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Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins performing at the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle, Washington, USA on November 1, 2007.
Background information
Born October 1, 1978 (1978-10-01) (age 31)
Neptune, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres Psychedelic, alternative, folk rock
Instruments Guitar (Hagstrom Viking, Fender Jazzmaster, Martin D15)
Years active 2002–present
Labels Columbia, Red Ink

Nicole Atkins (born October 1, 1978)[1] 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.[2] Atkins has called her work "pop-noir."



Early life

Atkins was born in Neptune, New Jersey to Arthur “Dutch” Atkins and Constance Atkins.[3][4] She grew up in Shark River Hills, a middle class enclave within Neptune overlooking the Shark River.[5][6][7] 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.[8] She started playing piano when she was 9 and taught herself to play guitar at 13.[4] 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 SundaysHarriet Wheeler as a major early influence on her own singing style and claims to have once built a shrine to vocalist Robert Plant.[9] 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.[10]

North Carolina and New York

After high school, Atkins moved to Charlotte, North Carolina to study illustration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.[11] 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.[2] Atkins spent her junior year abroad in Australia.[12] After she returned, she joined the band Los Parasols, releasing an EP with them entitled The Summer of Love in 2002.[13] That same year, Atkins moved to the neighborhood of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, New York.[10] 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.[14] She returned briefly to Charlotte, living in a wood shop[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

During this time, she commuted into New York by train to play gigs and maintain a connection to the city’s underground music scene.[18] 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.[14]

The Sea and Neptune City

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.[2] 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.[9] Atkins soon found herself in the midst of a bidding war between record labels and signed with Columbia Records in January 2006.[19][20] In late-2006, Atkins and the Sea traveled to Sweden to record her debut album, Neptune City,[21] 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,[22] 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.[23]

Recent Work

In 2008, Atkins was cast as the voice of the mother in director Geoff Marslett’s animated sci-fi comedy film “Mars.”[24][25]. 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.[26] The band now features Christopher Donofrio on drums, Brad York on guitars, and Anthony Chick on bass.[27][28] 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[29], 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.[30]

Atkins also joined the 9th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.[31]

When not on the road, she lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey.[32]

Influence of David Lynch

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.[33] And just as Atkins worked as a muralist while developing her music,[11] Lynch worked as a cartoonist on the side during the 1980s.[34] 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.”[35] Atkins subsequently received an invitation to Badalamenti's home in Morristown, New Jersey to talk music.[21]

Television appearances

American Express commercial

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?"[36] 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.[37] The ad debuted in mid-2007. The song sampled throughout the ad is "Party's Over" from the album Neptune City.

Old Navy Summer 2008 commercial

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.

The Late Show with David Letterman

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.[38][39] 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.[40] 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".[41]

Later... with Jools Holland

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.[42]


with Los Parasols

  • 2002: The Summer of Love (EP)


  • 2008: The Hotel Café Presents Winter Songs Epic

(Atkins contributed a cover of Billy Hayes' and Jay Johnson's Blue Christmas)

  • 2009: Scott Walker - 30 Century Man

(Atkins contributed a cover of Scott Walker's The Seventh Seal


  • 2005: Party’s Over (demo)
  • 2006: Bleeding Diamonds, EP Columbia
  • 2007: Neptune City Columbia
  • 2008: Nicole Atkins Digs Other People's Songs, EP Columbia
  • 2010: Mondo Amore TBA; Nicole announced that the new record would be released in spring 2010

Awards and nominations


  • Asbury Music Awards winner: Top Female Vocalist
  • Asbury Music Awards Winner: Best Solo Act
  • Asbury Music Awards Winner: Song of the Year – "Neptune City"


  • ASCAP Foundation winner: Sammy Cahn Award – "Neptune City"


  1. ^ "Independent Artists Company bio"
  2. ^ a b c "Interview With Nicole Atkins", BROAD Magazine. Accessed January 21, 2008
  3. ^ "Alumni newsletter"Neptune High School, October 14, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2008
  4. ^ a b "Press Play, Record interview", February 7, 2007 Accessed January 18, 2008
  5. ^ "White pages"
  6. ^ "Nicole Atkins & the Sea Perform 'War Torn,' Chat 'Neptune City'",, January 22, 2008 Accessed January 29, 2008 "But the neighborhood I live in is called Shark River -- it's part of Neptune -- I live right across the street from the river, and there's a bird sanctuary."
  7. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau fact sheet"
  8. ^ "Journey Through Neptune City, Part 1"
  9. ^ a b Dollar, Steve. "The Jersey Girl Takes On The World", The New York Sun June 5, 2007 Accessed on January 21, 2008
  10. ^ a b "Gothamist interview", March 13, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2008 "I'll never forget the first time I… played my first gig. it was in the cafeteria of st. rose high school in belmar nj. we...did "the end" from the doors for our encore. i was so out of it i screamed..right in the vice principal's face and the place went wild. i had weekend detentions for way too long after that one."
  11. ^ a b "Nicole Atkins on Virb". Accessed January 18, 2008 Atkins studied illustration while at UNC Charlotte, and still has her own mural business, with that artistic sensibility transferred to her songs.
  12. ^ Schneider, Laura. "Nicole Atkins: Catch Her If You Can", Upstage Magazine, Accessed January 21, 2008
  13. ^ "Nicole Atkins", from Accessed January 18, 2008
  14. ^ a b "Nicole Atkins: The Interview", September 29, 2005, Accessed January 21, 2008
  15. ^ "Nicole Atkins - Not In A Nutshell"
  16. ^ "Journey through Neptune City, Part 2" 1:50 "So we were recording my EP there and just during that time I was singing backup vocals on pretty much every record you made there."
  17. ^ "Born In New Jersey and (Now) Proud of It", The New York Times, July 29, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2008
  18. ^ Donnelly, Tim. “Shore Of Herself”, Asbury Park Press, December 10, 2006. “She couch surfed with friends in the city and rode the North Jersey Coast Line back and forth to make her dream happen.”
  19. ^ Village Indian: VI Interview: Nicole Atkins
  20. ^ Nicole Atkins
  21. ^ a b "NICOLE ATKINS: Homeward Bound", "CMJ", Accessed January 18, 2008
  22. ^ "Atkins & The Sea release CD", "Asbury Park Press", November 11, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2008
  23. ^ "Top Heatseekers (Middle Atlantic)", from "Billboard" December 1, 2007 Accessed January 18, 2008
  24. ^ MARS
  25. ^ "Mars", on
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Sikamor Rooney's MySpace Blog"
  28. ^ "Nicole Atkins' MySpace page"
  29. ^ "Bleeding Diamonds - Nicole Atkins' personal blog"
  30. ^ Ayers, Michael D. "Nicole Atkins Gets 'Divorced' From Columbia Records". July 21, 2009. Accessed July 31, 2009.
  31. ^ Independent Music Awards - 9th Annual Judges
  32. ^ "Greetings From Neptune City, NJ", "The Star-Ledger", October 27, 2007 Accessed January 18, 2008
  33. ^ " David Lynch biography" on
  34. ^ "The Angriest Dog In the World", on
  35. ^ "Betsy Boston Hangs With Nicole Atkins & the Sea", April, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2008
  36. ^ "American Express Gets Updated Ad Campaign", from, May 10, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2008
  37. ^ "AmEx commercial"
  38. ^ "Feist Gets Folks From Broken Social Scene, The National, Grizzly Bear, The New Pornographers, Mates Of State, And Nicole Atkins To Dress In White And Perform "1234" On Letterman", from August 28, 2007 Accessed January 18, 2008
  39. ^ Mary Rozzi : Feist
  40. ^ "'The Way It Is' on The Late Show"
  41. ^ "A.C. Newman Brings Nicole Atkins And "Like A Hitman, Like A Dancer" To Letterman", from April 14, 2009 Accessed April 18, 2009
  42. ^ "Later... with Jools Holland Official Web site"

External links

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