Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Nicole Atkins: Living Her Dream... On Credit

Here’s the final part of my interview with singer/songwriter/credit card abuser, Nicole Atkins. Part one was yesterday. Her new album, Mondo Amore is available here.

Ken: How did you get the American Express commercial?

Nicole: My manager called me and said “I got the most random call about you to be in an AmEx commercial, like the one that Ellen and De Niro did.” And I was like, “What? Why would they want me?” “They want a young female artist to talk about living her dream” and I said, “Yeah, but I can’t even get an AmEx card. My credit was so bad. Literally, before I signed, I was getting harangued by people from my old AmEx card. And then when I did that AmEx commercial I was able to pay back my old AmEx bill. And get a new card.

Ken: So if anyone out there is in a lot of debt, the answer is to just get a commercial.

Nicole: Right.  It was fun, though there were a couple of things that were uncomfortable. That fancy hotel. We stay in Econo Lodges.

Ken: Ah, yes. The glamorous life on the road. Have you ever played at someone’s Bar Mitzvah?

Nicole: Not a Bar Mitzvah, but I played on someone’s rooftop while he proposed to his girlfriend. We’ve done some weird shit. We had to play in a Best Buy. People were like checking out home stereos and I’m singing. I played at a jewelry designer’s gallery opening. And have you ever heard of that show on MTV, MY SUPER SWEET SIXTEEN?

Ken: Are you kidding? That’s my favorite show!

Nicole: Well, we did one of those.

Ken: Great exposure. Which leads me to this: did you ever try out for AMERICAN IDOL?

Nicole: No. It’s funny, when I graduated school my dad offered me $4000 just to go and tryout. And I was like, “I couldn’t because if I do this I’ll never get to tour with Wilco." I still haven’t gotten to tour with Wilco, and I’d probably be rich right now.

Ken: So your parents were supportive?

Nicole: Yeah. Really supportive. For my confirmation – everybody else, their parents bought them big gold crucifix necklaces and stuff – my parents got me the Led Zepplin box set.

But I went to college and got my degree in art, and when I was doing the open mics and trying to get a band they were always like, “It’s great that you do this, but you should get a degree and a job with benefits” and I’m like “I went to school for painting. What are you talking about?”

Ken: Yeah, I don’t think the Teamsters have a chapter for Impressionists. So let’s turn to a more serious subject. Why has yodeling gone out of favor.

Nicole: Does it have to do with Jewel?

Ken: I think you nailed it.   One of my favorite songs of yours is “The Way It Is”. Very dark and haunting. I could see David Lynch using it for his ringtone.

Here it is.

Ken: How did that song come about?

Nicole: That song was the turning point for me. I was on the train going from New York back to my parents’ house in New Jersey and the line (she sings) came into my head. I didn’t have anything to record it on since my phone was dead so I just kept singing it for an hour-and-a-half until I got to my dad’s house. It was crazy. So I came up with the whole melody, and there’s this ’64 black Galaxy that my folks have wanted forever. I used to always leave notes on it saying that I will buy this from you if you ever sell it. And then I got signed by Columbia and I was like, “I can buy this car now!” So this song was going to be all about a black Ford Galaxy.

And then, I got in a fight with the boyfriend. I was sitting on my parents’ deck and my dad was like, “This guy’s scum! Forget about him!” And I was saying, “Dad, you don’t even know him.” And then it was like “booosh”, the words came out in ten seconds.

Ken: So that spooky song was originally supposed to be about a car? Even in Brian Wilson’s darkest days I don’t think the Beach Boys would have covered that for their Little Deuce Coupe album.

Nicole: Yeah, it’s very hard for me to get away from melodrama. I’m pretty sure all of my records will be breakup records… even if I’m married for twenty years. It’s ‘cause they’re more fun to sing. When I think of a heartbroken record I think of “Layla” by Derek & the Dominos, where it’s more like an epic journey than like Alanis Morissette: “Yo, I’m gonna diss you!”

Ken: It seems like all rock singers eventually want to do their album of the Great American Songbook. Rod Stewart singing Cole Porter and that sort of thing. What about you?

Nicole: I don’t know about the Great American Songbook but I’m definitely planning on doing another album of covers… that’s only going to be piano and voice.  Really dramatic drinking music… for those nights of scotch and tears.

Ken: Have you ever thought of doing an album of duets with people who have yet to do a duet with Tony Bennett? There are only seven of them left.

Nicole: I’ve always wanted to do a duets record, but I’ve always wanted to do it with just one other guy, like in a Lee (Hazelwood) and Nancy (Sinatra) kind of way. Lee Hazelwood is my A-1 songwriting influence.

My voice can sound bigger and angrier and more powerful than I am in stature… and personally. So I always wanted to do a duets record with the scariest vocal dude I can find. Mark Lanegan or Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age – somebody really big and looming.

Ken: I’ll have Art Garfunkel call you. Okay, final question: Do you ever sign up for karaoke under a pseudonym just to see the reaction when you blow people away?

Nicole: Yes, yes. My pseudonym is Senor Enchilada.

My thanks again to Ms. Atkins/Enchilada for agreeing to this interview. Go see her if she’s in your town or Best Buy. And again, her album is Mondo Amore and her diet is the Atkins Diet. Next month, with luck, I’ll be interviewing Benjamin Netanyahu or the Phillie Phanatic.


Anonymous said...

Cheers in Spanish clips

Nathan said...

There's something really sad about only making enough money from an AmEx commercial to pay off AmEx.

No knock on Ms. Atkins but now I just hear her singing "...I owe my soul to the company store".

Mike Botula said...

Wow. It's great to wake up and be introduced to a singer who just knocks your socks off. Thanks,Ken.

Mac said...

That was cool. I can't wait to hear what pseudonym Netanyahu uses when he's belting out the karaoke.
How about an interview with Earl Pomerantz? He only worked on the friggin' LARRY SANDERS SHOW!! - which got a lot of mentions in the favourite sitcom poll. Its UK fanbase would love to hear all about that - we're a small but ferociously devoted group.

Mike said...

Really like the idea of the new feature and really enjoyed the new interview, and in case Nicole reads the comments of her own press (not something I think most people recommend), that Blackberry story terrified me, despite its happy ending.

The solution is to use Evernote to keep all of your ideas; then, you can go ahead and lose all the hardware you want because your song (or in my case story) ideas exist on the cloud separately from your device. You can even use it to send emails, texts, or voice notes (I've set up something so that I can call it and leave myself messages) It's wonderful. I've put together an entire outline just from drunken text messages I've sent myself over a month.

(And no, I don't work for the company in anyway.)

Max Clarke said...

She's quick on her feet, too, "Does it have anything to do with Jewel?"


Paul Abdul-a-dull said...

What a great kid, I wish her well.

benson said...

Just how old is Ms. Atkins? Her referring to Lee Hazelwood and Nancy Sinatra, and in pt. 1, Traffic and others make me think she must secretly be 60, no?

June Sullivan said...

Thanks for introducing me to Nicole Atkins. This is a great week -- Cee Lo Green on Parenthood doing Piece of My Heart and now this moving The Way It Is by NA -- and its only Thursday. Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Thanks for posting the clip of "The Way It Is." I just wanted to let you know that I bought the album "Neptune City" because of your posting, and I really, really love the entire album. Great stuff! I wonder if her sales have gone up since you put in the plug (you should get a percentage). I also bought the second one, but I haven't had a chance to listen to it yet. Anyway, thanks again.