Moving sucks.


Moving is one of the five most stressful events in life. It is right up there with the death of a loved one, divorce and loss of a job.


It sucks and while it will cripple some, others are able to harness the muse and turn said stress in a something more.


For Nicole Atkins, moving helped in the creation of “Goodnight Rhonda Lee” (out July 21).


On her fourth studio album and first since a move from New York/New Jersey to Nashville, Atkins explores new musical terrain that was bolstered, in part, from a confidence that came from surviving and, then, thriving the move.


The Swerve Magazine recently interviewed Atkins about “Goodnight Rhonda Lee” to get some insight into her most personal album to date.


The Swerve Magazine: You moved to Nashville in between this album and your last, how was the move and how did the move change things for your musically (like writing, influences and such)?


Nicole Atkins: I'll admit the move was pretty hard on me at first. I went through a pretty big depression for the first six months. I felt very out of place. I really grew to love it and it feels like home, but that first year I just really battled through the depression. I said yes to everything. I remember going to co-write with strangers and just feeling like I was gonna get sick beforehand, and cry from nerves. When I was in there it was great, and it was afterwards, as well. I caught onto the swing of things and started trusting my abilities as a songwriter more and grew confidence and saw it that I could help people when they get musically stuck and vice versa. Being in Nashville, and around so many musicians, really keeps me in the flow of making music all the time.


SM: Love the new album, just heard a stream of it. Love the sound of it, what made you decide to go with the live-to-tape process with this album? Was there something you heard that made you want to try it? Did the songs lend themselves to the process?


NA: I wanted these songs to show the energy and feel of a moment in time. I'm more of a live singer than a studio singer so I reckoned it was time to play to my strenghs. Some of my favorite records were cut this way. I like how when you listen to it you can hear a group of people in a room thinking and having a blast. Flaws and all.

SM: "Goodnight Rhonda Lee" is a bit different from your last three albums. One can really hear all the influences you have pulled from (Roy Orbison to Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin to Nick Cave to Tom Waits). With this being your fourth album, was there more confidence to just follow through and make the record you wanted to make?

NA: Exactly, I just want to do my thing man. Hahah! With every record I have made in the past, I've always been reflecting sounds and themes I was into at the time. This record is more personal, and I took a long time writing the songs and picking the appropriate ones for the album, so I really wanted to paint a bigger picture of myself here on “Goodnight Rhonda Lee.”

SM: You describe your music as "soul meets Fraggle Rock" Which is a vivid description. How did you come to that mashup of sounds?

NA: I'm just fucking around when I say that. Although "Brokedown Luck" does have the “Fraggle Rock” bass line.

SM: And speaking of the album as a whole, would it be wrong to hear a reoccurring motif in it of learning to deal with the past, letting it go and look forward, not back? And is the album structured that way with its song listing? It starts with "Little Crazy" and travels to "A Dream Without Pain," with the line, "I woke up from a nightmare to a dream."

NA: Are you living in my head? That's exactly it. Yeah, it's about finding a light. When I was at the tail end of a very hard ordeal I was going through, a friend gave me a note. I opened it in the cab when I was leaving for another tour and it simply said "you woke up from a nightmare to a dream."

SM:
There is a lot of self-discovery on the album, "Listen Up," in particular. It perfectly sums up that moment when you realize that you've “grown up” and the mistakes are part of the process if we don't get stuck in reliving those past mistakes. Was there a moment over the last, so many years that prompted this “don't-be-your-worst-enemy” realization? And that scream at the towards the end of the song, was that a first take?

NA: Actually that scream was the last take. There wasn't a specific moment but more of a constant effort to learn about my anxiety and accept it. The more I except it, the easier it gets. When I was younger I just thought, "I'm just fucked up and wrong all the time." I was kind of a devout doomist. Maybe I still am to a degree. Gotta keep that edge ya know? Haha. I was just ready to open my ears and shut the fuck up for a little while.

SM: There is a beautiful line that is so stark and true in "I Love Living Here (When I Don't), " No one knows the real you, just the character you play. Start the scene, doubt and pull away." Was there something that inspired that or was it just part of the writing process?

NA: I had a dream that I was sitting in a bar and Tom Waits was singing this song and all I could remember thinking was, "I wish I could write a song like that." Then I woke up and realized it was mine and rushed over to the piano and knocked out a demo and sent it to my pianist Dave Sherman. I was moving to Nashville that week and it was how I was feeling. It was hard to leave, but I couldn't wait. Side note, the line is, "Start the scene, act out, then pull away"

SM: "A Little Crazy" was written with Chris Isaak. How did that collaboration shape that song, as it does have a Roy Orbison vibe to it?

NA: Chris is a friend of mine. Took me on my first few tours when I was starting out. I hadn't seen him for seven years and I interviewed him for Sirius XM about his new record. We picked up where we left off and he invited me out to San Fran to write with him. I had the melody for this song in my phone for a couple years and I knew that working with him on it would be perfect. We wrote it in an hour and sang it over and over till night time. I love writing and singing with Chris.

SM: There is plenty of different instrumentation on the album that harkens back to "Neptune City," how will this affect the songs being played live?

NA: Actually, it sounds a lot bigger than it really is. Besides a few string and horn arrangements, it all suits a basic bass, drums, keys and guitar set-up.

SM: I have to ask finally, "Goodnight Rhonda Lee," who is Rhonda Lee? You? A fictional character?

NA: Rhonda Lee is an alter-ego that's grown tired. Also, Led Zeppelin 4 was already taken.


You can stream “Goodnight Rhonda Lee” a week early at http://www.npr.org/2017/07/13/534316777/first-listen-nicole-atkins-goodnight-rhonda-lee#