Nicole Atkins – Tickets – Mississippi Studios – Portland, OR – December 10th, 2017

Nicole Atkins

Soulful New Jersey musician with new LP that American Songwriter calls "ageless" and "enduring"

Nicole Atkins

Lauren Ruth Ward, Indianola

Sun, December 10, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$15 ADV / $18 DOS

This event is 21 and over

Mostly Standing / Limited Balcony Seats 

Nicole Atkins
Nicole Atkins
To borrow a phrase from heaven’s new poet laureate, Leonard Cohen, Nicole Atkins was “born with the gift of a golden voice.” But somewhere along the way she misplaced it. Goodnight Rhonda Lee is the story of Nicole finding her voice, and how, in doing so, she went a little crazy.

Great Art is born of struggle and Nicole was struggling. The problem was that she felt nothing. Her fans responded to her performances with the same fervor they always had, but Nicole felt nothing. Her new husband loved her and doted on her, but she felt nothing. She traced it back to her drinking and decided to try to learn to live without booze. But that first day of sobriety brought with it an unexpected additional test — Nicole’s dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. This Jersey girl, whose big voice was tethered to a big heart, and whose reaction to the mundane setbacks of everyday life had always been equally overblown, suddenly faced a real problem. “It toughened me up,” she says.

And the songs started to come. Little bursts of therapeutic creativity. Thorny feelings transubstantiated into melodies. Beginning with “Listen Up,” a wake-up call to a lucky girl who hadn’t realized how lucky she’d been, Nicole started to find her redemption in these songs. They rang true in a way no songs ever had before. They came from a deep, vulnerable place. If Nicole had been living an unexamined life, she wasn’t anymore.

She needed her newfound toughness though, as in the midst of all this turmoil, she prepared to move from her native Asbury Park to Nashville. Having spent more than a decade as the de facto queen of Asbury, Nicole was finally leaving the warm, but often stifling confines of her hometown. During one of her final nights before the exodus, a song came to her in a dream. “I Love Living Here Even When I Don’t” summed up the complicated feelings she experienced as she said goodbye to the only real home she’d ever known.

In Nashville, Nicole’s once hectic life was very different. Left home alone as her tour manager husband plied his trade out on the road, Nicole found herself writing songs that examined “feelings of separation and being scared of new surroundings.” In particular, the songs “Sleepwalking” and “Darkness Falls” echo like ghosts through an empty house.

Unsurprisingly, her sobriety faltered. She drifted in and out of it. Nicole knew the wagon was good for her, but she had a hard time staying focused on what was good for her. As it went on however, the clarity of those sober days started to shine through. And she was able to string them together in longer stretches. For the first time, she was able to offer a shoulder for others to lean on, rather than always being the one in need of a shoulder. It helped that she had to be strong for herself in order to be strong for her dad. Much of what she was feeling was painful, but it beat the hell out of feeling nothing.

She reconnected with her old friend Chris Isaak who encouraged her, in the midst of all the soul-searching and soul-baring, to write songs that emphasized the one trait that most sets her apart from the mere mortals of the industry, telling her, “Atkins, you have a very special thing in your voice that a lot of people can’t or don’t do. You need to stop shying away from that thing and let people hear it.” To that end, the two of them collaborated on Goodnight Rhonda Lee‘s standout track, the instant classic, “A Little Crazy.”

Great Art is a journey — and Nicole Atkins traveled quite a distance to bring us Goodnight Rhonda Lee. As Nicole explains it, “This record came to me at a time of deep transition. Some days were good, some not so good. What I did gain, though, from starting to make some changes and going inward, and putting it out on the table, was a joy in what I do again. Joy in the process and a newfound confidence that I don’t think I’ve ever had until now. The album title, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, also came from those feelings. Rhonda Lee was kind of my alias for bad behavior, and it was time to put that persona to bed.“

The direction in which these songs were headed was obvious. Nicole’s voice had always recalled a classic vinyl collection. She is the heir to the legacy of “Roy Orbison, Lee Hazelwood, Sinatra, Aretha, Carole King, Candi Staton.” She is untethered to decade or movement or the whim of the hipster elite.

In order to capture the timelessness she sought, Nicole enlisted a modern day Wrecking Crew: Niles City Sound in Fort Worth, TX, who had just risen to national acclaim as Leon Bridges‘ secret weapon. “We spoke the same language. We wanted to make something classic, something that had an atmosphere and a mood of romance and triumph and strength and soul.” The album was recorded in five days, live to tape. The album that Nicole and the boys came up with in those five days, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, is nothing less than Great Art and a quantum leap forward for Nicole Atkins who, no matter how much she grows up, will always be a little crazy.
Lauren Ruth Ward
Lauren Ruth Ward
“I fucking nail second chances,” says Lauren Ruth Ward, benignly reflecting on the time she got expelled from high school in her junior year. With aged wisdom beyond her years, she reminisces about her hometown of Baltimore, where her upbringing was what the songstress lovingly refers to as a “cocktail for being an artist;” She grew up splitting her time between a bohemian mother — “I’m very pragmatic, and she would call that cold and intense” — and some weekends with her father — “He’s a ‘healthy republican,’” she says with a laugh. From a young age, she also had a natural drive for creativity, with the talent to back it. “I was wearing a beehive every day in sophomore year,” she says, describing how she’s always had a knack for doing hair. “Junior, senior year, ‘scene’ was really in and I was like a ‘scene’ queen. I had a splash of blonde over here, splash of blonde over there.”

Meanwhile, Ward also taught herself to sew clothes, as well as sing and play guitar, taking cues from the music of her childhood — ‘70s rock and her mom’s old disco compilations — and the music of her teens: Mirah, Elliott Smith, basically anything “emotional, folky and dismal,” she says. (If you’re curious, that combination lands Ward somewhere between Janis Joplin and Courtney Barnett.)
When graduation rolled around and it came time to pick a career, Ward took on hairstyling. By 22 she had a fully booked calendar with cancellation backups at the salon where she worked and was running her own wedding updo business. She was ambitious, successful, and doing work she loved, yet something was missing. “I saw the music then, but I was behind a chair six days a week,” says Ward about coming to terms with pursuing another career. “To be honest, I wanted a band,” she continues, “every time I found someone to play with, they had a day job — they didn’t have the dream. And you really gotta fuckin’ have it to live in a world that’s musical.”

So in 2015, Ward packed up her life and road tripped to her new home of Los Angeles. After a challenging, perfectionistic pursuit, Ward came together with a band: Liv Slingerland (bass), India Pascucci (drums) and guitarist and fellow songwriter Eduardo Rivera. “They all call me ‘Mom,’” she says with a laugh. “It’s like getting three new best friends that you’re giving the most personal part of yourself.” They’ve even got matching jackets.

Together, they created Ward’s debut album, Well, Hell, a nine track sampler of what she calls the band’s “four modes.” There’s the “heaven of the album,” “Did I Offend You?,” a sweet, airy, swiftly cadenced track which crescendos into a powerful chant: “You’re only breaking down/ you’re only breaking down/ you’re only breaking down.” Then there’s the “hell,” “Blue Collar Sex Kitten,” a full-throttle rock song that dives head first into distorted chords, sexuality — “I’m a dyke/ dated guys/ ain’t a crime/ won’t apologize for my tribe,” sings Ward — and a psychedelic breakdown that sounds like lucid dreaming. There’s the band’s acoustic mode, made up by breathy tracks like “Travel Man,” and finally Ward’s poppier side, heard on “Sideways” — a funky, retro take on soul-searching and feeling lost — and “Sheet Stains,” a bluesy ode to her fianceé, indie pop mega-star LP, who sings backup vocals on the track.

The band’s chameleonic moods are punctuated by Ward’s playfulness with her bandmates on stage, dancing with audience and her signature white dotted eyes. Ward’s music has even gained her a dedicated international fanbase — in fact, three fans flew from France to be at the Well, Hell record release show in Los Angeles.

In some ways, Well, Hell is Ward’s second chance at a career doing what she loves most: creating. “I could totally have done a version of this in Baltimore, but not the way I’ve done it here,” Ward says of making music in Los Angeles. In others, Ward hasn’t changed a bit — you can still catch her doing hair, though now it’s under a batch of clementine trees at her house. “I had four clients at my house today,” she says with a laugh as she preps for a show. “I just picked the hair out from underneath my nails.” Either way, one thing’s for sure: there’s no telling what’s in store for Ward and company. “This is definitely a different life for me,” she says. “This is Lauren 2.0.”