January 2005 Guitarist of the Month



by Robert Urban

Bisexual... Half-Latina... Woman Rocker... - NICOLA's dual individualities co-exist & navigate amongst often conflicting, (if not often opposing) worlds of different sexual-orientations, ethnicities and the straight-run rock 'n roll biz. She has performed regularly at NYC Lesbian bars such as RubyFruit & Meow Mix, and participated in festivals and events such as Long Island's "EstFest" and Syracuse Club 950's "Girls Night Out". Nicola has been featured in GLBT publications such as GoNYC magazine, Outwords Magazine, Women Who Rock Magazine and am actively involved with "Chicks Who Rock" and a whole host of GLBT-friendly organizations.

In her own words, "I try my best to co-exist, yet another part of my existence and life is spent as a woman who loves women, who honors her bisexuality as well, and is actively involved in defending the rights of women and volunteering in organizations such as NOW & Planned Parenthood. I love men and women both and see no reason to discriminate or be "pigeon-holed" because of one's personal preference. My circle of friends and audiences both are very diverse, as well as my involvements on a community level."

What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?

For acoustics there's nothing better than my beat-up old 1980 Yamaha FG160 which is so warm and ballsy (ooh can I say that?) - and records like a champ. I even installed a fabulous LR Baggs RT pickup in it and it sounds awesome now. My mainstay acoustic guitar for live performances is an Ibanez AEL 20TRS‚ which I got in 2000. The tone is great and it never feeds back. From time to time, I will change up with a backup Takamine on stage using it usually only if I break a string.

For electrics, I use a 2002 Ibanez GAX70‚ fairly inexpensive guitar - but I overhauled the entire pickup system, and put in some serious vintage Seymour Duncan pickups which make all the difference in the world - sounds like another guitar now altogether. I also like playing a Fender 62 American Vintage Stratocaster made of Rosewood.

What brand/model/year amps and effects do you use?

I use different amps - ranging from a 2000 Tech 21 Trademark 120 with footswitch - to the 1993 65 Fender Twin Reverb Vintage Reissue Series. I also like the 1993 Roland Jazz Chorus JC120‚ and boy if I could afford one, I would own a 2000 Matchless LG212 Lightning Series since I'm addicted to playing through them in every studio where I've had the fortune to rehearse in and utilize one.

I'm old-school when it comes to pedals. I just love my Boss stomp pedals. In the daisy chain on my pedal board you'll see a DS1 for Distortion, a PH3 Phaser, CH1 Chorus, DD2 Delay, but I do like the Ibanez TS9DX Turbo Tube Screamer for a crazy ‚ phat‚ vintage tube sound when necessary and recently added that in after I read that it's one of Santana's favorites‚ (what a geek I am) you know I just had to go out and buy one! (Still can't seem to play like him though!)

Any special/favorite instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?

Oh yeah‚ (this is insane, but kind of cool) if I'm playing out live and want to get a more electric sound without going completely electric, I stuff the sound hole of my Acoustic Guitar with towels, put a feed-back buster in, and then boost the mid-range frequencies while going through an amp instead of direct through the house. I also use effects... even distortion sometimes, and the sum total of it all is an almost strat-like sound, but the cool thing is you can strum and pound on it and it feels exactly like an acoustic because it is one. I tend to use heavier gauge strings and prefer a fairly high action for the type of playing that I do. Tears up your fingers, and it's a work-out but the payoff is a thicker, warmer and richer tone with more bass.

For recording Electrics, technology is so advanced these days, believe it or not, I hardly ever use conventional amps anymore, since you can get the perfect desired amp sound from a program which pops up on the computer at the control board. It's crazy - they have every sound from that of a Fender to a Marshall and even Matchless. When you're laying down a track, it sounds great and there - so much less set-up and sound-check time, it's ridiculous!

For recording Acoustics I love the (double-mic) technique. A mic at the sound-hole and another mic overhead to get the room sound giving a wonderful full effect and of course, if you double or triple the guitar track, it sounds amazingly fat in the mix. I use a lot of percussive and rhythmic techniques in my playing to achieve the hybrid Rock/Soul/Latin feel to my music so recording this way with the acoustic, rather than plugging into the board or an amp allows me to execute and achieve a better sound ultimately.

Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?

Oh boy‚ growing up‚ I listened to so many people‚ rock gods like Van Halen, Hendrix and Santana, but I was definitely influenced by the surreal blues tones of Buddy Guy, BB King and even the spit-fire Bonnie Raitt‚ (love that girl!) OK‚ so I admit‚ I was also a bit of a die-hard James Taylor fan. I worshipped every thing he wrote and played, and was deeply affected by his innately beautiful harmonic lines. Later on, I got into different groups and artists like Vertical Horizon, Incubus, Red Hot Chile Peppers, Ani Di Franco, Dave Matthews and even the late Michael Hedges who was a master of alternate tunings and ingenious percussive as well as harmonic stylings - major influence on me. Funny thing is, I have been compared to both Ani Di Franco and Dave Matthews and I just have to laugh, cause I don't think I sound like either of them.

How many different kinds of stringed/fretted instruments do you play? (e.g. - guitars, banjos, mandolins, basses, etc.) Do you play any other instruments?

Wish I could say that I was more versed in this realm, but of the stringed/fretted instruments, I only play guitar at the moment. I do play keyboard and in elementary school I played violin for several years, but subsequently dropped it in favor of the guitar. I have this crazy notion though - I secretly fancy myself as a bass player - and I know that one of these days, if I can ever find the time, I will take some lessons.

Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music‚ (e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc.?) Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?

In this country if you play music - especially original music - unless you're an international star, you have to find some way to feed your habit - so yeah I do recordings, demos for other people, sometimes sing on jingles or do voice-overs. I sang a couple of tracks on a project for Joe Lynn Turner (Deep Purple), have arranged and co-produced projects for other singer/songwriters. I've done weddings, corporate events, you name it - and I thoroughly enjoy all aspects of music and the craft itself. I teach guitar and voice and I have performed regularly in my hometown of NYC as well as touring throughout the states and even abroad.

Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?

I don't know what any person could really consider my "finest piece of work" since Dave Navarro would probably laugh himself silly, but I'm sometimes proud of a tune I wrote called "Talk To Me" off my first album. To perform this tune live is always a challenge - it is truly what I would call deceivingly difficult. It sounds very simple and lyrical, yet it continually changes meters, rhythmic feel and drive, with a counterpoint between bass line, arpeggios and strums as well as a simple lyrical lead. Thrown on top of that are some oddly inverted chords giving the impression that two guitar parts are simultaneously playing. Layered on top of all this, is the vocal line which is its own counterpoint. I am also proud of the things my producers helped me to pull off on my second album and current release called "What's The Point".

Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?

Let's put it this way - if there were a fire in my house, the first thing I'd grab before running out into the street would be my guitar! Music has been and will always be for me - my drug of choice - my healing balm in life - my salvation - my soul mate - and it's better than any therapy you could ever pay for.

Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world - especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?

It's funny, people always ask this...but I never thought of myself as being different than anyone else - I never entertained negative thoughts or allowed myself to be marginalized or ostracized in anyway. Music is a universal language and it speaks to all people alike. I always saw music as a way to break down barriers that divided and separated people of different communities, and no matter what venue, or audience I am performing to whether Gay, Straight, Black, White, Latino, Asian, Christian, Jewish, you name it - I always feel that it is my obligation as an artist to reach people across the board. No one has ever come up to me at the end of the end of any show where I just played my ass off and exclaimed, "Wow, you're a great bi-guitarist!!!" It's always, "Wow, woman you rock", or "You're a great guitarist" - I view this as a positive thing.

For a glbt player‚ how does the overall music scene differ today from years ago?

Oh I definitely see the lines getting blurred in the music business, with a lot more acceptance, more opportunities, less overt prejudice, glbt artists in the mainstream who are open like Melissa Etheridge, Ani Di Franco (well at least for a time she was a lesbian - now I think she went straight again?), even Boy George enjoys VH1 specials now where he gets to speak freely and publicly about his "gayness" - though I doubt superstars like Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken will come clean just yet (the stakes are probably still too high where their commercial careers are concerned), and although we've made gains in the entertainment world, our society still has so far to go in totally accepting and embracing all types of artists.

Any advice for young glbt players?

Let your music guide you - let it be your heart‚your soul‚ your conscience. Remember- opinions are like ass holes, everybody has one. So steer clear of bias and negativity - and just do your thing proudly!

What are your current and future musical projects?

I just released my second album called "What's The Point" with my band in November, and we're getting ready to do a bunch of in-town gigs as well as a Northeastern tour. I'm also involved with an organization called "Chicks with Guitars" and my manager Belinda Stone of Hot Cherry Records is coordinating a spring 2005 tour. We have sponsorship and are getting some press so it's very exciting to see this endeavor get off the ground. I am a featured artist in the MTA "Music Under NY" program and perform regularly in the NYC subway system. I was featured on ABC and NBC News on 2 different occasions and now an independent filmmaker has decided to make a documentary about street performers where I'll be featured, so I am thankful for all of these amazing opportunities.

We're also in the process of setting up a deal that (hush-hush) for radio and distribution as well as film & TV music licensing, so that's cool too. The goal in 2005 is to open for a high-level or mid-line act to gain maximum exposure - maybe even get picked up by a small Indie Label or Subsidiary. I'd like to work with some other acts and different genres and varieties of music - I love to experiment with sounds, beats, drum sampling - the possibilities are endless...who knows - maybe I'll get to buy that Matchless Amp after all in 2005. For now, if you want to hear music, look at scandalous pictures or find out the goods on where we're playing next, stop by the website at: www.nicolanicola.com


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