By Steven Rosen
Cincinnati Enquirer 2-20-15
Nikki Lane, the budding star of country- and rock-tinged Americana music whose 2014 album All or Nothin’ proved a breakthrough, has always shown fearlessness in pursuing her dreams. She and her band headline Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater on Friday.
After dropping out of high school in Greenville, S.C., she left for Los Angeles and developed her own line of hand-painted shoes. While she became interested in making music there, she pursued other opportunities instead.
Going to New York, she worked first for fashion designer Marc Ecko and then started changing jobs and developing an eye for selling the vintage clothing she liked to wear with model-like flair.
When a boyfriend broke up in order to record a country album in Atlanta, she decided she could make a country record, too. That was even though her tastes were in edgy, alternative rock – she cites older acts Flamin’ Groovies and the Gun Club as musical favorites.
“Well, I sound like a redneck when I talk and sing. So it just kind of worked out that this is the direction I went,” she said by telephone. “I learned how to play a Loretta Lynn song and a Waylon Jennings song. Within a month, I had written ten. So I went down to Nashville and recorded them with a band I had written to on the Internet.”
Those recordings never got released, but she stayed in Nashville. She and her boyfriend married and divorced, and she continued making music and eventually released an Americana-leaning record on a small label.
She also started operating a pop-up vintage-clothes boutique called High Class Hillbilly. And it was there she was approached by Dan Auerbach, the Akron-born, Nashville-based singer-guitarist with the superstar Black Keys, who is also a record producer and collector of vintage items.
“He asked me how much the jacket I was wearing was,” Lane said. “I did not want to sell; it’s very rare. I threw out a big number but he said, ‘Yes.’”
When a video from her first album, 2011’s Walk of Shame, came out, a friend of Lane’s texted her that he was watching it with Auerbach.
“I said, ‘Cool, tell Dan to make my next record,’” she recalled. “I was just being opportunistic, I guess.”
Auerbach said “yes” again. He eventually helped with the songwriting, guitar work and choice of superb session players. He even shared lead vocals with her on a plaintive, soulful song they wrote together, “Love’s On Fire.”
Among the album’s catchiest and most memorable are two sexually charged ones that show Lane’s rebel attitude, “Sleep With a Stranger” and “Right Time” (to do the wrong thing).
With songs like those, All or Nothin’ found a home with New West Records, the label of Americana stalwarts like Steve Earle, John Hiatt and Rodney Crowell.
Lane credits Auerbach for helping her find her sound. “Dan has such a deep knowledge of music,” she said. “When we were working on a song, he would be able to pull something out that none of us had ever heard of for reference. I’ll always look for that in a producer from now on – someone who can stump you by saying, ‘You would like this or this.’”
So at age 31, Lane’s career in music is now looking very promising. Like so much else she’s done, it’s the result of being willing to trust herself and her chances for success at something new. And it all started when she had the youthful courage to just pick up and leave Greenville.
“I don’t know at that age if it was confidence or lack of fear,” Lane said. “In South Carolina, I was about to finance a washing machine and dryer with my best friend for a new apartment.
“Then I had this moment where I thought, ‘I’m already going to make payments on a washing machine? I haven’t done anything with my life yet!’ And then I thought, ‘No, I’m going to go to California instead. And if it doesn’t work out, I can always just come back here.’”
She hasn’t had to do that.