HLN Meets North East Musician: Jodie Nicholson
We caught up with the Hurworth-on-Tees native Jodie Nicholson to chat about self-producing her first album, trusting your instincts as a woman, the reality of life as a musician in the North East.
By Becky Hardy
You heard it here first guys: Jodie Nicholson is one to watch.
Well, you may have actually heard that from Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2, BBC Music Introducing, Amazing Radio or any of the massive festivals like Long Division and Hit The North that have confirmed her as one of their acts already. But what we’re saying is, we’re all singing from the same song sheet – and this particular song sheet just happens to have been written by Teesside local, one of the North East’s finest musicians, Jodie.
Describing herself as a singer-songwriter-plus – a title that gives her the creative freedom to flex her musical muscles – Jodie Nicholson somehow brings together genres as far-ranging as folk-pop, soft jazz, indie and electro under her creative wing, in a delicate amalgamation that allows her music to set a course towards previously uncharted genres and take flight.
And with her debut album Golden Hour having already made waves in both the local and national music scene – so much so that, last year, she was the recipient of not one but two lots of prestigious funding for future projects – Jodie now has her sights set on a new release. We caught up with Jodie to find out more…
Photo by Rebecca Flynn
Tell us a little about your journey in music so far.
My journey as a musician began by playing at open mic nights. My dad took me to my first one when I was 15, almost 10 years ago! Throughout college and university I played in local pubs, bars, restaurants and the odd wedding. It all grew through word of mouth, really. Then after I graduated in 2018, I thought to myself: right, this is the first full year without being in full-time education. Let’s see where music can take me if I really put my time and energy into it, and that’s where the album stemmed from.
I had this collection of songs that I’d written over a space of six or seven years, many of which I’d played live and knew that the people who’d seen me loved hearing. As I didn’t study music at university, I knew there’d always be a chance that one day I may stop playing live, so Golden Hour was my way of giving back to those who’ve supported me over the years and sharing a bank of music they can always listen to, regardless of where life takes me.
Photo by Jodie Canwell
You self-produced and self-released Golden Hour. What was that process like?
I already had a little setup at home, which I recorded bits and pieces within my spare time. Recording and producing the tracks was a steep learning curve – YouTube was a massive help! I reached out to some friends of mine to record instruments like drums and saxophone, that I really couldn’t do myself. A few of the album tracks I’d already recorded, as a demo or in a studio, so there was a good starting point before I’d even decided to make the album.
It was a stressful journey, I’m not gonna lie! Relying solely on yourself, when you have nothing but an idea in your head is tough. But it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s helped me grow as a songwriter, understand my sound, what I’m capable of achieving when I put my mind to something and has since enabled me to work with some incredible people. Over the years, especially following Golden Hour’s release in September 2019, I’ve become part of a really strong community and I feel like such an active member of that now. Before I was very shy and didn’t really believe in myself, whereas now I feel like I’ve really found my voice.
Photo by Rebecca Flynn
Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?
Laura Marling, Lucy Rose, Daughter, Pink Floyd and Bombay Bicycle Club.
There’s also a local, North East musician from Sunderland called Paul Liddell who I saw live many times in my teens. He’s incredible – he sounds exactly the same (if not better) live than he does in his albums. You can tell that he’s really honed his craft. He inspired me massively to start writing my own music.
How or when did you first realise you had a talent for music?
I’ve loved music from a young age. I remember going around telling my friends in primary school about Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Avril Lavigne! I wouldn’t say I’ve always known I had a ‘talent’ for music, but one year in secondary school I entered our yearly talent competition. Nobody knew I sang because I was a pretty quiet kid, but I sang ‘Mama Do’ by Pixie Lott and won the competition! Since then I think I was labelled as ‘the singer’. It’s so random, but I think that opened a huge door for me and gave me the confidence to sing and play music.
This last year has been pretty bleak for most musicians. What’s been the reality of being a musician during a global pandemic?
It’s been such a rollercoaster. At first I was terrified about what might happen – how it was going to affect everything, especially on a financial level with gigs and festivals getting cancelled. And not just for us as performers, but for grassroots venues and promoters who rely on the live scene.
As a musician, it’s difficult to keep that drive and motivation, especially creatively. You hear some people say: oh yeah, I’ve written a whole album in lockdown. I haven’t done that at all! But keeping in touch with other musicians has been a big help – having that sense of unity, even if it is everybody feeling just as stuck as each other!
My manager and I always say this with a bit of guilt, but we actually had a pretty great 2020! Airplay on Radio 1, Radio 2 and 6 Music, press features in the US, a Kickstarter campaign for Golden Hour 12” vinyl that was 250% successful of its initial target – the list goes on! In May I found out that I’d received funding from both Help Musicians ‘Do It Differently’ and the PRS Foundation ‘Women Make Music’. That funding has really sustained me throughout the pandemic, even now, which I’m incredibly grateful for.
Your last single, ‘Move’, is very different from Golden Hour. Why the shift in sound?
It happened by accident, to be honest! I was still writing Golden Hour and wanted some kind of interlude or hidden track. I was struggling for inspiration so I started looking through sounds on Logic, (the software I use) and came across this gorgeous synth that opens up ‘Move’ and runs throughout the track. It was such an intuitively-created song. Help Musicians’ ‘Do it Differently’ supported its release, which enabled me to work remotely with London-based producer Tim Bran, who really understood its sound and made it the rich, moody, colourful track that it is!
You’ve talked before about having a fascination with artists who change sonically with each album. Why is that important to you?
I’ve always admired that in an artist. Bombay Bicycle Club are experts at changing their sound from album to album, as is Laura Marling. I think that change is important because you can so easily get set in your ways, but you need to keep pushing your boundaries as a songwriter because you don’t know where that may lead you. I had no idea ‘Move’ was waiting for me after Golden Hour, but it’s been really amazing watching it grow and reach so many people since its release last year.
Creative freedom seems very important to you?
Totally. I never want my artistry to be pigeonholed. It’s so important to keep your options open as a musician, and even as a listener. I find it fascinating when artists can evolve with each album, exploring totally different directions sonically across their career, yet every track still sounds like ‘them’. The more I experiment with my voice and my sound, the more I can understand what makes me ‘me’, as an artist.
I’m currently working on an EP and all the tracks vary so much. But when I’m thinking about how they can slot together, that’s when I recognise common themes and sounds. Sometimes there are just tiny characteristics where you can tell it’s one of my songs and no-one else’s.
You mentioned a new EP – is that coming out anytime soon?!
The full EP is going to be out around summertime. That’s the plan, anyway! I can’t share dates yet, but the first single is going to be out in May. It’s so exciting because this feels like the most ‘me’ music I’ve ever created.
Photo by Victoria Wai
You mentioned earlier that you were awarded funding from Help Musicians and the PRS Foundation. How has this funding helped you, as an artist?
I completely underestimated the power of getting this type of support. I thought funding was just money towards your project, but it’s so much more.
These organisations have so many ties with other organisations and companies. I’ve been able to access mentoring and workshops with industry professionals, as well as drop-in sessions to support my wellbeing as a creative. It’s really broadened my knowledge about the industry and the people who are there to support you – even when you don’t think you need it.
If I had any advice for other musicians out there, it would be to apply for funding. I really feel like I’m starting to understand myself as a creative and trust myself more as an artist now. It’s been such a game-changer for me.
What advice would you give other musicians in the North East?
Really get to know your local scene and reach out to other artists, even if it’s just interacting with them on social media. Try and make those connections, because they’re so valuable long-term.
Apply for funding! Seek out organisations that support musicians/creatives. Embrace every single part of the creative process. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, because they happen all the time and you grow from every single one of them. And listen to loads of different types of music.
And any advice specifically for female artists?
Use your voice. Don’t be afraid to speak up and hold your ground, especially if you’re a soloist. If you’re working with someone on a track, for example, and you’re not fully happy with how it’s sounding – make it known. It sounds like a lot of pressure, but ultimately, this music represents you, you’re the one who’s going to be promoting it and playing it live. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be open to advice and other perspectives, because having an open mind will really help you grow, but trust your instincts and hold onto your creative control as an independent artist – it’s priceless! The more we become confident in voicing our thoughts, goals and opinions, the clearer our path will be and the more it’ll empower so many others to do the same.
What would you most like to achieve by the end of 2021?
That my EP is out! I’d also love to have locked down my roots primarily as a songwriter – to write with more people across different genres and work more towards being accredited as a songwriter on other people’s music. And, of course, to play live again! The sceptic in me says there’s still a chance that might not happen, but that would be magical.
What’s your ultimate career goal?
To understand myself as an artist, release music that I’m really proud of, hone my craft and use my voice in this industry.
This is me talking really big here, but eventually I’d love to get to a point where I’m able to help other musicians as a mentor of some sort. I’m a big believer in the underdog and I’d love to be able to support musicians in a similar position to where I started out! Even if I’m not releasing music forever, the goal for me is to remain an active part of the North East music scene and use what I’ve learned to benefit others.
Photo By Jodie Canwell
Quick-fire question time! Where’s your dream gig?
Barn On The Farm Festival.
Who would you most like to duet with?
Jack Steadman, the frontman of Bombay Bicycle Club.
What album could you listen to on repeat forever?
Warpaint’s second album. I have it in my car constantly, so I’ve already tested that theory!
Who’s another local North East musician we should really look out for?
Nadedja. She gives me goosebumps every time I hear her sing. She’s super talented with such a unique sound and is based in Newcastle.
Which song would you love to cover?
‘Take It With Me’ by Tom Waits.
And what’s one song you really wish you’d written yourself?
Can I have two?! Roger Waters’ ‘Amused to Death’, or ‘Woman In Chains’ by Tears For Fears.