Nicole Berke
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Nicole Berke

Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States | SELF

Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States | SELF
Band Alternative Soul


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"Artist Profile: Nicole Berke Interview"

Last night, Nicole played Johnny D’s as part of the New York Songwriters Circle and I had the opportunity to stop in, take some pictures and ask Nicole a few questions about her music. But first a little history. Nicole has been playing and singing since she was very young – both of her parents are Berklee-trained musicians. She started writing songs when she was just 13. She met Jesse Cafiero at UMass Amherst and they started playing and recording together. Frondescence is the second CD she has recorded and it adds Rory O’Connor on drums. She recently moved to Cambridge and is now playing locally in places like the Lizard Lounge, Toad, and Johnny D’s.

Dave: Frondescence has five really great songs on it and a range of styles. How did you write them?

Nicole: My ideal approach to writing songs (the way that the better songs tend to get written) involves a primarily unconscious process. Of course there are many times when I’ll sit down with the intention of writing a song with a particular characteristic: maybe something more upbeat or poetic or bluesy. But most of the time, I try not to force it. There is a certain feeling I get sometimes when I know a good song is about to be written; it’s almost like the song is already there and I just have to bring it to life by putting music and words to it. This often means that I won’t write for a month and then will write four songs in a week or two. Inspiration can be funny like that.

Dave: You seem to always be working a couple or three melodic lines between the chord progressions you are playing and what you are singing. How deliberate is that and do you think of your voice as an instrument in that process?

Nicole: I am not really consciously thinking of particular harmonies between piano and voice; most of the time that sort of happens naturally, although in general, I absolutely do think of my voice as an instrument. I like to add melodic lines which don’t have any words to a lot of songs because it can give the music an extra layer.

Dave: There are some songs where you just jam the lyrics in – literally. You sing so quickly and fluidly on some songs – I get the impression that you have a lot to say and really can’t get it all out in five tracks.

Nicole: You are absolutely right. I do have so much to say, and it’s hard getting it all out! I think a lot about what I need to say and what words to use to get my point across. The Beatles were absolute masters of this. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Haiku. Haiku are amazing because they can say so much in three lines and this is something I am trying to work on in my own writing.

Dave: How do you approach writing lyrics and do you feel tension about trying to say all that you need to say within a particular song or chorus?

Nicole: I’m very interested and in love with poetry, which has a huge influence on my lyrics – especially Frondescence. Those lyrics came before the music and began in sonnet form after I read an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. If I can’t finish the lyrics to a song, I’ll usually just let it rest until something comes along. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and get it, other times it takes months. But all of the songs that are on the EP were lyrics that sort of came fast and furious, like I needed to say those things.

Dave: How about Frondescence?

Nicole: Frondescence was a song that changed a lot from the initial version to recording; when we brought it into the studio, our engineer added backwards reverb onto it (which is what you hear especially at the end on the vocals), and it was really fun to hear the song transform.

Dave: You cover a number of different themes in these songs and you don’t treat them casually but with some depth.

Nicole: When it comes to putting lyrics and music together (sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the lyrics come first, and sometimes they come together) I am very intent on getting out and working through whatever intense thought or emotion or situation is going on in my mind at the moment. Writing music is an outlet for me to figure out things about myself. All of the songs are absolutely true in some way or another; they are extensions of who I am, good and bad, in the truest form I can produce.

Dave: Thank you so much for sharing this with us tonight.

Nicole: You’re welcome, and thanks again for your interest and your support. - Dave's Photo Blog

"Record review by TC Krentz"

We’re glad Nicole Berke didn’t wait to record a full length CD because her debut EP release is a fabulous enough sample to help us all fall in love with her straight away.

Kicking off the tiny but powerful collection is Come On which is a uniquely funky number that feels as charming & familiar as any favorite song you might have ever endeared. Track two is an intriguing waltzed-rhythm tune with deep lyrics and Joni Mitchell-esk vocals.

The blend of acoustic bass (well executed by Jesse Cafiero), drums and all things keyboard; from the piano to the Wurlitzer, provide a inimitable sound & style that becomes Nicole Berke. The fierce track 4 Fire evidences the talent of drummer Rory O’ Connor while offering another side of Nicole’s writing style.

Nicole’s soulfully strong vocal skills combined with her clever songwriting talent certainly makes her one Mass’ up & coming artists to watch out for. - Boston Girl Guide

"Mandy Burry"

“Honest music and a voice that'll renew your hope in humanity.” - Jazz Vocalist

"Marty Helly"

“Gorgeous voice + inspirational piano + understated bass = smooth, very smooth.” - Booking agent for singer/songwriter nights

"The Daily Valut"

Listening to Nicole Berke’s Frondescence EP brings back memories of Lillith Fair and the female singer/songwriter movement of the 1990s.

But instead of just another woman with an acoustic guitar, Berke and the two guys who back her use bass, drums and organs to achieve an interesting and vital sound. Berke herself sings and plays a Wurlitzer – not the everyday instrument of choice for young women, as far as I know, but an excellent way to distinguish her.

Berke finished this disc in February 2008, the second of what will hopefully turn into a full-length release soon. Thanks to having two musicians for parents, Berke is trained in classical music but has an ear for pop, giving this EP the feel of a modern jazz release as seen by Fiona Apple.

Opener “Come On” locks into a soulful groove with a twist as the Wurlitzer plays an ascending six-note riff that subtly propels the song. “Reasons” is a showcase for Berke’s high vocals (which are sporadically double-tracked for no apparent reason, as her voice is good enough to be unaccompanied).

“Blind Dumb & Deaf” is a fun little ditty, a story song sung effortlessly and handled with jazz drum aplomb by Rory O’Connor, who also plays organ. Jesse Cafiero handles the acoustic bass (and Berke’s press) nicely; he and Berke teamed up in 2005 at the University of Massachusetts and released a demo in 2006.

The two are now playing open mics in the Boston area, though they are too talented to be relegated to coffeeshops at this point. Berke’s songs are the right length and offer a good mix of jazz-pop with a singer/songwriter filter; they will satisfy nearly anyone who listens. “Fire” is evidence of this, crossing the vocal style of an Alanis Morrisette with Neko Case’s brilliant Fox Confessor Brings The Flood CD.

Closing out this disc and incorporating all that’s right about it is the title track, which boasts a slight Radiohead influence but remains upbeat even as the music swells behind Berke’s voice, with her singing louder and louder until the slow fadeout. It’s enough to make one want more and to distinguish Berke as a musician to watch – a distinction she has had in the Boston area for some time, and with good reason. - Benjamin Ray

"Black Label Reviews"

Nicole Berke is a rising star on the international music scene with her unique blend of pop and jazz elements.

Her debut EP, "Frondescence", features 5 tracks and showcases not only her piano pop songwriting skills but also her throaty big voice which reminds me of Sarah McLachlan among others.

Tracks such as "Come On" and "Reasons" are a point in the right direction for this Boston singer/songwriter and should see her moving in the same circles as McLachlan, Tori Amos and even Fiona Apple.

Her sound is extremely polished and professional and a real credit to such a young artist. Once Nicole Berke experiences more of what life's all about - she will be a real force to be reckoned with! - Karen Waters

"CD Review: Nicole Berke - Frondescence"

Nicole Berke is a breath of fresh air. Writing songs with a level of virtuosity comparable to Ben Folds, Nicole Berke exudes a warmth and vulnerability to buoy her lyric and multi-timbered voice. Frondescence is the biological term for bursting into leaf; a becoming. In the vernacular, it means blooming. Frondescence is a blooming for Nicole Berke, who comes out as an incredible talent with a bright future.

This five-track EP is dynamic trip, starting out with Come On. You'll be tapping your toes and grooving in your seat from the opening notes of this gem. Reasons sounds like it may have just rolled off Ben Folds' Reinhold Messner album. Blind Dumb & Deaf is vocally acrobatic with wonderful counter-rhythms traded back and forth between the piano and rhythm section. This is perhaps the finest track on Frondescence, but they are all so good it's hard to say.

Fire is a frenetic and urgent plea to a would-be significant other. Not to belabor the point, but this song also would sound perfectly at home with Ben Folds behind the keys. I think it's safe to say Mr. Folds is at least an influence in composition style (not a bad influence to have). Frondescence is the mellow, introspective last song (and title track). The song is eerily familiar even though I know I never heard it before. Nicole Berke has a talent in offering up songs that touch on a familiar part of your consciousness and make you feel right at home.

As debuts go, this is absolutely stellar. The only concern here is what she's going to do avoid the usual sophomore jinx.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5) - Wildy's World

"Jeff Gaynor"

"Spot-on, rich, soulful vocals... wonderful, creative piano playing... and such brilliant songs. [Nicole] blends different stylistic elements in such a unique brew - quite fearless." - Songwriter/musician


~Frondescence EP (2008)
~Rise Demo (2006)



Nicole Berke is a young up-and-coming pianist/singer/songwriter who currently resides in Portland, Oregon. With a unique, soulful sound and lyrics that are poetic and personal, she connects with audiences in an honest and authentic way. Her music has been compared to a wide variety of artists, including Fiona Apple, Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, and Joni Mitchell.

Nicole has grown up with music all of her life. With two musicians as her parents, her love of music started at a very young age. “Nicole could never, ever get enough music. She would constantly burst into song anywhere and everywhere with an unparalleled enthusiasm,” says Nicole’s mom. Early on, she developed a love for all different kinds of music: whether it was Bonnie Raitt or Chick Corea, Aretha Franklin or Jimi Hendrix, Nicole wanted to hear it all. At seven years old, she began studying classical piano, which she took to instantly. “I would always choose the stormy, dark pieces that were too difficult for me because I was both intimidated and moved by them,” she remembers. “Even if it took me months to complete, I was always drawn to the challenge.” It wasn’t long before she paired her piano playing with her passion for singing: at the age of thirteen she began writing songs. Additionally, she began playing and singing the blues at sixteen and frequently attended a weekly blues jam at the Acton Jazz Café. There, she further developed her piano and vocal abilities and played with a number of talented musicians.

In the fall of 2005 she began attending UMass Amherst, where she met and teamed up with bassist Jesse Cafiero. Accompanied by Jesse's talent on acoustic bass, Nicole recorded and released a six-song demo, "Rise" in 2006, which put her out on the scene as "a musician to watch." In September of 2007, Nicole moved to Cambridge, MA to pursue music. She attended open mics regularly, played a number of shows, and quickly developed a loyal and supportive fan base. In the mean time, Nicole transferred to UMass Boston to study social psychology. “It is an interesting field which absolutely goes hand in hand with music. The more I learn about people, the more questions I have about culture, society and the mind. It brings up important thoughts about who I am, why I’m here and how I can connect with others.” Poetry has also been another dominant influence in Nicole’s songwriting. Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot and Edna St. Vincent Millay have all made a big impact on her lyrics in terms of writing style and subject matter. “The openness of these poets and their ability to turn raw emotion and human interaction into art consistently amazes and inspires me. This is the goal I am always striving towards.”

In February of 2008, Nicole finished her debut studio recording, the self-released "FRONDESCENCE” EP. Backed by Jesse Cafiero on upright bass and Rory O'Connor on drums, every song on the EP has its own individuality, from the opening soul groove of “C'mon” to the closing dynamic swells of the title track “Frondescence.” Nicole spent 2008 and 2009 playing around the Northeast promoting the new album. She signed with KeyMedia Group in early 2009 while continuing to attend school. “Balancing school and music has been difficult but essential. I have always known that music is what I want to do with my life, but the learning process and experiences I have had so far have been extremely worthwhile.”

In September of 2009 Nicole moved to Portland, Oregon where she completed her bachelor’s degree in Social Psychology at Portland State University. Berke sums up her year: “2010 has been a momentous year for me with so many fantastic things happening. I graduated from college and then embarked on my first national tour as a special guest performer with singer/songwriter Kiernan McMullan. I am now starting to teach at a music school in Portland, which I love. I couldn’t ask for a better sense of balance.” In addition, the track REASONS from "FRONDESCENCE” will be featured in the forthcoming full length feature indie film “UN-HUMAN.” Presently, Nicole is exploring the music scene on the west coast while continuing to gain national exposure.