Auckland singer-songwriter Louisa Nicklin has made a significant impression on the local music scene over the last couple of years, her ethereal folk-influenced sound catching attention and turning heads. The accomplished saxophonist and composer sat down with Gary Farrow for NZM to talk about her self-titled debut album. Made with the support of NZ On Air.
The rich, warm, ethereal voice with which Louisa Nicklin has adorned her debut album is instantly transfixing for the listener. Nicklin’s two early 2021 singles, To Be Fine and Water Around Her, clearly piqued audience interest on streaming platforms. Her most recent single, Moving Slow, the first track from her album, attracted NZ On Air Music’s NewMusic Single funding, resulting in another stunning video for the artist. Introspective and engaging, her music is influenced by contemporary classical and alternative pop sounds.
It’s fitting that ‘Louisa Nicklin’, the album, should be recorded by Steven Marr at Roundhead Studios, giving inclusion to local talents and bandmates Eamon Edmundson-Wells (Pixels) and Mason Fairey (The Naenae Express, Green Grove), and also features first time collaborators such as JY Lee (Avantdale Bowling Club, Yoko Zuna) and classical composer and cellist Antonia Barnett-McIntosh.
But Nicklin, who lives in Tāmaki Makaurau, hasn’t always felt this confident about her voice or the idea of fronting a project like this.
“I never really thought of myself as a singer. I always felt I was made to write songs and get other people to sing them. But then I just decided, you know, f**k it, I’m going to sing. I’m going to do it.”
The result has been people frequently complimenting her on what she describes as her “weird voice,” which is nonetheless beautiful. That’s just the start, though. Beneath Nicklin’s enchanting voice is a lush bed of music, which she says is influenced by her experiences of alternative popular musics, particularly through being part of a band called Moses at university.
Nicklin had been inspired by studying composition at university, before continuing to do an honours degree in contemporary classical composition.
“I’ve been playing music for a long time, pretty much since I was a kid. My parents were great lovers of music and things like that, so I’ve always had a big interest in music. It wasn’t until uni that the love of writing music really started. Before that, I’d always been more of a listener and a performer.”
University studies opened the young artist’s mind to the different avenues that music can branch out to.
“So I started writing some really strange music that a lot of people wouldn’t like listening to – I’m not even sure I liked listening to it,” Nicklin says with a laugh. “But it was really fun to write!”
During her time in the line-up of Moses she was playing saxophone, and not a central part of the group’s songwriting.
“I just wrote my own parts, and started going to more gigs and seeing other bands playing. My love for all that kind of music was really growing and I started to have an interest in writing some songs myself.”
Eventually, she started to push the envelope and develop her own singing voice, receiving a fair bit of encouragement from friends and bandmates.
“I thought, as long as I do it with conviction, my weird singing can be my style, and if they’re my own songs they can sound like I want them to sound.”
It’s been a boon for Nicklin as an artist, as she’s been starting to find her voice, not just literally but figuratively. She is able to tell stories with her music with ever more clarity.
“Recording at Roundhead Studios with Steven Marr was a special experience, and having Eamon Edmundson-Wells and Mason Fairey work with me to arrange the songs was great. The album explores ideas around people’s loneliness, my relationship to this, and my relationship to others.”
In 2020 she released her first record, the EP ‘When Are You Home’.
“I think the EP that I did was me testing the waters and seeing how I write songs, and figuring out how to do things.”
She obviously made an impression, as she has since played a string of shows across Te Ika a Māui, including Wellington’s Newtown Festival, playing support for Don McGlashan, and headlining her own show at the Wine Cellar, in which her set was recorded and shared to raise money for the K’ Road venue. Her songwriting has now crystallised into the best expression yet of who Nicklin is as an artist.
“I had a flamenco guitar stage when I was in high school, and I had this very avant-garde contemporary classical stage, and I was really into emo music at one point. I think that all has influenced my music now, even if it’s not very obvious. It’s not flamenco emo guitar music or anything!”
Louisa Nicklin’s self-titled album is released independently, available to purchase digitally, or on vinyl. She also plans touring with her loyal backing band to promote the release.