I recently reviewed Nichole Wagner’s debut full length album ‘And The Sky Caught Fire’ after being moved by the music. Wagner is a singer/ songwriter based in Austin, Texas who successfully blends Folk, Rock, and Country among other influences together to create an awesome sound and breathes life into her songs via her fantastic vocals and ability to tell stories.
Thank you Nichole for taking some time to speak with 3 Songs & Out. I recently reviewed your full length debut ‘And The Sky Caught Fire’ which connected with me immediately. I feel like your songs are like looking glasses where we have a look into these vignettes and characters that are extremely real to me. I will ask you about some of these specific songs later, but please tell us a little bit about your approach to songwriting.
I’m always collecting lines and ideas; they’re like little song seeds. Then you go home and plant them, tend to them, and some of them bear fruit. The vast majority of my songs are from my own life or from the lives of people I know… I suppose what they say is true, you’ve got to be careful about what you tell a songwriter!
How did you decide what songs were right for this project? Did you have others that were set to the side because they did not feel right for this album?
I picked these songs because they all felt like they got along but didn’t repeat themselves. There were several others that were in the initial list that either were too much of the same moment of a break-up, or simply weren’t as strong, or that didn’t fit with the production style for this particular record.
I wanted to talk a few specific songs as well. ‘Dynamite’ features a vocal by you that carries an awesome drawl packed with attitude that leaves me with no doubt that this character has ‘dynamite in my blood.’ Where did that song originate?
I wrote this song with my good friend Terry Klein. It was the first time we had gotten together to write, and it was really the first time we had sat down and had a conversation. We were talking about where we had grown up, and I’m from this little town in Colorado called Louviers. It was the home of the DuPont Dynamite factory. My family moved there after the factory was closed, but in the song, we kept very close to the truth, drawing on experiences of the people I knew when I was growing up.
One of my frontrunners for song of the year is ‘Rules Of Baseball.’ I love the way you blend the end of a relationship and the reasons how it connects with America’s pastime. What inspired writing this one?
"Rules Of Baseball" is a bit of a conglomeration of things -- but I was watching Nuke and Annie in Bull Durham and thinking about what it is to be in that harsh truth of caring about someone but at the same time, you know it’s really not going to work out.
Album closer ‘Sparks & Gasoline’ also references baseball, and I know from a previous conversation we had that you are a fellow baseball fanatic who supports your Cubbies. What is it about baseball that you love?
What’s not to love? It’s the combination of history, strategy, playfulness, and accessibility. You don’t have to understand much about the sport to enjoy going to a ball game, but the more you learn the more intricate it all becomes. It’s a complex game built on a relatively simple framework.
Returning to a couple of the other songs on the album, ‘This Kind Of Love’ really adds a Rock element to the album. I love that it brings up the energy to start the flip side of the album. What can you tell us about it?
“This Kind Of Love” was an early song for me, and it’s very truthful. I was going through a very long, extended break-up, the kind that you don’t even know you’re in until somewhere in the middle. When I’m unable to sleep I either watch reruns of documentaries or late-night commercials, and I was literally watching a TimeLife commercial and thinking about that one point where you look back and realize that was the turning point, that was the moment this was over but you didn’t know then.
You also covered the Warren Zevon song ‘Reconsider Me’ and really made it your own. Why did you decide to cover that song?
I’ve loved Warren’s music for as long as I can remember, and I also knew this song from a Stevie Nicks box set where she had recorded it but never really released it. I was running through covers that might fit well with the rest of the songs on the record and it really stood out as saying something the other songs hadn’t and being a more accessible point to come into the record if you’d never heard of me before.
Austin is the musical capital of the world with more live music than any other city in the world last time I checked. It also has one of my favorite record stores in Waterloo Records, which always makes a sizable dent in my account when we visit Austin. What initially drew you to Austin?
I first came to Austin by accident, really. I was living in Colorado, it was winter time, the Dave Rawlings Machine wasn’t playing in CO but they were playing the Parish. I took a friend up on the offer of their couch. That first few days turned into a sublet situation and then suddenly it was June and I had moved to Texas.
I really appreciate one of your recent inquiries to your fans about what creates value for them in terms of vinyl, outside of the better sound. I also know from our previous talks that you prefer to buy releases on vinyl. What are some of your favorite vinyl packages in your collection?
I love the fun details, the extended liner notes or little letters from the artist. For example, the Trio 2 album that Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt made has paper dolls.
With your album blending Rock, Folk, Country, and storytelling, what music would we be surprised to find in your record collection?
I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures when it comes to music, and I’m not sure that there’s that many surprises in my collection. I’ve got a lot of Classic Rock (Fleetwood Mac, The Band, Little Feat, Tom Petty), a lot of Classic Pop (Abba, BeeGees, Carpenters, Hall & Oates), Classic Country (Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings), and of course, a lot of songwriters (Tom T. Hall, Jesse Winchester, John Hartford, Joni Mitchell, Arlo Guthrie). There’s also a healthy selection of Gospel, newer Pop, and some good Dance jams.
Do you remember when you decided you wanted to pursue a life in music?
I don’t remember when I decided that I wanted it, but I do remember when it went from being a wish to a dream -- when I realized that I was willing to put in the energy and effort to start at the beginning -- open mics, honing my songs, practice, practice, practice. There’s no way around putting in the hours.
I remember when I was young music was everywhere. There were a ton of music magazines which all seem to have disappeared with lots of online sites like this one helping promote artists. There were record stores all over town. Many with their own specialties. Today, it is a struggle to find stores selling music in a physical format. I mentioned Waterloo Records earlier as a clear exception to what is happening all over the world. Are there any advantages to trying to make a living in music today than perhaps in previous times?
I don’t really have anything to compare it to-I’ve only heard what it was like before from musicians that have been doing this longer. There are more options now, possibly. There are more ways to reach people even if they’re less structured than they were. Music lovers from all over the world can buy the record from me directly instead of hoping that a middle-man has my record on their store shelves. For a more independent artist like myself, this is huge because I don’t have a distribution deal to get my record in Japan, but I’ve sent a number of copies to folks there that dig my music. On the flip side, there are more options for where to get your music, and it’s perhaps easier to fall into a listening rut if you don’t push yourself to discover new music.
What do you think it will take for our culture to truly fall in love with music again and push it back up to the forefront?
I’m not sure we’ve ever fallen out of love with it. I am constantly delighted to find people all over that love music, love live music, love discovering new music, etc. Music is an essential part of the human experience, and while the industry is changing, music's not going anywhere.
‘And The Sky Caught Fire’ is available now. Check out or review here.
Check out the video for 'This Kind Of Love.
Website - https://www.nicholewagnermusic.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/NicholeWagnerMusic/
Interview - Gerald Stanbury