|Born||October 1, 1978
Neptune, New Jersey, U.S.
|Genres||Psychedelic, alternative, folk rock|
|Instruments||Guitar (Hagstrom Viking, Fender Jazzmaster, Martin D15)|
|Labels||Columbia, Red Ink|
Nicole Atkins (born October 1, 1978) is an American singer-songwriter best known for her work with the band Nicole Atkins & the Sea. Her sound is known for its mix of traditional vocal styles and introspective lyrics. She has been compared to Roy Orbison and singers from the Brill Building era, as well as more contemporary artists like Jenny Lewis. Atkins has called her work "pop-noir."
Atkins was born in Neptune, New Jersey to Arthur “Dutch” Atkins and Constance Atkins. She grew up in Shark River Hills, a middle class enclave within Neptune overlooking the Shark River. Atkins has cited the river (technically a bay) as a major inspiration for her music, particularly the imagery of “the river in the rain” found in the title track on her album Neptune City. She started playing piano when she was 9 and taught herself to play guitar at 13. Her first music purchase, at the suggestion of an uncle, was a cassette of Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die. She eschewed more popular acts of the day for musical groups her parents listened to, such as The Ronettes and Johnny Cash. She has also cited The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler as a major early influence on her own singing style and claims to have once built a shrine to vocalist Robert Plant. She began playing in pick-up bands around this time and continued to do so, often at local coffeehouses, while attending St. Rose High School in the nearby town of Belmar.
After high school, Atkins moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to study illustration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She ingrained herself within the city’s independent music scene, discovering bands like Superchunk and Uncle Tupelo. She also started writing original songs and making friends with other local musicians. Among other bands, she joined a supergroup in the city called Nitehawk that, at one point, had almost 30 members. Atkins spent her junior year abroad in Australia. After she returned, she joined the band Los Parasols, releasing an EP with them entitled The Summer of Love in 2002. That same year, Atkins moved to the neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, New York. She began performing at open mic night at the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan’s East Village. Influenced by the artists on Rainbow Quartz, the independent record label specializing in guitar heavy pop music and traditional songwriting for which she worked, she moved away from the louder rock music she’d played in North Carolina and toward the songcraft style of Wilco and Roy Orbison. She returned briefly to Charlotte, living in a wood shop and playing with several bands, most notably a group called Virginia Reel. At this time, she started writing what she termed “a mix of Americana, 60s and indie rock.” She also recorded her EP Bleeding Diamonds.
In 2004, she moved back to her parents’ house in New Jersey, working odd jobs and playing local gigs. During a regular Friday night stand at Kelly’s Tavern in nearby Neptune City the audience kept requesting cover songs by local favorites Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. In response, Atkins got drunk and played a tongue-in-cheek version of Bon Jovi’s “Livin' on a Prayer”. She was not asked back.
During this time, she commuted into New York by train to play gigs and maintain a connection to the city’s underground music scene. In mid-2004, Atkins and David Muller, who had played drums with Fischerspooner and The Fiery Furnaces, started working on a demo CD entitled Party’s Over. They recorded most of the album in Atkins’ parents’ house using a Casio keyboard, a ProTools rig and a mini recorder. Drum parts were recorded at Muller’s apartment in Manhattan, with further tracks recorded at the Dietch Projects gallery in Brooklyn.
In early 2005, keyboardist Dan Chen, whom Atkins knew from her days at The Sidewalk Café, approached Atkins about forming a new group. Chen told Atkins he knew of a drummer, Dan Mintzer, who might also be interested in playing with her. When the three sat down together for the first time, Chen and Mintzer already knew how to play the songs they’d heard on Atkins' MySpace page. Eventually David Hollinghurst, another friend from The Sidewalk Café, joined the band on guitar and Derek Layes was brought on as bassist. The band, now known as Nicole Atkins & The Sea, was given a residency at the small showcase bar, Piano's, and won the attention of music industry attorney Gillian Bar. Her Party’s Over demo had stirred interest from heavy metal label Roadrunner Records, among others. Atkins soon found herself in the midst of a bidding war between record labels and signed with Columbia Records in January 2006. In late-2006, Atkins and the Sea traveled to Sweden to record her debut album, Neptune City, at Varispeed Studios in Kalgerup and Gula Studion in Malmö with producer Tore Johansson. The album was originally scheduled for a July 2007 release, but at the behest of Columbia co-chairman Rick Rubin, it was pushed back until October 30, 2007 to accommodate re-mastering the album. It debuted at number 20 on Billboard’s Top Heatseekers chart and, as of December 2007, had reached number 6 on the Heatseekers Middle Atlantic Chart.
In 2008, Atkins was cast as the voice of the mother in director Geoff Marslett’s animated sci-fi comedy film “Mars.”. On September 9 of that year, she released a four track EP of cover songs called Nicole Atkins Digs Other People's Songs, which included the tracks: "The Crystal Ship" (The Doors), "Dream a Little Dream of Me" (The Mamas & the Papas), "Under the Milky Way" (The Church) and "Inside of Love" (Nada Surf).
Sometime in late April or early May 2009, the entire lineup of the Sea was replaced. In a blog entry Atkins stated that the band name has been changed and is "a bit (different)" and is now called Nicole Atkins and The Black Sea. The band now features Christopher Donofrio on drums, Brad York on guitars, and Anthony Chick on bass. According to an interview Atkins gave to radio station 105.7 FM The Hawk on May 10, 2009, the release date of the new album on which she had been working, tentatively titled Mondo Amore, was pushed back to January 2010. Two months later Atkins severed her ties with Columbia Records. She plans to release a new album on an independent record label.
Atkins has often cited director David Lynch, known for his surreal films set in small towns, as an inspiration. Like Atkins, Lynch studied art in college and moved overseas with the intention of continuing his studies. And just as Atkins worked as a muralist while developing her music, Lynch worked as a cartoonist on the side during the 1980s. Lynch’s cinematic style, which uses dreamlike sequences and montages, heavily influenced the video for Atkins' song “The Way It Is.” Atkins also feels a kinship with Angelo Badalamenti, who has scored many of Lynch’s films. She once emailed an mp3 of “The Way It Is” to Badalamenti, who is said to have replied, “I think our Sicilian great-great-great-grandparents must have laid down on a picnic blanket in the park and done something together, if you know what I mean.” Atkins subsequently received an invitation to Badalamenti's home in Morristown, New Jersey to talk music.
Prior to the release of Neptune City, Atkins and the Sea filmed a television commercial for the American Express credit card's "Are You A Cardmember?" campaign. The ad features the band walking through a parking garage and coming upon their rental car, only to realize it’s too small to carry all their equipment. Atkins is then seen completing a transaction with her American Express card, then returning to the parking garage with a more suitable SUV. Later scenes show Atkins at her hotel suite arranging for travel accommodations with American Express’s Web site and calling the company to make sure a broken laptop computer can be replaced. The ad debuted in mid-2007. The song sampled throughout the ad is "Party's Over" from the album Neptune City.
Maybe Tonight off the Neptune City album, has been used in two tv spots / web minisodes for the Old Navy Summer 2008 Spotlight Collection. The two commercials follow the girls from the Spring 2008 commercials as they prepare for the 2008 MTV Movie Awards.
Atkins appeared twice within three months on the late night television show The Late Show with David Letterman in 2007. On the August 27th show, she performed as part of a chorus backing up Canadian singer-songwriter Feist on the latter’s “1 2 3 4". The chorus, all dressed in white, also included members of Broken Social Scene, The National, Grizzly Bear, The New Pornographers, and Mates of State, as well as photographer Mary Rozzi. On the October 30th show, the same day Neptune City was released, Atkins and The Sea performed “The Way It Is.” Host David Letterman offered an enthusiastic response and jokingly asked Atkins, “Wanna get some steak?” after the song was over. She returned to the Late Show April 13, 2009 as a guest vocalist for A.C. Newman, with whom she had been touring earlier in the year, playing the tambourine and singing on his song "Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer".
On September 19, 2008, Atkins made her British television debut on the BBC late night music show, Later... with Jools Holland, performing her songs "The Way It Is" and "Maybe Tonight". The show's other guests included Sway, Metallica, VV Brown, Carla Bruni, and Kings of Leon.
(Atkins contributed a cover of Billy Hayes' and Jay Johnson's Blue Christmas)
(Atkins contributed a cover of Scott Walker's The Seventh Seal