Nicole Atkins on Life Changes, Soul Power & Rhonda Lee’s European Vacation

Nicole Atkins Tour Press Photo 2017
Photo Credit: Anna Webber

The Neptune City, New Jersey native Nicole Atkins returns to her home state on November 25 to perform at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. There, you’ll be able to experience the full power of her soulful, crooning vocals and feel the array of the emotions that she has undergone over the past few years.

Currently, this soul, blues, Americana and rock-influenced singer/songwriter is finishing up a brief tour in Europe, which concludes on Wednesday in Barcelona, Spain. At her shows, listeners find themselves falling in love with her voice and alluring energy, and immediately connecting to the lyrics.

Most recently, Atkins released her fourth studio album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee on July 21. This album reflects the difficulty of moving across the country – from New Jersey to Nashville – and starting over somewhere new. While some tracks confront the idea of leaving the negativity of your past behind, others are about learning life lessons the hard way.

In light of her performance at the Wonder Bar next Saturday, The Pop Break caught up with Nicole Atkins to discuss her album Goodnight Rhonda Lee, the difficulties of navigating through major life transitions and her favorite part about touring in Europe.

Bzzzzzzzzzz! #fenderparamount

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I read that back in 2015, while you were at the rehab center in California, you met a fellow musician who encouraged you to be a soul singer. Before that, did you have any idea that you’d decide to change it up and embrace soulful vocals for Goodnight Rhonda Lee

It’s something I’ve always incorporated, but this really planted a seed for me to focus and commit to this sound 100-percent. You never know where you’re going to find insight.

It seems like this change in your sound reflects the transitions and struggles that were happening in your life at the time — how did writing these songs help you through the past two years?

Writing these songs helped me process everything I was going through and understand how I felt. It’s almost like I didn’t know what I was thinking and feeling until I wrote it down. Writing something down commits you to a feeling that most of the time the chatter in your brain can distort and cover up.

How does your album Goodnight Rhonda Lee shed a positive light on your major life changes and personal struggles? I know this album is also about the transition of your move from New Jersey to Nashville, and how difficult starting over was for you. What would you say is the overall message of this album?

Starting over in a new place with new friends and geographics was extremely hard. I felt very alone a lot of the time—like a tourist in my own life. Writing these songs were like notes to myself of support like hey, hold on, things get better.

I’d say “Listen Up” is definitely a favorite of mine, from the blues-rock sound, to the intensity of your vocals and the track’s self-aware theme. It’s all about accepting that you’ve made mistakes, silencing your inner critic and allowing others to help. In this way, it is an uplifting message. Was there a specific experience that inspired this song? Right from the start, had you planned on this song being a “note to self” of sorts?

I wish I could give you another answer to this but I just answered that above! Hahaha! These feelings were my go-to day-to-day feels, so I was riffing on life and then trying to be kind to myself.

What song holds the most meaning for you currently? What is it about this song that you feel so connected to?

“A Night of Serious Drinking.” It’s a love and amends letter to my past, to love and to my songwriting. When I sing it, I feel everything.

I see that you’ll be playing in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain through November 22. What are you looking forward to the most for your European tour? What’s your favorite part about touring in Europe?

I love playing Europe and the UK so much. I’ve been out here performing for almost ten years so it’s a privilege to be able to see the friends I’ve made and visit all the little places I’ve grown to love so much. I love how deep people over here get into the sorts of music I adore like garage rock, soul, jazz and cabaret. I feel very fluid and comfortable with so many different cultures out here.

As far as upcoming music, do you plan on continuing with this soulful, blues sound that emphasizes your vocals? 

Absolutely. There are many other styles that I’m looking forward to experimenting with, as always, but this is homebase for me.

Nicole Atkins returns home to Asbury Park, NJ on November 25  — performing at the Convention Hall Tree Lighting, and at The Wonder Bar. Click here for tickets to Wonder Bar.

Laura Curry is a Rutgers University graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Media Studies. Interviewing bands and writing about music is her passion. She is a frequent concert-goer, whether they’re happening in New Brunswick basements, Asbury Park venues, concert halls in NYC and anywhere in between. Alternative rock is her go-to genre (i.e. Kings of Leon, Cage the Elephant, Foals, The Maine and lots more). When she isn’t writing for The Pop Break, she works at the North Brunswick Public Library, which offers plenty of Fantasy/Adventure novels to quench her love of reading. Additionally, she takes on creative projects from dream catchers and scrapbooks to paintings and jewelry making. She’s always happy to talk about her furry Maine Coon cat Austen and his knack for playing fetch and hide and seek. Just try not to ask about her next career move, because trust me, she’s working on it.