Nicole Atkins,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nicole Atkins first came to national prominence with the release of her debut album, Neptune City. Since that album on Columbia, she issued Mondo Amore on Razor & Tie and has just released the first album on her own label, Oh’ Mercy! Records titled Slow Phaser.

We chatted with Nicole to talk about the new album, her love of vinyl, and a surprise comeback from a beloved melodic rock band.

The first time I heard about you was when my friend and former colleague Sky Spooner raved about you.

Oh, yes, Sky! He was the A&R scout for Columbia who discovered me.

The title of your new album, Slow Phaser, conjures vivid images for me, but what does it represent for you?

It’s funny how that came about, actually. We were recording the album, testing out different sounds, and I said to my producer Tore Johansen, “Hey turn up the slow phaser, man!,” as a joke. As soon as I said it, I thought, “Slow phaser: that’s a really good album title.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense because there’s a shit-ton of slow phaser on the album, soundwise. Also, I equated “slow phaser” with late bloomer and that’s what I feel like I am. I’ve always felt that way, so the title felt very appropriate.

You recorded the album in Malmö, Sweden. Why there?

I recorded my first album, Neptune City, there with Tore producing. We wrote two songs together and it went very well. When Hurricane Sandy hit, my hometown on the Jersey shore was severely damaged. Tore emailed to say he was sorry to see what had happened and asked if I would like to do another record with him. I told him “I would love that, but I don’t have any money,” and he said, “Forget that, just get a plane ticket and we’ll make music.” That was awesome!

I was listening to a lot of prog rock while making this record, as well as Peter Gabriel’s first solo album. There was definitely a darker writing influence but also a playful side, too.

Are you a vinyl person?

I’m a huge vinyl person! I started collecting it during my first year in college in Charlotte, NC. There was this great record shop named Manifest Discs, a HUGE store, I loved it! When I got home, my dad gave me a few records: John Lennon Imagine, Captain Beefhart Bongo Fury, Frank Zappa Apostrophe—I had no idea that my dad was such a huge Zappa head. It was an awesome discovery!

Now, I have my own record label. I raised the funds through Pledge Music and a big emphasis was on being able to release a vinyl album that was 180gm and beautiful. It’s on white vinyl and it’s gorgeous. And it sounds perfect!

It was mastered by this legendary mastering engineer, Alan Douches, who called me up after his first pass. He said, “There are things I’m finding that I can do better. I might need another two weeks on this, but I really want this to sound perfect.” I told him, “Take whatever time you need.”

Mastering is so important in the vinyl process. Many folks don’t understand that it can make or break the sound of a release. It was becoming a lost art but, thankfully, there are now younger people studying it and bringing it back. Where did you have the record pressed?

At United Record Pressing in Nashville, in conjunction with the studio Welcome to 1979. It turned out so perfect. Also, I had them etch one of the song’s lyrics on the inner groove. It’s the last song on the record, “Above As Below,” and the inscription reads “In truth, In faith, In death, Above as below.” It was so important to me to finally have a real vinyl album of my own.

That is one of my aspirations for the label is to one day be successful enough to sign other artists and put out beautiful vinyl. I would love for that to be our signature thing.

I always love reading artists’ Wikipedia pages to see what factual vs. erroneous information may be on there. Your page lists the late, great power pop label Rainbow Quartz as one of your influences…

Yes, I used to work for them! I met Jimmy McGarry, who owned the label, at an all-Rainbow Quartz show at Arlene’s Grocery. My friends The Three 4 Tens were on the label and during the show, I went up to Jim and said, “I love your label and I want to help everybody know about your bands. I’ll work for you morning, noon and night, weekends, whatever it takes,” and he gave me a job!

It turned out to be a short-lived job but a great job nonetheless. I got really into the music and formed lasting friendships with many of the bands, like Outrageous Cherry. I wound up writing my second album with Robert Harrison of Cotton Mather.

Their album Kon Tiki is one of my all-time favorites.

That was a game-changing record for me. You know, I’m in Cotton Mather for their forthcoming record! They haven’t announced it yet, but I recorded four songs on the album with them. The album is full of great songs, really heavy duty, heartbreaking shit. Robert has his own label, Star Apple Kingdom and I’m pretty sure he’ll be releasing it on that.

Nicole Atkins’ brand new LP, Slow Phaser is on store shelves right now via Nicole’s Oh’ Mercy! Records. 

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