Ride It ’Til the Wheels Fall Off: Nikki Hill, January 26 at RIBCO Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 16:58

Nikki HillBased on her vocal confidence and itinerary, it’s hard to believe that Nikki Hill is by her own admission a neophyte on the music scene.

She began singing in the church choir in her native North Carolina when she was six or seven, but her tenure as a performing and touring rock-and-roll artist is considerably shorter – basically less than a year. Yet she co-produced and released her self-titled debut EP last year on her own label, she’s planning a spring release of some sort, and this spring and summer she’ll be playing in Italy, Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Spain. On Saturday, she’ll be performing at RIBCO, and while you might not have heard of Hill, she’s doing her damnedest to change that.

“I’m kind of in that ride-it-’til-the-wheels-fall-off mode,” the 28-year-old said in a phone interview last week.

Before last year, Hill had been playing some gigs in St. Louis – where she and her guitarist husband Matt live – and occasionally sitting in with other bands; music as a career hadn’t occurred to her. So when she traveled to the 2012 Viva Las Vegas rockabilly festival and a friend signed her up to sing at a pre-fest party without her knowledge, she had no idea what was about to happen.

You can see the video evidence on YouTube (RCReader.com/y/hill1 and RCReader.com/y/hill2). She might have lacked experience, but she tore into the chestnuts “Rip It Up” and “Mercy” with veteran poise and fire.

The reaction to the video clips pushed her into the studio. “Maybe I’ll write up a few tunes and record something and see if it we can take it on the road at all,” she said. “And it actually worked.”

She said that songwriting is “brand-new to me, too. It was one of those things that I’d never really considered before.” And while the four songs on her EP – all originals – aren’t particularly distinctive, they’re an appealing blend of soul, rockabilly, blues, and ’50s rock and roll. And more than anything they’re a perfect showcase for that meaty voice, with its growling voracity in one song, smooth, sexy slink in the next, and heartfelt emotion in a slow ballad after that.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do with my voice, but I’m confident in what I’ve got,” Hill said. “It’s something that you kinda have to do it or don’t do it. ... If you’re nervous about that, it’s going to block you.”

The EP’s tracks definitely have a vintage vibe, and that’s intentional but also limiting: “I don’t want it to be so vintage or retro that it can’t cross over to different audiences,” she said. “We’re not aiming to be a rockabilly band ... but just [have] an appreciation for the energy and the rawness of it, and the feel. It sounds good, it sounds real, it’s doesn’t sound overproduced ... .”

The recordings she’s cut since the EP, she said, are “a little more edgy, definitely more rock-and-roll, more ‘grease,’ as we always put it – a lot more grease, which is always good.”

And while she might not have much seasoning yet, she’s been active in every aspect of her young music career. For all the things she doesn’t know, she said, “I’m doing a pretty good job of faking it.”

Nikki Hill will perform on Saturday, January 26, at RIBCO (1815 Second Avenue, Rock Island; RIBCO.com). The show starts at 9 p.m. and also features 3 on the Tree. Cover is $6.


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