Nicole Atkins

Early Show

Nicole Atkins

Jeremy & The Harlequins

Sat, September 9, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm

Mercury Lounge

New York, NY

$15.00

This event is 21 and over

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.
Jeremy & The Harlequins
Jeremy & The Harlequins
You know you’re doing something right when Bruce Springsteen’s right hand man decides your song is the coolest track in the world. That’s exactly what Steve Van Zandt did this June –picking ‘Trip Into The Light’ for that very accolade on his Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show. It’s easy to hear why – the opening song from Jeremy And The Harlequins’ debut full-length, American Dreamer, it sparkles and shimmers with the glamor of rock’n’roll’s past while simultaneously forging forward into the future with confidence. Channeling the influences of 1950s and ’60s rock’n’roll through the (cell phone) camera lens of 2015, Jeremy And The Harlequins – Jeremy Fury (vocals), Craig Bonich and Patrick Meyer (guitars), Stevie Fury (drums) and Bobby Ever (bass) – have managed to capture the sound of New York both in the here and now and the there and then. It’s a record about love and loss, tragedy and romanticism, dreams and reality, as well as everything in between, and its ten songs are at once familiar and fresh, a new friend it feels like you’ve known for decades.

“In both the pop music world and the indie music world,” explains Jeremy, “everything’s very electronic and very produced-sounding. In the indie world, everything seems like it’s long songs with no choruses and it doesn’t feel to me like something I’ll be singing along with in 20 years and going back to, and the pop world seems to have lost its human element. Music should make you feel something, and I don’t get that from much music nowadays, so we wanted to strip things down again and get back to the essence of rock’n’roll and pop music.”

That’s precisely what American Dreamer does – from title to the artwork, the lyrics to the melodies and arrangements of these songs, everything has been created with the mythology of rock’n’roll in mind. Yet at the same, these are songs for the modern day, universal tales of living in a digital age but with analogue sensibilities.

“We don’t just want it to sound like it’s in a musical or something,” says Jeremy. “It has to have its own edge and relevance to the time. Part of that, we consciously tried to do lyrically. Take a song like ‘Right Out Of Love’ – it sounds almost like a clichéd love song, but it’s actually about falling out of love. Or ‘Cam Girl’, which uses technology in the lyrics to make it stand out. My hope is that in 50 or 100 years, if someone were to find it and listen to it, they’d be ‘Wait – it sounds like this, but it’s referencing all these things came out years later.’ I wanted to do something where I could have something new to say in music.”

It all started when Stevie, Jeremy’s brother, moved back to New York from Paris. They’d played music together before (“He was probably eight years old and I was ten,” chuckles Jeremy), as had Jeremy and Craig, who had been working on new music together when they found their current sound. Suddenly, it all clicked, the members each sharing the same kind of vision for what they wanted to do. That chemistry is clearly visible onstage when they play live, but, unusually, you can also hear it within the grooves of the record.

“I had most of the songs for The Harlequins written,” says Jeremy, “but a lot of the sound comes from not just the songwriter, but everyone in the group. Stevie and I were on the same page as far as what we wanted to do musically, and once we had that vision everyone just found their role.”That vision is something, in addition to the backing of Little Steven, that’s won them a great deal of attention, and saw them top the Best of 2014 Readers and Fans' Poll of New York’s emerging music website, Deli NYC, thanks to their catchy hooks and their knack for writing timeless pop songs. In addition to its gong on Little Steven’s radio show, ‘Trip Into The Light’ was also featured in the Tom Cruise movie Edge Of Tomorrow. It’s precisely that high quality of songwriting, as well as the earnest emotion they’ve put into it, which makes Jeremy And The Harlequins’ music stand out so much from the rest of the crowd.

“One of the hardest things for a band to do is to reach people,” says Jeremy. “Which sounds weird, because it’s so easy to reach people, but because everyone can reach people so easily, there’s so much more going on. So we wanted a sound that was almost shockingly different. I was at a bar in France and we put on our record, and people were coming up to the iPod looking at – it was so different to everything that was playing before it that it caught people off guard. But it’s difficult.”Tough as it may be, thanks to both American Dreamer and the band’s energetic live shows, Jeremy And The Harlequins has been reaching more and more people more and more often. Very much a part of the New York scene – and very much following the line of its heritage – the five-piece have managed to capture, with a beautiful, timeless zest, the sense and the sound of the city they call home. “The time and place and people that you’re around really do affect you,” says Jeremy, “and you can either choose to go with it, or rebel against it. New York has definitely influenced our sound, and from a really classic perspective, too. Even if you go to coffee shops and bars, a lot of what you hear right now is a lot of older rock’n’roll music – and I think it just turns a light on in your brain that this is really awesome stuff. It makes you ask why music like this isn’t being played anymore.”Well – until now, that is. True its title, American Dreamer is steeped in the reverie of nostalgia but also traverses the streets of today, merging the two until they blend into just one path, a road weaving through New York’s avenues and streets and into the hearts and minds of a whole nation.
Venue Information:
Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY, 10002
http://mercuryloungenyc.com