Nicola is a Glasgow based Singer-Songwriter, who also runs Open Mic nights at venues in Glasgow. Her debut EP “Open Hearted Girl” is coming out soon and we have a wee chat with her about her music, her musical influences and her plans for 2020.
Guitar: A friend’s Yamaha guitar for the last 6 months or so, believed to have belonged to Deacon Blue at some point. Also a Crafter guitar too.
PA: Bose L1 Compact PA system
Q: What first got you into music, how long have you been playing and why the guitar?
“I’ve always loved to sing from when I was a little girl, I remember when I was 6 years old realising that my voice sounded different to my friends and school. I actually began to play the guitar at the age of 13 so that I had something to sing to. Of course, now, you can easily download backing tracks from the internet, but at that time there was no such thing. We had a piano in the family home too, but guitar seemed like more of a quick fix, once I had learned my first couple of chords and realised that this was enough to write some songs. I listened back to one of my first ever original recordings recently and it sounds like I’m playing the guitar with boxing gloves on! I remember some of the boys at school were very generous with their lunch times and they taught me songs like Sweet Home Alabama and Good Riddance (time of your life) and this really sparked my interest.”
Q: Who are your main influences – are they the same for songwriting and guitar or do you have different ones for both ?
“My main influences are definitely based around the voice, melody and lyrics. Recently I’ve been loving an artist called Adrianne Lenker, her guitar and vocal style are beautiful. I also saw Chloe Foy play a gig in SWG3 poetry club last year that really stuck with me. Artists like First Aid Kit have also influenced my style and many often make reference to the group when they hear my songs for the first time. Of course, I have also learned a great deal from listening to the likes of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell in the past and these are artists that I periodically revisit. It is funny, that many of the songwriters I truly love do not have technically perfect voices, but the way they deliver their content is very inspiring, a really good example of one such artist is Conor Oberst.”
Nicola sings her own song “Shadows”, accompanied by Donal Boyle.
Video credit: Phillip Edge
Q: How do you approach writing a new song – what processes do you go through. Melody first, or guitar/chord progression ideas come first, or does it all differ for each song ?
“When writing, I do everything at the same time (lyrics, melody and chords). I will usually strum a chord on the guitar and just start! I often have absolutely no notion of what my song is going to be about before I begin and I just let my subconscious do the work. We have lots of thoughts being processed in the background every second of every day, and this method just allows these to come to the forefront. I have a couple of jotters that I use to write down my ideas and this allows me to revise the language as I go. I also use my phone to record any ideas as I’m going along, so that I can keep the stream of consciousness going and not worry about forgetting anything that I have already done. Quite often I do a verse idea or a chorus idea at a time and then leave it-this gives some quality control to the work I produce, as I will only revisit the really exciting ideas.”
Q: What are your main topic areas for songwriting, love, loss, life etc ?
“It varies but it has to be authentic and really be about my life or something I have experienced. I struggle to enjoy music from songwriters who write about a life they have never led and it is trap that many fall into. Most of the content of my current songs centre around the idea of life being a journey and navigating your own way through.”
Q: How do you get ideas for songs, do you listen to other songwriters/music artists and have you had writers block, if so how do you cope with it. Do you just leave it until it’s ready to come out, or fight to write ?
Often ideas for songs will just pop into my head, never fully conceived ideas, but maybe just a lyric that is sparked by something I have seen. It often happens in the car, or in the bath when my brain has a chance to get away from external stimulation. Sometimes I put my lyrics together and realise that there is a full idea there – it’s quite amazing what’s already in your head when you tease it out!
Q: What’s the plan for 2020 – more gigs etc ?
“I need to finalise my EP and get it out there. I’ve been working really hard on recording my songs, but have struggled to capture the energy of my live performance. I have always said throughout this process that I want to be able to hold this EP in my hand and feel really proud about promoting it. It’s not there yet, but it will be. I’m really busy as a singer in general, and I’ve already got around 50 gigs booked in for 2020. I’ve got a few gigs for my own original material in the pipeline for 2020 and I’ve set myself the goal of one gig each month for 2020. I played on the Danny Kyle Stage during Celtic Connections, so that was January taken care of. You can catch the live performance on celticmusicradio.net if you click on ‘Listen again.”
Q: What stumbling blocks have you had as a music artist or songwriter/composer ?
“It can be tricky to get the balance right sometimes. At one point I was working full time as a teacher, part time as a musician and also trying to wright and record my own material. Since October I have been a part-time teacher, part-time musician and this really allows me the time and head space to want to create and perform new material.”
Q: What’s planned next…will you release an album or just release singles or EP’s ?
“I’m hoping to release 2 or 3 of the singles from my EP individually this year and then launch the whole record at a launch party. I have also been coming up with some video concepts for my first 2 singles, so creating those will be in the pipeline for this year too.”
Q: What do you think could help Songwriters/Composers in Scotland ?
I’ve actually been very pleasantly surprised by the amount of free support available to Scottish Songwriters. I attended Xpo North last year and was delighted by the high quality seminars. In a more general sense, I do believe it would help to have greater careers advice for young people hoping to get into the music industry. As a school pupil choosing my next steps in education after leaving high school, I didn’t even consider music, as I didn’t realise that it could be a viable career option. Teaching pupils about social media, marketing would also be really beneficial.
Q: Are you involved in any other music projects ?
“Yes, lots! I run a weekly music night in the FF on Woodlands Road where we feature a different musical act each week and then open up the stage to locals. I started up the night in September and since then it has become a firm favourite for many of Glasgow’s musicians. I also run an open stage each week in the Pie & Brew on Bath Street, again this has snowballed and become a really well supported weekly event. I’ve also been lead singer in STUDIO function band for 5 years and I perform regularly at functions and corporate events throughout Scotland. Finally, you might catch me performing solo or as part of an acoustic duo in many pubs across the central belt when I can squeeze it in between my other gigs.”
Wishing Nicola every success in 2020….
By Pete Carroll (March 2020)