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Nikki Lane performs in The Current studio

Nikki Lane – studio session at The Current (music + interview) The Current
  Play Now [14:54]

by Bill DeVille

February 05, 2023

“I'm like an entrepreneur by default,” Nikki Lane says. Indeed she is; in addition to being a singer-songwriter, she’s also a fashion designer, stylish and boutique owner and operator.

But Lane’s love of music really surfaced during the pandemic. “Nothing makes you want your job back like taking it away,” she says. “It recharged me to want to make another album.”

That new album, Denim & Diamonds, was produced by Queen of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and released in September 2022. Its lead single, “First High,” went to the top of the Americana charts.

In her first visit back to The Current since 2017, Nikki Lane chats with Bill DeVille about the making of the new album and what it was like working with Homme on the project. Lane also looks back at her youth in South Carolina and how those memories shaped songs on Denim & Diamonds. She also shares a story about how meeting a music producer who worked with the Jayhawks and Tom Petty inspired her to learn to play guitar.

Watch or listen to the entire session above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

Bill DeVille: Hey, I'm Bill DeVille, and I'm here with Nikki Lane. Nikki, so nice to see you.

Nikki Lane: It's nice to be here. It's been a long time!

Bill DeVille: It has been. I just looked at my photos this morning, and I went back to 2017. And there it was; you were here in 2017, in the fall, I think it was. And this is actually your first album in five years. So that was the last album was last time you were here.

Nikki Lane: That's true. It's been a long time coming, huh?

Bill DeVille: Yeah!

Nikki Lane: Some would say too long in this industry. You almost you almost lose your job when you make it five years.

Bill DeVille: Right, so what have you been up to in the last five years?

Nikki Lane: Working like crazy! You know, for a while, it takes two or three years to do a record. And I've been really lucky with the people I've been able to support and open for. So that went for a long time. And just when I was tired of being the Highway Queen and thinking that I was really, really worn out, the pandemic happened. 

Bill DeVille: Yeah? Right.

Nikki Lane: And I said, nothing makes you want your job back like taking it away. So I felt really grateful for that time off. But it also like recharged me to kind of like, want to make another album. I think I started reflecting like what's on the back end of an album, which is all of this touring and, and grueling work schedule, because I love the fans, I love the shows, but there's a lot of other things that go into it that can wear you down. 

Bill DeVille: So how does it feel to be back out on the road, you know, after not really touring?

Nikki Lane: It's great, and it's also wild. I came in here all like, you know, "Grrrr!" Like I said, it's good to be in a bad mood when you play rock and roll. But, you know, 40 shows, about that we've done since September 27. So we've been pushing it really hard. But in the same token, I wanted to do the work this year so that people could hear the new record and see the progress next year. So it feels really energizing to see the rooms grow. The longer we're out here, our shows started selling out towards the end of tour. So you see the like, light at the end of the tunnel literally, and just keep pushing. You know, I think as much as it's grueling to be on tour, the individuality of like hanging out and talking to each fan at night afterwards, like I see why I love this job. It's the relating to people.

A woman in a cowboy hat and rhinestone-encrusted suit poses for a portrait
Nikki Lane's latest album is 'Denim & Diamonds,' released in 2022 on New West Records. Lane recently announced a string of headline shows in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and more as well as festival appearances at Stagecoach and Two Step Inn this spring.
Bobbi Rich

Bill DeVille: So one thing I noticed last night is you did some crowd surfing. I've seen you before, Nikki, but I don't think you crowd surfed before! 

Nikki Lane: Well, I didn't have a full enough room, to be frank. But I said, you know, we did it once in Vancouver, maybe in that five years ago thing, like the room was just so... and I grew up going to Christian punk shows. I said my mom was really worried about me wearing black and like listening to punk rock, she didn't know like what that meant for like my future. Like, I was gonna be a bad girl or something. And now, my mom's in like black and studs all the time. Like, you know, she's very like Harley girl a little bit. But I think as a single mother, she just didn't want us to like, branch out and get in trouble. But at the end of the day, the worst she had to worry about was a concussion for me to like fall in a crowd of like Christian punk rockers.

And now, when I'm at these shows, I've just felt like it was really fun. Actually kind of got back into it because I went to a Viagra Boys show, which is our walk-on song right now, because as much as I sing country or whatever, I love listening to rock and roll. And that's one of my favorite bands right now. And we went to see them, and they gave us a seat in the like owner's box. And I was like, "Oh, cute." And then I went downstairs and they were like, "You're not gonna sit?" And I'm like, "Who sits in an owner's box at a punk show?" And I went down to the crowd. And my friend said, "Are you going to go in the mosh pit?" I was like, "I'm almost 40. Like, no!" And the next thing I knew, I was on top of it! Even if it is just a reminder, I remembered. And I think that's what "First High," the first single from the record is about, it's about letting loose and remembering what it's like to be young again. And I feel like these are going to be some of my favorite years of playing tours, because it's pre-theater. And hopefully we make it into bigger rooms, but also there's nothing that kind of will replace this like jam-packed yelling room that you can lay into and ride to the bar and back. You know, it's so fun. 

Bill DeVille: So tell us about the song "First High," it seems like it's about growing up in, was it South Carolina, is that where you grew up?

Nikki Lane: Yeah. Well, you know, my songs like "Gone, Gone, Gone," early on, were celebrating getting out of South Carolina. And I think I spent a long time thinking about how grateful I was to have not been stuck in my hometown. And then again, something like the pandemic happens and you really crave off the beaten path. And in the woods, you know, you kind of want to get back out there and in nature and away from a bunch of people. And I started reflecting a lot on my childhood, on the things that maybe were easy to kind of like, talk negatively about growing up that actually crafted a lot of the sides of my personality that I really enjoy. And a lot of that for me, it's a very literal story. My mom had a Chevy Cavalier that she would let me drive occasionally, and I wasn't supposed to take it nowhere far. And I'd kind of like pick a little fight with her and put on a record like Lifehouse, a Christian record on repeat so that she wouldn't worry about me in the bedroom, and I'd climb out the window and I'd take her car down to my dad's — the gas station, we had a tab on credit, just like it says, because he had an asphalt paving company — and I'd fill up that tank, I drive to Atlanta and see a show. And I'd drive right back, and I'd park my car back in Mama's spot and she'd never know! I told her in my 30s that I had been doing that and she said, "I knew the oil changes weren't really checking out!"

Nikki Lane
Nikki Lane - "First High" [Official Music Video]

But I think those those wild moments of my youth are something that I channel all the time in this job, but I think we've all got that sense of youth kind of sitting back in there, and I like kind of digging back in and remembering the nostalgic things that that make me who I am.

Bill DeVille: The people have spoken: The song hit number one in the Americana chart. How does that feel?

Nikki Lane: Yeah, I mean, it feels kind of crazy, right? I said It feels surreal, because when I look at the people that were below me — right? — like in terms of like I somehow ended up the topmost played above a lot of people I have looked up to for a long time and people that I see just like blowing up, so it's really interesting because this is kind of, radio is kind of the people's choice. You know, we go around, we meet a lot of Americana programmers, and it's like radio was something that people talked about maybe you didn't want to go do or something, you know, like when you're talking about being a career artist. But it's actually my favorite part of the job in that way, because I really start to see how it trickles down and influences how many people come out in a town that I've never been to. And so it means a lot to me. It's also really surreal. It makes me want to bust, because I'm like, "Wait a minute, all this people!" But I think it shows a sign of growth, and that, you know, after years of perseverance, it's working. 

Bill DeVille: So tell us about the album Denim & Diamonds. It's produced by Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. What was it like working with Josh?

Nikki Lane: It was amazing. I texted him this morning to say that the tour was almost over, and that I needed some approval from him. And he FaceTime'd me with his kids to talk for a second because as much as he produced the record, he became a close friend. The pandemic — again, not to keep going back there, but we're gonna—

Bill DeVille: It's hard not to.

Nikki Lane: Yeah, but it was a time that, you know, a lot of crazy stuff was happening because even though everybody had the downtime, that meant children in your household, not being able to leave, you know, sharing that 600-square-foot apartment with your partner that you never thought was a problem when you both had full-time jobs. Just a lot of adjustment. And I think that, when we look back, when I see the notes that everybody wrote when the record came out, we talked about it like it was like a spiritual experience. And I think that was largely in part due to the music and the fact that he put together Carla Azar and Matt Helders on drums, Mikey [Shuman] from Queens of the Stone Age on bass, you know. But also just that we all needed an experience like that at the time. So Josh was a great producer.

josh homme queens of the stone age jill riley
Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age talking with The Current's Jill Riley in 2014.
MPR photo/Nate Ryan

Producers to me, you know, as much as they need a sonic stockpile of like ideas and like all of the racks of gear and everything, they also need to be a good communicator, and a good dominant leader of dominant, you know, of other alphas. And so what I like is watching people pull together a roster of artists, and then kind of finessing them in the room but not micromanaging them. And you know, it's not my first rock record if we're being real, because Dan Auerbach made one of them, you know what I mean? It's like in the sense of like, who produced it. But it's, they're both the same way where it's like, I don't think you can definitely tell who made “Denim & Diamonds” as a song, and “Black Widow.” But I think there are other songs where he, I mean, he literally didn't come in that room. He sat in the control room and let us work it out. And I think that's a real producer to me, too, is someone that helps me find my sound. He kept pushing me forward to say what I wanted, you know, and now I feel like I have something that's most representative of me.

Bill DeVille: Yeah, one thing that made me really happy is you just played the song “Faded,” which is, I think, my favorite song on the album. And Josh is on that one; he kind of duets with you on that one.

Nikki Lane: That was a very emotional song. I think for everybody in the room at the time. It was for me, as much as there's a lot of songs that were written for the record, once I knew Josh was producing, I leaned into things like "Black Widow" and "Pass It Down." But also because I was feeling so comfortable in the room every day, we'd come in and play them old songs, songs that had kind of been nestled away and never had a chance to be seen and “Faded” was that one. It was a really dark time for me that I had written, and I grew up in some domestic violence in my family. So it was leaning into some spots that were really harder to touch on. And when I shared it with them, and saw the like physical reaction, you know that they were really like gravitating towards the song, it was very easy to track. And I had told Josh it would be fun to have him sing on something, and he insisted on it being that one. And it's really powerful. I think it's a really important song for me, too. And I think what I've learned about my songwriting is where I tried to code things and not be too forthcoming with their subject matter. You find that the people that they're about always resonate with them the most. So it's heavy one, but I was glad to bring it out. And I also think it's my fave.

Bill DeVille: I think it's your maybe most rock and roll record, too.

Nikki Lane: By far, and I think it's where I belong. I said, you know if I can, if I can push a little bit harder into that realm for one more additional record. I also think about people like Nathaniel Rateliff who kind of remind me of like the Huey Lewis of like the past, like it is like very fun dancing songs. I want to find a little bit of that. But what I like about having four albums out now, five written, and a rock record, is that I feel like my set, with all my own music, can go a lot of places, and so I feel like I finally did it. You know, what I mean? It's like I want to keep doing it, but I feel very content with what body of work I have now.

Nikki Lane
Nikki Lane's "Denim & Diamonds" album released Sept. 23, 2022.
New West Records

Bill DeVille: Your shows do go a few different directions. You did a cover last night of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I suppose that song has a long history with you, "Fishing in the Dark."

Nikki Lane: I grew up listening to that song, and I said, you know, in a climate where I go out and open for a lot of people who are really big and I'm very lucky, but they don't ever know my songs, those fans, you know? Like I'm brand new. It's an exploration to find me as the opener. I said, it's how I like test out who I'm going to take with me to the next show. You know, like I play Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I see who's singing and I'm like, "Oh, you'll like the rest of this if you come out to a headlining show." 

Bill DeVille: I sure loved that cover last night of Lucinda Williams' "Drunken Angel," and you talked about Lucinda a little bit at the show.

Nikki Lane: I'm just a huge fan of her. I've always said, you know, I'm too polarizing to ever be as cool as Dolly Parton. Everybody loves her. I've already got some people that don't like me, and that means I'm never gonna be Dolly Parton. You know what I mean? Love Loretta Lynn. But when I think about careers, and what I really love, I love watching Lucinda. Throughout her entire career, she's maintained a sense of cool and independence and individuality that has never waned. She had some great success with someone covering her song, you know what I mean? But she stayed in her lane, you know, and I feel like, and defined it, you know, and that's who I want to be. You know, that's the career I'm looking for. I don't want the celebrity of some of my peers where we can't go places without being disturbed. If somebody says hi to me at this point, it's pretty exciting, you know, at the airport or something. And I just really want to be like her. And literally, we were driving through, I went and celebrated my birthday in the middle of this long tour schedule in New Orleans, and then started tour in Baton Rouge. And we did that long strip on 10, and I was like, "Well, we've got to listen to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. You know, you gotta listen to Lucinda.

A gravel road winds its way to a one-story house
'Car Wheels on a Gravel Road' is the fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, released on June 30, 1998.
Mercury Records

Bill DeVille: A masterpiece.

Nikki Lane: Yeah, we started digging through. I started texting Charlie Sexton, like "thinking of you," like all the things that are cool that I've gotten to tie into that world. And I texted the band, I said, "There's no way — we have to do a song," and so, "Drunken Angel." It ended up being perfect. It's a great... and listening to the lyrics, it embodies kind of where I want to stay in that, like, not quite too famous, you know, because when you think about what she's singing about, it's like, you don't want to take it too far.

Bill DeVille: Right. She has such a rich history in the Twin Cities. She got married at First Avenue.

Nikki Lane: Really?

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

Nikki Lane: I did not know that.

Bill DeVille: Yeah, her and Tom got married at First Avenue.

Nikki Lane: That's so fun. And Tom is great. You know, running into them all over, on the Outlaw Cruise, out in California, in Nashville,now. I get really excited every time I see her.

Bill DeVille: You were a big fan of the Jayhawks, another Twin Cities band.

Nikki Lane: Yeah!

Bill DeVille: And you actually, did you go to [producer] George Drakoulias's house, and you didn't even know how to play guitar yet? Tell us that story.

Nikki Lane: That's kind of how I learned to play guitar. I just didn't think it was important. I still struggle with how good I'm supposed to be at it. And the same token, one of my best friends is Sierra Ferrell, and what I love about her is when she's at my house, she's like, "What did you say?" Because she's always practicing guitar or fiddle. She's an incredible instrumentalist, and that's important to her. And for me, I like a lot of things. I work — I'm like an entrepreneur by default, right? And it's like, but getting really good at guitar has never seemed, it's not natural for me. So it's never seemed like something I want to be like Bonnie Raitt. I admire her, but I don't think I'll ever be that good at playing a lead instrument, you know, I mean?

So I've just kind of written songs. My first record, I wrote by strumming an open C and singing a melody. And I think I've written pretty strong melodies by not leaning on those chord progressions. But it didn't mean that I didn't need it. And case in point was that I basically, about that Spiritualized tour we were talking about, about 12 years ago or something, my ex-husband now, but at the time, my husband said, "You know who you should get to work with? And I was like, "Who?" And he was like, "George Drakoulias." I said, "Who's that?" And he was like, "Well, everything you've been listening to, he produces." And so it was some of the Tom [Petty] stuff and also the Jayhawks. And I was like, "Oh, really?" And I start reading the back because I'm not good at discography. I start reading the back, "I'm like, oh OK. Well, I guess we should meet him, huh?" And he's like, "Oh, yeah." You know?

Bill DeVille: Yeah.

A man with a beard and glasses smiles while onstage
Producer George Drakoulias in Los Angeles in 2022.
Jerod Harris/Getty Images

Nikki Lane: "I don't know, honey. He's, like, pretty big." And it turned out he was being managed by somebody at World’s End — [producer and owner] Sandy Robertson just passed away [in July 2022] — but at the company, that was my label at the time. And I went to him and I said, "Do you think I can meet George Drakoulias?" He said, "Oh, yeah, let me call George. George would love you." And so he called George and George said, "Well just send her over to the house." And so I went over to the house, and I kind of didn't even know what I was, you know, what an honor it was at the time, I was just excited: "I'm going to be a country singer," you know.

And I go over to his house, and he pulls out a guitar, and it's hand engraved. It's really beautiful. It's like got all these like cherubs and stuff on it, a very intricate Martin guitar. And it says, Martin Guitar, and on the back says "One of two, handmade for Tom Petty." And this is a big deal. Like, I get to touch this — my husband, anybody that I know, would be geeking out and I'm, like, "Beautiful." He's like, well play me a song. And I was like, "Oh, OK." And that's where I call myself Clang-ity Lane because I like just like, cha-cha-ching! And he was like, "What are you doing? Like, you can't play guitar?" And I said, "Well, not really, you know, like, there's lots of cute guys can play guitar. I take them to the radio with me," and he was like, "So you're gonna go on radio and you're just gonna rely on cute guys for the rest of your career." And I was like, "Is that bad?" And he's like, "Well, it ain't good." And I was like, "Yes, sir." And I went straight home and I learned how to play guitar within three months. Because it was important to me to know what was important to the job, you know? And it's like I said, it's not natural. I encourage people sometimes now learning to play guitar to play with an electric unplugged, because my thing was, it sounded so awful for so long, I didn't want to do it, you know? And now I feel quite competent. But really, it's because I was motivated by embarrassment. 

Bill DeVille: All right, Nikki, so nice chatting with you. It's Nikki Lane. The new album is called Denim & Diamonds. Congratulations on the new work, I think it's your best yet.

Nikki Lane: Thank you. I agree. And I hope I can always surpass it, but I'm very happy where it's at now.

Bill DeVille: Thank you, Nikki Lane, it's been a pleasure.

Nikki Lane: Thank you, The Current.

Video Segments

00:00 Faded
03:14 First High
06:29 Denim & Diamonds
10:00 Interview with host Bill DeVille

All songs from Nikki Lane’s 2022 album, Denim & Diamonds, available on New West Records.


Nikki Lane – vocals, guitar
Jimmy Teardrop – second guitar
Z Lynch - bass, backing vocals
John Dudley - drums


Guest – Nikki Lane
Host – Bill DeVille
Producer – Derrick Stevens
Video – Erik Stromstad
Camera Operators – Erik Stromstad, Aaron Ankrum
Audio – Derek Ramirez
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Nikki Lane - official site