Q&A with Nicole Atkins

Check out "Soundtrack of Life," this month's Buzz Spotlight on Nicole Atkins. Here's more from that interview.

What was your process like recording Neptune City
The songs on this record are songs I've pretty much been working on my whole life, since I started writing songs. I recorded them out in Sweden with Tore Johansson in November and December [of 2006]. It was very cold and dark and isolating. Pretty much all we had to do was the record because there was nothing else around us. 
How did your band's name (Nicole Atkins & the Sea) come about?
I live by the sea [in Asbury Park]. So it just seemed very fitting.
The music industry is shrinking. How can new artists like you survive? 
With [illegal] downloading, the record industry needs to change its model and they're just trying to figure out what to do. I'm just glad to be touring. If I can establish a good touring base, it'll set me up to be doing this for the rest of my life. The labels are going to have to figure out creative ways to sell music digitally. Which is a shame because I would get so much joy when I was younger—and even now—buying a record, taking it out of the plastic, reading the booklet, and looking at the art. I feel like people today are missing out on that.
Is that because of your art background? 
I came up with the concept for my album cover and hired my friend to do the art. Columbia has been really cool about letting me have control of the visual aspect. That's a big part of what we do. It's important to have a visual. I guess it allows me to use my art degree to some level. I became my own art director.
Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
I've been playing music since I was six—playing music and painting pictures since I was little. I play guitar and piano. I'm not really great at either one, but I use it as a tool to write songs. Kind of like how you only eat lettuce so that you can eat blue cheese. I only play guitar so I can sing. 
You're on the road a lot. Who are some of the artists you've opened for?
I played a festival with Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Queens of the Stone Age. That was the Austin City Limits Festival. I've also played South by Southwest, and this year we're playing at Bonnaroo. I think we're doing Lollapalooza this summer, too.
You appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman the night your album was released (and more recently on Late Night with Conan O'Brien). What was that experience like? 
That was the best day of my life. [Letterman] came up and shook my hand after we were done, and asked me if I wanted to go get a steak. It was kind of weird, but whatever. At least he liked us.
You said one of the things you missed most about Charlotte was The Penguin. Anything you don't miss?
I don't miss the traffic around Kenilworth in Dilworth around five o'clock. 
When's the last time you performed here?
It's been a long time since I performed in Charlotte, probably 2004. I played at Spirit Square once and that was really fun. The Neighborhood Theatre was probably my favorite place to play. We may perform in Charlotte in February or March.
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