Dubbed ‘the new Queen of Rock & Roll,’ North Carolina native Nikki Hill and her boisterous band have been firing up the festival circuit with deep south soul since their first release in 2013.
I caught up with the soul shoutin’ diva to chat returning to Bluesfest by popular demand, new music, being on the road, and why the stage is her sanctuary.
For most musicians, the stage can feel like home. If you’re Nikki Hill, the stage feels a little more like heaven.
HAPPY: You and the band have been invited to back to Bluesfest again. What’re you most looking forward to about playing the festival again? And is there anyone on the line-up you’re excited to see play?
NIKKI: Oh man, the Bluesfest line-up is always so impressive and I love that it always features people you really look forward to seeing on the festival circuit like Mavis Staples, St.Paul and The Broken Bones, and then there are those amazing surprises like Naus And Gallant, people that you can’t even believe you’re going to have the chance to be able to see! We’re just really excited to come back to Australia, it’s going to be the third time but it’s going to be a lot of fun, coming down to Sydney is going to be great too.
HAPPY: So, what’s your favourite aspect of playing festivals around the world?
NIKKI: It’s such a blast to be able to travel and do that. When you’re travelling around, one of the best things about playing festivals is getting in front of people. Often times I’m a discovery artist to a lot of people, and it’s great just seeing new faces, and seeing familiar faces when you start to return to places. It’s a great way to get your music out there to these crowds, so I mean yeah, we enjoy it a lot, we get to play quite a few festivals along with club dates through the year and it’s always a lot of fun.
HAPPY: Do you have any on tour traditions?
NIKKI: Not really, we all just like to listen to a little music, the players get warmed up, and when it gets close to the show time I get pretty energetic and active so I’m usually just running around getting excited. Working as an independent band I’m usually running around right before the show making sure everything’s taken care of, getting merch and stuff ready too, so sometimes there’s just no time for rituals, and other times we’re just getting pumped or getting excited.
HAPPY: Understandable! Do you have any funny on tour stories?
NIKKI: Oh man, it’s hard sometimes to know which ones you can reveal! There have been interesting incidences of running into petting zoos on festival sites, and there have been fun moments lighting fireworks in front of city hall, there’s all kinds of stories but they take forever to tell!
HAPPY: Cool. Now, your last release was in 2015, have you been working on any new music? If so, when can we expect to hear it?
NIKKI: Yeah, definitely! It’s been a year of pushing that record through 2016, which has been really, really fun and so I’m hoping that later this year we’ll be able to start road testing new material and I’m hoping for a release as soon as we can sit down and get into a studio!
HAPPY: So do you write on the road? Is it just you or does your husband and guitarist write as well?
NIKKI: A little bit of both. On the road you get a lot of it done, and at home you have the ability to piece things together. There’s so many little lyrics written on napkins, sheets of paper, on the back of set-lists and stuff like that, melodies recorded on the tape recorder when you are bouncing around and ideas for arrangement, so a lot of that happens on the road and at home it’s a lot of really listening, studying music, getting the chance to just sit by the record player, and listen to records over and over again to get the small ideas, little sounds you hear, production notes, I mean all kinds of stuff. Being able to go and see live music is another great source of inspiration.
HAPPY: And so what would you say has been inspiring you the most recently?
NIKKI: At home I’ve been listening to a lot of soul, a lot of Al Green, a lot of Otis Redding, but also I take a break sometimes from all rock and roll as we’re playing it throughout the year, but I always find myself getting drawn back into Johnny Thunder and Joan Jett, I’ve been listening to a lot of Bad Brains lately, kind of reverting back to my fourteen year old self a little bit (laughs).
HAPPY: Awesome. You’ve no doubt had some really exciting experiences throughout your career so far, what’s been the defining moment for you?
NIKKI: So much of it is. Obviously playing some of the big festivals it’s really cool to see your name beside some of these people that you’ve heard about or seen, or people that you really admire, or even just names that you see floating around. We just announced a festival in Spain that we’re playing and we’re opening for Sting, and it’s like what does that even mean?! You have really notable things like that, which surface level it is what it is, but you know you’re constantly taken about going ‘wow I can’t believe I have this opportunity’.
Just being able to travel and be on stage in those moments, being up there is like my sanctuary, it’s my church, it’s that one place where for 60 to 90 minutes I can get up there and give it all out, you release all of your demons, you throw your everything into these songs and I mean there’s nothing else that can replace that. For me, that’s the defining point of even being a musician, it’s that release, it’s something I felt I waited for for a long time and it’s the thing that I appreciate the most when I’m up there.
HAPPY: For sure. So what’s the dream for you? What’s the ultimate goal for you and the band?
NIKKI: Honestly I would say longevity. I know that’s sort of a whatever kind of dream, and of course there are really cool opportunities of shows and television and stuff like that, and as that all comes you take it but I just want to do this for as long as I can, that’s really the ultimate goal. These days it takes a lot of strategy, there’s so much distraction and so much going on and I’m really just hoping for the ability to continue being inspired, to keep writing, to remember why I do it and to not let myself get burnt out on the bullshit of the business.
Catch Nikki Hill and her band live in Australia this April. Dates below: