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Nicole Atkins is a thirty two year old American singer-songwriter, who hails from New Jersey (Neptune City to be exact). Nicole comes across all countrified, yet with a dark folk, blues aspect, and with comparisons to Janis Joplin she is certainly on the right track.

A seasoned musician who played the piano from the tender age of nine and a self taught guitarist by the age of 13. Nicole played in a variety of local bands in coffee-houses whilst still in High School, going onto study illustration at North Carolina University, assimilating herself amongst the local independent music scene, joining bands, writing songs and discovering new music. Nicole then moved to Brooklyn, New York, to immerse herself into the underground East Village scene and so her music develops. Fast forward to 2002 at the Asbury Park Music Awards, taking away the Top Female Vocalist award, Best Solo Act, and Song of the Year for ‘Neptune City’.

She’s no stranger to American TV, she’s made several appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman. Nicole isn’t as well known in the UK, but was spotted on The Jools Holland Show, in September 2008 making her British TV debut alongside the likes of Kings Of Leon and Metallica. She sang two tracks from her debut album Neptune City  ‘The Way It Is’ (below)and ‘Maybe Tonight’.

Nicole And The Black Sea (as her band are named) have been supporting The Black Keys in the last year, and just recently they’ve been dubbed one of the top 10 break out bands at SXSW Festival in Texas.

Over the past 12 months she has experienced a range of emotions, from changing her Columbia record label, to splitting up with a long term boyfriend, and gaining a new band, which has given her a mound of emotions to write about! 2011 sees the UK release of her new album Mondo Amore (World Love). With its outstanding reflective lyrical content. the album is one of my most played this year. Initially casting her wicked spell upon me whilst checking out the breathtaking atmospheric video to the single Vultures, inspired by film director David Lynch. I was Keen to know more hence contacting her for a few questions for Mudkiss.

MEL: Hi Nicole, we're keen to find out what you've been doing since the release of your début album Neptune City. What have you been involved in apart from Mondo Amore ?

NICOLE: Besides making the record I moved from Asbury Park, New Jersey back to Brooklyn, New York. I put together a new band, The Black Sea. I got involved lobbying for low powered FM stations on Capitol Hill and helped get a bill passed that would enable a thousand 100 watt FM stations all around the US. I also did some touring with Regina Spektor, The Avett Brothers and the Black Keys.

MEL: Do you write all your own music and lyrics or do you collaborate with anyone else?

NICOLE: I usually write all my own music and lyrics but for Mondo Amore I collaborated on a couple songs with Robert Harrison of Cotton Mather and I wrote Heavy Boots with Dan Wilson.

MEL: You have dubbed your band of musicians The Black Sea, (a grand name if I do say so) claiming they are now akin to your family. How did they all come together?

NICOLE: I’ve known my guitarist Irina Yalkowski for 8 years now. I used to work the door at the club where her old band played. I've always been a huge fan of her style, psychedelic infused blues slide guitar. She was friends with our bass player Jeremy Kay who used to play in Ambulance LTD and brought him along. Then Jeremy brought along Ezra Oklan for drums who also played for Ambulance. We instantly jived. This is the band I’ve always wanted to have like brothers and sisters!

MEL: So you supported The Black Keys, how were you received by their audience? Were there any particular highlights for you?

NICOLE: We supported them in the US. Their audience welcomed us with open arms, it was a blast. I opened for Regina Spektor in the UK last summer, her fans are the best. Super attentive and sweet.

MEL: If you could choose anyone to sing a duet with whom might you choose? I see you’re a big Nick Cave fan; would you like to maybe collaborate with him?

NICOLE: I would love to collaborate with Nick Cave and Angelo Badalamente, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Last Shadow Puppets.

MEL: During the period of making Mondo Amore its been noted that you went through extreme turbulence in both your musical and personal life, was it quite a cathartic experience? Did you feel like it was a case of getting your own back on those that hurt you?

NICOLE: Not at all. I don’t write songs for revenge. I find bitter breakup songs quite distasteful. It was more so me trying to work my way through all the confusion. I was trying to take all the pain and darkness and turn it into something beautiful.

MEL: Mondo Amore is a stunning follow up album, filled with heartache and darkness, yet sexy. Can you give us some examples of the tracks where you drew your inspiration from your emotional roller-coaster ride?

NICOLE: Vultures is basically me talking to myself. I’m saying how hard you can work for a career or for love yet still end up with nothing. I’m reminding myself to keep looking up and stay in the light. The tower is about building a relationship as a metaphor of building a tower, so much work goes into it. At some point communication gets lost and they stairwell disappears, your in the attic, and he's in the basement. The only way to get back to level ground is just to destroy the whole thing.

MEL: Are there any songs which you will find particularly hard to sing live from the album in case they might bring out too many bad memories?

NICOLE: No, I’m so far removed from what I wrote the songs about that now I feel like a spectator. On stage I feel like an actor and its fun as a singer to revisit that pain.

MEL: The album seems to moving away from the country aspect (to which you have been known) and has delivered a darker, more rocking hard side; it could almost have been produced by Jack White.

NICOLE: I’ve always been attracted to the heavier and darker side of country music, and Jack White is a man of great taste. I really respect him and I’d love to work with him someday.

MEL: What’s the story behind the album cover, the older guy covered in tattoos, who looks like he should be riding a Harley (but looks like he’s in a rocking chair)?

NICOLE: Hahah! He actually drives a hot rod. That is my very good friend Senior Crowell. Due to the subject matter on the record it seemed fitting to have the two of us on the cover. Make of that what you will.

MEL: Your fans in the UK are waiting for you to return to headline. When can we expect a UK Tour and will you be taking in major cities?

NICOLE: Very soon. We’re working all that out now.

MEL: And finally what was the storyline behind the fantastic video for Vultures, which I can’t stop playing.

NICOLE: That video was made by my good friend’s Mandy Bisesti and Lucia Holm. We based it off the horror movies ‘The Lady In White’, and ‘The Gift’. I am a water witch or spirit that came out of the river to lead depressed suburbanites out of their houses to follow me pied piper style into the river for a mass baptism, or to their deaths. That’s up to you.

Interview by Mel
Photos from Nicole’s PR