Nikki Talley
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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


Eclectic Nikki Talley has trouble with commitment

by Steve Shanafelt

Her songs are ripe with rainy red Fridays, with disappointments about the lights of the world as seen from heaven, with love gone so wrong the wounds can only be cleansed by the entire ocean. Somber images.

Some of her songs move slowly, diffusing from the strings of a guitar, or rising from deceptively soft finger strokes on electric-piano keys. Then, there are those other songs, the ones that walk the line between folk-grunge and acoustic metal.

Welcome to the hard-to-classify music of local singer/songwriter Nikki Talley.

"There is no one peg that I want to hang my coat on," Talley offers. "One day I'll be a singer/songwriter, and then the next day, I'll be a metal goddess. Or the next one, I'll want to do a sultry blues number, or want to sound like Norah Jones or Tori Amos on the piano. I have a real hard time narrowing myself down to anything."

Given the content of the songs on last year's self-released brother, where constant heavy moods and downcast refrains come through on both piano and guitar, it's easy to assume the singer's daily life is dark and brooding.

"That's funny," she counters, "because I'm a very happy, cheery girl. In between my songs, I'm just a goof. I'm dorky and happy and silly, but my music is usually so dark and heavy. I guess that's where I vent."

It hasn't been easy for Talley to find her place in the Asheville music scene. She's fronted a heavy metal band (the now-defunct Flake), performed with indie-rockers as a Tori Amos-styled solo-girl rocker and played the sensitive singer/songwriter for the cafe circuit. Yet to hear her tell it, none of these modern-music archetypes truly fit her.

"If I go to a coffee shop, they're like, 'Calm down, girl! We're just serving coffee,'" she explains. "I'm like, 'Damn it! You're serving coffee. Caffeine! Shouldn't I be louder?' And then I go to a club, and I'm like, 'I want to play piano,' and people say, 'We want a rock band.'"

"Musically, I'm very comfortable behind my piano, I'm very comfortable behind my guitar, and I'm very comfortable behind my distorted guitar. I've got one song for everybody, and that's hard for the audience. That one metal head that was there for that one heavy metal song is over hearing me play on the piano. The one person that's been dying to hear me on piano is saying, 'What the hell is this amplified stuff?'

"To me," she adds, "it's just who I am and what I do."

Talley remains relatively unknown outside of the singer/songwriter set, though that is slowly changing. Last summer, she appeared as the androgynous sidekick Yitzhak in the North Carolina Stage Company production of the rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a role that allowed her to meet a lot of other local music makers.

"I feel like I'm accepted because of the Hedwig thing," she reveals. "It really helped me meet a lot of people in the Asheville scene. But I still feel like I'm on the outside, because I don't play very often in Asheville. I haven't found my niche.

"There is so much in Asheville, and it's so diverse, which might make it seem like it'd be perfect for me," she continues. "It's kind of like I have to mold to the venue I'm playing, and I've not found the venue where I can do it all and feel comfortable.

"You know," she concludes, "not everybody wants to hear a folkie, and not everybody wants to hear a piano, and not everybody wants to hear distortion. Except for me." - Mountain Xpress


Friday, August 11, 2000
By Kristi Singer, Morning Star Correspondent
Wilmington Morning Star
Copyright 2000 Wilmington Star-News

Nikki Talley sits at a bookstore cafe', but this 22-year old bundle of creative energy and self confidence was in no need fo the Starbucks caffeine.

She's been putting in plenty of hours - not at her old bartending job, but pursuing her career as a musician. She recently quit her job as a bartender to dedicate herself full time to music.

"I've made a promise to myself to never work again unless it's as a musician."

Although leaving the security of a regular job can be scary, Ms. Talley feels no regret about her decision.

"It's the lifestyle. I don't understand why people settle for less. I can't believe some people settle to be unhappy just to have a big house or a car."

Her first gig was at Molley's Market in downtown Wilmington six months ago. Since then, she's performed all over town.

"This town has been very good to me as far as music goes. Within a year I've been able to quit my job," Ms. Talley said.

But Ms. Talley does more than just sing and play guitar - her fans say she puts on a heck of a performance. "I want to give them the fun, the glitter and all of that. I don't want to see some girl up on stage in her T-shirt and jeans. I don't care how good you are, it's always fun to see a crazy performance."

Musically, Ms. Talley has been compare to Annie D'Franco. Some of her influences include Natalie Merchant, Beruca Salt, Stevie Nicks and Sarah McLachlan. However, her greatest musical influence and inspiration is her mother.

"My mom must have sang to me in the womb, because as soon as I came out I was singing," Ms. Talley said. "She taught me how to play guitar and she gave me my first guitar when I was 3 or 4. I think I was just totally blessed with my mom's musical talent and ability."

But, don't compare her to Jewel or Tori Amos. "I don't like the stereotypes of 'oh you're just like Jewel, a girl on a guitar' or "it's Tori Amos on a piano," Ms. Talley said.

She doesn't mind if you compare her to Natalie Merchant though. "I was in the Shanakee one night and this girl from Australia said 'Is that Natalie Merchant?" to the bartender," Ms. Talley said.

Ms. Talley's music ranges from country roots to 'nothing but rock 'n' roll."

"I'd have to say that my vocals are my main thing. I think that if you give me anything vocally, I could do it. I've sung classically, operatic styles, blues, even jazz. And then country, I can throw the twang in there or I can scream punk rock," Ms. Talley said.

"It all varies from pretty sweet girl on piano, playing and singing her heart out to just don't mess with me edge, but still very lyrical and very sweet."

Nikki dreams the big dreams of a star.

She wants to stand out in the world and be known for something extraordinary. "I want people to know Nikki Talley as a musician, not a bartender, and not a waitress and not something else that a lot of other people do. I want people to say 'yeah that girl can rock.'

"I want to be able to share what I have in my head, in my heart and in my soul. I want to be able to give it to other people and inspire other people," Ms. Talley said.

Ms. Talley especially wants to be a role model for girls and a symbol of strength for wome. "I see little girls looking when they see me singing in clubs and on the streets and I hope they realize it's okay for a girl to pick up a guitar, say the bad words, rock out and be self confident about yourself."

Ms. Talley said too many people let themselves be walked on.

"I saw women in my life - family, friends - be pushed around an dI was like...that's not going to happen to me."

Ms. Talley, originally from Reidsville, a town outside of Greensboro, says she is living the American dream.

"You know, the girl grows up in small town, then leaves small town and vows to never go back. It was a nice, safe place for me to grow up and not experience a big city kind of crazy lifestyle."

"Then I went to college and dyed my hair purple and said that I was going to quit school, join a punk rock band and move to Chapel Hill."

Ms. Talley attended Brevard College of Music in 1995 and stayed for one year. She then moved to Key West, Fla., at 19.

"I jumped on a Greyhound bus with my guitar and backpack, just like a movie, went down tehre and lived on a sailboat for 6 months."

She intended to visit a boy she met while on a family vacation, but ended up blowing him off for a 40-year-old. "I met a guy twice my age, and for some reason it worked. I just jumped on the boat, we sailed around and I would sing on the streeets for money down there. They have a sunset festival, like the one they have here and there's jugglers and fireeaters."

The street playing and sailing cycle continu - Wilmington Morning Star


Who's that girl?

She was defiantly tempestuous, playfully radical--exuberantly juggling crucibles like fireballs. Brooding but provocative, that girl nonchalantly assaulted her notes like an unforgiving sylph celebrating her unrepentant soul on a full-moon after midnight. I am not finished, let me ramble... She was a composite study of Arthur Miller's Abigail Williams and Virginia Woolf's sober ghost--throwing mixed signals all over the incendiary air with ferocious passion yet unabashed shimmer.

Damn, I thought out loud, I gotta talk to her--she must have some story to say, some mystery to unearth? Or, am I reading too much here? Am I still wallowing on my sweet CBGBs nightmares? This is not east village, downtown Manhattan, for crying out loud... this is West Asheville, North Carolina-- it's supposed to be peaceful, quiet, laid back.

Whatever the case though, I knew that girl was definitely a stormbringer. She delivered that one killer roundhouse kick that busted out the window, so to say--no qualms, no maybes, no chasers in between. No wonder, it took her only two songs--and perhaps three beers?-- to break the strings of her precocious guitar.

Oh well, I read too much, don't I? I better chill... That particular situation was Westville Pub's usually sedate and withdrawn Monday open mic. And that girl shared a two-song spot with 12 others whom we usually refer to as unsigned and unnoticed. But that girl is hardly unnoticed, that girl--uhh, I am sorry, that young woman's name is Nikki Talley, twentysomething... and that was, I'd like to remind you, only my first reading of her impressionist persona.

That otherwise deadbeat evening (rainy days and Mondays, you know), it seemed to me that she was trying to work the Angry Young Woman turf to the last mile on a six-minute-shortcut and got busted. Problem was, fellow libertine souls in the mold of Fiona Apple, Jill Sobule, and Alanis Morrissette got their first. In other words, if I wanted to paraphrase her writings-on-the-wall by way of that overdrawn stereotype--and just consign that particular encounter as just one-of-those-nights, then I can throw up and crash to kingdom come... see ya next open mic. But no. I can't. I had to seek her out...

Fast forward, months later... True to my persistent girth, I got her to oblige to an interview (not the phone, dear, I gotta see your eyes when you talk!), and perform for the Traveling Bonfires gig at a reclusively tiny old books/cafe called The Relaxed Reader along Haywood Road in West Asheville.

Honestly, I almost forgot what she looked like. Like her eclectic musical excursions, she seemed to change looks from the night I first saw her, to the photographs on her website, to that afternoon at the Bonfires show... All I could recall was the "roundhouse kick, the broken strings."

So, okay, reading number two... Definitely, Nikki Talley wasn't three-beers-down that early evening at The Relaxed Reader, so there was probably no way that she'd break her guitar strings again. I mean, it's hard to expect such dissident gesture from a young woman who just showed up in a gig, with a springtime-warm smile, carrying a black toy cauldron, the kind that your kiddo nieces and nephews drag with them during Halloween. This time out, she cut more like a Mary Poppins thrust afront twenty-five whiny kindergartens than an entranced Abigail Williams presiding over a Beltane firedance.

I haven't really listened to her CD, "brother," so I didn't have any background reference as to what she sounded like (except that two-song drunken joust few months ago), and the four or five songs that she performed during that Bonfires night. Besides, it was my intent never to be influenced, coaxed, or misled by her craft as I attempted to reread who Nikki Talley really was. I always believed that, as she puts it, "we are all schizonphrenics living other lives, other characters"... hence art offers us the stage to conceal our true, real colors or assume a different personality, or simply reveal our most-protected truths as crosscutting whiter shades of pale. And that the other side of art's intent is to blur the edges, hide the flesh.

In a previous interview with Steve Shanafelt of Mountain Xpress, Ms. Talley sounded the same diversed mood vent: "There is no one peg that I want to hang my coat on. One day I'll be a singer/songwriter, and then the next day, I'll be a metal goddess. Or the next one, I'll want to do a sultry blues number, or want to sound like Norah Jones or Tori Amos on the piano. I have a real hard time narrowing myself down to anything."

A few acquaintances to either heard "brother" or have seen her perform all agreed (including Shanafelt's reading) that Talley is a dark, brooding muse. In some way, yes, she mooned over bittersweet heartland tales rife with overdrained sexual apoplectics, at the same time castigating herself for youth's guilty pleasures, or as my acerbic vampire bu - The Indie


Discography

"Brother" (2002)

1) Brother
2) Dear In Headlights
3) Well Oh Well
4) Angela's Song
5) Free
6) Niko In D
7) I Want Your Soul
8) Rainy Red Weekend

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Growing up listening to her mom play and singing folk songs, Nikki Talley has literally had it in her blood to be a performer and has been playing professionally since she was eighteen years old.

Originally from North Carolina, this self taught guitarist and pianist has been captivating audiences with her energetic stage performance and her powerful voice. Strong emotional and seductive lyrics are her trademark. Nikki's songs are very unique and each one gives us a different look inside the artist. From pretty piano tunes to guitar-based acoustic rock songs, each is a part of her.

Now at twenty-eight, Nikki has completed her first cd, "Brother," thanks to a grant she recieved from the local Arts Council. She has opened for such acts as Edwin McCain. She has also taken her talent to the stage with her androgynous portrayal of Yitzak, in the NC Stage Company's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" in Asheville. It was her first ever stint as a professional actor.

Nikki has recently relocated to the beautiful diverse city of Toronto where she hopes to continue her musical success. Her sophomore CD is slated to be released in early 2006.