Nikki Lane

S&S Presents

Nikki Lane

Robert Ellis, Jonathan Tyler

Sunday, March 26, 2017

7:00 pm

$15 ADV / $17 DOS

This event is 21 and over

Nikki Lane
Nikki Lane
Nikki Lane’s stunning third album Highway Queen, out February 17th, 2017, sees the young Nashville singer emerge as one of country and rock’s most gifted songwriters. Co-produced by Lane and fellow singer-songwriter, Jonathan Tyler, this emotional tour-de-force was recorded at Matt Pence’s Echo Lab studio in Denton, Texas as well as at Club Roar with Collin Dupuis in Nashville, Tennessee. Blending potent lyrics, unbridled blues guitars and vintage Sixties country-pop swagger, Lane’s new music will resonate as easily with Lana Del Rey and Jenny Lewis fans as those of Neil Young and Tom Petty.

Highway Queen is a journey through heartbreak that takes exquisite turns. The record begins with a whiskey-soaked homage to Lane’s hometown (“700,000 Rednecks”) and ends on the profoundly raw “Forever Lasts Forever,” where Lane mourns a failed marriage – the “lighter shade of skin” left behind from her wedding ring. On “Forever” and the confessional “Muddy Waters,” Lane’s lyrics align her with perceptive songwriters like Nick Lowe and Cass McCombs. Elsewhere, “Companion” is pure Everly Brothers’ dreaminess (“I would spend a lifetime/ Playing catch you if I can”). She goes on a Vegas bender on the rollicking “Jackpot,” fights last-call blues (“Foolish Heart”) and tosses off brazen one-liners at a backroom piano (“Big Mouth”).

“Love is the most unavoidable thing in the world,” Lane says. “The person you pick could be half set-up to destroy your life with their own habits – I’ve certainly experienced that before and taken way too long to get out of that mistake.”

In 2014, Lane’s second album All or Nothin’ (New West) solidified her sandpaper voice beneath a ten-gallon hat as the new sound and look of outlaw country music. Produced by Dan Auerbach, the record’s bluesy Western guitars paired with Lane’s Dusty Springfield-esque voice earned glowing reviews from NPR, the Guardian and Rolling Stone. In three years since her Walk of Shame debut, Lane said she was living most of the year on the road.

Growing up, Lane used to watch her father pave asphalt during blistering South Carolina summers. She’d sit on the roller (“what helps smooth out the asphalt”) next to a guy named Rooster and divvy out Hardee’s lunch orders for the workers. “My father thought he was a country singer,” Lane laughs. “He partied hard at night, but by 6:30 AM he was out on the roads in 100-degree weather.” That’s the southern work ethic, she says. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but I was privileged with the knowledge of how to work hard, how to learn and to succeed when things aren’t set up for me.” Creativity was an unthinkable luxury, she adds. “When people told me I should try to get a record deal for songs I was writing, I was like, ‘that’s cute – I’ve got to be at work at 10 A.M.’”

“Becoming a songwriter is one of the most selfish things I’ve ever done,” Lane says plainly. She describes writing her first song at age 25 like it was a necessary act of self-preservation after a devastating breakup. Many of her early songs, she said on Shame and Nothin’, were about the fleetingness of relationships she believed were permanent, she says. Lane’s main line of work in those days was a fashion entrepreneur (she’s currently the owner of Nashville’s vintage clothing boutique High Class Hillbilly). It brought her to cities around the country, New York to Los Angeles to Nashville. And like a true wanderer, Lane’s sound crisscrosses musical genres with ease, while the lonesome romantic in her remains. Even a soft song like, “Send The Sun,” with its lilting downward strum, is flush with bittersweet emotion. “Darling, we’re staring at the same moon,” Lane sings lovingly. “I used to say that to my ex,” she says with cheerful stoicism, “to try to brighten the long nights, stay positive.”

Highway Queen is poised to be Lane’s mainstream breakthrough. “Am I excited to spend years of my life in a van, away from family and friends? No, but I’m excited to share my songs, so they’ll reach people and help them get through whatever they’re going through. To me, that’s worth it.”

“Lay You Down” is one of those unexpected moments for Lane. “That song was inspired by something Levon Helm’s wife posted on Facebook when he was sick with cancer,” Lane says. “I was just so moved by her telling the world how much love he felt from people writing to them, and moved that because of the Internet, I was able to see that love ­– even from a distance.” The song became surreal for Lane and her band when her longtime guitarist, Alex Munoz, was diagnosed with cancer while they were playing it. “It deepened my perspective and the importance of keeping everyone safe,” says Lane.

On the record cover, Lane looks out on wide, unowned Texan plains, leaning on the fearsome horns of a massive steer. Wearing a vintage Victorian dress, the stark photo invokes a time before highways existed. The symbolism isn’t lost on Lane. Highway Queen was a pioneering moment for her as an artist.

“I was always a smart girl, always had to yell to be heard,” she says, “But this was the first time in my career where I decided how things were going to go; I was willing to take the heat.” Lane included the bonus track “Champion” as a small testament to that empowerment. “It makes a point,” Lane says with a smile, “That I appreciate what you’re saying, but get the fuck out of my way.”
Robert Ellis
Robert Ellis
Robert Ellis has named his new album after himself and the reason is clear. The album is both his most personal statement yet and a summation of his career thus far. Robert Ellis opens with "Perfect Strangers," a meditation on what brings people together (and how tenuous that connection can be), and ends with "It's Not OK," a raw look at emotional compromise.

Between those two powerful bookends are nine other songs that set Ellis's soaring vocals and knowing melodies against his sharp, dark observations, and that show him in full command of a vibrant set of songwriting skills-irony, distance, character, narrative, a thoughtful relationship between sound and sense.
Ellis was born and raised in Lake Jackson, a town about an hour from Houston whose other famous residents have included the Pauls (Ron and Rand) and Selena (the original Queen of Tejano, not the current pop sensation). From an early age, he escaped small-town boredom through music. At first, his tastes ran toward traditional hits. "I remember having a bunch of pop records when I was really young: No Doubt and Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks. That was when I was pretty passive as a listener-I liked them, but maybe I got to them because my mom or one of my sisters had them. The first I really got obsessed with was a Doc Watson collection. I was already starting to play guitar, and my uncle told my mom to get it for me. He was my first guitar hero."

As he developed as a writer, though, he found himself drawn toward the smartest and sharpest of the class of songwriters who developed in the 1970s: artists like Paul Simon, John Prine, and Randy Newman. And he didn't just listen to them. He learned from them. Specifically, he learned the finer points of songcraft. "I've been a big fan of Paul Simon for a long time," he says. "He has this capacity to surprise you with his music and his lyrics. With John Prine's songs, I grew from believing that they happened to him to understanding that it didn't matter if they really happened to him. And Randy Newman? Wow. I especially love a record like Trouble in Paradise, when there are all these artificial 1980s production techniques, but they're being used in the service of this master composer."

That respect for tradition-but more specifically for the fact that so-called traditional artists were in fact consistent risk-takers-fuel Ellis's new record. "With this record," he says, "I feel like I've gotten to where I can use the material of my own life as a jumping-off point. But now I can do different things with that material." In this case, of course, the material has an element of melancholy. Much of the record revolves around the dissolution of Ellis's marriage. It's a breakup album, but not one that dissects its subject with straightforward rage and regret-Ellis and his ex-wife remain friends, and she is even featured in the album art, which was created after the divorce. Rather, it's an album that finds Ellis reaching back into the trick bags of masters like Simon, Prine, and Newman, and employing the full complement of skills that he's learned from them. "'Perfect Strangers,' took a month," he says. "I had a notepad and walked around New York, giving myself personal therapy through the eyes of the city."

Other songs came faster. "I wrote 'Elephant" quickly," he says. "It's about my misunderstanding of monogamy and my complete bewilderment with some of the ideas that I grew up with. I felt that in the past year, lots of constructs I took for granted were turned on their head. But I was careful to express those ideas in a way where the gray areas got to stay gray. If what you're saying is that you're confused, you shouldn't say you're confused. You should betray a contradiction."

Ellis isn't afraid of sophistication. The beautifully orchestrated "You're Not the One" has more complex origins than its title might suggest. "For that one, I woke up from a nightmare that was a kind of sex dream. In the dream, the faces around me kept changing. It was very eerie, like a David Lynch movie. The song has that sense of unease but also this Ellington bridge that's unrelated to the key of the song. I'm really proud of that one." But he can make his point with simplicity also, as in the chorus to "Drivin," a co-write with Angaleena Presley: "This don't feel like living, it's just surviving / I'm ain't going nowhere, I'm just driving." And then there's "High Road," the emotional center of the record, co-written with friend Jonny Fritz, a song about professional and personal insecurity that builds from lonesome shivers to almost operatic melodrama-all the while riding a lovely, fragile melody.

While Ellis wrote nine of the album's songs, he is also a generous collaborator dedicated to finding songs from other writers who advance his vision. "Once I knew that much of the record would be composed of these extremely personal songs like 'Elephant' or 'High Road,' but I was aware from the start that I couldn't have a whole record of them. Putting it together was like assembling a collection of short stories. You need different tones and colors. So that's why I included a song like 'How I Love You,' which was written by my friend Matt Vasquez, from Delta Spirit. We were hanging out, and I asked him if he had any good uptempo songs, and he showed me that one. And 'Screw' was written by Kelly Doyle, who plays guitar in our band. Listening to him work on his solo record, I was amazed by the sound. His process and palette were really inspirational to me."

The album ends with "It's Not OK," which holds its ground as a traditional busted-love song before hurtling headlong into a dark thicket of guitars. "In that case, because the song is about that kind of emotional trouble, part of me that wanted dissonance and chaos. The melodic and rhythmic ideas to me are a different kind of information from the lyrics, but they're still information."

As thoughtful as Ellis is about the process, his album also has plenty of pop pleasures. "California" is a jaunty, intimate travelogue that elevates into his chorus. "Amanda Jane" has an almost bossa nova shuffle and a melody that splits the difference between power pop and 70s soft rock. And "Couples Skate" reaches back even further. "I wrote that one while were on tour with Richard Thompson. It's a green room song. I was just journaling, and I remembered holding this girl's hand in second grade. It's a nostalgic idea, which is why I reached for a 50s soul vibe. But it's also nineties, in a way-something about it that reminds me of the rock and roll I was listening to around that time."

In the end, Robert Ellis (the album) is the most accurate reflection yet of Robert Ellis (the man). It's analytical and emotional, calculated in spots and improvisational in others, restless, peaceful, never indifferent, never dispassionate.
Jonathan Tyler
Jonathan Tyler did the rock star thing.

He played Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, Hangout Fest and the Voodoo Experience. He performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and toured alongside AC/DC, ZZ Top, Grace Potter, and Kid Rock. His 2010 LP Pardon Me for Atlantic Records with backing band The Northern Lights reached No. 8 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart. His songs were featured in such television shows as Boardwalk Empire and Friday Night Lights.

It was everything he thought he'd wanted. It was everything he'd signed up for. But it wasn't really him.

"I knew what I was getting into," Tyler says now, removed enough from that whirlwind to have gained some perspective on it. "I knew what would happen when we signed with Atlantic. Then I got over it."

These days, Tyler really does come off as a changed man – in person and on record alike. He's more introspective, more focused. His shoulders are less slumped, as if a heavy burden has been lifted. It has: Holy Smokes, his forthcoming third proper LP, finds Tyler shed of major-label constraints, bearing his soul as songwriter who's seen the top of the mountain and now seeks a different kind of climb, one filled less with flash and more with substance. The album's an open look into who Tyler is at this very moment – and, most of all, who he feels he's always really been.

"I'm in this for the long haul," he says now with certainty -- and Holy Smokes, filled with songs that fill every emotional nook and cranny, very much plays out like a testament to this fact.
Venue Information:
Urban Lounge
241 South 500 East
Salt Lake City, UT, 84102
http://www.theurbanloungeslc.com/