My Page: Nicole Atkins (“See That Girl Barefootin’ Along”)
I have two half-brothers and when my older brother Scotty was 16, he moved in with us. At the time, I was nine, so it was exciting to have a teenager move in. He put up all of his posters in his room and had that Europe ‘72 poster. I just thought the artwork was so cool. I was fascinated by it.
At first, it was the artwork that really drew me in because when I was little, I loved to draw. Scotty’s friends would come over wearing Dead Comix T-shirts, and I would always look at his Grateful Dead records, and then I started listening to the music more. The first song I fell in love with was “St. Stephen,” and I did this huge drawing of all the lyrics to the song. In high school, it was kind of my way to make friends. I was already a Deadhead and I met all these other people who were Deadheads. I worked at a beach kiosk on the boardwalk my freshman year of high school, and there was a cook in the kitchen who saw me wearing the Dead Comix T-shirt and said, “We should go to a show sometime.” I’d never been to a show, so he took me to the Jerry Garcia Band at the Meadowlands on Halloween, and I found a 12th row ticket in the parking lot. That was one of my first shows without my parents. The Grateful Dead shows that I saw later on were fun—I don’t know if they were that good—but that night, he was just so on.
I also saw moe. a lot when I was younger. One time I was at a college party at Rutgers when I was in high school. They were playing in the backyard and someone gave them mushrooms before they went on and I thought, “Oh my god, these guys are crazy.” Another time, they played right before Busta Rhymes at a Rutgers lawn party and I stood right in front saying, “Come on guys, you should do this and that.” And after the show, I went backstage and talked to them for a little bit. I went to college in North Carolina soon after that and went to see them at a bar. I was 18 but had a fake ID and was able to get in, but then the bouncer came up in the middle of the set and kicked me out. The guys in moe. saw that I got kicked out and they said, “Why don’t you come and see us in Winston-Salem tomorrow night?” I had told them casually that I sing and they invited me onstage for “St. Augustine.” I remember going to some Phish shows and the Furthur Festival tour that summer and a bunch of people coming up to me and being like, “You’re the moe. girl,” so I got some free beers and burgers in the parking lot.
I have all of the Robert Hunter poetry books, so when I need some inspiration or I have writer’s block, I always go back to them. Also, live, our band has that San Francisco vibe to it. I hear it in the harmonies, too. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir’s harmonies are weird—they’re not correct—and when I was growing up, that was the kind of music I was learning, so our harmonies tend to lean more toward the Dead side than the normal side.
In terms of my own music, in the past, I’ve always gone in with a plan and an idea of what I wanted the album to sound like. But about four months before Superstorm Sandy, I asked to get off my record label because they wanted me to go in a really straight direction and that’s just something I’ve never been interested in. I also parted with my manager and was living down in Memphis, Tenn., with my friend who ran some studios, and I started demoing songs and traveling to London writing with Jim Sclavunos, the drummer from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.
I really took my time to wander around and not put a forceful deadline on myself because I figured if I’m not making the best record I’ve made yet, then there’s no point in me making one. So after the hurricane, Tore Johansson said to me: “You should come to Sweden and let’s make a record.” He did it for free, just out of kindness and wanting to get creative.
Right before I went out there, I went to California for a trip to the desert with my friend Glen and we just listened to a lot of great prog rock. I never listened so intently to anything like that before but kept thinking about the production on those records. So when I went to Sweden to make Slow Phaser, I played Tore the first Peter Gabriel record and he said, “This was my first tape I ever bought and it was my favorite record.” So we sat for a month and a half just jamming on the songs with everybody in the room at the same time.
It’s important for me to stay in touch with my roots. When I am not on tour, my guitar teacher Mark Muller recruits me as Donna Jean for these Dead On Live shows where he recreates a concert from the Dead similar to the Dark Star Orchestra. It makes sense that the Grateful Dead’s artwork is so beautiful. Their lyrics are so colorful and vibrant and lend themselves so easily making art like that.