Nikki Thorburn is a Sydney born solo artist who brings her own style of laid back indie/folk. Working with the likes of Ollie McGill and Johnathan Zion, she has just released her debut EP, To the Place. We caught up with Nikki to ask her about her debut release and music in general.
What make you want to be a musician?
It is always just what I’ve done, like breathing. There was never any reason behind it. Some people build houses, some people argue in law courts, I write songs. I also love the road and all the fascinating and bizarre stories that it holds. I am a restless person and need to be constantly inspired and stimulated by new experiences to feel at my most creative. So I guess being destined for a life as a traveling musician makes complete sense.
What was the inspiration behind the Walking in circles video?
I was talking to a friend one day and we were saying how cool it would be to do a video with a whole heap of paint being thrown around. Once the idea had been planted in my mind I became quite obsessed and I came up with all these crazy images in my mind of paint covered people dancing and paint flying around the place. I wanted to do something that could come to represent a kind of mad and beautiful chaos, and a complete lack of order, then contrast this with images of regulation and control and ultimately breaking free from this.
You traveled around Europe and the UK last year, did you write many new songs while over there?
Yes it was my most creative time, I was writing songs every day – always moving around to different places and travelling with new people was incredibly stimulating in terms of my writing. There were always so many fascinating stories to be told. I think being alone for a lot of the time was part of it too- it really forces you to dig deep and create a kind of inner dialogue with yourself which is when my strongest songs were written. Being exposed to all the different cultures really broadened my songwriting too because suddenly all these new doors were opened and there was all this music out there I had never heard of. Amazing world music and instruments that I didn’t even know existed – Morocco in particular. I would love to go back there to live one day.
Are there any plans on recording in Europe in the future?
I met some amazing music producers and musicians when I was living in Paris for a little while. I recorded some video footage but I would love to go back and record a bunch of songs there. It’s such an exciting place in terms of music – every night I was blown away with all the incredible musicians just playing in these tiny underground jazz cellars. Just doing there thing for the complete love of the music.
You’ve also said how you were surrounded by music and imagination when growing up in the Blue Mountains, what is the music scene like around there?
Well my Dad has always taken me to the Katoomba Blues and Roots Festival since a young age and I can never get over the incredible underground artists that you discover there. Everyone is so supportive too and there is this real feeling of community there.
What’s it like to have your debut EP released?
It is exciting, but there is this feeling that it’s only the start. I’m quite restless and now that I have stuff out there, I want to keep creating and releasing music that goes one step further. I always have to be working towards the next thing which is what I am doing now so I never really give myself time to sit down and think about it too much.
The EP has already been met with critical acclaim being played on Triple J as well as other community radio stations, did you think it would get that much exposure when you put it together?
When I write songs and put them down in the studio I never take into account stuff like will this get played on the radio and what can we do to get it played. I want it to be left as a completely creative process and I believe when you start trying to mould your music to a particular formula, the creativity is completely lost. The artists that I’ve always most admired are the ones who are daring enough to create something different; their music doesn’t sound like a million other songs that the radio might be playing. If radio picks up on a song then that’s just a bonus. What I want to do is focus on writing songs that I feel personally take my music to the next level and push my creative boundaries.
Does the early success make you feel any pressure in putting out future releases?
No not at all, it is more encouraging. If this is the response my early material is getting I am even more excited to get some of my newer stuff out there which I feel is a lot stronger.
What was it like to work with Ollie McGill?
Incredible. He is such a talented musician and it was so great to have someone who really understood where I was coming from in terms of my music. I am still lucky enough to be working with him now doing live shows too which is amazing. I think he has gotten to know my songwriting style more so we seem to work better together and he really adds another depth to my songs. I’m just so excited now to get back into the studio because when we last recorded I was 18 and straight out of school. He had heard my songs on a rough demo I had done and we went straight into the studio and recorded them. Now I think we will be really able to take my new songs to a whole new level and hopefully create something quite amazing.
Was it hard to pick what songs make it onto the EP?
Yes extremely difficult. It was a long process. I would have just released a whole album if I could but that isn’t how it is done these days unfortunately!
You mix in various musical elements into your sound, is it hard to get everything to fit together?
I never really think about how it all works together. I stay true to each song, and I know that they must all work together somehow as I created them. I try to keep the process of putting the songs together as unstructured and unplanned as possible to reach my full creative capacity. The more I try to fit everything together and create some sense of order with my music, the less creatively satisfied I feel.
Is there any instrument you’ve wanted to play but haven’t yet?
Definitely the harp. We have an extremely ancient harp at home but the strings are broken and it is really beyond repair but no one wants to get rid of it! Since I was a kid I always wished I could play it…
When writing what comes first, the words or the music?
The music often comes first. I will get snippets of music in my head which I will record onto a little tape recorder and then often I will find that I already have another snippet of a song recorded that works perfectly with it. It’s funny how it works, almost like a puzzle. Like each song has actually already been written however is in a thousand different pieces, and I am the one assigned the role of putting it all together. Sometimes with the words, I will have to do a bit of shuffling around to get them to fit with the music but often I just start singing the song and the words are there.
You’ve also talked about having a fascination with the ocean, are there any plans to use ocean sounds in your future music?
Yes definitely. I am always looking to incorporate natural sounds with my songs. I like to create not just a song for people to listen to but a place for them to go, so I am always looking for different sounds to incorporate into the music.
You’ve also put out a video for the song Brave Like a Lion will this be released as part of a new CD soon?
Yes I will be releasing this with another EP soon which will be exciting!
Do you listen to your own music?
Yes but I can never sit back and enjoy it. I am always very critical, listening out for ways it could improve and how to take it to the next step.
What other music do you listen to?
Everything from old school jazz – the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong to a lot of 60 folk, blues, rock and psychedelic music which is what I was brought up listening too – Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, The Byrds, Cream, The Yardbirds, Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Still and Nash. I also love a lot of gospel and world music which I really got into while I was travelling. Experimental music too, which came as a result of living in London and being exposed to all of the underground cutting edge experimental stuff. I hope to incorporate more of these elements in my music in the future.
Now that your EP is out what do you plan on doing next?
Going out on the road more to play shows, and getting back into the studio to record some new stuff!