Nero's Dan Stephens & Alana Watson Are The Night, Your New Dance-Pop Obsession: Exclusive
You know Nero as the British electronic trio that dominates the bass world with dark, brooding scene classics from “Promises” to “Doomsday.” Their debut studio album Welcome Reality reached No. 6 on the Hot Dance/Electronic Albums chart, and the 2015 follow-up Between II Worlds topped it.
Nero have directly inspired Skrillex, deadmau5, ZHU and just about anyone you ask with their insanely groove-able, grandiose and bombastic take on dubstep and drum'n'bass -- but The Night, a new side project from Nero's married couple Dan Stephens and Alana Watson, is a whole different story.
The Night is a dance-forward duo that lets Stephens and Watson explore more of their musical background with renewed conceptual freedom. It's a bit '80s synthpop, a sensual touch of soulful R&B, a dash of deep house, and a whole lot of funky freshness. It's familiar and yet quite unlike anything you've really heard before. So, you know, all the things you like about Nero, just different.
The Night is introduced to the world with a four-track debut EP called Different Story. The project started about two years ago. The first tune Stephens composed became the EP's closing track, “Set Me Free,” and it started with a plane ride and a stroke of genius.
“I dreamt the song, which I've done a few times,” Stephens says. “I had my laptop right next to me so I could set it up in case I wanted to work when I woke up. I just started making the song when I came out of it a little bit. I just grabbed my laptop and got it down as quickly as I could.”
“Set Me Free” is sultry and bubbly, a little bit of future bass meets UK garage revival. Stephens was really into it, and when he played it for Watson, she was too, although they knew it wasn't quite right for the Nero sound. It's too upbeat, a little too poppy, but they wanted to follow this rabbit down the hole and see where it may lead.
The EP's opening tune and title track “Different Story” came next, a song Stephens describes as “sort of Justice-y” with slap bass edits and chops, and a breakdown inspired by The Beatles' “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,” plus a vocal Watson originally recorded for a different beat, her take on a Prince-esque pop ballad. It's the kind of hook you instantly fall in love with. The couple knew they had something worth seeing through.
“I'm able to use influences that I've never really been able to with Nero,” Stephens says. He also says the change of pace came at just the right time.
“It almost saved my creativity, doing something totally different because it was getting pretty tough,” he says. “The second album took us a long time to write. We were working on that for like three years. It was quite a laborious process. It felt good to do something different, because I think if I had got back into writing dark music again after that album, I would have probably lost my mind … Going back into Nero now, it feels fresh. It doesn't feel like it's hard to do or like I'm just doing too much.”
Stephens and Watson are more than excited to share The Night with Nero fans, even if it also comes with a fair bit of anxiety. Will Nero's hard-core fans vibe with The Night's more upbeat sound? There's always the chance that they won't, but Stephens has been playing “Different Story” to finish his solo Nero DJ sets, and so far, the response has been encouraging.
“I was playing around particularly on a tour I did in Australia,” he says. “I actually got messages from three separate people saying, 'What was that song you ended with? I've asked loads of people and no one can tell me what it is.' That was nice, because these are three people who spammed me on Facebook. You have to go through quite a lot to even find me, so obviously they took a lot of time to get in touch with me. It's really humbling for me. I got back to them, and all of them were quite surprised they heard back from me.”
Different Story is set for release on Monstercat's Instinct brand sometime in spring or summer of 2018. You can pre-save Different Story today, but it'll soon be followed by more. The Night have almost an album's worth of material in the can, so expect a steady stream of releases throughout the year.
“With the EP, although they fit together, there are lots of different influences, and for me, that's going to be really crucial,” Stephens says. “Basically what I'm looking forward to is getting it out already, which sounds mad at this stage, but I'm just really excited. That's one thing we love doing with Nero, putting albums together and making them tell a story. I just can't wait to do that again with The Night.”