By Ashley Lucas
There’s a sensational woman named Nikki Hill and she’s playing the Harvester tonight. Not only should you go see her to experience her immense vocal talent and diverse setlist, but go to be inspired by her pure, honest drive, independent spirit, and just general bad-assery. I not-so-secretly want her to be my best friend, because she’s already a role model for all of us who want our music to be bigger than YouTube channels and open mic nights.
Hill has played in Roanoke before on a much smaller stage. In 2013, her first year of touring, Hill played Blue 5, but those small tours have taken her to some pretty unique places. From a theme park in Sweden, to a palace in Morocco, to a tea tree farm in Australia, to the same stage where Otis Redding performed and Jimi Hendrix infamously set his guitar aflame. This chick has played the world, and she does it all on her indie budget. As an independent artist, this self-described “music nerd”, relies on her passion for music and her “small but mighty” team to keep it all going. I asked Hill a variety of questions to get to know her a little better, so here are my top 8 insights about wonder woman, Nikki Hill:
AL: How did you develop your sound?
NH: It’s still developing and I hope it will continue! I like to think of it as a combination of my love for the energy and call and response style of early gospel, mixed with the attitude and fervor of rock n’ roll and soul, with a one-two-fuck you punch of the human experience and anti-system stylings of blues and punk. Honest and driven and giving it all each time on stage because that’s all there is and it’s all we’ve got.
AL: Who are your greatest musical influences?
NH: Otis Redding, Little Richard, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Staple Singers, Link Wray, Irma Thomas, Toots Hibbert, Howling Wolf, AC/DC, Johnny Thunders, Joan Jett, Chuck Berry, The Duchess. I have been a music nerd for a long time, and it really felt so natural when beginning to write and perform to be influenced by these artists and also their own influences. I would also, and still do, seek out black rock n’ roll bands like Fishbone or Bad Brains, trying to find where I fit into all the musical tastes I loved, and I saw how these bands weren’t afraid to incorporate all their musical influences and still make it their own. All of these things stick with me.
AL: For those who haven’t seen you before, what can fans expect from a Nikki Hill show?
NH: Energy, attitude, great music, involuntary head bobbing, a hint into some of my own personal favorite tunes, and getting to know me and my musings mixed in there through song. Oh, and ladies. My show is not a sausage party!
AL: I read you write most of your songs. Describe your songwriting style.
NH: I’m constantly writing down one or two lines, or just something that’s been on my mind, I write it down, partly to just relieve myself, and then if I keep getting the will for it, like an inner voice that won’t let it go, I know I need to put it into song. The melodies are often separate, but I try to record an idea as soon as I have it. Once I’m there, a really small amount of the melodies I’ve recorded will even be of interest anymore, and then it’s again, the ones that just won’t let go of me, that I keep trying to work with. When it’s in my head, I feel like I want to sing it all the time, and I figure that’s a good sign since I most likely will be!
AL: Here in Roanoke, we love independent artists. What tips could you give an up-and-coming singer/performer to go at it on their own?
NH: Be you and keep working on being you. Find people that believe in and understand your vision and keep them close. Remember that the ability to say ‘no’ will likely be some of your biggest successes, but they will be the ones the least visible to others – remind yourself that this is good and it’s ok. And just be ready to work. Get out there, kick ass, and be able to do it night after night.
AL: What are your must-have items when on tour?
NH: Notebooks, my bag of favorite jewelry pieces, hair scarves and wraps, a light oil for skin/hair, and my boots.
AL: What’s next for you? What are your goals?
NH: I’m getting out on the road with a new line-up that has been a great experience musically and otherwise. And I’m looking forward to recording again for a new release! Otherwise, my goal at this rate is to just keep fucking pushing on. It really feels hard in the current times, but the reality of everything right now is making me rethink and reevaluate and that’s mainly just me, so I’m always working on that in the meantime.
AL: What would you like people to know about Nikki Hill, the person?
NH: I oftentimes feel like fuck-up number 1, but I’m realizing I don’t need to be bothered by that. I put some of that in song and I realize how many feel the same, whether the songs make me sound good or bad or whatever. Experience and age has encouraged a more conscious effort of claiming power over my person and everything encompassing that as a southern black female roots artist, and also realizing what that means and facing all of it. My longtime love of music has created an interesting life for me before even beginning to play music for myself, and my point of view and style and attitude has always been shaped by my acceptance of being the odd person out, even within the ‘outside’ world in many ways. I’m essentially still that, but now, more unapologetic and fearless about it.