By Gina Tron
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There is no ceiling to the game," declares Sherwyn Nichols. "Even once you made it to the moon, there's still more."
"When you make your first beat," adds Kendrick Nichols, Sherwyn's twin brother, "no matter what it sounds like, you're like, 'Damn!' — and then you just keep going from there."
The Nichols brothers are the masterminds behind Two Fresh, an outfit whose sound, an amalgamation of hip-hop, jazz and electronic music, fits perfectly into the current EDM boom. As with most twins, it's challenging to tell the brothers apart. And the stories of how the two siblings, who grew up in Nashville, ended up producing music together are as similar as their physical characteristics.
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"Since the second grade, we were always playing bass and guitar," Sherwyn explains, "and our older brothers were the ones who were setting what we were listening to." From early memories of vibing out to Dr. Dre's The Chronic to listening to acts like Three 6 Mafia, Kendrick and Sherwyn absorbed everything their brothers exposed them to as they worked to create their own sound. "Our parents bought us an Apple G4, and we got Reason on it first," Kendrick recalls. "Then we really started messing with music."
Before that, the twins shared a general interest in music as a hobby, but never really toyed with the notion that it would one day be a career. They split up after high school, with Kendrick heading to Mars Hill College just outside of Asheville, North Carolina, to pursue a degree in digital media, while Sherwyn stayed somewhat closer to home at Eastern Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, and followed his passion for geology. "I was really into rocks and minerals and all that shit," he points out.
After two years at their respective institutions, the brothers decided that sending each other tracks to work on just wasn't cutting it, and they decided to move to Asheville together to take a crack at music production. Thanks to various experiences working at places like Jersey Mike's Subs and Pizza Hut, the brothers quickly realized exactly what they didn't want to do for the rest of their lives and began buckling down on production in earnest, spitting out track after track.
"When we split up," says Kendrick, "by not being able not to work together, you realize that making a song is kind of just you and your computer." But just as the two came to that realization, it also became clear that there were limitations to recording tracks on GarageBand. In order for their music-making endeavors to progress, they needed a new vehicle, which is how they ended up working in Reason, a program in which the possibilities for manipulating samples are nearly endless. "Once we started splitting it all up," Kendrick remembers, "we got hooked."
"Our first track, the one that really clicked with us, was a remix of 'Throw Some D's,'" notes Kendrick. "But even then, it was still just a hobby." When the brothers began sharing their music online, they caught the notice of David Sheldon, founder of Euphonic Conceptions, who booked them for their first big gig back in their home town.
"We drove down to Nashville to play our first show, which was a Sound Tribe Sector 9 after-party, with Pnuma Trio," Kendrick relates. "And that," he adds, "was our shit. We drove all sorts of places to see Pnuma. That was the Southeast band for us. It just felt right playing the after-party."
That appearance spurred some recognition, and before long, the two began playing shows all over the East Coast. "That kind of reiterated for us that we are doing something right," says Sherwyn. "Somebody likes our shit. Those steps keep us going."
Like most artists, Sherwyn and Kendrick understood that if they were truly serious about making a name for themselves, certain sacrifices had to be made. "We were trying to do it while in school," Kendrick remembers, laughing at the memories of long weekends on the road. "But we'd come back after doing gigs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, only to do shitty in school." It was shortly after their sophomore year in college that they decided to focus solely on music, "which really sparked our taking it into a career instead of a hobby," Sherwyn says.
With supportive parents, both of whom were in the dark half the time their sons were on the road, the twins began pursuing their music full-time. What originally started out as a hobby evolved into an experimental world of electronic-music production. "Everything became so much more accessible with Ableton Live," says Kendrick of the transition from Reason, another pivotal example of the brothers' insatiable desire to progress. "But back in the day, it was just a controller and a turntable — no computers needed. In that sense, you were limited."
Although hip-hop brought Two Fresh to the game, it was the wide world of samples that really piqued their interest. Starting early with instrumentals, Two Fresh has since grown past those early stages of production and now focuses more on song structure. "I don't think technology is the new wave," Kendrick offers, "but there is a new renaissance of hip-hop where people are getting more experimental with it, and people are accepting new ways."
The music of Two Fresh is made distinctive by Kendrick and Sherwyn, who add their own vocals to the music as opposed to relying on vocal samples. "Everyone can rhyme, even if it's just to themselves," says Kendrick. "It's all about having the confidence to share it, spit it live, or give it to someone else to write on a track."
"We've always been experimental," adds Sherwyn, "and you can find the samples you might want, but it's simple to throw a microphone up and be the Danny Brown you want to be."
An added element of experimentation involved bringing drummer Colby Buckler on board for the live productions. "We started out making such downtempo music in an upbeat world," Kendrick recalls of their early efforts. "Colby adds that extra flair — that element that keeps you going — so when you listen to our music in your headphones, you get one vibe, and when you hear it live, it's completely different."
With the brothers now residing in metro Denver, Buckler is able to sit in on the production, getting a better feel for the tracks and better unspoken communication with the two guys he complements with his drums. Uprooting themselves from across the country wasn't easy, but releasing an EP and an album via Boulder-based record label Elm & Oak prior to moving here certainly helped the brothers' local reception. "We had known Berk [Visual] and Alex [Botwin] before we moved here," says Kendrick. "And we had some homies already living out here, so that helped."
Two Fresh now stands on the front lines of a changing genre. "Hip-hop is a lifestyle," says Sherwyn. "We've seen it for so many years, and it's what we love and what we want to do."
As the two prepare to drop a new album, they're confident that the recording will show definite growth and change. "We're making more Southern beats now than we did when we lived in the South," Kendrick says, half joking yet completely serious. "We moved from the abstract paint-a-picture stuff, like on Air Mail, to the more upbeat stuff with our vocals. Since that's already happened in hip-hop, it's natural for us, and totally new."
"Hip-hop, like all music styles, is a cycle," the two brothers conclude, nearly finishing each other's sentences. "Hip-hop started out flashy with videos and money, but the backpack came back, and it's more about bringing good content and the art of lyricism."