|I had not heard of Nicole Atkins until I received her debut EP, Bleeding Diamonds. This record is brief, but it's very substantial; it introduces you to Ms. Atkins' world--and what a world it is! Her songs are haunting, beautiful, and slightly innocent--I say "slightly" because the songs are darker than their innocence would lead you to believe. When I spoke to her, she was on a photo shoot on a North Carolina farm, and I am glad she took some time to speak for a few moments. (I have no idea if the above photo was from the session, by the way.) Her debut album, Neptune City will be released in a few months, but for now, let's let her tell you a little bit more about herself...Tell me a little bit about your musical background.
I really don't have any musical training. I got into a lot of classic rock bands when I was young--things like Traffic and Cream. Then I started getting into a lot of older country music thanks to my grandma, and a lot of psychedelic rock from my uncle. He had a lot of things like the Nuggets
series. I started playing in bands in the seventh grade, and after I graduated from college, I started writing my own songs and playing solo around the anti-folk scene in New York. I wrote some songs and recorded them as a demo with my friend David Muller--some of them appear on the EP--and then I got a band to help me play live, then I got a lawyer and got signed! (Laughs) It was actually a long process, but it felt like things started happening in a really lucky way. (Laugh)Did you come from a musical background?
Nope! Actually, I'm the only person in my family that plays music. I am also an illustrator. Nobody in my family makes art or music, though they all appreciate it. I started playing piano when I was nine, and I had all of this Led Zeppelin sheet music, and my teacher insisted that he could not teach me how to play that. So I learned how to play "Hot Crossed Buns" instead. (Giggles) He quit on me, so I started teaching myself by ear. My mom's brother passed away when he was 13, and when I was 13 I found his old guitar in our attic and I taught myself how to play.
Where are you from?
I'm from Neptune, New Jersey. Which explains why we're doing a photo shoot in rural North Carolina! (Laughs)
It's weird, hearing that you have a country background. It's not something I would have gathered from listening to the EP.
I try to incorporate it more in how I sing instead of the way I sing. I like to do the old-style crooning; it's much more fun and a much more expressive style of singing.
Plus, I like the dreamy atmospheric elements of your songs.
Thanks! We were trying to get it as overly dramatic as possible. (Laughs) WE wanted to make it psychedelic in a way, but with a dreamier quality.
Considering this EP is a teaser for the full-length, tell me a little bit about the debut album. How does it sound?
It's similar to Bleeding Diamonds, but it's a lot bigger in the arrangements. We had a full orchestra to do everything, so it's bigger, much more orchestral. It's still very dreamy, but there are a couple of more upbeat songs on the record, and they have a kind of a Motown vibe.
Who did you work with?
We worked with a man named Tor Johanssen, who is based in Malmö, Sweden. He did some Cardigans records and the Franz Ferdinand record. He called me up and said, "I want to make a really, really creepy circus-rock record with you." So I said okay!
Yeah! He was talking about how dolls and children are creepy yet beautiful. I found the sentiment right up my alley. So we put it to practice. Like a soundtrack to an Edward Gorey film! (Laughs)
You mentioned how you create illustrations. Will the album be more visual in terms of artwork?
Yeah, it's very much like a story. A lot of the artwork will go along with the album. Plus, we wanted to make it like a dream world--something you can put on and listen to straight for forty-five minutes. It's going to be called Neptune City.
With that title referencing your home, is the album nostalgic?
Yeah, it's a suburban fairy tale. (Laughs) Neptune City is like a run-down town from the 1970s. Plus, the music is similar to the early 70s sound. The lyrics--everyone always remarks on the nostalgia thing, but they're not really that nostalgic. It's about things happening now. I made them in a very visual way. I try to make my music as visually pleasing as possible. It makes things better, don’t you think?
Nicole Atkins’ debut CD Bleeding Diamonds is out now on Columbia
Labels: Columbia Records, Nicole Atkins