Tag Archives: tour

Music and Healthcare – Dave Lamb’s Story

Brown Bird's Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain

Brown Bird’s Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain

Independent touring musicians typically think about costs associated with lodging, van repairs, and replacing an old blown out amp.  While a touring life doesn’t always coincide with the healthiest of lifestyles, the thought of budgeting for proper healthcare is often placed on the back burner–that is until it turns into a screaming tea kettle that can no longer be ignored.

Such was the case for Brown Bird‘s Dave Lamb, who was diagnosed with Leukemia last year while on tour promoting the band’s most recent album, “Fits of Reason.”  It was at a show in Houston when the fatigue was so insurmountable that he was rushed to the emergency room.  The diagnosis was shocking, as was the aftermath of medical bills that piled up for this uninsured musician.

With the tour cancelled, and no income in sight, Lamb set up a crowd-funding campaign on YouCaring to help offset the growing medical expenses.  The response was overwhelming, and Lamb was able to raise over $60,000.  As he continues treatment along the long road to recovery, Lamb is speaking out to other uninsured artists about the importance of finding coverage.

“It’s important to be informed about your health care options because the costs may be more manageable than you might otherwise have thought,” Lamb said. “I want to encourage others to understand the importance of having health insurance when you’re suddenly faced with a very serious illness.”

Lamb, along with bandmate MorganEve Swain, recently teamed up with HeadCount–a nonprofit organization that works with musicians and fans to help promote participation in democracy.  While HeadCount typically focuses on voter registration, the organization is now working directly with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assist musicians seeking information about health insurance.  They are also helping musicians like Lamb tell their stories.

HeadCount has created a dedicated information hotline that musicians and music industry professionals can call with questions about health insurance, at (919) 264-0418.

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Interview: Rebekah Todd

A girl and her guitar

Thus far, the height of my musical “career” was winning first place at my elementary school talent show for singing I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.  I was five.  I was a complete ham, and wanted to be a star.  My older brother told me the only reason I won was because I was cute–fair enough.  Fast-forward almost 30 years, and I’ve realized that my feverish desire for stardom is much better served in the confines of my car and home, rather than on the main stage.  Instead, the main stage should be reserved for those people who possess that innate gift of musical creativity and mastery that inspires and makes us feel alive.  It was a pleasant surprise when I recently stumbled upon one of those people right here in eastern NC.

I was introduced to Rebekah Todd when she opened up for Paleface at The Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC a few months ago–a lone young lady on stage with just her acoustic Alvarez guitar and a mic.  She did a quick mic check, and politely introduced herself to the audience.  I watched and waited, thinking how brave she was to get up there and sing by herself.  I was envious and impressed before even hearing her voice.  And then she sang.  A boisterous yet angelic, soulful, bluesy voice filled the room, and I was floored.  Who had been hiding this homegrown gem, and why hadn’t I heard of her before?  She quickly captivated the crowd with original songs like  Jordan, Citizen, Gallows, Little by Little, and Walked Right Through Me.  That evening, as her powerful voice echoed off of Tipsy’s glossy, cherry red walls,  I was happy to tag along on her musical journey.

A few weeks after the show I sat down with Todd to talk about her music and big plans for the future.

Todd grew up in the small town of Benson, NC and was surrounded by music as early as she could remember.  At eight years old, she started formal piano lessons, but soon figured out that the structure of reading music didn’t quite fit her style of learning.

“I play by ear 100%, so I don’t read music unless you have a sheet with chords.  If it’s the notes on the staff I can’t do it at all.  When I was eight, I figured that out.  I remember my teacher was teaching me the Titanic theme song.  I was reading it on the paper and I got a note wrong, so I stopped looking at the paper and listened and figured it out.  She yelled at me and told me I had to read the paper, and she was really mean so I dropped it and never went back,” she recalled.

Soon thereafter, Todd’s father suggested she learn how to play the guitar.  She fondly remembered those early memories of her dad and his love for music.

“[My dad] was classic rock all the way.  It’s pretty cool because it really influenced me.  I am happy that I know all of these artists now because I meet people my age who say, ‘Who are the Beatles, or who is Bob Dylan?’.  He was musical and played guitar and he was the one who taught me.  He bought me this crappy Washburn guitar that was black, and when I was eight I thought it was awesome,”  she said with a chuckle.

Rebekah Todd @ Tipsy Teapot

She continued to laugh as she told me that the first song he taught her to play on the guitar was Wild Thing.  Todd and her father continued to play together at home until she started playing in different high school bands with her friends.  Over the years of playing with her dad and others, Todd pulled inspiration from a wide range of musical genres, which has shaped the music she writes and performs today.

“I went through the classic rock phase, and then I really got into people who had a soulful voice, like Lauryn Hill, who is one of my favorites.  I literally wore her CD out [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill].  Now I am into the more bluesy sound with singers like Susan Tedeschi and the Derek Trucks Band.  I really admire artists like that,” said Todd.

Though she can cover songs ranging from Led Zeppelin to Katy Perry, Todd’s bread and butter is in songwriting.  To date she has recorded about 16 original songs, but admits that there are many more waiting the wings that need to evolve a bit before she will bring them into the studio.

“Sometimes I will be sitting and playing and [a song] will come then, and other times I will get a tune in my head and I will literally pull my cell phone out, hit video, hold it out, and sing into the video.  I used to carry around a tape recorder before cell phones.  I think that started because when I was really young my parents bought me a karaoke machine that I could put a tape in and record my singing and listen to it.  It’s funny how the steps that your parents take totally mold what you become,” Todd shared.

Songwriting for Todd is a very natural, organic, and “in-the-moment” process.  Her songs are passionate and moving because they are honest.  Like most artists, Todd finds inspiration in her life experiences and channels those emotions into her songs as well as her art.

Rebekah Todd

“One time I played with this band called Cool Hand Luke out of Tennessee and Mark came up to me and said, ‘I really like your music because you are honest with what you are going through and what you are feeling’.  Ever since he said that I took it and tried to apply it to everything I was doing.  I’ve come to find that people can relate to your stuff if you are brutally honest with your feelings because then they can say, ‘Oh yeah I feel the same way’.  With my situation now, with having a loss in the family, everyone can relate.  Sometimes it’s hard because you really have to go into your emotions and that can be painful.  It’s the same with art.  You pull it out and you put it on a canvas or put it into a song and hope that people can relate to it,” she revealed.

Having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from East Carolina University, Todd is ready to hit the road and share her music with the world.  She’s completely devoted to throwing herself into writing and touring as much as she can, while maintaining a realistic outlook.  She knows that with a hopeful heart must also come a level head, and she’s willing to put in the time and work to pursue her dream.

“It’s tough as an acoustic girl to say, ‘I promise that I can bring it’.  It’s something you have to slowly prove and know the right people.  I am working on it.  It’s a weird road.  A lot of people say I should think about getting a band.  That could be cool, but I just don’t feel right with it right now.  I feel like I want to prove to myself that I can do it without the band.  I just graduated and I have all of the time in the world,” she said with a hopeful grin.

So far she’s got a great start with several club shows and festivals booked across the state, and hopes to add a small northeast tour towards the end of August.  In between shows Todd will continue to write songs and dabble in her second love, painting.  Though Todd admits to being very comfortable in the “opener” slot, I suspect she’s  going to be pushed out of her comfort zone fairly soon.  She wont be able to hide in the shadows of bigger acts for too long.  The main stage awaits her.

To learn more about Rebekah Todd’s music and upcoming shows, please visit her website.

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Review: The Darkness @ The 9:30 Club, Washington DC

Photo by Nicole Geldart

When D.C., MD, VA, and NC residents heard that The Darkness, who hadn’t toured in the US in eight years, was slated to play a mid-week show at the 9:30 Club, tickets sold out almost immediately.  Fans (aka “Darklings”) had been hopelessly wishing on shooting stars for their favorite pop-rock-metal-pseudo-80’s band to reunite ever since their official break-up in 2006. Their dream had come true, and their day had arrived.

On this rainy Wednesday night in our nation’s capital, The Darkness definitely came to melt our faces off.  From Justin Hawkins’ high-pitched ear-thrilling shrill to his multiple wardrobe changes and impressive stage stunts (standing on his head on stage with legs in a spread eagle while singing, just to name one), this performance proved to be everything I expected and more — pure in-your-face rock-n-roll with a splash of British humor on top.

The D.C. crowd, on the other hand, left more to be desired.  Let’s just say they didn’t exactly bring their “A” game to the club.  Their lackluster response time and time again after each song brought on feelings of embarrassment and shame.  “Hey Justin, I’m from NC…we know how to react after a kick-ass performance!”  Was the D.C. crowd’s reputation of being “hard to crack”, true?  Or, where they just totally lame to not share in my excitement?  It had been EIGHT years people, and The Darkness is a ridiculously good, fun-loving band that rocks out and looks damn good in skin-tight leather jumpsuits doing it!  What’s the issue here?  When the lighting guy back at the sound board is jamming out harder than the majority of the audience…well..D.C. I think we have a problem.  I digress…

Justin Hawkins, guitarist and lead singer of The Darkness — along with his brother and guitarist Dan Hawkins, bassist Frankie Poullain and drummer Ed Graham — ransacked the stage with playful vocals, powerful guitar riffs, chest pounding percussive bass lines, and endless energy.  They opened with Black Shuck and followed with favorites like One Way Ticket, Get your Hands off my Woman, Love is only a Feeling, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, and Love on the Rocks with no Ice (entire setlist).  The momentum of the show was like that of a steam engine, ever building up speed and propelling the audience further and further into their “Darkness” world.  Even when J. Hawkins slowed down to chat with the audience, I hung on to his every word, hoping desperately not to miss any of his funny English quips.  Is it the accent or the delivery that makes Brits so damn funny?  Perhaps it is both.

Towards the end of the set, J. Hawkins jumped into the audience atop the broad shoulders of security guards and ripped into one of his epic guitar solos, all while being groped and high-fived by surrounding fans.  The energy on the ground floor of the 9:30 Club finally hit its stride as the crowd got an opportunity to get close to this modern-day rock god.  This was just one of many examples throughout the show of how humble and down-to-Earth Hawkins is.  He became even more likeable with his willingness to leave the safety of the stage and venture out into a sea of his fans.  Despite the mediocre audience response (in my opinion), the band finished strong and never let on that they weren’t getting back what they were putting out there–a sign of true professionals in the music industry.

The Darkness Tour continues on into the Summer throughout the US, Australia, and Europe.  For more information on the band, please visit their website.

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August Music Mindblower

photo by Jonathan Furmanski

Band documentaries give us fans an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of our favorite artists, and allow us to feel a little bit closer to knowing them personally.  Whether on tour, in the studio, or at home, these behind-the-scene videos can represent artists as being “just one of us” or perpetuate the notion that they are larger than life.  I recently watched a documentary about the Pixies reunion in 2004, nearly 10 years after their sudden breakup.  While I am moderately familiar with their story and music, this movie candidly revealed the waxing and waning dysfunction that underlies the group’s impressive cohesiveness on stage and unyielding fan appeal.  Interviews in separate hotel rooms and tour buses drove home the fact that these 4 artists have little to nothing in common minus the fact that they once wrote songs together.  Now they just perform together and then go their separate ways.  As I watched I began to feel emotionally connected to their stories, almost sorry for them.  I suppose that was the whole premise of the documentary, so BRAVO to the directors!  Thanks to them, I am a bit more prepared now for my first Pixies concert in November!

FYI: Netflix has a ton of music docs that can be streamed with just the click of a remote control button. Check them out!     

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Mountain Jam Interview: Scott Avett

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Note: I was given the opportunity to write a short article for The Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC). While it’s hard to fit a 15 minute interview into a 600-800 word piece, I did my best and sent it on to the editor. Here it is: Mixer article.

However, here is the interview in its entirety, because it deserves to be shared!

Prior to tearing up the stage with a rowdy, boot stompin’ performance at this year’s Mountain Jam festival, Scott Avett (of The Avett Brothers) sat down with me to talk about the festival experience, staying “green” on tour, giving back, their next album, and surprisingly his love for John Oates. Scott began by talking fondly about his time at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC:

Scott: Greenville is really special to me. I learned a lot in Greenville…the hard way.

Me: You still have some connections there in the art department, right?

Scott: Yeah, I still go work in the printing department and still keep in touch with some of the professors.

Me: Well that’s nice. I am sure they appreciate that.

Scott: Yeah, me too, because with the painting and everything, that is still very much a part of what I do and I could use the inspiration.

Me: So in the last Crackerfarm video of you in the ECU print shop, what were those funny hats?

Scott: (laughs) Those were just pirate hats that somebody brought in and we just threw them on!

Me: That’s funny. So this is your second year at Mountain Jam?

Scott: It is, it is, yeah. It seems like no time passed at all.

Me: In planning your tour, what makes you decide to come back to the same festival year after year? Is it the feel of the festival or timing?

Scott: Timing is good. And you know, festivals are good because they add a lot of variety to the schedule. So, anything from stage, feel, to demographics. We really have been to a lot of places and it’s odd how different the festivals are. Sometimes that [demographic] reaction can sort of spawn an energy that’s good that you want to go recreate or take it to the next step.

(Side note: We were nicely interrupted by a massage therapist who was going around telling all of the artists about the free massage tent. Scott laughed and said, “Oh man, y’all must have heard about me…must of heard about how bad of shape I’m in.” He graciously thanked (of course) her and we continued on…)

Me: What was your first impression of Mountain Jam last year?

Scott: You know this is a raw festival. I think its placement and its area is so rich in history with Dylan and Levon Helm and everything. So that bodes well for it and adds to the energy. There’s no doubt about it. But last year our experience was very raw, very ruckus and fun…dusty…sweaty!

Me: That’s good! It’s a little different from playing somewhere like Bojangles Coliseum.

Scott: Yeah, well this time of year the festivals can get that way, and they are good. It’s good for us! I definitely prefer them at this point. I’ve gone through stages where the theaters are where you want to be in the presentation of what you are doing, but I am a little more fly by night right now in the way I feel a show should be. So these festivals are a little better and a little more spontaneous.

Me: Do you guys get to enjoy the other artists or is it all business?

Scott: No, but we have friends that will be here that we will perform with and interact with and get to see, but (leaning forward and looking out the tent) I see a band over there playing and that’s about as close as I’ll get.

Me: Grace Potter and Nicole Atkins will be here tomorrow, but you wont get to see them?

Scott: No, but Nicole will be around today (with a sheepish grin)

Me: Oh, so maybe we will get a little special treat for later!?

Scott: Yeah, maybe.

(Side note: Sadly Nicole’s guitarist was ill and she didn’t arrive in time to play with The Avett Brothers. I think all parties involved were sad!)

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: So, I have been to a few festivals and they all seem to have a different feel. The feeling I get from Mountain Jam is geared towards educating the audience about environmental issues, and not necessarily picking artists because of their “environmental” message, but probably picking artists who feel that is important. Is that important to you and the rest of the band when you come to a music festival?

Scott: Yes, it is. It is important to keep “it” (being environmentally minded) right before you instead of getting too worldly to where it’s overwhelming. You know, you are going through the day and you could recycle one bottle, so it’s just one little step at a time. I think it’s important not to get too caught up with the “big picture” as this one fell swooping.

Me: Do you guys have rules on the tour bus for living “green”?

Scott: We all know that [being green] is the best way, but sometimes survival just can’t…if you let your principles get in the way of your product, your quality, your life, it might…it might be…suicide (chuckles).

Me: So is it difficult to take what you do at home out on the road?

Scott: Oh absolutely! It has gotta change, because those are very different lives.

Me: So, do you have recycling bins on the bus?

Scott: Yeah, we do recycle as much as we can. But, for example, if you fill the front lounge area with water bottles everybody’s agitated and angry because there are water bottles everywhere, so you have to be smart about it. Right, Dane? (Scott laughs and looks over to Dane who is sitting in the corner). Dane is our tour manager. He has to keep up with us, so he’s definitely aggravated (as he chuckles). No, but honestly, we all try to stay really aware about that kind of stuff.

Me: Beyond the little things you do to stay “green” in your personal life, you all played two very cool shows last year that really helped out local farms in Portland, OR and the CFSA in NC. Those types of shows are obviously very important to The Avett Brothers. Do you have to search out those opportunities or are they typically just presented to you?

Scott: Yes, those are very important to us, and they typically come to us more so these days because there is more money generated with more fans. We don’t typically have to go searching for it, but if there is a specific cause we want to help with, we will go after it.

Me: You have done a lot with the tornado relief efforts recently. How have those experiences been for you all?

Scott: That is really the least we can do, and definitely have not done enough. There’s nothing that is going to change the terrible nature of that except for time. We are so lucky to be able to do something that we enjoy, and we don’t deserve it anymore than anybody else. To truly want to help people…to honestly want to do that, it can’t be taxed, not in the literal sense of the word taxed, but to order or direct someone to help people is not real, it’s not honest, and it’s not sustainable. If we are fortunate enough to have such an enjoyable life, these opportunities, and these great moments, we need to remember how grateful we should be without someone ordering us or demanding that we share that. We need to share that. The moment we stop doing that, than it’s all poisoned. We remind each other of that and try to keep that presence about us now that we are moving. The wheels are turning…there is a backlog now. There’s no turning back. There’s no stopping. So we have to just share, if it’s good feelings or a couple of bucks, it just has to be done.

Me: I think that you have a great influence on your fan base, who you really make feel like family. That feeling really spreads.

Scott: Well, we all are [family]. When people refer to us as “family oriented people” or “family matters”, to look at it thoroughly and in detail, it’s not about my brother and my dad and my mom and daughter. It’s beyond that, and it’s a much bigger unit, the family. It’s the world.

photo by Lucky Soul Photography (c)

Me: From your perspective can you feel how powerful that is? Do you feel how much influence you have on making people happy and how that is passed on to others? If you go on and read the boards, it’s pretty amazing!

Scott: (big laugh) Well, I don’t read the boards, but I am told. But it has to be one step at a time. If I harness that as a big picture like you are saying, it’s dangerous for me. So, one day at a time and I will take your word for it. I am glad to hear that, and I hear it from other people. That is terrific. I just try to keep it in perspective. If there is something we can do today, that is great. If not, hopefully tomorrow there will be. There is always something it is just a matter of if you have the energy to go out and seek it.

Me: Does that ever feel like a burden?

Scott: (emphatically) No. No. We are not ministers or part of the Red Cross or anything, so we’re not burdened by that type of service. Even though it might end up translating into that eventually, indirectly. We get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Hopefully, it’s just in harmony with all of that.

Me: How did you all get paired up with John Oates for your Vermont show last night?

Scott: We worshiped Hall and Oates when we were kids. I mean I worshiped him! I mean that was as big as Bob Dylan any day of the week to me. Not to a lot of people, but their music when I was 8 years old was forming who I am right now. So he just asked if we wanted to do something. So we said let’s do it! He asked if we wanted to do one of our songs or their songs and we said neither, let’s just do a Bob Dylan tune!

Me: Cool! Well, besides maybe a guest appearance from Nicole Atkins today, any other surprises for today’s set?

Scott: Well…Simon Felice is around here somewhere but I’m not sure if he will make it on stage with us. He’s a terrific guy. He recorded with us on I and Love and You.

Me: Finally, I read a quote from Bob somewhere that the new album isn’t due out until the end of next year?

Scott: Oh no, no… I don’t know when it’s due. That would be pretty late. We are well in the process of it and well passed the halfway mark. If it maintains we would finish the record this year. It’s just a matter of when and how it will come out.

Me: Well we are all looking forward to hearing it.

Scott: Thank you. Thank you very much.

We finished the interview with a hand shake, some smiles, and well wishes. A few hours later the entire mountain, sprinkled with both old and new Avett fans, had the privilege of witnessing one of the most energetic and magnetic sets of the weekend. While their set featured several songs from their I and Love and You album, we did get a few old favorites from their albums Four Thieves Gone and Emotionalism, along with a guest appearance from their dear friend Simon Felice and an encore Dylan cover to top it off. The Avett Brothers continue their tour throughout the US and Europe well into the Fall, so check them if they come anywhere near you. Trust me, you will leave as one of the family, and it’s a pretty cool family to be a part of if I do say so myself.

For more information about the band, please pay a visit to their website. I must end with a huge “thank you” to Dane Honeycutt for arranging the interview, and to the gracious Scott Avett for taking the time to chat with me.


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Mountain Jam Interview: Nicole Atkins

Pure, raw, beautiful

While standing at the base of Hunter Mountain shortly after Nicole Atkins’ Mountain Jam set I received a text that simply read, “At the bar”.  After nearly three days of music and mayhem in the Catskills of NY, a stripped down interview at the bar was exactly what I needed, and apparently what Nicole needed, too.

A fun and relaxing two days of catching up and performing with old friends, like The Avett Brothers, had turned into a long, hurried day that began a little too bright and early for this blue-eyed siren.  Nicole dragged herself out of bed at 7am that Sunday morning to “re-learn” the electric guitar parts of the songs she was going to perform later that afternoon.  While Nicole writes and arranges each part of her songs, she leaves the playing of those parts to her band, The Black Sea.  Unfortunately, her guitarist Irina was unable to make the trip to Hunter as she was still recovering at home from pneumonia.  Prior to stepping on stage, Atkins was feeling a bit disorganized and unsure of how the set would come across to the audience.  I assured her that while Irina’s absence may have changed the “feel” of the set, her flawless vocal performance and funny commentary (“this song is about punching a girl in the face“) between songs worked perfectly together and came off naturally to the audience.  She let out a sigh of relief and said, “Good, I was worried!”

Nicole, who grew up in Neptune, NJ, wasn’t raised on radio pop and that was evident by the list of both well-known and obscure artists she rattled off as we discussed her musical influences.  At the tender age of 12, Atkins picked up a guitar and began to play and write songs.  While not musicians themselves, her parents always made sure to include music in her upbringing.  Nicole fell in love with the music that echoed through her childhood, including the gritty blues of Joe Cocker and the psychedelic rock of Steve Winwood (she was quick to clarify Traffic-era Winwood, not cheesy-pop-era Winwood).  She quickly developed a style of her own that was rooted in rock-storytelling, and found inspiration from hometown surroundings like the Shark River.

After playing gigs at local coffee houses during her high school  years, Atkins left Neptune and headed South to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Illustration at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Nicole immediately immersed herself in Charlotte’s music scene, making friends with the local best-of-the-best, including members of The Avett Brothers, and joined various bands.  Atkins smiled as she reminisced about her time in NC, “I basically paid thousands of dollars of tuition to play in bands.”  Her musical tastes quickly expanded to include the country-folk-rock sounds of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Uncle Tupelo/Wilco, and Wiskytown/Ryan Adams.  With these sounds came fresh ideas and a melding of old and new styles.  In the years that followed, she returned home and commuted between NJ and NYC to continue to play and bring her new sound to the city.

Years passed and Nicole gained the attention of a few record labels in NYC.  After a bidding war in 2006, Nicole signed with the major record label Columbia, and released her first album, Neptune City, a year later.  After two years of touring and promoting Neptune City with her band The Sea, the money ran out and Atkins left Columbia as a solo artist again.  On most accounts, the story read that Columbia cut ties and The Sea walked out on Nicole.  However, Atkins quickly dispelled what may be written about that chapter in her career. “My band didn’t walk out on me,” she stated frankly.   “I just couldn’t pay them, so they had to find something else to do.  I was trying to figure out what to do after all of that happened.  Some people suggested that I go back to school, and I was like, “and do what?” All I wanted to do was make my music, and that’s what I did.”  A difficult break-up with her then-boyfriend soon followed, but she stayed committed to her music and reached out to other artists who would ultimately help her rise from the ashes.


Between 2009 and 2010, Atkins signed with a smaller independent record label, Razor & Tie, and began recording her second album, Mondo Amore.  She wanted to produce an album that was completely about the songs and the story, rather than about “selling the sexuality” of being a female singer/songwriter.  In an effort to combat what Atkins calls this “Anti-Cobain” attitude of women in today’s music industry, she enlisted a guitarist, bassist, and drummer to help her tell her story.  “I can’t do this on my own.  I need my band in order to get out the message.”  Her new band, The Black Sea, helped her create what Nicole called a “slide rock epic album that plays out like a mafia movie soundtrack”.  Mondo Amore took a departure from the string and piano based tones of Neptune City, and replaced them with Irina’s haunting guitar riffs.  “Basically [Irina] turns my country songs into these psychedelic freak-out songs, and it works,” Nicole added with a big smile.  When asked if the writing and recording process with Razor & Tie allows her more artistic freedom than with Columbia, she responded, “It really just depends.  For the most part while I was at Columbia I had a great support system.  But, this one woman was working with us at Columbia and she came to me one day and said, ‘Hey, you just went through a really bad break-up.  You should use that for your next song’.”  Nicole laughed and gave me a look that said “are you f**king kidding me, lady!”  Anyone who pays attention to Nicole for even 5 minutes could predict that she doesn’t work that way.  Atkins marches to the beat of her own drum, on her own time, and with her own rules.

Mondo Amore, which loosely chronicles some of the lessons learned from the dissolution of her personal and professional relationships, was released in February of this year.  Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea immediately hit the road to promote and celebrate the album.  However, touring funds and resources were not as fluid as they were when she was signed with Columbia.  But this Jersey girl wouldn’t let that stop her.  She called on the generosity of her fans to help supplement the cost of a touring van in exchange for hand-painted tote bags and access to her personal art webpage to view her paintings and illustrations.  And guess what?  It worked.  She raised enough money to buy a van to cart around her band and equipment from venue to venue.  “I painted 52 tote bags!,” she said through a laugh as she began scrolling through pictures of each of them in her phone.  “Can you believe that!?  The cool thing though is that the music has given me an intro back into my drawing and painting.”  While she admits that drawing and painting don’t pay the bills, her artistic talents have helped fund a dream that has been in the works for a long time now.  It is safe to say that she is the driving force behind her own professional fate.  Money’s tight so she works her ass off to make sure good things happen.  She takes time to connect with her fans and goes out of her way to make new ones.  When she’s on tour, she sublets her apartment and crashes with family and friends to save money.  Does this sound like the life and attitude of an entitled trust-fund baby?  I don’t think so.  She is a pure American dream.

Careful where you walk...

If I could go back and witness the evolution of Atkins’ sounds and style, I would pay special attention to when and where she developed the soulful, rich tones of her voice.  While her speaking voice is soft and demure on stage, her powerful singing voice is hauntingly beautiful and evokes instant emotion in her audience.  Her lyrics are raw, honest, and cathartic, so much so that her audience finds their own stories being played out in her songs.  Combine the voice with her songwriting brilliance, and you have a musical experience that stares you down and dares you not to feel, not to remember, and not to fall in love with her.

Per Nicole’s suggestion, we ended our interview with a shot of Maker’s and ventured off to the artists tent where vendors were giving away free Merrill shoes.  Free shoes!?  I suppose when you make a mountain full of people happy with just the sound of your voice and the words in your soul, you deserve at least a free pair of shoes.  I thanked her and let myself out, surely not worthy of backstage schwag.  My admiration for Nicole’s creativity and talent definitely grew that afternoon, but I was even more taken back and appreciative of how candid she was with me.  Her ability to stay genuine yet persistent during her career has undoubtedly allowed her to create the life she’s dreamed of ever since she first picked up that guitar 20 years ago.

For more information about Nicole Atkins, visit her website and buy her music.

Thank you Nicole for your time and conversation at the bar.   It’s going to be tough to top that interview!

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Filed under Interview, Live Shows, Music