Volume 3, Issue 3
Editor- David K. Moseder
Publisher- Howard B. Leibowitz
All music…. All Brooklyn !!
Nicole Atkins: Finding Inspiration
On the Williamsburg Bridge
Singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins draws on multiple genres and distills them to something wholly original. Her music has inspired comparisons to artists as diverse as Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Nicks, Jenny Lewis and Roy Orbison, among others. As a performer she has been described as “a firecracker,” “forceful and unfussy” and “nakedly emotional,” and judging by a November performance we attended at Manhattan’s Moscot Music Space, these characterizations only scratch the surface.
Atkins took time out of her busy touring schedule to speak with Brooklyn Roads about her new album, her musical influences and the inspiration she has drawn from her adopted home town.
“I grew up with a lot of classic rock and soul music,” she tells us. “Jackie Wilson was my mom’s favorite singer. He had so much soul and energy…and I just really connected with it.” But it was Traffic’s seminal 1970 album, John Barleycorn Must Die, that made her decide that “this is something I really want to do. It was songwriting, but it was a little bit psychedelic and a little bit jazzy. The whole record just seemed like a really good movie.”
In 2007, those influences eventually culminated in her debut album, Neptune City, which fittingly includes a song about the place she left behind (the plaintive title track), and one inspired by her adopted home town (the rousing Brooklyn’s on Fire.) Atkins tells Brooklyn Roads that our fair borough is “the place where people go if you want to be an artist. Living in Brooklyn, there is so much art and music and like-minded people you run into every day. You never run out of creative people to bounce ideas off of.” The borough also gave her a more concrete (figuratively and literally) conduit for her creative processes.
“Every morning I would walk over the Williamsburg Bridge just into the city and back. It was my thinking time…where I would get all my songwriting ideas, just walking on that bridge clearing my head, seeing what would come to me. I’m pretty sure I wrote most of the songs from my last two albums on that bridge,” she says.
Among the many Brooklyn music venues where she’s played, Atkins says, “My definite home base, where I first played with my band and where we did our first CD release party, was Union Pool. I love the stage, the bulb lights around it, I love the staff. It feels very homey.” The late, lamented Zebulon was her favorite place to play solo gigs, she adds.
The Williamsburg-Asbury Park Connection
These days, she tells Brooklyn Roads, “I split my time between Williamsburg and Asbury Park, New Jersey,” adding that, “I feel Asbury Park has taken a lot of cues from Brooklyn. The businesses cropping up there and the scenes popping up…it reminds me of Williamsburg in 2002.”
She believes, however, that the latter holds the edge for aspiring singers and musicians. “I tell my friends in New Jersey who want to get their music heard to come to Brooklyn,” because, she says, it is where they will find “people who [really] want to hear it.”
Atkins’ forthcoming album, Slow Phaser, due out on February 4,includes several collaborations with Brooklyn native Jim Sclavunos of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. The two of them were both a long way from home when they first hooked up.
“In May of 2011 I went to London to do a couple of shows. My manager was friends with him and his wife and she said, ‘you should meet Jim Sclavunos and try to do some co-writing with him.’ I was going through a little bit of a writer’s block. We got together and went to dinner and a show and just really hit off. The next day we wrote three songs. Jim is a really incredible writer and a really cool person. He’s been a bit of a mentor to me in the last couple of years.”
What She Likes, What She Does Best
It’s not surprising, therefore, that Atkins is a fan of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. She also admires Queens of the Stone Age (“Mark Lanegan is one of my favorite singers”), Richard Hell (“I’ve always loved him a lot”) and Anna Calvi (“A singer from England who I think is really amazing”).
She recently added Jim Lauderdale to that list. At the time Brooklyn Roads spoke with her, she was heading for Nashville for a gig and an appointment with the award-winning songwriter. “My publishing company hooked it up…I’ve never met him…I’m very excited,” she told us at the time. The next day she tweeted: “Wrote a cool song with the infamous Jim Lauderdale today!”
Indicative of the scope of her musical influences, the two songs she tells us she most wishes she had written are Ave Maria and the Santo & Johnny instrumental Sleepwalk. The latter speaks to the musician in her. “I’ve written a lot of instrumentals, but they always end up getting a verse or a chorus on it.” She says that she’s considering more instrumentals in the future. “Maybe some soundtrack work; it’s on my list of things I’d like to do.”
Atkins describes Slow Phaser, which she financed through a pledge music campaign, as a “disco prog-rock masterpiece…still dark and moody like my other ones, but there’s a lot of color to it and some dance tunes.” She also calls it “adventurous,” adding that, “It’s a little theatrical. I tried on my last one to stay away from the theatrics -- but that’s what I do best.”
-David K. Moseder
ARTISTS ON THE HORIZON
La Mecanica Popular: Psychedelic Salsa, Brooklyn Style
When thinking of salsa music, Brooklyn may not be the first place that comes to mind. But Efrain Rozas wanted to help change that equation when he came to Williamsburg from Lima, Peru to work on his PhD in music at New York University. The rich cultural incubator of the NYU Music Department was how Efrain met the other band members and came up with an exciting new musical genre that he terms “Psychedelic Salsa.” This new and vibrant salsa sound has already earned La Mecanica Popular accolades at live appearances and a growing fan base. Their self-titled debut album has just been released on Brooklyn-based record label, Names You Can Trust, with tracks that include La Paz Del Freak, Ella Le Deci and Arbol.
Efrain Rozas told Brooklyn Roads that “Lima is a very interesting city, because it’s really cosmopolitan and you can hear a lot of music.” The local musical menu there includes classical and rock, as well as the indigenous music of Peru, a land where over 13 different languages are spoken, contributing to “a complex cultural configuration, with musical consequences.” Efrain’s parents were open to everything musically, so classical, salsa and folkloric music were all played in his house and he credits that openness with helping to instill his appreciation for just about every type of music in the sound spectrum. Peruvian Cumbia music and its tropical rhythms helped La Mecanica Popular create this new salsa music genre that is growing in popularity.
La Mecanica Popular have been performing at Brooklyn venues Barbés and Sycamore Bar, as well as Manhattan hot spots Lit Lounge, Arlene’s Grocery, The Shrine and NuBlu. A stripped down, four-piece version of the group gave an intimate preview of their album at Sycamore Bar, which showcased the group’s considerable musical prowess. Efrain played keyboards and vocals, with Ismael Baiz handling percussion and drums, while Alejandro Haaker played bass and Joy Hanson provided rapturous vocals.
If you think salsa is not your musical cup of tea, one taste of La Mecanica Popular’s Psychedelic Salsa will expand your musical palate and have you wanting more. Whether you’re a music lover from Brooklyn or beyond, you’ll be patting yourself on the back for exploring musical vistas that you’ll want to share with your friends.
-Howard B. Leibowitz
BACK IN THE DAY:
Brooklyn Music Milestones
Jan. 15, 1994: Brooklyn and the world loses one of its finest songwriters and recording artists when American singer songwriter Harry Nilsson dies in his sleep of heart failure after spending the previous day in the recording studio.
Jan. 17, 1975: Columbia Records releases Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, featuring extensive liner notes by Park Slope native Pete Hamill. For various reasons, Hamill’s back-of-album essay is removed from later pressings, but they are later restored after he wins a Grammy for his words in the Annotator category.
Jan. 18, 1974: Barry Manilow’s Mandy reaches number one on the Billboard singles chart. One year later (Jan. 17, 1975 to be exact) the Williamsburg native does it again with I Write the Songs.
Jan. 19, 2003: After 46 weeks on the album charts, Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me finally makes it to the top and stays there for three weeks.
Jan. 30, 1961: The songwriting duo of Carole King and Gerry Goffin score their first number one hit with The Shirelles’ rendition of Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It would become one of the most covered songs in pop music history and was ranked No. 126 among Rolling Stone magazine's “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Feb. 3, 1979: YMCA by Village People peaks at #2 on pop singles chart. Among the group’s Brooklyn connections are original “Indian” Felipé Ortiz Rose, who grew up in our fair borough, and native Miles Jaye Davis. Davis, who replaced original “Cop” Vic Willis in the group before embarking on a successful solo career, studied music at both Brooklyn College and the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music.
Feb. 8, 2009: It’s a big night for two Brooklyn music legends at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards as singer/songwriter Neil Diamond is named MusiCares Person of the Year for his philanthropic work and record company executive Clive Davis receives the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ President's Merit Award.
Feb. 23, 2003: Norah Jones takes home five Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist; Song of the Year and Record of the Year (Don’t Know Why); and Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album (Come Away With Me).
Ditmas Park-based rockers The National are curating a Grateful Dead tribute album to support the non-profit Red Hot Organization, an international organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture. Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver are among the groups who have signed on so far. The album is due out in 2014...
Guitarist Bryce Dessner of The National has teamed with The Kronos Quartet to release Aheym, a new, classically themed album that also features the Brooklyn Youth Chorus...
”Give it a listen!” is Bruce Springsteen’s endorsement of Truth Serum, the new album from veteran rocker and Sheepshead Bay native Garland Jeffreys...Brooklyn in the Rain, a love-and-loss song we can all relate to, leads off Steel and Salt, the fine new album from Flatbush’s Carolann Solebello, who we profiled in Brooklyn Roads, Vol. 3, Issue 2...
The Soundtrack of My Life, music executive Clive Davis’ account of his five decades in the recording industry, is now available in paperback. Davis, who grew up in Crown Heights and attended Erasmus Hall High School, has signed, produced, championed or collaborated with a Who’s Who of rock and pop megastars, including fellow Brooklynites Barry Manilow, Lou Reed and Notorious B.I.G., as well as the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Santana, Aerosmith, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys and countless others...
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical opened at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway. It features classic songs by Carole King and Gerry Goffin as well as another legendary Brooklyn songwriting duo, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill...
Speaking of songwriting legends, the critically acclaimeddocumentary AKA Doc Pomus is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Pomus, born Jerome Felder in Williamsburg in 1925,wrote more than 1,000 rock andpop songs (many in collaboration with Brighton Beach native Mort Shuman) for Elvis Presley, Dion, Ray Charles, B.B. King, The Drifters and many more...
Eben Pariser, one-fifth of local band Roosevelt Dime, has teamed up with Molly Venter of Brooklyn “expatriates” Red Molly, for a side project blending pop, country and Americana. Pariser and Venter’s collaborative name, and that of their CD’s title track, is Goodnight Moonshine...
Rubblebucket has released the EP Save Charlie, along with a video of the title song, as a prelude to a full-length released slated for early 2014. Trout Recording in Park Slope is handling the production chores. Notable Quotes: “This [the music industry] was work, but it was the awakening to what was to become a life’s passion.” –Clive Davis