Nicole Atkins is a true Jersey Shore success story. After years of performing the local pubs and taverns in our area, this Neptune, N.J., native went on to Columbia Records, toured the country, was the center of an AMEX commercial campaign and was praised by music mags the world over.
In 2011, we find Atkins ready to release her sophomore record Mondo Amore. While she may not be with Columbia anymore — she’s now signed with Razor & Tie Records — the same critical acclaim and national media buzz, from music mags to Conan O’Brien, is still there. Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin speaks with her about her new album, her new band and everything that’s happened in her life since.
Pop-Break: Your last album, Neptune City, was released on Columbia Records in 2007, and in 2009 you severed ties with the label. Can you explain why you ended the relationship?
Nicole Atkins: It became a very different label in the time that I spent there. I wasn’t working with anyone that I originally signed on to work with, due to layoffs and firings. Anyways, I was mostly concerned with making a really great-sounding classic rock record, and my A&R had much different ideas. So it was best that we parted ways.
PB: Your bio says that while writing your new album, you were “breaking up with your boyfriend, your band and your label at the same time.” How did these events inspire your writing?
NA: It was an extremely heartbreaking and confusing time for me, and it consumed me. There was no room in my head and heart to write about anything else.
PB: You also say in your bio that Mondo Amore “is the record I’ve been wanting to make since I was 12.” What is it about the album that makes it so special to you?
NA: This was the first time that I really got to hold the reigns, production- and arrangement-wise. With the help of producer and engineer Phil Palazzolo, I was free to make this a record with a lot of room in the songs. There are still some dense, wall-of-sound sections, but there’s just a lot of space to let little magical moments happen. And this record also has a darkness to it in its mood and soul that I’ve always equated to some of my favorite records from growing up. Like Pink Floyd or Traffic or Mazzy Star. There are many rooms in these little song houses, if you know what I mean.
PB: How would you say Mondo Amore differs from Neptune City?
NA: Neptune City was an album lamenting on my hometown and growing up and looking back. It’s more of a “place” record. Mondo Amore is an emotional record that holds a lot of pain and hope at the same time. It’s more of a “heart” record.
PB: You’ve got a brand new band — The Black Sea. How is it different playing with this lineup as opposed to previous lineup?
NA: My new lineup consists of Irina Yalkowski on the guitar, Jeremy Kay on the bass, Ezra Oaklan on the drums. They play all over this record, and for the first time, it really feels like a band of brothers and sisters. We’re all locked into each other, and the sound is heavy.
PB: You signed with Razor & Tie Records last year. Why that label?
NA: Because they are awesome and they love me.
PB: In recent years, you’ve toured with some amazing bands — The Black Keys, The Avett Brothers — and you’ve sung background for My Morning Jacket, Feist and even Bruce Springsteen. How has that influenced you as a performer?
NA: Touring with these bands gave me a lot of insight on how to take care of myself on the road and how to really give a show to people. You have two hours each night to really put on a show and give yourself to them, use the rest of your day or night wisely.
PB: Can you explain your Kickstarter tour campaign?
NA: Well, touring is extremely expensive, especially for a relatively new act, which I still am to an extent. Kickstarter is a great site where you can have your fans fund your creative projects in return for incentive prizes like tickets, original artwork, collectably awesome things. Anyways, we wanted to be able to afford our own vehicle and to design a gorgeous lighting rig for our shows. We wanted to really make the stage show reflect the mood of the album. So far, its only Day 6 [at the time of this interview}, and we've already raised over 15K. It’s really amazing and humbling to know that there are so many people out there routing for you.
PB: Any events upcoming that you'd like to promote?
NA: The album comes out Feb. 8 [with an in-store performance at Vintage Vinyl in Fords, N.J., as well as a show at The Bowery in New York with The Gay Blades on Feb. 9] and we’ll be on Conan on Feb. 17.