The idea of home and growing up was the kick off point to another blog I have that I’ll mention soon in this piece, and it was one of the reasons I was inclined to reply to Gillian Nicola and feature her here. The other reason? Her talent in the vocal department. One note into “On Marie” and I was a fan, and soon you will be too. Just listen up and then get down with this new interview where this rising singer-songwriter talks about YouTube vs. open mics, the grit of her pure sound and more.
Kendra: Back in January I wrote about the idea of home on Exploring Adulthood and on your latest No Place to Call, you also touch on that deeply saying the record is about not feeling like you can call anyplace or anyone home. To me home is about comfort, where you feel the most like you. Through writing this record, have you sort of figured out what home is to you?
Gillian Nicola: I would totally agree with you – comfort is where home is for me too. The record was inspired by what happens to a lot of people at my age – that people seem to come and go both geographically and on a relationship basis fairly often. I had a lot of people move away from what I consider to be my physical home in the past few years, so this idea has been in my mind a lot. This isn’t just a geographical thing though – it’s a lot about moving on and figuring out, like you said, who, and what, makes you feel comfortable and “at home.”
Kendra: The lead single, “Oh Marie,” sounds beautiful because of your stunning vocals but there’s a lot of deep stuff going on within the lyrics. Can we expect that on the rest of No Place to Call, that mix of pretty and grit?
Gillian: Totally. I’m inspired by artists that like to use contrast. I don’t ever really want something to be too “pretty” – it’s not true to life so I like my art to reflect that as well. That’s one of the reasons I love to let the lead guitar be a bit more in the forefront on the recordings – my guitarist, Ben Alexander, is at heart a metal guitarist, so he brings a very interesting sound to the music – but it’s the exact reason I wanted to have him on board. It’s the same reason I let my voice crack or go kind of out of the norm sometimes as well. I like it best when music has some character and for me, I think that can be achieved in these “gritty” moments.
Kendra: Another song you have is “Unconditionally.” So what’s something, other than music and loved ones, you’ll always love unconditionally?
Gillian: This is a way harder question than I thought it would be. Maybe my hometown…Hamilton is a messy place, but I love it for its mess. It’s really hard to love things unconditionally, which is what I talk about in the song – that one is about a relationship that is probably on its final legs, but also has something keeping it together. It’s about being fed up with loving something unconditionally because it is so hard to do sometimes.
Kendra: You hosted your first open mic in April. How did that go, and do you think you’ll continue to do that?
Gillian: Open Mic was fun! I’m hosting it in the small town I grew up in – Waterdown, a suburb of Hamilton. The café I’m hosting it at (Copper Kettle Café) is kind of one of a kind in the area. I’m hoping with adding me as a host to this Open Mic series it can really help build some momentum around it. I love open mics; I think they’re really, really important. There’s a lot of musicians and artists that aren’t yet at the level where they either want to or are given the opportunity to have a platform to share their art with and being able to help provide that to someone is really exciting. When my band I first started playing together we would often go to open mics and open jams and it really gave me a lot of confidence and a space to test out new material and ideas. Especially for an area like Waterdown, that is growing really quickly and kind of half rural half suburban – I think it can be a really great community building space. So…yes! First Wednesday of each month!
Kendra: With the internet it has gotten easier for artists to just sit in their rooms and sing in front of a camera. With that, do you think people need to get out more and head to open mics or should they continue to utilize technology?
Gillian: I think it totally depends on your comfort level – those are two totally different beasts. Personally, I prefer performing live than recording videos. I used to keep a pretty active YouTube channel and it was great because lots of new people that might have never come across me could hear me do covers that I love, but to me, there’s no comparison to playing live, but it’s entirely a personal preference. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much work goes into those YouTube videos though!
Kendra: You’ve got a lot of shows through June. What’s your favorite part about being on a stage?
Gillian: It’s hard to describe – which is so cliché but true. I perform really in two ways – solo and with a band. When I’m solo, it’s fun for me to experiment with songs by changing rhythms or playing around with my voice a bit. You can totally change the vibe of a song by the way you play it, so it’s fun for me to be able to have that flexibility. When I play with my band, it’s about making music with people – it’s really like nothing else. It’s cool to be able to make something that isn’t tangible with other people in a live setting. Either way, it’s a weird sensation, but I love it. It’s strange to me that I can open up on stage and say things I wouldn’t normally say in real life – so I guess that’s a part of it too.
Kendra: Other than the shows coming up, what else do you have planned this year?
Gillian: Honestly, mostly shows. Since I’m putting out an EP, I know that I really need to play around a lot to promote it and because, well, I love it. It’s a really fun way to see new places too. I’m going to be going to Nashville as well in the summer – I’m going to try to book some shows but mostly that’s going to be a vacation for me – it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a real holiday, so I’m really looking forward to it!
Kendra: If you were planning an open mic that was all about cover songs, which five would you choose to take on?
Gillian: If it didn’t matter at all what I was playing – like if I was truly just playing from my heart what I wanted to play, I would play: