Skip to main content

Home Music Music Features

Meet Medium Build, the Alaskan songwriter dissecting his own identity through music

As he releases new album 'Country', Nick Carpenter tells Rolling Stone UK about his music, life in Alaska, and battles with faith and sexuality.

By Nick Reilly

Medium Build (Picture: Tyler Krippaehne)

“Alaska can kill you, literally! Like there’s wolves and bears and the weather,” says Medium Build – aka Nick Carpenter. “Spiritually we have really long winters and there’s a lot of drinking and a lot of drugs and you can fall in with the wrong people.”

The famously snowy state is a central character for Carpenter, whose blend of honest indie-folk songwriting has landed him support slots with the likes of Holly Humberstone, Finneas and Lewis Capaldi.

It also helps that he’s a defiantly raw lyricist too – capturing the reality of bleak situations without sanding down the edges of their truths. “Thought about crying over you, but I just turned on the TV,” he offers on ‘Crying Over U’. “Thought about driving to your house, but I got stoned.

Now, with his new album Country out in the wilds, Carpenter is ready to kick start a new era. You can read our full Q&A below.

Hey Nick, where do we find you?

As you can see I’m in Waterloo! I’ve just gone down this little thoroughfare to get some street food and some coffee. Yeah, this is a lovely day for me. I mean, there’s no snow, it’s not raining, it’s not like big coat weather. It feels great.

How’s it been supporting Holly Humberstone on tour?

I was there in October and November to do a little headline run and a festival thing in Europe and it was my first time ever being there. I think there was just so much build-up and tension in my own head, [thinking], ‘Oh my god, are they gonna like it over there?’

I was able to get all of that out the way last year and then now I’m able to just come back and get to know London in a way I wasn’t able to before. London in March is less more depressing than London in November! I literally open my window and it feels like this is a win.

Your new album Country is out now – what does it say about Medium Build at this moment in time?

I’m just so excited for it to be out. I used to put out my music independently and we never really dip the whole drip-drop thing. It’s helpful being with a label, but Jesus, I’m just ready to get it out in the world and not think about singles and the approach of all that stuff. I want it to be free in the world!

I think my aim with it was just to peel back some of the wizardry studio shit and do [it] more live in the room. I wanted it to feel homely too, because I made a lot of music when I was in my early to mid-twenties that was aggressive, because I felt angry and depressed. I still feel those things sometimes, but I wanted to make something that was a bit more mature. It’s that idea of, ‘How do you age as an emo kid?’ You’ve got someone like Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes who writes the same shit 20 years later. He’s in his forties and still writing about break-ups and I’m not sure I’ll still do that.

But for me, it’s ‘How do I write about being 30, being depressed and having a dog and dependents?’ It’s stupid to say, but I’m just trying to grow my tunes as I grow.

This is our PlayNext series where our readers are introduced to you and your music. What’s the elevator pitch?

I think my pitch is soul songs for indie queer kids or country music for city kids. Lyrics are always the first thing I think about, so I’m always trying to put storytelling elements in there.

I grew up in the city and I have these Christian parents that I had to rebel against to find myself. I’m just trying to do it with a bit of depth because that’s what I’m drawn to. My mind is a scary place so I try to make calming music so that I can feel calm. I’ve heard that some people make crazy music because their mind is scary and they want to match it. For me, I’m just trying to subdue my scary feelings.

You mentioned being queer and being raised in Christianity. What’s it been like navigating these two things that can often be so diametrically opposed?

I think I have had to kill several of my gods and masters as I’ve grown. When I was 18 or 19 I had my big battle with faith and realised that maybe it wasn’t what I thought it was. I was in my early twenties when I thought, ‘Oh maybe I’m not straight. Like, what is gender and sex anyway?’ I had to kill the binaries of those to grow into a new era. Kill the thing I used to believe. Consciousness is such a mind fuck. I think life is a lot simpler than we make it. If you wanna call it God then cool, but I’m really trying to get away from the 25-year-old who was obsessed with, ‘What do you believe and who are you?’

Now I’m just like, ‘Fuck, man. Does it feel good? Are you being decent to someone?’ I’m friends with my parents now, and they wish I was a Christian or went to church, but we love each other and we still hang. They know that I love them. I think that’s better than middle fingers up like it used to be.

Alaska, where you live, is also a big character in your work.

Alaska is a muse because it’s also the enemy, right? Alaska can kill you, literally, like just wolves and bears and the weather. And then spiritually we have really long winters and there’s a lot of drinking and a lot of drugs and you can fall in with the wrong people. You can really lose your way. I’ve had so many friends that were hot shots at something and then they just decided to start partying and then they don’t look around and 10 years later they’re not where they wanted to be.

I think it’s also a place I have a lot of love and reverence for, the mountains and the lakes. It’s just fully in the spectrum of good and bad. I feel the same way about London! This place sucks ass sometimes and sometimes over here I’m like, ‘This is the best city in the world’.

I’ve got to ask, what are the bits of London that you found to suck ass?!

You know, it’s those wet, cold grey days where maybe you walk the wrong way on the tube or you’re trying to go get a meal and it’s 11 o’clock and nothing’s open and then the one pub you walk into, they tell you that’s closed too!

London feels so close to being New York and then all of a sudden you’re like, ‘Oh, I can’t get food or drink after half midnight’, and you’re like, ‘Ok, I gotta readjust’.

What was the musical scene in Alaska like when you were growing up?

Alaska has always been a bit behind. Honestly until Instagram, it was always a decade behind. I didn’t move to Alaska until I was 18, but when I moved there, you went to the mall and people were wearing Korn hoodies and it literally felt like it was 1999. Everything was just a decade behind.

When I started doing Medium Build, it was me playing these folk tunes on an electric guitar with a chorus pedal. Everyone was so weirded out. ‘What is he doing? Why does he have an electric guitar but he’s not rocking?’ Again, it’s part of the extreme thing, right? You’re hot or cold, you’re metal or you’re fucking soft. It’s a ‘pick your team and stick with it’ place. I think a lot of people need that tribalism to survive winter right? ‘Who’s your team? What’s your colours?’

Folk is going through a massive mainstream resurgence at the moment though. You need only look at the success of Noah Kahan, getting UK number ones when he’s singing about his own personal situation thousands of miles away in Vermont.

I actually saw him play in Kentish Town last November and there was 5000 people, two nights in a row, screaming about Vermont. I just thought, ‘What is this? How is this working?’ Then I realised that everyone’s from some small town, right? You go 20 minutes out outside of London and there’s some working class, normal people town where your uncle has a fish and chip shop or is a fucking cab driver.

Everybody has this idea of home, and I think what Noah is tapping into is just that people want something that feels real. I think the pendulum always swings. We’ve been in this era of maximalism and Noah isn’t Charli XCX or anything that’s explicitly cool. He’s just on Twitter being a goof and it’s so genuine. There’s no mystery, and people like that. It’s very real!