Nikki Lanes stunning third album Highway Queen, out February 17th, 2017, sees the young Nashville singer emerge as one of country and rocks most gifted songwriters. Co-produced by Lane and fellow singer-songwriter, Jonathan Tyler, this emotional tour-de-force was recorded at Matt Pences Echo Lab studio in Denton, Texas as well as at Club Roar with Collin Dupuis in Nashville, Tennessee.
Blending potent lyrics, unbridled blues guitars and vintage Sixties country-pop swagger, Lanes new music will resonate as easily with Lana Del Rey and Jenny Lewis fans as those of Neil Young and Tom Petty.
Highway Queen is a journey through heartbreak that takes exquisite turns. The record begins with a whiskey-soaked homage to Lanes hometown (700,000 Rednecks) and ends on the profoundly raw Forever Lasts Forever, where Lane mourns a failed marriage the lighter shade of skin left behind from her wedding ring. On Forever and the confessional Muddy Waters, Lanes lyrics align her with perceptive songwriters like Nick Lowe and Cass McCombs.
Elsewhere, Companion is pure Everly Brothers dreaminess (I would spend a lifetime/ Playing catch you if I can). She goes on a Vegas bender on the rollicking Jackpot, fights last-call blues (Foolish Heart) and tosses off brazen one-liners at a backroom piano (Big Mouth).
Love is the most unavoidable thing in the world, Lane says. The person you pick could be half set-up to destroy your life with their own habits Ive certainly experienced that before and taken way too long to get out of that mistake.
In 2014, Lanes second album All or Nothin (New West) solidified her sandpaper voice beneath a ten-gallon hat as the new sound and look of outlaw country music. Produced by Dan Auerbach, the records bluesy Western guitars paired with Lanes Dusty Springfield-esque voice earned glowing reviews from NPR, the Guardian and Rolling Stone. In three years since her Walk of Shame debut, Lane said she was living most of the year on the road.
Growing up, Lane used to watch her father pave asphalt during blistering South Carolina summers. Shed sit on the roller (what helps smooth out the asphalt) next to a guy named Rooster and divvy out Hardees lunch orders for the workers.
My father thought he was a country singer, Lane laughs. He partied hard at night, but by 6:30 AM he was out on the roads in 100-degree weather. Thats the southern work ethic, she says. We didnt have a lot of money, but I was privileged with the knowledge of how to work hard, how to learn and to succeed when things arent set up for me. Creativity was an unthinkable luxury, she adds.
When people told me I should try to get a record deal for songs I was writing, I was like, thats cute Ive got to be at work at 10 A.M.
Becoming a songwriter is one of the most selfish things Ive ever done, Lane says plainly. She describes writing her first song at age 25 like it was a necessary act of self-preservation after a devastating breakup. Many of her early songs, she said on Shame and Nothin, were about the fleetingness of relationships she believed were permanent, she says. Lanes main line of work in those days was a fashion entrepreneur (shes currently the owner of Nashvilles vintage clothing boutique High Class Hillbilly). It brought her to cities around the country, New York to Los Angeles to Nashville. And like a true wanderer, Lanes sound crisscrosses musical genres with ease, while the lonesome romantic in her remains. Even a soft song like, Send The Sun, with its lilting downward strum, is flush with bittersweet emotion. Darling, were staring at the same moon, Lane sings lovingly. I used to say that to my ex, she says with cheerful stoicism, to try to brighten the long nights, stay positive.
Highway Queen is poised to be Lanes mainstream breakthrough. Am I excited to spend years of my life in a van, away from family and friends? No, but Im excited to share my songs, so theyll reach people and help them get through whatever theyre going through. To me, thats worth it.
Lay You Down is one of those unexpected moments for Lane. That song was inspired by something Levon Helms wife posted on Facebook when he was sick with cancer, Lane says. I was just so moved by her telling the world how much love he felt from people writing to them, and moved that because of the Internet, I was able to see that love even from a distance. The song became surreal for Lane and her band when her longtime guitarist, Alex Munoz, was diagnosed with cancer while they were playing it. It deepened my perspective and the importance of keeping everyone safe, says Lane.
On the record cover, Lane looks out on wide, unowned Texan plains, leaning on the fearsome horns of a massive steer. Wearing a vintage Victorian dress, the stark photo invokes a time before highways existed. The symbolism isnt lost on Lane. Highway Queen was a pioneering moment for her as an artist.
I was always a smart girl, always had to yell to be heard, she says, But this was the first time in my career where I decided how things were going to go; I was willing to take the heat. Lane included the bonus track Champion as a small testament to that empowerment. It makes a point, Lane says with a smile, That I appreciate what youre saying, but get the fuck out of my way.
Nikki Lane reinvents the nostalgic sounds of 1960s country music for a modern audience, mixing Southern twang with lush orchestral arrangements and the occasional pop/rock hook. A high school dropout from Greenville, South Carolina, she spent her early adulthood working as an L.A.-based fashion designer. Lane later moved to New York City, where a messy breakup inspired her to pick up the acoustic guitar and write a handful of sad, sassy country songs inspired by Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard. What began as a form of self-therapy eventually developed into a full-time obsession, and Lane wound up leaving town again, this time returning to the American South by settling in Nashville.
Having relocated to the country music capital of the world, Lane began building a local audience by putting her own spin on the genre. The Gone, Gone, Gone EP, whose orchestral sound earned comparisons to mid-century icons (Tammy Wynette, Nancy Sinatra) and retro-revivalists (She & Him, the Secret Sisters), appeared in July 2011, followed several months later by the full-length Walk of Shame. After extensive touring in 2012, she signed to New West in 2013. Her debut for the label, All or Nothin', was issued in May of 2014. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi
One glorious day some years back, a teenage high school dropout Nikki Lane (née Nicole Lane Frady) packed a trailer with her worldly possessions. With one hand firmly gripping a steering wheel and the other flipping the bird, she said so long to her home, Greenville, South Carolina, The South and any sort of life it had suggested she should live. Western bound, she was headed to Los Angeles for no other reason than just because.
"You grow up in The South, you grow up in a small town, your expectations are a little bit limited," she says now. "People expect you to go to a four-year college, get married and follow that Southern way of life. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do but I knew it wasn't being offered to me."
And so Lane settled in L.A. Without clear direction, she worked various day-to-day jobs and dabbled in fashion, getting shoes manufactured in China and painting them to sell under the Nikki Lane moniker. Five years passed and she started writing music but forsook that path after just two promising shows for a corporate job offer across the country in New York City.
"I'd always wanted to live in New York and somehow ended up talking my way into a really well paying job," she says. "That was an opportunity I couldn't say no to. And so I moved and for a year didn't even touch music. It was like something I'd just tried once. I'd written a couple songs and that was the end of it."
But like any good country singer, heartbreak brought her back to music when her boyfriend left her to record an album in Atlanta. "I was like, fuck that," she says, "Why does he get to make a record in Atlanta while I'm sitting in New York crying? So I just sat down with a guitar, I didn't have anything going on, I didn't have many friends in the city that weren't his friends, it's freezing in New York and I'd quit my job, so basically for three months I holed up in this apartment and I just wrote."
She started learning Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn, John Prine and Merle Haggard tunes, the sort of classic country songs that have steeped her own writing now, trying her best to strum along and building her confidence along the way. "And all of a sudden it hit me and I started writing like crazy," she says, "I wrote a whole album in a month's time and just decided I was going to make a record in Nashville. It was like my revenge record."
Empowered, in February, 2009, Nikki went to Nashville, recorded an album she self-released titled "No Room for Cowboys", and returned to New York a musician. That's essentially where IAMSOUND found her. Impressed with her bold vocal chops and wildly infectious personality, the flourishing indie label signed her, Nikki moved to Nashville and started flying in and out of Los Angeles to write and record with producers David Cobb (Shooter Jennings, The Secret Sisters) and Lewis Pesacov of Fool's Gold. The first result of these efforts is a four-song EP titled Gone, Gone, Gone after the opening track, a forceful farewell to The South. Says Lane, “We sat down and wanted to write something about leaving a place and being like, you'll be fine, I’m not coming back.”