5 Questions With: Tim Nisly
The indie-pop artist stops by to talk about life overseas, his second EP, and music for strip malls.
Today we’re talking with indie pop artist Tim Nisly
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The first thing you see on As It Were is, “We all feel like the internet is making us a little dumber.”
Ain’t that the truth.
In a world of TikTok clips, flattened logos, and the enshittification of almost everything online, it’s an accurate statement. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that escaping from that endless loop of clips, SEO-optimized articles that read like cardboard, and the scourge of hustlebros is a large reason why many of us have flocked to Substack.
And, of course, that carries over to music as well. It’s easy to be passively fed music via an algorithm. Finding new stuff worthwhile is harder, but if you sift through enough dirt, you eventually hit gold.
And that’s definitely why I’m here.
Tim Nisly is the writer behind As It Were. He’s also a musician and the man behind Useful Fiction and recently released his second EP, Global Heat Wave. Having one’s work described as “easy listening for strip malls” seems pejorative, but Tim took it in stride. I took it as a cue that I wanted to hear more- both the music and the artist making it.
He describes it as “bedroom indie.” I called it “good,” which wasn’t hard to do at all.
In a wide-ranging chat, we talk about who influenced this latest EP, how the songs can be both happy or sad, depending on how you come at them, and what’s next for him.
And with that, I'll get out of the way and get right into the interview.
Our chat has been lightly edited for clarity/flow.
KA: Can you fill in a little bit of your backstory? Walk us through what made you get started playing. Are there other bands you are/were involved in?
TN: I’m a big overthinker. I was always musical from childhood—piano lessons, programs at school and church, filling in for friends’ gigs. I would start my own songs, but beyond a chorus here or there, I’d get paralyzed by the pressure of whatever I thought the songwriting process was supposed to be. That plus getting older and feeling like I was too late.
At some point in 2020, I was feeling the dread of all that and just told myself I couldn’t end the year without releasing music. I wanted to do it even if I sounded amateur, which was quite a departure from my perfectionist tendencies. For better or worse, that amateur spirit is a big part of my sound. And now I’m two EPs deep.
KA: Where does the name Useful Fiction come from? Is there a story behind it?
TN: I guess that’s a continuation of the story. I was in my hammock reading one day, and the phrase stuck out to me from a book (actually, this is a pretty boring story).
I think I’m interested in contradictions and cognitive dissonance—the ideas we believe and what we get out of them. I also like when something can be read with multiple interpretations. I’ve tried to make that the case on a few songs, where they might strike you as happy or sad, depending on your assumptions. It’s fun cause it feels like I’m playing a trick.
But I think it’s true of the phrase “useful fiction,” too. It can mean a few different things, and that’s why I like it for a name.
KA: When we first talked, you described the Global Heatwave EP as “bedroom indie,” pulling both from the 2000s & 70s. Who would you include as influences here?
TN: I was listening to a lot of Remi Wolf and Mountain Brews during the writing process. Both are recent artists, but still.
As far as the 2000s and 70s, it’s classic nostalgia stuff: trying to recreate what I remember from childhood. I referenced Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Nelly Furtado, Gwen Stefani, M.I.A. I unironically adore Shaggy. Dylan, the Dead, Neil Young.
There’s a digital gloss to music from the 2000s that’s charming to me. It was all so fun but earnest—it didn’t have to be ironic. And then my impression of the 70s is that it takes its craft more seriously; the sounds are much better to listen to. But it feels like there’s less anxiety in the songwriting. More space in the arrangements, more freedom in the subject matter.
I’ll leave it up to the reader whether any of that comes through. One friend told me I sound like easy listening for strip malls.
KA: What’s next? More recording? Out on the road? What does the rest of 2023 look like for you?
TN: Just this week, I finished my undergrad, which opens up a lot of space. I’ve been writing with some ambitious goals, and I want to get some shows in before the year’s over.
Useful Fiction- Global Heat Wave, 2023
Click on the record to listen on your platform of choice.
In addition to his Substack, you can connect with Tim and check out his music in the following places:
1. Describe your musical style in one sentence.
Calm and excessive.
2. What music played in your house(s) growing up?
Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Phil Keaggy. A lot of Christian stuff that I’m terrified to name.
In my teens, bands like Copeland and Paper Route were my indie heroes. Early Passion Pit, too.
3. What are you listening to these days?
My friend Caleb Marshall’s track, “GFNY.” ABBA. I was just studying in the UK, so Abbey Road was a go-to. The Japanese House released a record while I was there. The single from it is a perfect pop song.
Also, it’s a bit indulgent, but Sasha Alex Sloan’s “Too Sad To Cry” has been on repeat lately. Something about her voice and that melody gets buried in my head.
4. What are your 5 Desert Island Discs?
Remi Wolf – Juno (Deluxe)
Copeland – Ixora
Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride
Mountain Brews – Mountain Brews
Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
5. If you could collaborate with any artist/band, who would it be?
I’d have to say Billie Eilish and Finneas out of pure intrigue. There’s no one doing what they’re doing. I want to know what would happen if their sensibilities were applied to my looser, noodling-around approach.
We might come away with a song that no one wanted (and that would be my fault), but I’d love to hear it.
Thanks to Tim for stopping by, and thank you for being here,