an interview with nicole simone
    • MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2010

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    People enjoy claiming to be born in the wrong generation, especially in the music scene. Current trends in acid rock and Beatles cover bands would definitely support this claim. But it isn't often that people relish their ability to take their love of old traditions and make them more modern, and it's even more rare that someone makes that claim with standards... a genre literally all about following a set of rules and boundaries. Arguably, current traditions in freak-beats and independant music stem from these classics, but the road is often twisted and obscured with years of experimentation (and the influence of eighties music). Nicole Simone takes a different path with her first EP, a quaint, dusty collection of songs that feel like an antique cabinet as much as a shiny new toy. Listening to her talk about her various inspirations and vantage points, it was clear to me that her sultry vocals and minimalist recordings aren't some sort of farcical nonsense. There is real thought behind the collaborations. Unlike those who are merely imitators of the ancient Standards craft, Simone has gathered some of todays most varied musicians to assist her in recording an EP that feels like 1920, and sounds like 2010.

    Simone was born in LA. From a young age she was in love with old movies and music, spanning from the 20s to the 40s, specifically mentioning a few singers, including Billie Holiday. "I always wanted to do standards" she said, "but it's very limiting". After purchasing an old piano five years ago, Simone started to write her own material based on her various influences and ideas, finding the creation "really empowering". "I wanted to take those influences and make something a little more modern about it". Early work composing with the like-minded Dustin O'Halloran (who worked on Marie Antoinette) helped get Simone on the right track. Later O'Halloran moved to Italy, and Simone decided it was time to be self-sufficient in her writing. "It isn't every day that you meet someone with your sensibilities" she told me.

    The result of that leap, and a piano from the 1800s is a lush, self-titled six song EP. Instead of co-composing, Simone turned to a group of musicians unstuck in various times to add color to her music. Simone's voice is undoubtedly classic; smooth yet raspy, inviting and warm even while talking about heartbreak and longing. Her band, however, each lend their own personal touch to the instrumentations. Simone's childhood friend, Jason Schwartzman, asked to be a part of the recording process. Schwartzman is a successful musician and actor in his own right, "he's just so talented". His projects, including his most recent (Coconut Records) often skew towards a 1960s vibe, which Simone found helpful in recording. Also contributing is Stewart Cole, most notably the multi-instrumentalist for current indie act Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. Each "brought something really interesting to the music", a quality that has given Simone's work a timeless sound. "[They] bring their influences along for the ride."

    Simone's video for "Melt" also pays homage to one of her favorite movies, Paris Texas, a critically acclaimed film from the 80's. "I've always dreamed of doing a music video because it incoporates all my passions into one." It serves as a reminder that Simone is very aesthetically minded, considering the ability of the song to allow listeners to think up their own stories and relate. On picking the song, Simone said it was "cinematic" and could "tell a story". The video, set in the desert, adds another level to Simone's nostalgia, this time for her own life. "Growing up I spent a lot of time in the desert, going to Joshua Tree" she said, the location where the majority of the video was shot.

    Location is an important component of Simone's work. The scene in LA is such a diverse pool of styles, that everything new and eccentric is embraced and often sought out by those looking for something fresh. Simone grew up in this climate. Calling it "fun and inspiring, she told me "LA is a great place to do music. You don't have to be doing the cool thing." Nailing down the "cool thing" in LA isn't as easy as certain other one-note towns, but it certainly isn't taking place in a somber cinema from the early nineteenth century. Simone takes this aesthetic and runs with it, and the result is something surprisingly engaging, even in today's landscape of wildly popular synthetic music.

    Simone is a very pretty girl, and that always helps to attract an audience. But it was her description of her work that sold me on its actual appeal. "Being alone is humanizing" she said. "[The songs] are sort of not mainstream, but I think I don't want people to be sad by them, I want people to be happy by them. Sad music has always made me happy, I can always relate... I hope people come up with their own stories." Sometimes the best way to engadge an audience is to create art that is a truthful reflection of the self. -joe puglisi

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