Monday, October 26, 2009

CB Q/A #20: Nicole Atkins

It is never a smart move to make bold declarations, especially on a blog, but I have a lot of confidence in the following:

Nicole Atkins has the best haircut in indie rock today.

She's also a heckuva song-writer and performer but, I'll be honest, it was the haircut that first snagged my attention. Probably some publicist sent along an email with a file photo, not knowing anything would come of it, but when I opened that particular email, I thought, "I want to hear that gal's music." And so I did. And it was grand.

And now we get to see her play the coolest room in town, the Beachland Tavern, on Monday night! Can you think of a better way to begin the week? At least a way that doesn't involve a Browns victory?

I can't.

Which, of course, is why I expect all of you to be there to check this out. And ladies, when you go back to the merch table to check out the albums and such, ask Nicole where she got that haircut. I totally love it.

1) When I listen to “The Way It Is” I keep thinking about old French torch singers. Am I totally off base in thinking that’s an influence? What does influence you? Any certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.?

That kind of music was never an influence to me when I made the record, but it might be now. People kept coming up to merch table and saying I sounded like Edith Piaf, so I took a listen and got hooked. Now I’d say it probably does influence me, but it never became an influence until after the fact.

I do have a lot of other influences, though. Vocally, there is Roy Orbison, Marvin Gaye, Cass Elliot, Jay Walker & the Americans, Arthur Lee & Love, Scott Walker’s Brecht arrangements.

As far as music, lately I’ve been obsessed with Echo & the Bunnyman. They are all I’ve been listening to lately.

2) Personally, I think geography ends up being important in an artist’s work. You are from Jersey, a place that often has as much of a negative cliché reputation as Cleveland (i.e., you guys have the Sopranos, we have burning rivers). To what extent do you think a sense of place has affected you as an artist and performer?

I’m hugely affected. Most people think of Jersey as industrial and gross, but right now while we are doing this interview I’m sitting on my parent’s patio looking at the river and bird sanctuary. There is a lot of solitude and beauty here, in the winter especially.

3) If you were asked by a younger musician about to embark on his/her first tour or recording session, what advice would you give him/her?

It’s funny you ask me about that because I’m actually meeting with a 19 year old kid today to talk about that exact kind of thing. I would say play as many gigs as you can, as many open mics as you can, and find out who is in your local scene that you admire and start hanging out. Just immerse yourself.

And work hard. Write more songs, play more shows rather than drink more beers and go to the bar.

4) I love your rendition of “Ben” and the old Church song (“Under the Milky Way Tonight”) – they both really take me back to my youth. How do you go about choosing which songs you cover and are there any favorite artists/songs out there you'd love to cover, but just haven't done it yet?

Oh man. It has to be a song I feel like every time I hear it, I’ll listen to on repeat a billion times, wish that I wrote it, and feel like I could live inside of it. I think covers are great to do, a great way of integrating new fan groups and also a way of adopting elements of other styles you like but don’t have into my stuff.

My favorite cover to play is “Pissing in a River” by Patti Smith. I also love “Whisky Tango” by Can, though I can’t quite figure out the lyrics and can’t find them online. Others that would be great are “And it Spread” by the Avett Brothers and a new Brendan Benson song called “Go Nowhere.”

5) What’s next?

There will be a new record hopefully in June – we are still working out who we are gonna put it out with – that part is a big test of patience.

6) Any memorable Cleveland experiences?

Oh yeah – I love playing the Beachland Ballroom because they make us meatloaf. They always cook us these super mom dinners, which is great compared to most of the stuff you eat when you are on the road. I also love the backstage entrance to the cool vintage store (This Way Out) in the basement. And were there for the Shoparooni opening party a couple years ago – that was a lot of fun to go down to.

7) If you could tell folks in Cleveland anything about you or your music, what would it be?

Go to my myspace page and listen to “The Tower” – it is a live version with my new band. There’s a new sound, definitely more raw than what I’ve done in the past. And come to the show and we can make your Monday night feel like a Friday.

Be sure to catch Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea on MONDAY at the Beachland. D You won't be disappointed! Doors are at 8, tickets are $10, and the show will kick off at 8:30 with opening performances by Cleveland's own Shiny Penny and the Brian Lisik Band from Akron.

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