British electronic trio Nero have traveled deeper into a sci-fi blackhole for their sophomore album Between II Worlds, creating dark, ambient, transportive tracks. In the four years since their debut, Welcome Reality, the band has expanded beyond the cinematic quality of its own releases, producing a song for Muse (the dubstep banger “Follow Me“) and appearing on the star-studded soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.
With Between II Worlds, set to be released on September 11th, the longtime friends are fully transitioning to a new phase of their career by having singer Alana Watson move closer to the front and further blurring the lines between electronic beats and a stadium-rock aesthetic. Watson, Joe Ray and Daniel Stephens spoke with Rolling Stone about the new album, their singer’s shifting role and their attraction to sci-fi.
What led to the decision to transition Alana more to a “frontwoman” role? Was that always a goal?
Joe: It wasn’t always a goal, but as we came out of Welcome Reality, it felt like the natural progression — to move from DJ/producers with a regular vocalist to being an electronic band. We love the opportunities that keeping the same vocal brings in terms of creating a whole, self-contained album, and it’s become a central feature of our live shows.
Alana: It always felt like a natural progression to move in the direction of taking on more of a frontwoman role. It wasn’t something that was pre-planned. I was working as a midwife whilst recording Welcome Reality, and then “Promises” and the album reached Number One in the U.K. charts and my midwife colleagues went crazy saying, “Why are you still working here?” Next thing I knew, I was on tour with the boys and we’ve been touring and recording ever since. As I recorded more vocals, my presence on stage naturally increased and it seemed to work. I get the feeling that the crowd really vibe off being able to interact with me which is a different feel to how the boys portray themselves up their on their podium.
With Alana singing more, how has the live show evolved?
Alana: Live vocals seem to elevate our fans’ excitement as it emphasizes the fact that we are really there doing our thing. The show has evolved to include more song-crafted tunes and gives it a slightly more band-y feel.
Dan: There are now more moments within the live show when Alana comes out on stage to perform. It’s worked really well having her more integrated into the show. The crowd gets to interact with her. Joe and I wanted the personal focus to be on her whilst we became silhouettes. We’ve also worn visors in the past to hide our eyes and the silhouettes is a progression of that. Alana is the exposed member but as an alter ego of herself.
What is the inspiration behind Between II Worlds? It feels more cinematic, bigger than the last releases.
Joe: We wanted to write an album that pushed past genre boundaries — we just started with the aim of being completely free about the kind of tracks that would make up the collection. As we did that, the scope widened. But we also wanted to retain the soundtrack, journey feel of the first album.
What initially drew you all to sci-fi? Is that something that bonded you as a trio or came later?
Alana: We’ve always loved Eighties sci-fi films — Blade Runner, Strange Days, Alien — having grown up in that decade. We’ve been friends since we were 17 but it wasn’t a passion that we realized we all shared until a few years later. We actually just met and came together through mutual friends, music and clubbing in London.
How does that manifest visually for all of you?
Joe: We’ve had the silhouette of the three of us as an ongoing visual theme for this album, both in artwork and in the live show. We wanted to show ourselves as a band without becoming too personalized, to remain as abstract figures within the sci-fi aesthetic, rather than filled-in people.
What is the significance of the number 2808, the fictional year in Welcome Reality?
Alana: When we were writing the first album we decided that we wanted to set Nero in a fictional futuristic world. 2808 is the year that an anime series called Cyber City Oedo 808 was set in. We used clips from the anime in the video for our single “Innocence.” We love that date and the way that the number looks. It became something we used more and more and we now, subliminally — and sometimes more obviously — sneak it into various aspects of our work.
What can be expected from the new live show?
Dan: The live show is really a cinematic journey though our music enhanced by immersive lighting and visuals. A theatrical aspect is always very important to us and is something we’re constantly developing. We also want to evoke a series of emotions whilst giving our fans what they want to hear from our past and current work. Some of the new album stuff is more downbeat and emotional so we’re looking forward to integrating that with the heavier stuff. There will be some live instrumentation as well.
There is something more stadium rock than EDM about your sound. As a band, do you relate more closely to dance or rock music?
Joe: Neither really. I think we have the sound we do because we have a really broad field of taste and influences. Growing up we loved both and still do, and try to capture elements of rock and electronic in everything we do. We find it exciting to blur the boundary between the two.