Try keeping up with Nikki Lane and you might get whiplash. The fast-talking, fast-moving Nashville-based country singer and her backing band, the Tennessee Dirtbags, will slow down their van long enough to stop at Houston's Continental Club on a bill with J.D. McPherson this Saturday.
Lane and her band have been on the road nonstop in support of her third studio album, Highway Queen, released this past February on New West Records. With this record, produced by boyfriend, bandmate and fellow singer-songwriter Jonathan Tyler, Lane has succeeded in making an album which reflects her unique personality and ability to tell a good story. The album's ten tracks begin with the deep and primal sound of Lane hollering “Yippee Ki Yay” at the top of “700,000 Rednecks,” about her hometown in North Carolina.
The production of Highway Queen began at the famous Electric Lady Studios during a ten-day break from touring. Lane had teamed up with experienced producer Jonathan Wilson (Dawes, Father John Misty, Glen Cambell) but by the end of their recording she wasn’t quite satisfied with what she heard. “It wasn’t indicative of what I want to put out. I did the same thing I always did, I asked the producer to help.” Lane adds, “I took ten days off from the tour to do it and I should have rested and then gone in, but hindsight is 20-20.”
Lane reached out to Tyler to help achieve the sound she really wanted by providing a new style of producing for her. They took her songs to studios in Dallas and Nashville, reworking them until they reflected the artist's vision. “He produced it for me and really changed my perspective on being a musician and what I had to do in the studio, what the rules were," Lane says. “Jonathan did what nobody had really done before and let me say what I wanted. Even if it didn’t sound right he’d say, 'Well, that didn’t sound right, but we would try again.' If Highway Queen is the most 'like me' record I’ve had, that’s why.”
Lane is quick to point out that though working with Tyler opened her eyes in the studio, it is not a poor reflection of previous producers. “They weren’t keeping me from saying anything but I was shutting up because they were so experienced. The only reason I wasn’t speaking up as a musician is because I didn’t have the vocabulary,” Lane continues. “It took three records to learn what to say.”
Highway Queen not only gave Lane an album reflecting her unique personality, it has also taken her and her band all over the world this year. They have been on the highways since February, with her only vacation time spent here in Houston lending a hand to Harvey victims. This final leg of her tour has seen her team up with New West labelmate and acclaimed rockabilly singer J.D. McPherson. The two have been busy playing shows from California to Texas, and together seem to make the perfect bill for a night of live music.
It’s hard to imagine the tenacious and quick-witted singer not having the words to say what she thinks. This is a woman who dropped out of high school at age 17, moved from Greenville, N.C. to L.A. to pursue a career in fashion. She began singing songs to spite an ex who was in the music industry and advised her to “mind her own business.” When asked about this ex, Lane laughs, “He really motivated me by telling me to mind my own business, but I don’t blame him because I’m minding it.”
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When asked if being a woman in a typically male-run business had anything to do with her not speaking up in the studio, Lane states, “Being a woman has never gotten in the way of me saying what I want. My mom didn’t raise us as feminists, she didn’t raise us as girls, she raised us [like] she was a single mother and you took care of shit.” Lane continues, “Sometimes I feel like I’m outnumbered because I’ve always got six boys in there, but they’re not holding me back they just have bro code and they outnumber me. You have to learn to hold your own in that room.”
Based on the evidence, Nikki can definitely hold her own in the studio and on the stage. Listening to her songs one can really hear her gift for writing, a Bobbie Gentry-like knack for storytelling born of a hard-working American background. “My dad was an asphalt paver and my mom is a single mom, so we were always taught to be dominant and ask for what we needed and to take care of what we needed on our own," the singer says. "That’s gotten me very far in music and it’s definitely my first piece of advice to all my timid friends who enter the biz.”
Nikki Lane and J.D. McPherson perform 9 p.m. Saturday, October 21 at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. Tickets are $25.