In the Fast
Story: Melanie Broussalian
Photos: Cory Weaver
From the opening notes of her first album in five years, it’s clear that Nashville songstress Nikki Lane is in her “kick ass and take names” era of her career. Even at her most sincere and saccharine, Lane’s music has always had a tinge of edge, whether coming from the signature rasp in her voice or driving rhythms. Now, the grit, grime and fun—which are always covered in fringe and sparkle—are front and center in Denim & Diamonds, a follow-up to 2017’s Highway Queen.
Lane’s sonic evolution was fostered by her partnership with producer Joshua Homme, known to us mortals as Queens of the Stone Age’s front man. While maybe an unexpected pairing at first, as soon as you listen to the record you can’t help but ask, “Why hadn’t they worked together sooner?”
Homme brought in some friends from high places, with QOTSA band members Dan Fertita, Alain Johannes and Michael Shuman sitting in as the backing band, in addition to Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders and Carla Azar of Autolux.
The resulting work is a celebration of the messes we make when we’re in love, both with ourselves and with someone else. With lyrics like “I can do whatever I wanna,” Lane is a self-assured and confident beacon of femininity, done all on her own terms. Featuring plenty of reverb, sparkly guitar sounds, and not a hint of programmed drums, Denim & Diamonds harkens back to youthful, sticky, humid summers and high-speed freeway driving with the windows down.
We caught up with Nikki Lane between tour stops to talk all things Denim & Diamonds, studio memories, and a shared love for vintage clothing (among other things).
MB: First of all, congratulations—this album is a roaring return. Did you know going into the very start of the writing process that this country-meets-rock sensibility was where you wanted to go?
NL: I knew I was seeking the same feeling of inspiration I had when I made my first album, and for me that first one was stepping outside of my comfort zone. After a while, the Americana genre I’m a part of had started to feel limiting, so pushing the sound into the rock space was an easy shift—“scratching an itch,” if you will.
MB: How did your collaboration with Joshua Homme come about? Was there a deciding factor that made you say, “Okay, let’s try this?”
NL: It was a recommendation from my previous manager, and I originally was curious whether he would even want to do an album with a “country singer.” By the time we finished our first call, I knew he had to be the producer. His mind fires from all cylinders and he is a great connector. I was so impressed with the roster of players he picked, as well as the way he coaxed us all into our roles in the studio.
MB: Album reviews have likened your collaboration with Homme to Jack White working with Loretta Lynn, or a Tanya Tucker sound. What were your influences for Denim & Diamonds, and did Homme bring any unexpected references to the table that made their way into the record?
NL: If he brought references in, I tuned them out. Undoubtedly, we are all bringing our musical influences and favorite into the room with us. We’ve absorbed so much of those sounds, but I try not to be obviously derivative of things in particular. By working with Homme, the record naturally gleaned his musical touch, as well as all of the other players; but I’m always hoping to find the “Nikki Lane” sound vs. recreate or attempt to recreate anyone else’s.
We rode around in Josh’s car listening to tracks for the first time—driving a record around is how I test it out.
MB: Can you share with us your favorite memory of being in the studio for Denim & Diamonds?
NL: Likely, it was watching Alain Johannes record the guitar for “Chimayo:” a chilling song with such mastery in the playing. Also, the day we rode around in Josh’s car listening to tracks for the first time—driving a record around is how I test it out.
MB: As a listener, I love listening to a body of work and trying to find a through-line from album to album. What do you think you pulled from your last record into Denim & Diamonds? And looking ahead, what lessons or discoveries will you take with you?
NL: This was my first reflective record. As always, I strove to make a “mix tape of my emotions,” and boy were we able to do that when I was also willing to open up and talk more personally in my lyrics. I think that vulnerability will continue in future recordings, but life dictates what comes next…
MB: Watching the “First High” video in particular, it seems that by rejecting the “societally accepted” norms of what is considered feminine, you actually are able to tap into this divine feminine energy on an even deeper level. Was this something you actively wanted to explore when making the album and the accompanying visuals?
NL: I wanted to revisit the feelings of youth. For me being feminine is being comfortable with myself—dressed up or down. When we decided to try a skinny dip scene, it was thought to be shot after dark, but the team worked so well together we wrapped before dusk, and my buns were bared. The song itself implied the fun in doing it anyways, and the video ended as fun and wild as it would have when I was 18.
MB: Along that same vein, what’s the vibe audiences can expect when they come to see you on tour?
NL: We’ve learned to build a show that lets the listener and myself ride the ebb and flow of country and rock and roll. I love to tell stories, pass around the tequila, and spend time after shows with fans, because that’s the reason we all come out in the road in the first place.
MB: We’d be remiss not to mention your awesome Nashville vintage store, High Class Hillbilly. As a fellow collector of pre-loved clothes, what do you think is so appealing about curating looks from bygone eras?
NL: High Class Hillbilly has been a secondary creative outlet for me, and at times early on, my primary source of income. If I’m going to be out on the road, I might as well be pickin’, and if I’m pickin,’ I wanna share it with you all. From vintage tees, to fully stylized costumes, there is history hidden in attics and closets all over the world. I love the fun of unearthing those treasures, and it’s a great way to spend my time between shows.