles, I’ve spent either playing guitar for signed artists or working on the co-writing and co-producing stuff, so I’ve managed to avoid some of the record label dealings many artists have to navigate.

Would you change anything about your early records?

Not so much. I just feel fortunate that in even the earlier stages of my career, I was able to fall into some situations working with talented musicians and producers.

How have you evolved as a guitarist?

Confidence, with every experience you accumulate along the way, helps you to grow, it’s a constant building process, and I’ve been lucky enough to play with many different artists of varying styles which helped me develop as a musician. A big part of being a guitarist is being a songwriter/composer. All the all-time great guitarists, e.g. [Jimi] Hendrix, the Edge, [Jimmy] Page, etc., were/are all great music creators. So hopefully, I’ve evolved that way too.

Tell me about your latest recordings.

I’ve been doing some remote recording guitars on different songs/tracks that various producers send me to play on, so it’s me recording myself in my studio. With some of the production stuff I’ve worked on over the years, I’ve become pretty good at the engineering/editing side. I’ve recorded in Pro-Tools for years and am comfortable with that workflow.

I normally combine a Neumann TLM103 and AKG-451 going into Chandler LTD-1 and Avalon 737 pre’s. On my electrics, it’s usually a combination of Sure-SM-57, and either Royer R-121 or a Sure SM-81 works nicely, too. I’ve found the mic combinations work together well.

What sort of guitars did you have to work with in the studio? 

I have a cluster of go-to guitars for electrics. It’s a ’72 Tele Deluxe, ’66 Telecaster, ’69 Les Paul Custom, Don Grosh hollow tele, 1967 Trini Lopez, and a ’95 Custom Shop Stratocaster, my main Alanis touring guitar. For acoustics, it’s a 2005 Gibson J200, a 1957 Gibson J50, a 1965 Hummingbird, also a Larrivee, and a Taylor 914c. I also have many other instruments lying around the studio that I might tend to use for very specific sounds, like a Baritone, Dobro, 6-string banjo, Uke, Lap steels, etc.

Fun trivia Sidenote: The J50 is what I used on the mega worldwide hit “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield, and the Larrivee acoustic is what I used on Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars,” which has had over a billion streams! I’m also a co-writer/producer on that. And the Taylor 914c was my primary acoustic on Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill tour.

Why did you make those choices?

It’s just a collection of stuff I’ve accumulated over many years. I probably have about 35 guitars; not too excessive, right? On a daily basis, there’s a handful that I frequently use, but you never know when those extra instruments might come in handy. For example, if you go on the road, you often need extra guitars.

How about amps and pedals?

Amp-wise, my go-to rig is my DV13 FTR/37 and JRT/915 heads which feed into a 2×12 DV13 open-backed cab. I use these very frequently but also have quite a few other amps just in case I’m searching for something different such as Matchless Clubman 35 head, some vintage Marshall heads, some other vintage amps like a ’62 Vox AC30, ’61 VOX AC15, ’65 Fender Blackface Deluxe Reverb.

Effects-wise, in the studio, I have a Dave Friedman-built stereo rack. It has a bunch of pedals in drawers as well as some rack FX by Line 6 and TC Electronics. I like recording with it in my home studio because it has a nice clean signal for recording as everything is true bypass.

If I’m going to an outside studio or a gig, I’ll usually bring my pedalboard. It has a Crybaby Wah, Keely compressor, Fulltone Fulldrive, Zvex Fuzz Factory, Digitech Whammy, Line 6 Delay and Mod pedals, Boss DD20 GigaDelay, TC Electronic Shaker, Ernie Ball Volume pedal, DV13 Switchazel amp switcher, Boss Tuner. The board is also built by Friedman.

Are you more traditional, or do you experiment? 

Both! It depends on the situation you are working in. In many situations, the guitarist’s job is to play under the guidelines of what the music or songs need, and often very specific parts are required to be played, but experimentation is really fun and useful, especially when you are writing or composing, you might try an unusual tuning or a new pedal/piece of gear to try to find ways to stumble on some unexpected magic.

Tell me about your songwriting approach.

On the songwriting side, I like to collaborate with people who are amazing lyric/melody writers. For example, I sometimes work with a great songwriter, Gregg Alexander of New Radicals. My role when we co-write with artists is usually to work on the music side, so I’ll prep some track ideas for the session that might get ideas flowing on the day. Once the song is written and arranged, we’ll usually produce as much of a master-sounding demo as possible and often produce the final master.

You’ve worked with many artists; who have been the most interesting, and why?

The Alanis experience was special. To witness and be a part of an artist organically becoming an overnight success like that was incredible. Within less than a year, the gigs went from tiny clubs to arenas, and we probably looped the world several times. Taylor Hawkins and I had only been home a couple of weeks from touring on another gig when we were asked to audition. Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.

Playing onstage with Mick Jagger was also a huge thrill, but I also did some shows with the B-52s a few years back. I was asked to join them on the road with little to no rehearsals, and their music is not as simple as it sounds to play. The arrangements can be very unorthodox, and with all the bizarre guitar tunings, etc., I had to do my research before I showed up. I’m kinda chuffed I pulled that off [laughs].

Is there one session or record that sticks out most? If so, why?

A few come to mind. Sorry [laughs]. We were touring in Europe with Alanis in ’99, supporting her second album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and she was asked to write a song for a film called Dogma. A few days later, we found ourselves in studio two at Abbey Road Studios in London, recording her newly written song “Still.” I played a Coral sitar on the track, but I remember it was a great session and a thrill to be recording in the very room The Beatles had recorded all those years ago!

The session for Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten” is also a fun memory. I walked into the studio, and Natasha, Danielle Brisebois, and Wayne Rodrigues were literally in the middle of writing the song, and they were like, “We need a guitar part now.” Within minutes it was done first and second take! I doubled part. That song was a huge hit; it’s funny how those unexpected moments can happen like that.

In this last case, the closest thing to an artist was the film’s director, John Carney, but I had a great experience working on Begin Again (2014). Myself, Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois wrote and produced most of the music. It was a rewarding and different experience to write songs with a script and story in mind.

We had amazing musicians in the studio, and everything was recorded at Electric Lady Studios prior to the filming in and around New York. One of the tracks, “Lost Stars,” sung by Adam Levine, went on to be nominated for an Oscar the following year.

Does making music in a low attention span world frustrate you?

A little, yes! It’s sad that the once beautiful art form of the long-play album has become somewhat lost on the newer generation; the emphasis seems to be more on single tracks. Today’s music industry seems to be constantly evolving, but my concern is that newer artists can benefit financially enough from streaming to survive. We need to encourage the creators to be able to create!

What’s next in all lanes? 

Same as always working with artists as a writer and producer, session work, and I’ve also been scoring a few independent films. Ever since working in Begin Again, scoring has been something I’ve found to be a great creative outlet and lets me explore other sides to my playing that Pop and Rock music doesn’t. It’s a totally different discipline. This has also led me to start working on a guitar-based instrumental project, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

Nick Lashley Interview

Feature Photo courtesy of Nick Lashley

Nick Lashley: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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