Nick Harris, A.K.A Nico, recalls the first song he ever wrote with a look of pained embarrassment. He was 16, in his bedroom and inspired by the hectic world of overdramatic, hormone-fueled teenage relationships. “I’ve still got the piece of paper of the first rhyme I ever did and it was awful, it was really bad.” He says, laughing. “But I’m not going to lie at the time I thought it was really good, like I had a number one hit or something.”
He didn’t. But at 27, Harris still hopes one day that might be true of another of his songs. Many of us can remember similar early attempts at emanating our celebrity idols but dismissed them as pipe dreams long ago. Unlike most, Harris has never really given up on the idea and 2 years ago decided to do everything he can to make it a reality.
On the 15th of September he moved one step closer. After performing in the regional auditions for Open Mic 2013, the UK’s biggest competition for singers and solo artists, Harris beat around 400 fellow competitors for a slot in the regional finals – the competition’s penultimate phase. If he succeeds there he could go on to perform at the O2 Arena and potentially win a host of prizes including £5,000 in cash and the chance to be signed to a big record label.
“I’m not even sure what most of the prizes are.” He explains. “I’m most excited for the way this could develop my career. It’s a huge national competition with lots of publicity and some great industry people involved. Performing at the O2 would be mental. It would be like the highlight of my life – a massive, massive milestone.”
But he’s not there yet. Right now he’s meeting me at a cheap and cheerful, greasy spoon on Roman Road in Bow where he’s lived since 2006. His crisp street style gives him the appearance of a city boy – he dons a black beanie and sweatshirt, two diamond earrings, a gold chain and some Nikes – but he was born and raised in Plymouth and like many rap and hip hop artists comes from humble beginnings.
“I had an alright growing up. I mean we were really skint, like a lot of people nowadays. We had a big family, six kids in a small house and mum had two jobs and all that. But we’ve all done well. My siblings are really big inspiration for me. One tours all around the world setting up equipment for bands, and my other brother has done really well – he’s an entertainment manager and owns a really nice venue in North London. Then my sister is an actress, so performing arts runs in the family.”
Not only is it in his genes, but Harris studied at a drama school in Devon meaning he’s used to being on the stage. “Originally I wanted to be an actor. When I was about 17 or 18 I performed in Fame and had to play a bit of a street character and do a little rap on stage. It was totally different, and scary, but I really loved it and got a really good response. I think something nailed into my brain then that that was what I wanted to pursue.”
But after AS Levels Harris left school and started to work, with music remaining only as a hobby. “I had pretty rubbish jobs to be honest. It was always sales.” He says, looking bored. “If the music wasn’t there the reality is I’d probably just end up doing some dead end job, just hustling through life which isn’t what I want to do, music is my passion, 100%.”
For a few years, Harris worked for a company called DoubleTake as a sales consultant – a job he enjoyed. But after a 10 month break in Australia he returned to work to be told the company had gone bust. While at first “devastated”, he was invigorated by a new sense of ambition and it gave him the kick he needed to dedicate his full time and effort to music.
That was two years ago, and he’s been “reaping the rewards” ever since. After working with BAFTA nominated film composers on his first music video, getting radio play here as well as across the Atlantic and releasing his first E.P. “Believe” – the title of which he has tattooed on his neck – on the 3rd of October, he proudly says today he feels like a “professional”.
“I feel like I’ve progressed a hell of a lot and in so many different ways. I’ve done everything independently right down to the album artwork and I’ve learnt a lot that perhaps I wouldn’t have if some one else was doing it for me. I’m getting taken seriously too, which is great and I really feel like a strong artist. I’m mixing with the right people, doing the right things and I’m constantly on it – its what my life consists of 24/7.” He says, fondly.
“I do every single thing I can to put my face out there and get in the public eye. Open Mic 2013 is another opportunity for me and a lot can come out of it so its worthwhile. Plus you don’t get a lot of rap or hip-hop artists in this kind of competition – their materials not always appropriate. Mine’s a different vibe, commercial and more family friendly so I thought ‘why not?’”
Harris’ rhymes feature David Cameron more than gangs and guns, so his music isn’t your stereotypical UK hip-hop. “That stuff is just not my life.” He explains. “It’s not what I get up to and I’d rather just tell the truth and be myself.”
Instead, Harris’ music is more mainstream. He describes it as “positive”, “uplifting” and inspired by his own experiences. It’s appropriate then that his EP should revolve around the need for self-belief and “making the most of your one shot in life”. It’s one quality he’ll surely need to make it big in an industry he agrees can be “cut throat” and “ruthless”.
But his confidence and dedication are impressive. He enjoys the hard work and is prepared to make sacrifices – including big nights out with his friends. “I don’t really drink anymore. I used to go out like, a lot but now my friends ring me and I just give them excuses. I don’t have time to be hung over the next day. I’m pretty committed and I’m proud of that.”
“When I get a single in the top 10 I’ll feel like I’ve made it. But I won’t stop at one song, I don’t want to be a one hit wonder. I want to be a long term, successful recording artist and be in the charts all the time. That’s my ultimate goal.” He asserts, unfazed by the daunting task ahead of him.
For more information and to find Harris’ music online search “nicomusic1000”
To listen or download his EP “Believe” visit http://nicomusic1000.bandcamp.com/