Nicole Atkins talks about her new band, label and album, Mondo Amore

With a new band, new label (Razor & Tie), and a new LP, Mondo Amore, Jersey girl-turned-Brooklynite Nicole Atkins celebrates with a huge gig tomorrow night at Bowery Ballroom and a massive tour soon to follow.  Recently, she and I talked about her favorite record stores, her new indie label, and the single, “Vultures.”

Since your debut album, a lot of changes have occurred.  You’ve parted with a band, a label and a boyfriend.  What was your song-writing like during this time? 

When it first all started spiraling out of control, I was writing a lot, but it was very disjointed.  I was co-writing a lot with Robert Harrison (from the band Cotton Mather) down in Austin, Texas.  He was able to sit with me and talk for days on end about what was going on in my life and help me to articulate these things in a way that I couldn’t by myself at the time.  I was pretty blacked out by everything that was going on.  So after that, a lot of things got cleared up, especially parting with Columbia, because there was so much pressure to write a certain type of song, that once I knew that I was free of that pressure, I started writing again like crazy.  It was a really prolific time for me.  There were probably 30 songs that didn’t make it onto the record.  I was able to help make beautiful things out of shitty situations. 

The end of the music video for “Vultures” makes me think of a kind of baptism or re-birth.  Was that your intention?

Yeah, it was!  But I bet a lot of people are thinking I’m going to be leading them to their death.  The song is about all these expectations that you have of your life.  You can work as hard as you can at a job and still have nothing, or lose it.  Or you can work as hard as you can at your marriage or relationship and lose it and that’s a really scary feeling.  You realize that everything can just disappear all at once.  But then once you understand that and let go of those fears, there is hope because you can reinvent yourself and lead a life according to how you feel rather than other peoples’ expectations of you. 

What’s it like being on an indie label now?  Do you feel you get more creative control?

Absolutely.   I made this record on my own, with no label, and they wanted it just as it was.  It’s really nice to not hear the word “tweak” anymore—“can you just tweak this, tweak that?”  It’s just a lot of camaraderie too, you know?  They want to do well and I want to do well, so we’re in it together.  I mean, I miss the major label money, but you figure things out.  

We just did a Kickstarter project, which is a fan-funded artistic projects website.  So there are film makers on there, my friend started a jazz foundation—they raised a hundred grand.  Your post goes up for a month, and if you donate this much money, you get this, so there are different prize incentives.  We’re trying to raise money to get a van and a lighting rig and have a little tour support because touring’s really expensive and if you’re on an indie label, they won’t give you that much because they just can’t. 

So I wanted to go on the road, not by myself with an acoustic guitar, I wanted to re-create the record.  So I put this thing on Kickstarter and we wanted to raise fifteen grand in a month, and we raised it in six days.  So now we’re going to see if we can double that.  It’s nice to see that there are fans out there that really care about the music.  The one thing that doesn’t make sense to me is that people will steal your album, but on Kickstarter they’ll donate 60 bucks for you to go on tour. 

You recently released a limited edition 7” of “Vultures.”  Do you listen to a lot of music on vinyl yourself?

That’s pretty much all I listen to when I’m home.  I’m an avid record shopper and my room basically looks like a record store. 

Where do you buy your records from?

That’s the fun thing from when you’re on tour— you have time to kill before or after sound check.  You can just poke around town and there are a lot of good record shops.  In Brooklyn, I always go to Academy Records, and in the East Village I go to Tropicalia.  In Asbury Park, I like to go to Hold Fast on Cookman Avenue.  They have really good old records.  It’s cool because most bands that are putting out vinyl now will you give you a free download card with the vinyl and that’s what we’re doing—if you buy the vinyl, we’ll give you a free download card too.

Since your last album, you have a new band—The Black Sea.  How did you guys get together?  What’s the overall dynamic like? 

The overall dynamic is kind of like a brother/sister band now.  My lead guitar player is this girl named Irina Yalkowsky.  She and I have been friends for about 8 or 9 years.  She was always one of my favorite guitar players around town, especially in the East Village.  She plays like Jimmy Page.  She plays really nasty blues slide and has all these pedals to psych things out. We’ve always wanted to play together and when the last band left, it opened that window for her to step in.  She’s friends with the bass player Jeremy [Kay], who used to play in a band with our drummer, Ezra Oklan.  We got together and all just really hit it off.  The band is a lot tighter and locked into each other.  It’s more like a heavier rock band than The Sea was, which really suits the new material.

You say that you want to do a massive amount of touring with this album.  What are your favorite musical and non-musical aspects of touring? 

My favorite non-musical aspect of touring is getting out of town, getting some distance from the day-to-day humdrum.  And just getting to play for new people every night and meeting them.  The reason I do all this is because I love playing live shows.  I like writing and I like being in the studio, but I really like the immediate satisfaction. My least favorite is probably the food on the road.  It’s a lot of long drives and fast- food.  It’s nice, after six weeks out, to come back to your bedroom.  I’ve always been a traveller, kind of a gypsy-type, ever since I was 17.  I like the feeling of going away and then coming back. 

What’s the first thing you do when you come home from a tour?

I dive into bed, and then get up and make peanut butter toast and take a bath and watch shitloads of TV [laughs].  Wish I could do that right now, but I have too much work to do.  On Kickstarter, I said if you donate $150 or over, I’ll paint you a tote bag, so I have to make a lot of tote bags tonight. 

Are you planning on doing any festivals this year like SXSW or Bonaroo?

We’re working on that now, so hopefully we will be. 

And you have a show coming up at Bowery Ballroom, right?

Yeah, we’re pulling out all the stops for that show.  We have a string section, we have a bongo player, we have a lot of cool covers planned.  It’s going to be really awesome. 

You can catch Nicole Atkins, performing with The Gay Blades and Mon Khmer on February 9th at Bowery Ballroom at 9pm.  For tickets, visit boweryballroom.com.

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About Julie Kocsis

Julie Kocsis is Associate Editor and a contributing writer of ShortAndSweetNYC.com. Living in Brooklyn, she works for Penguin Random House during the day and writes about rock bands at night. In addition to her many band interviews as well as album and concert reviews that have been published on ShortAndSweetNYC.com, she has also been published on The Huffington Post, Brooklyn Exposed and the Brooklyn Rail.
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