With her third album, the crowd-funded Slow Phaser, coming out in February, Nicole Atkins is going to have a busy 2014. But before this new journey she will be concluding this year, and closing a chapter in her life, at the Stone Pony with a performance of her debut Neptune City in its entirety, with “strings attached”, on December 20.
Nicole sat down with me on a crisp and chilly but sunny December afternoon in Asbury Park to talk about the new things coming her way: the new album, an upcoming national tour, and her first time producing, a debut by local outfit Glycerine Queens whose sound she describes as “The Shirelles meet Nirvana.” We also found time to reminisce about some memorable experiences from the past year and her bests of 2013.
Speak Into My Good Eye: Congratulations on the crowd sourcing for Slow Phaser. Were you surprised by the responses?
Nicole Atkins: I was excited. You know, I didn’t think it was going to work, but it did. I was really happy with it. Now though, it’s still going and just running my own label, I’m realizing that things cost so much money.
SIMGE: Really? Like have you ever had experience in managing like this before?
NA: No, because I’ve always been on a label. Now I’m running my own and I’m like, “Wait, this costs how much?” So it’s an eye opener. But it’s a good learning experience.
SIMGE: Did you enjoy the process of self-funding?
NA: Yes, definitely. It felt like gambling. Like you check the website and you’re like, “Oh my God it’s up to here! Holy shit!” And it’s cool, you know, like a lot of fans or even family or friends that you haven’t seen in so long that send you an e-mail saying “I just pledged.” It’s almost like even a good way of keeping in touch with everybody, and knowing that people still care enough for you to put your music out.
SIMGE: Do you see yourself continuing with self-funding?
NA: I mean, I hope I get to the point where I don’t have to. You know, that my albums will sell well enough that I’ll be able to fund them myself. In the meantime it’s really good that we have access to use programs like this and be able to self-fund. It’s like, if you’re not independently wealthy, you need to have enough of your own time to make your art, so you know you can’t really do that with a full-time day job.
SIMGE: Do you see managing the record label as a day job now?
NA: Oh no, it’s an all-day job. All night job. There’s certain days where I’m like, “Okay I’m not picking up my phone after midnight tonight.” You know?
SIMGE: It’s almost like having an office job. But after you leave the office it’s still there.
NA: But the only thing with that is that right now we’re in the beginning stages of like getting the new website up and finalizing all the artwork and doing the videos and once these nuts and bolts are in place, I think it’ll make all the other stuff a little easier. Well, then we get to the boring thing like sales and shipment.
SIMGE: So your giveaways were really unique and personal, hand-painted ukuleles, personal shows, a tour of Asbury. Do you have any idea what the “Nicole Atkins” tour of Asbury is going to be like?
NA: This is my dream vision for how it’ll go: like you know, go to the boardwalk, and get some cheesesteaks. You know, go to the pinball museum, play pinball. Go to the paranormal bookstore, get our palms read. And then go get some pizza and see a show at the Pony.
SIMGE: What’s your favorite pinball machine at Silverball?
NA: Oh, the Elton John “Mr. Fantasy.”
SIMGE: Yeah that one’s awesome. I’m big on The Sopranos one.
NA: That’s a good one. The Elvira “Mistress of the Dark” one is really good too.
SIMGE: So do you have any further support planned for the new album, or like a music video or anything like that?
NA: Yup. We’re making a music video next week. For “Girl You Look Amazing.” We have a headlining tour that starts February 12 and goes all around the country and the south.
SIMGE: Are you just doing national?
NA: We’re doing a little bit of Canada, and we’re working on plans for Europe and the UK now.
SIMGE: Can you describe Slow Phaser for us in your own words? Like if Neptune City was more of an extroverted album and Mondo Amore is more like introverted, what can we expect from Slow Phaser?
NA: This one is like extroversion times twenty and exploded. Kind of like the “death of the party girl” album. You know, just where I’m at as a woman in her 30s and like seeing all the normal things that my friends have and never really wanting those things, and then wanting them. It’s like confliction. You know, it’s kind of like what music to the morning sounds like. You know like sometimes it’s really awesome and sometimes its super dark. But even in those dark times I just really wanted to make a dark dance record. I’d never done that before.
SIMGE: You returned to work with producer Tore Johansson, who also produced Neptune City.
NA: That was really cool how that came about too. We met up in Sweden. My friend Matt Ross-Spang who runs Sun Studio down in Memphis, had to do a job in Sweden and he was like, “You want to come with me?” And I was like yeah, and he was like, “You can work with Tore again.” And we met up and hadn’t seen each other in years and we ended up writing a song together, first song that’s on the record, called “We Killed The Moonlight.” ‘Cause I sat down with Tore who was like, “Are you still having crazy dreams?” And he remembered that I have really, really vivid dreams. So I told him about this dream and we wrote that song.
And then months passed and Hurricane Sandy happened, and he e-mailed me. At the time I didn’t have a label or a manager and kind of just cleaned house, and you know, me and my manager parted ways and I was able to get off my record label because they weren’t doing anything for me. And so Tore e-mailed me and he was like, “How’d your house fare after Sandy?” and I was like, “We lost the first floor.” And he was like, “Let’s make another record.” I said I didn’t have any money or anything and he said, “Let’s just say you got two for one.” And he worked with me, off of Columbia. So he like made my record for free and the same time gave me a place to live while our house was getting rebuilt.
SIMGE: You’re producing an album for local band Glycerine Queens. Is this your first time producing an album? How’s that?
NA: It’s going really good. It’s as much of a learning experience for me as it is for them, you know. I feel like a lot of people my age that I went to high school with are soccer coaches and stuff. Now I feel like I’m a rock coach. But you know it’s cool, seeing them get excited and so prolific. They’re so prolific, like I’ll say, “Why don’t you try to write a song like this?” Or talks about this that you were talking about earlier, and they’ll e-mail that night like eight ideas. I’m like, “Holy shit I gotta up my game!”
SIMGE: How did that partnership come about?
NA: They started coming to my shows, like during Mondo Amore. And they were super young, and they’re like, “Oh we have a band!” And then at a benefit show for Shark River, after the storm, they played at it last summer and I was like, “Holy shit they got really good!” And I was like, somebody’s Dad must be on drums, and it was Jen, who is really good. I was like, “You guys are good!” And they were like, “When can we open for you?” I was like I want to make a record with you.
SIMGE: Is there a release date set?
NA: No, we’re just finishing it and we’re taking our time with it. ‘Cause it’s our first record and we don’t want to rush it out. But it’s getting there. Like we’re only going to release six songs but we’ve recorded ten. And they did a cover of “Elephant” from Tame Impala, and it sounds so good.
SIMGE: Is the album going to be on Oh!Mercy also?
NA: We’ll see, I hope so. I’m going to see what’s the best thing for them.
SIMGE: I’m going to the show on the 20th and I’m really excited. With your new album coming out, why are you revisiting your first one?
NA: Because I felt like its right before Christmas, and my new one doesn’t come out until February and all of my friends who are the string players are free. And I just felt as a holiday show it would be a really nice way to kind of close the chapter on that record, you know, because the new music , it’s very different and it’s disco and prog-rock. And I wanted to give Neptune City a proper send-off show.
SIMGE: So on your new tour you’re probably not going to revisit Neptune City?
NA: No, we’ll probably still do “The Way It Is” and “Cool Enough,” a lot of the darker stuff, but there’s a lot of songs on there I don’t see playing anymore. For now, anyway. So I just felt like what’s a really good hometown show to do.
SIMGE: You grew up in Neptune, and you’ve witnessed all the change going on in the area. What’s your opinion on the rebirth of Asbury Park?
NA: Oh, the rebirth of Asbury Park I think is great. Every week it seems that there’s something new and cool opening up. And every week it seems like there’s something getting shut down, too. But you know it’s nice to see just an ebb and flow of things happening and not just being stagnant and not like, “Okay cool we have one hip restaurant.” I feel like all the artists and businesspeople are forward-thinking, thinking of ways to keep bringing in new people. I remember when I lived here in 2006, like seeing one new person that you didn’t know walking down the street; you’re like “Hi! Hi! Hi Hi! New person! Where’d you come from?” And now it’s just like new people everywhere. So you don’t really feel that isolated out here.
SIMGE: What was your favorite show you played this year?
NA: There were so many. I did a really big tour with The Eels. I did sixty six shows with them, solo, and it’s crazy, it changed my life. It taught me how to play solo in front of seven thousand people. I’ve played solo at Langosta Lounge but never like on a bigger stage. One of my favorites was in Italy, in Milan. There were so many people there for my first album and they were like, “We’ve been waiting four years to see you again.” And I couldn’t even believe that they even remembered who I was. And then the Trianon in Paris. I played the Trianon and right after the show was over, I went and I sang a small set at David Lynch’s club, it was called Silencio.
SIMGE: It was called Silencio, like from Muholland Drive?
NA: Yeah, and I played Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” At Silencio.
SIMGE: That is way too surreal for me. You playing a Roy Orbison song at a club owned by David Lynch and it’s named after Silencio. What’s your favorite show you attended?
NA: I saw a lot of good shows. I saw Primal Scream and Echo & The Bunnymen at the Royal Albert Hall. That was incredible. It was for the Teenage Cancer Trust Foundation. And another one I saw that was super good was Tame Impala and The Flaming Lips. I saw them on my birthday.
SIMGE: What artists would be on your dream collaboration album? It can be anyone living or dead.
NA: Nick Cave. And, it’s funny, I co-wrote a lot of songs on this album with his drummer from the Bad Seeds. He was my writing partner. The dream collaboration… Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Mark Lanegan, Queens of the Stone Age, Tame Impala, Kate Bush, and Bruce Springsteen, cause he’s the man. And, maybe Björk, and orchestra.
SIMGE: Do you have a favorite album from 2013? It could have come out in 2013 or just something you found.
NA: I mean, Lonerism from Tame Impala was so good. Nick Cave, Push The Sky Away, was great. Those are the first two that come to mind.
SIMGE: A lot of your music, it can be poppy at times. Was there any contemporary pop you heard that you actually enjoyed lately?
NA: I think Miley Cyrus is amazing.
SIMGE: “We Can’t Stop” is really catchy.
NA: “We Can’t Stop” is such a good song. And thinking of that, this band Phosphorescent came out with a really good album this year and one of their songs, it’s the same chords as “We Can’t Stop,” and I was like, “Holy shit imagine if this was sung but to this!”
SIMGE: What was your favorite Asbury Park boardwalk summer memory of 2013?
NA: Oh God, probably… My friends they bartend at Asbury Park Yacht Club and my parents friends were in town, and these are the friends they like to get really, really drunk with. So they went to Asbury Park Yacht Club and they went to get cheesesteaks afterwards, and my dad was hammered. And my mom is eating her cheesesteak and she’s talking to me, and I just keep seeing my Dad, like, grab the cheesesteak and keep taking bites of it as she’s not looking. And she looks down at her plate and she has nothing left and she’s like “What the hell Dutch you ate all my sandwich!” and he’s like “Haha!” And he takes the rest of her cheesesteak and runs away. And that was probably my favorite moment.
SIMGE: Last question. So what’s your 2014 New Years resolution?
NA: Stop worrying.