A Deli Interview: Dr. Nocko & Mr. Nicholas

Dr. Nocko talks algorithms, dreams, and pop tarts.

By: Rene Cobar

November 23, 2019

"Diversity in skill, style, feel, genre, look… New England has it all."

If you get your kicks from sampling the vast New England music scene then you surely once heard of a Boston indie-pop group called Jack Romanov. Two gents from the group have concocted a new project too good to pass up: Dr. Nocko & Mr. Nicholas have released their debut single “Fall in Love Again” and it is synth-pop fantastic. We got to catch up with Nico Renzulli (Dr. Nocko) and discuss both the project and the New England scene that unites us all here. Check out the interview below and keep your eyes open for more to come from this new synth-pop duo.

You two gents are no strangers to the New England music scene: having played in the indie pop/indie rock group Jack Romanov from 2012 till 2017. From the end of that chapter to now debuting this new seemingly more synth-pop-laced project, there were surely moments of discovery, doubt, and discipline. Do you guys care to share where the catalyst for Dr. Nocko & Mr. Nicholas can be found and how did the sound for the group come about?

Dr. N: Dr. Nocko and Mr. Nicholas is the product of heartbreak and the realization that we never felt 100% comfortable in Jack Romanov. Nick and I jokingly referred to ourselves as “pop tarts” because we both loved and respected “pop” music. Pop music is catchy, fun, simple, and yet due to the influence of others in Jack Romanov, our fun, “simple” songs would be changed, ever so slightly, to fit the vague image of the pseudo-mysterious, schizophrenic band we know and love, Jack Romanov. So when we decided to pursue our next project, we finally were able to produce a song that stayed true to our genuine musical taste. The sound of Dr. Nocko & Mr. Nicholas, which can only be judged by “Fall in Love Again” right now, was a product of Nick and I having the space to make music, without the influence of anyone suggesting that it was too basic or that it needed some additional edge to make it sound “original.” Oddly enough, “Fall in Love Again” organically became something that isn’t the most basic song, nor the most original. In a non-narcissistic way, our main music influence may be Jack Romanov.

Tell us about “Fall in Love Again,” what was the recording process like and what do you hope listeners will draw from the song?

Dr. N: This project started about 2 years ago, “Fall in Love Again” was the first song I wrote after Jack Romanov, so I didn’t have any other options. By the time I had written more songs, I was in too deep. You may be surprised to know that I’m not playing any of the instruments on the official recording of “Fall in Love Again.” My friends, or as I call them, “my dawgs,” are like really, really, really good at playing instruments… so I tricked them into tracking all the parts. Then stuff got surreal:

When I was 15, I came across a YouTube video of a drummer named Cobus Potgieter. He was playing along to Vanilla Sky’s cover of “Umbrella” by Rihanna. About 2 and a half minutes in, right as the final chorus is about to hit, Cobus looks into the camera, and winks as he hits the bell of the ride. In some unexplainable combination, his self-awareness, humor, and drum performance triggered something in me: I was like… “Alright.. drums are the coolest thing ever… this dude Cobus is unreal. I want to be him when I grow up.” After watching Cobus bang on them drums for a decade… I found myself in a tiny room, standing about 2 feet away from Cobus, as he recorded the drums for “Fall in Love Again.” Like I said. Surreal. Unreal. Not Real. Impossible. Dreams do come true… but only if it’s an oddly specific dream involving a South African drummer with dope hair.

In your opinion, what makes New England a rich music scene? Do you have any cool stories you wish to share or places to shout out?

Dr. N: Diversity. Not in the way you think though. Diversity in skill, style, feel, genre, look… New England has it all. It’s pure chaos, yet everything is in perfect order. 

TT the Bears, Boston circa 2014, I’ll never forget. The sound guy cut us off. It was so embarrassing. I can see it so vividly. Once I realized he cut the sound, I had a little punk rock moment: I knocked over my drums, went in the green room and punched the wall, 10 minutes later I’m cleaning up my mess as the sound guy quietly stands beside me rolling up all the cables. We talked a bit, then smoked a cigarette outside. I think that’s another beautiful thing about New England, but Boston in particular. You fight, then you make out… I mean make up***

Up and coming local artists are always looking for solid advice from scene vets: seeing as your new single is on most streaming platforms, and you were in a group for five years, do you feel streaming giants are making it easier for local talents to get their music out there or do they have too much control over what people listen to? How have changes in streaming options affected you in the last seven years?

Dr. N: It is indeed “easier.” Anyone can go to TuneCore, upload a song, and 48hrs later… BOOM… It’s on every streaming platform. As euphoric as it feels to see your song on iTunes for the first time, sadly today that is meaningless…I know that I sound like a cynical 25-year-old who spent 7 years of his life playing to bar rooms filled with 10 people, 7 of which are in the other bands waiting to play, 1 is the bartender,1 is the doorman, and the final one is the sound guy (he only counts if he isn’t outside smoking a cigarette). SkyNet is online, Judgement Day is here, but John Connor is busy making beats on GarageBand.

The Algorithm… yup...it’s real… Spotify… There is a mechanism within Spotify that analyzes your song: it calculates the BPM, the pitch, the length, the volume, and while it all sounds like some futuristic nonsense, it’s real. It’s both the greatest and worst thing about the modern age. If you’re lucky, which praise the Lord we were, your song will make it into the algorithm, and at that point, it’s out of your control. But the most important thing is this: someone who “would” like your music, will hear your music. So even though the computer is pulling the strings, a real human being still gets the final word.

In today’s day and age, you will notice that many music magazines are not covering local music because it does not “draw traffic,” and so it leaves a void that arguably stifles the next generation of musicians. How can music publications such as this one continue to improve on coverage for local artists? Do you feel there should still be room for the local acts in music journalism?

Dr. N: I think that if local publications were more concise and exclusive they would have a better chance of building their audience and introducing the public to unknown, local artists. Let’s say I come across your website. I see a piece on a new band called “The Guilty Sparks.” I check out their new single, it’s okay, but I probably wouldn’t listen again. Then I come back to your site. Now there is an article about “Jack Romanov.” Same thing. Cool song. Not going to listen twice. So instead of moving on from “The Guilty Sparks,” why not have a follow up with them? Then, I come back to your website. I see a familiar name. I listen again. 

Imagine if I told you about this beautiful girl named Brooke. Then a week later, I tell you a story about Barry, my Boston Terrier. Then two weeks later, I tell you a story about my neighbor Bobby. Then a month later a tale of Bill Buchanon, my friend from High School. Two months later, I tell you about that girl I like again. What’s her name?