Self-made man

He's a fact-checker and an artistic force. How Nick Hallett defines success.

Photograph: Benjamin Norman

Nick Hallett is not famous. You won’t find him on TV, none of his songs have been used to sell iPods, and you will not see him in Converse ads alongside Julian Casablancas and Santogold. A singer by training, he hasn’t had a regular outlet for his songs since his band the Plantains broke up in 2003. Yet if his bank account isn’t exactly bulging, after ten years in New York City the 33-year-old Hallett has established himself as a uniquely protean force on the local arts scene, as both a performer in and a producer of far-flung cultural events. This year alone he’s sung at the Kitchen (as part of a tribute to the late NYC icon Arthur Russell) and produced there (Oneida’s two-night stand performing The Wedding), and Joe’s Pub has hosted an entire night dedicated to his songwriting. Last year, Hallett formed a relationship with Joshua White, becoming producer of the legendary visual artist’s Joshua Light Show, which accompanies Manuel Göttsching August 15 at Lincoln Center and has other bookings stretching into 2009. In a cultural age when the mythologized narrative of young artists with make-or-break dreams seems a quaint relic, Hallett has crafted his own success story: He’s a success because he’s getting by while doing what he wants in New York City.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until after the Plantains ended that his career began to take off. “We were successful on lots of different levels,” Hallett says, “we just weren’t able to make any money. I had devoted myself to the band lifestyle: making recordings, playing gigs and having no money.” It was toward the end of 2002, during a string of repeat shows with the Plantains at Fez, a beloved former club on Lafayette Street, that he got the opportunity to extend himself beyond the realm of performance. “They asked me to book the bands that we would play with,” he says. “I took on the attitude of, Why stick to playing only with other bands? Why not bring other kinds of media artists into the mix? Because I thought that was relevant to electronic music at that time.” Once his band had broken up (amicably), Hallett didn’t want to waste the contacts he’d built up. “I was like, Okay, I don’t have a project right now that can participate in events, but I can certainly advocate for this artist I love…and this one and this one.”

Cliché or not, Hallett believes that just sticking it out is a big reason he gets so much work. “I think that the longer you’re here, the more opportunities will come to you,” he says. “Now people know what I’m about, and—hopefully—I have a good reputation, that I’ll bring something interesting to a space that’s asked me to curate for them, and also that people will come, and there’ll be press and all that.” As for the money, he makes ends meet with a fact-checking gig that he describes as “permalance,” which affords him the flexibility needed to tackle whatever comes up (among other things, he’s currently involved in a slowly developing music-theater work). “My ultimate idea of success that I haven’t achieved yet would be for the artistic projects to sustain me financially,” he admits, seemingly untroubled by it. “But if I can spend my creative energies on projects that make me happy, being part of the mechanism that moves culture forward, that’s success.”

Nick Hallett appears with Earl Dax’s Downtown Performance Marathon at Galapagos Art Space Aug 5.