Nierra Creek: Songs of innocence and experience

Whilst working on their eagerly-anticipated debut EP at Abbey Road Studios with Theo Byrd, Brighton-based duo Nierra Creek have found clarity in the innocence of artistic expression. We spoke to composer and frontman, Ryan Lee Deag and producer Sebastian Muller.

Hedaer image by Vinncent La Torche

Having first breached the Brighton music surface with a handful of intimate live shows pre-lockdown, Sebastian Müller and Ryan Deag, collaboratively known as Nierra Creek, have been honing their blend of electronic production and folk/pop songwriting for the release of an EP recorded at Abbey Road Studios.

Tentatively set for release later this year The duo have taken a measured, progressive approach to their craft, generating no small amount of intrigue amongst those in the know.

Originating in a wholly natural manner, the two had collaboratively worked on various musical projects previously and it was during this time that Nierra Creek came to exist, comments producer Sebastian Müller.

“It was a really gradual process in Nierra Creek really forming as a thing. Ryan and I lived together before we made music together and at this time we were working on our own projects: I was doing a lot of production work and Ryan was writing acoustic songs. Just through living together we collaborated on a few things, Ryan sang on a beat I had made, I helped produce some of his solo tracks, and I guess that’s where the first formative songs came from.

It was so gradual I can’t even remember at what point we fully decided it was a band, it just happened as a natural progression.”

This coming together of seemingly disparate artistic forms is a story well-told in Brighton and has helped form Nierra Creek into the genre-neutral entity it is, comments composer, frontman Ryan Deag.

“Well that’s the interesting thing. We took two styles that were complete opposites at the time, and in a way that was why I was so intrigued about working with Seb the opportunity to take this kind of dark folk, solo music and make it really interesting in a new way, how can I make it current through expanding the remit of it all.

In the beginning I felt like Seb was tailoring his skills to fit what I was doing, whereas what I wanted was for him to bring his own style into the mix so we were just like, fuck it, lets make it 50/50, make some tracks and see what comes out of it.”

This even artistic split allowed the duo to bring their two particular skill sets, and years of musical experience, together as a progressive whole. This has allowed the duo not only to utilise each other’s expertise to improve themselves, but expand the horizons of the wider project.

This willingness to collaborate in an open, trusting environment is a hallmark of the Brighton arts scene, commented Seb.

“I feel like Brighton is one of those places, where say you finish university here, whether you’ve done something creative or not, there are always people that want to work on new things. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with such a range of people, and it’s not even always music, there are always people looking to not only create new concepts, but they are always so open to collaborating with others, to take in these new ideas and work together with those that may not even be in the same style, or even field as themselves.

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with such a range of people, and it’s not even always music, there are always people looking to not only create new concepts, but they are always so open to collaborating with others, to take in these new ideas and work together with those that may not even be in the same style, or even field as themselves.

Sebastian Muller, producer

“It is definitely a place where I feel like there is no pressure on these things and people just really enjoy the act of creating things for the sole act of doing so.”

Throughout the formation of Nierra Creek both Ryan and Seb have found creative inspiration in outside pursuits. The former has embarked on a number of photography projects including tour documentation for the unrelentingly-excellent MarthaGunn and Seb recently performed a Blade Runner/Akira live soundtracking with Maniatrix at the Rose Hill Tavern – a project some years in the making.

“We had always spoken about doing it throughout University but never did and just eventually got back to the idea, jammed a bit and it just happened and was suddenly real, suddenly we had a date for the performance at the Rosehill. That’s what I feel is nice about Brighton,” he said.

Both members are full of admiration for the work being done at The Rose Hill. From the outside the often-shut venue looks little more than an average pub, but as anyone that has attended one of its many events will attest, it is an inspiring, often-overlooked hub of artistry.

“The Rose Hill is definitely the most interesting spot in Brighton for artistic output, especially music,” commented Ryan.

Image by Will Ulrich

“My first experience of it was this event called Luma (Lewis Shields and Rhys Baker). People were making music to film live, there in the pub and it was so trippy, I was so excited by it at first, even though I wasn’t entirely sure I truly got what was going on, but as the night went on I just thought ‘this is best thing I have been to in Brighton’ there was this adrenaline that I got from it all.”

This artistic purity is a welcome break to the often success-centric approach of many Brighton acts.

“It’s making art because they wanted to make it, not because they wanted to make it,” said Ryan.

“Somewhere like the Rose Hill you just get this swell of collaboration that can only come from people making music, making art, purely because they love doing it.”

As one would expect the lockdown that we are all in has had an impact on the band’s progress, although not to the extent of many others. Nierra Creek had been booked for a festival performance at PandaFest in Cornwall as well as a showpiece support slot at a MarthaGunn London show and whilst the cancellation of both has been less-than-ideal it hasn’t been the deathblow some acts may have experienced.

“We were building up momentum to release an EP and whilst this has of course set us back a bit, we are luckily still in a really good position. We haven’t officially released anything so there hasn’t been that pressure to follow things up. We are in a position where we can pick and choose exactly when and where we do things,” commented Seb.

Whilst both were loath to call the timing of lockdown fortuitous, the position Nierra Creek found itself in at the time has meant that it will weather this great storm better than most, according to Deag.

“Somewhere like the Rose Hill you just get this swell of collaboration that can only come from people making music, making art, purely because they love doing it.”

Ryan Lee Deag, composer, frontman

“The project is still somewhat unknown in the grander scheme, but there is a simmering interest in a much closer group. We’ve always got people hammering on about releasing music. We had three shows before lockdown and the response was great from everyone involved, so people know we’ve been recording and on a personal level it’s nice to see them so interested in hearing what we’ve been creating.”

“The issue with talking about normal life coming back, and thinking about when to release music is that clearly normal life means different things to different people,” Seb added. “Normal life for some people is the shops open, but normal life for a band is the ability to play gigs without restriction, to travel to new places and play, and that is obviously much harder to assess a return of.”

The band has tentative plans to release its EP in the coming months, but given the unrelentingly unpredictable nature of our current climate nothing is being set in stone according to Seb.

“We’re playing it by ear to a degree. We’ve got the tracks ready, we live in the same flat and work on music every day together so it’s not like we are dependent on going into a studio or practice space so that is a definite upside.”

As is life, there are also downsides to this, such as the pitfall of overworking tracks – an often counterproductive drive to work and rework artistic output ad infinitum. The duo have sought to ward against this urge by keeping a keen focus on purity found in natural artistic progression.

“We have both got very good at recognising when it’s time to stop,” said Ryan. “In the past there may have been times where we’d reach these points and maybe push through them and keep working, but it is not always for the best.

“Now we try our best to organise certain times to work on music and knowing when to stop. In spending less time on things we have found ourselves getting more done. When the flow of creativity doesn’t feel right it’s always time to stop.”

Seb added: “We do jam a lot to create new songs, new ideas, but it’s important to have the confidence to recognise when you aren’t feeling it and let things go.”

This ability to let go has been something learned by the duo. The formative weeks and months of a new project can often see its participants hold onto concepts far past the point of need and whilst Seb and Deag have long since surmounted this inclination, it can be often be seen in others.

“It goes back to the sincerity and innocence of creating things,” commented Seb. “If you’re not enjoying what you’re making as you’re making it, if you’re not doing it because you love doing it what’s the fucking point? It may as well be a job then.”

The breadth of creative endeavour in Brighton can offer respite in these times. Working with other people and on other pursuits can rekindle passions, broaden horizons and ultimately motivate oneself to keep working and keep pushing at times of ennui.

“That is why I think working on a range of projects can really help not just your primary endeavour but yourself as a person,” commented Seb.

“The creative mind is so unpredictable you need to channel your energies when they appear, it needs to go somewhere. If you have a specific energy, that for example, you can’t express, you can’t let out in a band scenario it can be so beneficial to find how you can use it. I personally always find that when I go and work on projects unrelated to Nierra Creek I come back full of energy and with a new sense of creative freedom.

“Always working towards a single goal, always heading down a single path in the creative field I feel can often be destructive. It’s so important to let these energies go in whichever direction they take you and enjoy them for what they are.”

“Even taking photos of other artists inspires me,” commented Ryan. “Just seeing what they are doing, what they have done, talking with them and feeling their passion for their work, I come back to Nierra Creek completely energised to create. This positive inspiration is such a motivator, it can drive everyone forward.”

“Always working towards a single goal, always heading down a single path in the creative field I feel can often be destructive. It’s so important to let these energies go in whichever direction they take you and enjoy them for what they are.”

“The creative mind is so unpredictable and you need to channel your energies when they appear.”

“I personally feel that here you have this ability to do things creatively without a broader pressure to it all. It feels like there is an innocence to the creative process.”