For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we caught up with Outlaw country firebrand Nikki Lane during a rare "off the road" moment. Lane gave us the lowdown on her upcoming album Highway Queen (out next February on New West), how it stacks up against her earlier work, how vintage country fashion plays a role in her art, and what it was like to drive a monster truck for her latest music video.
NoiseTrade: Your new album Highway Queen (out 2/17 on New West) evokes an interesting geographical blending in its lyrics and musical styles. To what do you attribute its sprawling roots?
Nikki Lane: I guess it's a byproduct of all the travel. We canvassed so much ground on this record and I believe it really took its toll on me. I can see some of the skepticism in my lyrics that comes from being worn down by the road and from the vulnerability that comes with this job. I can also see the growth that takes place when you go out and work the way we did. My musical influences have quadrupled having such a cool group of musicians in the band. My bass player Eric in particular is responsible for me having so many modern bands on my playlists these days. I've loved being able to draw from this era as much as I do from the past.
NT: Recording sessions for Highway Queen took place in Denton, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee. Did both places end up playing different roles or providing different inspirations for the finished product?
Lane: Most definitely. Texas in itself changes the way I feel. My stress level drops so much when I am able to create outside of my hometown. The demands of being home were able to be put aside so that I could focus on making the best possible record. Playing with the young Texas guys helped me to develop a voice in the studio, which is something I hadn't had the nerve to do until recently. However, I was craving some of that Nashville sound and wanted to make sure we got Colin Dupuis involved in the record again. He engineered All or Nothin' and mixed this record. He also pulled the great players together who had worked on the last record to try a few last tracks, one of which is "Jackpot." That one was deemed the single or the "hopeful hit" the second it was recorded.
NT: The music video you recorded for the title track seems like it was a blast to shoot. Where’d the monster truck idea come from and how much fun did you have that day?
Lane: My father used to set his own monster truck up to roll over cars on a couple of holidays when I was a kid. He mainly used it for mud bogging. Then, one Fourth of July, he had our cousins bring over some cars from the junkyard and he ran them over for people in the town. Everyone just hooted and hollered. It's been on the bucket list ever since. What's crazy is that on the second time over the cars, we had seven of the people who work on my team in the cab with me. Space was so tight that one of the girls laid across four guys in the backseat. There was a second there where I got really nervous that I had the lives of my whole team in my hands. I made sure to hold the wheel real straight!
NT: What songs on Highway Queen came the easiest to write and record? Which ones seemed the most difficult to capture?
Lane: "Companion" takes the cake for being the easiest piece of the puzzle. I wrote it in a quick moment sitting at the kitchen table one night and we recorded it at two in the morning when everyone should have been on their way home. I sat at the piano in the back of the room with Daniel Creamer and just wanted to show him the idea. Moments later Matt Pence was moving the vocal mic across the room and we cut it right there. The only reason we did a second take was to give the boys time to learn the harmony.
"Highway Queen" had a lot of pressure riding on it. After all, it was the title of the record long before it was written... a concept, if you will. We tracked it maybe six times in various settings at four different studios. It wasn't that the other versions weren't good, it just took hearing it with a bunch of different treatments before I could make a decision.
NT: Along with your new single, you’re offering your debut album here on NoiseTrade. What do you hear when you listen back to your earlier work?
Lane: I'm really impressed with it... I mean, I've been lucky to work with such great producers since day one. I can hear the growth in the songwriting as time progresses and I also see just how much of my cards have been shown. The first record was made as a young married woman trying to carve a career path. By the second record, I am heartbroken and divorced. It's nice to have a new one which still reflects the truth but shows signs of evening out. Maybe a little bit of luck in love, as well.
NT: Finally, from your impeccable stage gear to your vintage shop High Class Hillbilly, your country credentials go far beyond just the music. What part does fashion play in your overall creative aesthetic and what can you tell us about your store?
Lane: I believe that being a front man isn't just about the songs I write, it's about the entire identity. It has to reflect the character. It has to be genuine. It has to be original. That part has always been obvious to me, long before I started playing music. What can I say, I am a sucker for Elvis, ZZ Top, and Loretta Lynn. They're not legends because they were dressed in clothes from the mall. So I began collecting and working on my identity a long time ago. Trying to decide how to reflect what's going on inside on the outside.
High Class Hillbilly is what happens when collecting gets out of hand. I opened the store because there were too many great treasures to leave behind. Besides, most of the pieces I find, I can almost picture exactly who they're going to end up with. Owning the store also helps me connect with fans and friends in a different way than music and I enjoy that.