Now that Nikki Hill is coming to the White Water Tavern this Saturday, July 23, you never again have to wonder what a cross between the Memphis soul of Otis Redding and the English hard rock of Led Zeppelin would sound like.
The Carolina girl and her band have been traveling far and wide, supporting her latest release, Heavy Hearts Hard Fists, generating buzz all the while due to their barn burner live shows. I was lucky enough that Hill carved some time out of her busy schedule to talk to me ahead of her performance this weekend.
What’s the first thing you do after you lose your keys?
Check the obvious places first.
Chocolate or peanut butter?
Beatles or the Stones?
Start me up! I’m with the Stones!
Little Richard or Chuck Berry?
Ooooh, that’s mean! They’re both saints in my rock n’ roll church, ok? Or maybe deacons, cuz they ain’t saint-like.
Pac or Biggie?
Keep Ya Head Up! Pac!
Do you remember when you found your first artistic inspiration? Who or what was/is it?
Actually it was probably my aunt. She’s a poet. She was the first person I knew that spent their time living a creative lifestyle, had amazing style—which really stood out in a little country Carolina town—and I thought she was so interesting. I remember that making me think, “wow, if only I could do that.”
How did you learn to play and sing?
I wanted to play everything when I was little. My dad would go to the pawn shop and get me a bass, keyboard, drum machine, [whatever]. But I didn’t take it extremely seriously enough to gain any skill minus learning the basics on each, [even though] they were [of] really shitty quality and beat up. And, I wouldn’t be able to play for a while, since I lived with my mom in another city. I grew up singing in church and in the school choir classes and such. I think between the two it gave me a least a better ear for music, but let me tell you, I’m still learning to sing! And play too, but I find it’s becoming more essential as I write.
Who’s your biggest source of encouragement?
My husband and my manager, and my family and friends that are always checking up on me and sending love when we’re out on the road and don’t see them for periods of time.
Why are you a musician?
Because I want to be. I’d even say I have to be, at this point. I know I would feel lost without it, so that’s all I know to say.
Who is your biggest influence currently?
[It changes and shifts] for sure. Currently, Otis Redding, Nick Curran, The Duchess (Bo Diddley’s guitar player), and lady bosses.
Who invented rock and roll?
Whoever got drunk enough to mix up blues, and country, and gospel on the gig.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
Every place is its own set of fun. I like touring in Spain, and all over the US, and Australia. And then, we have had the one-offs like India and Morocco that are truly unforgettable. I mean, it’s just all really cool in its own way. I would never see 95% of the places we’ve been to if it weren’t for me being able to play music and tour.
Have you been to Little Rock or Arkansas before? What do you think of it? Do you have any preconceived notions that turned out to be untrue? True?
I’ve been to Fayetteville and Eureka Springs, but not Little Rock! Both cities were completely different from each other, so I would definitely say that Arkansas has a lot more variety going on than I would have assumed. Beautiful state! And so far, the people have been really cool and receptive. I’m looking forward to going to Little Rock, after having the chance to meet a few people from there.
How did you meet your husband? When did you know he was “the one”?
I met my husband through mutual friends, a little over 10 years ago, now. We were friends and went to shows together and just nerded out on music and stuff, and I would go see his band when I could, but I can’t say it was love at first sight or anything. I just thought he was a fun hang, but a little too immature for my dating tastes. A few years later though, he straightened up (turned out I influenced that change), we both got out of shitty relationships, and for some reason, we turned to each other and encouraged each other as friends through the tough times. That just turned into becoming inseparable, and then it seemed like it should have always been that way.
Name some themes that occur relatively frequently in your writing? Why do you think that is?
Love, hurt, frustration, and low-key (or not so low-key) digs on people that get on my nerves. I think it’s just things that are great to get off your chest or out of your head and if possible, put that into words on paper. Whenever I write something in those themes, I definitely feel better. They’re the things that are often going on in all our heads in some way or another. I just try to make songs out of it.
Nikki Hill and her band, which includes her husband, will play White Water Tavern this Saturday night at 9:30pm. Tickets are $10 for this all ages show. Check out her website and Facebook page, and don’t forget to stream her music.