Last fall, Chris Toufexis released his first single, “Thoughts From Your Car,” under the name nodisco. Now only two singles in, he wants to the world to know that they don’t know what to expect from him. He’s beholden to no genres, no specific sounds. His goal is to keep moving and morphing without being put into one tiny box. We chatted with Chris last week about his music, his momentary songwriting career, and how he’s sick of current synth-based music being called “80s music”. Check it out.
Can I ask first before we get into things, is the name nodisco. a reference to the Depeche Mode song?
Yes. So yeah, I guess that is a little bit of an 80s reference.
This 80s reference is the only one that’s allowed.
Yeah. I chose it initially for an aesthetic purpose. I was collecting a bunch of records at the time. I just picked up Speak And Spell and knew a couple of songs from it. I looked on the back and it said “Nodisco” and I was like, that’s very interesting. It just looks cool, whatever. But then when I looked more into it, I realized that no disco came from a Talking Heads song called “Life During Wartime” where David Byrne says “this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco”. And then Sheryl Crow said “this ain’t no disco, it ain’t no country club either” in the 90s and it’s kinda been this term that’s spanned generations. So I found that interesting.
But I also analyzed the reason why Depeche Mode was saying it to begin with and, for them, they were one of the first defined synth pop bands. This record came out in 1981 or something. It was just after disco, and I think what they were trying to say was “we’re making pop approach music, but it’s not disco… this is cooler. This is more thought out. We’re not just some easily digestible disco music. This is something that you can study and it’s deeper than that.” So I think that speaks to me in a sense where… I make pop music. My approach is very pop in terms of writing and production, but I truly think that lyrically, it’s not really that pop approached. I don’t make easily digestible pop music. There’s a lot to this, influence-wise and lyric-wise. I’m a bit self-conscious in terms of whatever music press gets covered of me.
I was going to say, you started out as a songwriter, right? You were going to songwriting camps and working with Babyface. So you have experience with putting together lyrics that are both catchy but also that dive into things, and you can write for other people as well as just yourself.
Yeah. But the funny thing about that is how it all happened. It kind of came out less truthful to what it really was. What happened there was like… I’ve never had a placement for anyone songwriting wise. I’m a songwriter, but I’ve not been in the music industry at all until “Thoughts From Your Car” came out and I connected with the guys from Valley.
The songwriting camp was just like… I was a huge Babyface fan and I did the two demos with Mike from Valley and I was just looking on Google for Babyface and then I was like, “oh, he’s doing a songwriting camp in Toronto, you send a couple songs and then get to go to the studio.” So I was like, “I get to meet Babyface??” I wasn’t even thinking “I’m going to make these Toronto connections and get a publishing deal.” I literally was just like, “I get to meet Babyface, he will listen to my music and he’s literally one of the greatest writers of all time and he’s gonna listen to my song.”
So I’m like, you know what? Screw this. I’m gonna send an email. I did two demos with Mike at that time. Literally the only two songs I had, one was “Thoughts From Your Car” and the other one’s a song that’s going to come out in a couple months. And I literally just sent them in and didn’t expect anything of it because I hadn’t done anything in the industry up til then.
They said that they liked them, and then they invited me. I went to that camp and I was just like, what am I doing here? Like who am I? Everyone there had some sort of clout or had released music or written for other people. And I was just Chris, some guy that — I don’t know, I just had two songs that I’d made. So yeah, I’m not some seasoned songwriter that’s been in the industry, I have no credits. I’ve just been very carefully building things behind the scenes for two years and now it’s coming out. The songwriting camp was really a fluke, it was just nice to be there and meet some people and especially meet Babyface. That was crazy.
Awesome. I love that. It’s so sick that you just found that opportunity and then it — sometimes I think the universe puts things in front of us that are supposed to be there.
That’s been my whole life so far. I really haven’t understood anything that has happened so far with me musically. I’m not some guy who’s been in a band and dropped out of it and then two years later I’m releasing this new project after things didn’t work. This all just kind of happened and I don’t really know how. I think it really started with me berating Mike from Valley.
I went to university and finished my degree, whatever. One of my roommates was from Oakville and told me about Valley. I always thought my songs had to have this huge production, but I knew that I wasn’t technically able to do it. I can produce and I have production credit on all my songs, but I just can’t be the person behind the computer. I can give very detailed notes into what has to happen, but I’m not the producer.
So I made one song with one of my friends, and then my roommate was like, “oh yeah, this guy named Mike from Valley” — this was when Valley was just putting out This Room Is White, their second EP. So they weren’t too big as at that point, but Mike was doing stuff for Conan Gray. So I went to his house and I was just like, “holy shit, these dudes are actually recording,” like they were tracking some side project that Rob (singer from Valley) was doing. And there I was just watching them playing guitars over and over again, being like, “no, that take isn’t good enough.” And I was like, is this how people record music?
Finally we started talking and we did a couple sessions, but it was all older stuff I did and none of it was working — it was just not… not good. And then I showed him this lo-fi demo for “Thoughts In Your Car” and he loved it. We worked on that and he was like, “holy shit, this is amazing,” and then another song he was like, “oh this is amazing,” and then we did another and now we are very, very tight. I don’t know how the hell it happened, and Valley’s support of me has been so insane. So many of their fans have been so warm and have become really great fans of mine as well. If I learn one thing in this industry and in life, it’s that if you believe in something, just push for it. Annoy people until they pay attention, and then for some reason it just happens.
It’s cool that it’s all come together and, as a solo artist, it’s great to have such a community around you because you can’t do it alone. You have supportive friends, like everybody in Valley, the tracks are mastered by Joe LaPorta. How has this team helped you to kind of shape your sound and move this whole thing forward?
With “Thoughts From Your Car,” we got Chris Zane to mix it, who did the whole Matter record with St. Lucia. Joe LaPorta, that was a connect through Zane, Sterling Sound is known to be one of the best mastering studios in the world and he just hooked me up with that.
I work with a guy named Milan as well, he goes by MILANO. He did “Moonlight in my Bedroom” with me. We mixed that — well, he mixed it, I like to say I kind of mixed it ’cause I was sitting there going “this needs to be in the left ear and this needs to be in the right ear, this needs to be this volume.” Going forward, I’m really all about having these songs be totally mine. That’s how that writing camp doesn’t exactly line up with what I want to do, I like the whole idea in the community around co-writing and whatever, but at the end of the day I want these songs to be mine.
Everyone I have around me now, I trust with my life and I don’t see it expanding too much until I can get a session with Max Martin or Babyface or whoever. At that point I’ll be like… my mind will be blown. But for now, these guys are the best and I couldn’t have a better team of people around me. Truly.
I was going to ask who you would love to work with, but I think Max Martin and Babyface is a pretty stellar combo.
Yeah. Brian McKnight, Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile, all for different reasons. I think we make different types of songs all around, but that’s what I really want to do. I want to be a pop artist that makes great pop songs, but I also want to make an incredible R&B song that people just take as a great R&B song and it’s not like, okay, this dude is out of his lane. There’s a bunch of R&B type stuff that I’ve done. I just want people to feel like this totally makes sense and this isn’t out of left field. And then it’s going to expand more and more sonically.
Well, so far the two songs are so different, but they both still feel like nodisco. I don’t know how to explain it, but they both… they just have the same feeling behind them, but they’re entirely different. Should we expect more of that going forward?
Yeah, definitely. Yes. Just to give a hint into what’s coming… with “Moonlight in my Bedroom,” I listened to a lot of João Gilberto who pretty much invented bossa nova. So just, I was listening to a lot of that, and I wanted to put bossa nova guitars over a synth pop song. So what I ran with was João Gilberto meets M83, which I think is super unique. At least, I like to tell myself that. So yeah, that was very purposely a weird contraption that I tried to make.
And then the next song is the one song of mine where I don’t think I’m trying to do anything insane. It’s just really catchy, I’m trying to have that first song that grips the most people. Then we get the song afterwards that’s super influenced by my favourite band, The Blue Nile, and very atmospheric and kind of lives in the same world as “Thoughts From Your Car.”
If people come to the live shows within the next month or two, they’ll hear these songs. I’m just trying to really establish the impact I want my artist project to have on the world. I want to very clearly establish that this year and be like, this is what I’m all about. This is what you can expect. Let’s do it again in 2021, year after year after year. I literally want to try to make every type of song ever. I think The 1975 do a good job of it. But as a solo person, I want to really kind of impress in that sense. I guess it’s like me trying to be like, “oh look, look, I’m cool. Look at all the things I listened to and how I can do it.” I have a problem with that for some reason.
I think it’s just the way that we’ve all been conditioned to have to prove ourselves as music fans or consumers of music. That we don’t just listen to one thing, we’re cultured. I feel like what you’re doing is you’re setting people up so that they know what to expect. But what they should expect is that they don’t know what to expect because it’ll always change.
But I think that’s cool because I know that like — well, I’m currently doing this as if it was my favourite artists. I’m doing things that would make me go “holy shit”. And I’m pretty picky when it comes to that. I just think that in order to remain interesting as an artist, you don’t want to fall into this feeling of “okay, I know this is going to be the same thing.”
All the people that I’ve always looked up to like Peter Gabriel, or one of my favorite bands is Everything But The Girl, and every record was just so different. And just the talent of the people involved to be able to do all those different sonic ideas. It’s so impressive to me and I just want to have that same approach.
I think you’ve hit on something important, which is that a lot of the artists that stick with us over the years are not the artists that just create the same album three times, call it a day, and then come back years later for a reunion tour.
Yes. Yes, for sure.
You don’t really think about that when you’re making the music. Like you think “people liked this, I should do this again“. But when we look back on the artists that actually stick with us, those aren’t the ones… I’ve never really thought about that before.
It haunts me. That’s the stuff that literally haunts me. I want this to be a very long, interesting career. So how do I do that? I always think of what I’m doing as my 60 year old self looking back, thinking “was this really cool?” Like were you really interesting enough? I like to think of what my career is going to be even though it hasn’t begun. And that can sometimes be daunting. And it previously stunted my beginnings because that’s why it took so long to start. I remember talking to my whole circle and being like, “what’s my name going to be?” and I swear to you for four months before I put up “Thoughts From Your Car”, the delay was just because I couldn’t finalize a name.
I thought about it hard. Am I going to like this in 20 years? One of the things that was bothering me about nodisco. was naming myself after someone else’s art. Like, is this original enough? I just obsessed, obsessed, obsessed. And then one of the main things that made me like take a breath was… I just remember looking up Radiohead for some reason. I guess I was listening to them and I went on their Wikipedia and it said Radiohead got their name from a Talking Heads song called Radiohead. I was like, “oh, if Radiohead did it, then I’m fine.”
Oh my god.
So now I’m all in the clear and I really haven’t given it too much thought since then, which is good. But yeah, I’m telling you right now it was four months.
I could not even imagine. I can’t even come up with a name when I’m starting a new website and I could literally change that at any time I wanted and it wouldn’t make a difference.
Yeah. It’s very daunting. But here we are.
God, well I’m glad that you figured that out so you could start releasing music. So far it’s been great and I’m glad I get to hear it. What advice do you have for anybody else who’s trying to get into this? Would your advice just be not to spend so much time thinking about the name?
Yeah. Don’t overthink too much. Well, to a certain extent, I think whatever I’ve put out is the quality it has been because of the way I am. But not to the point where it cripples. When you truly think that things are ready, it’s time to start. So I kind of wish I started. I’m happy that I didn’t really start two years ago and I’m happy that I waited and got all the art together and everything just feels great right now. But in ways, I wish I started when I was 19, but I’m 23 now. If you have that stuff early, just fall in love with the people that you’re working with. Get them on board and get going. That’s what I did. Thank god.
And tons of luck. Not even needing that one hit or whatever. It’s really crazy how much luck you have to have just to have the perfect team around you to make everything good. Maybe not so much lucky even, because I think I got a lot of what I got from just getting in people’s faces and being annoying because I thought I had something. So I guess it’s like… if you think you have something and you don’t have those people around, you annoy people if you believe in what you’re doing. I’m annoying people because my motto throughout my music career so far is if you know your product’s good, annoying people is only going to get them to finally listen to it and understand. That’s what happened with my distributors too. These new distributors say “oh, we’ll pitch you for editorials, blah blah blah” but they don’t actually mean that for every artist. I knew my music was good and I deserved it, so I sent a million emails until they listened and knew it was good too.
I think that’s great because a lot of artists are either self-conscious or they think it’s arrogant to be that in your face when really, you have to be your own biggest fan because nobody else will advocate for you the way you’ll advocate for yourself.
Absolutely. That’s literally so true. And I think honestly that’s why a lot of people don’t get to be as big as they could be, it’s literally because of that. If it’s not you as the artist who has that like mentality of getting in people’s faces, you need a manager. You need someone to be annoying people for you. That’s what I learned. Luckily I’m the annoying person so I don’t need a manager yet.
It makes your life easier. You don’t have to check in with anybody to make sure they’re still annoying everyone.
Oh my god. Well that’s perfect, I’m so glad. And it really does seem like from an outside perspective, it’s all just falling into place. Do you have a moment so far where you felt like you were on the precipice of something big that was about to happen? Or a moment where it clicked, like this is the moment where it feels like everything’s falling into place?
I think just when I put out “Thoughts From Your Car” because I led up to that for like two years and was just like… what’s going to happen? And all the initial support was crazy. I’m just in Toronto and I haven’t traveled the world, you know? I’ve pretty much stayed in the city my whole life. I didn’t have a fan base per se at all aside from, you know, some friends that kind of knew what was going on. But when we put that out, especially with Valley helping, it just so quickly went everywhere. I was getting tons of messages from the US, people saying, “I’m going to be at your first show”. I was like, what?? From one song? That’s the moment where I was like, okay, this is cool.
There’s two lovely ladies in the States that host the Vinyl Variety podcast. They’re both angels and within like a couple of weeks, they were already discussing me on their podcast and saying how much they loved the song. Saying they’re from the States but are going to go to Toronto to see me. Half of me was like, “I have one song, you guys don’t even know if you’re going to like the rest”. But yeah. Even when “Moonlight” came out, they did reaction videos. Just having that fan support this early, it was mind blowing. I think that whole release cycle of “Thoughts From Your Car” and finally seeing it come to life was definitely the moment that I was like, okay, this is something,
Yeah, some artists work their whole career trying to find fans that are that committed to them. So the fact that you found them on the first single is amazing. And I noticed it got added to a playlist by Chris Klemens, the YouTuber. I feel like that taps into a very good kind of fan that’s already committed to creators and supporting them. They have that sort of commitment ingrained into them.
Yeah, and then another YouTuber named Shannon Beveridge also put me in her playlist. Most of my listeners are in the States right now, which is really cool because I was always kind of worried about getting geo-locked into Canada. I am very aware and have learned a lot from the Valley guys about the importance of expanding. So I think it’s really helped that I had those initial plays in the States and now the Spotify algorithm has been kicking it there rather than like, you know, it got big in Toronto so now it’s just kicking it to people in Burlington. Especially with the help of those YouTube playlists and everything, it’s just already elsewhere, which I was so worried about. And just for that to even be happening, it’s just amazing.