My first time experiencing gifted vocalist Nikki Schultz, she was at the Cedar Cultural Center this summer, singing backup in soul balladeer Chastity Brown’s band for the release of the High Noon Teeth album. She wasn’t so much background as a healthy part of what made the music work as splendidly as it did. Distinct timbre, a real passion for emoting and, in general, a strong store of entertaining energy.
It shouldn’t surprise that Schultz is a singer-songsmith in her own rite and has a winning CD titled Lost and Found (and Lost Again). She plays acoustic guitar, Sarah Woolever is on percussion, John Kerns guests on lap steel, and Andrew Lynch plays melodica, keys, bass, and electric guitar. Lynch and Shultz produce.
“Docile Bodies” shows off Schultz’s deft phrasing and bright power. It’s a spirited, readily engaging jaunt that does a fine job of opening a disc consistently rich in artistry. The wizened gem “Velma’s Song” is a delightful example of Schultz’s sure hand with lyrics: “Push my glasses to my face/ too many hairs are out of place/ I’m just a cute and quirky nerd/ with a penchant for polysyllabic words/ But you don’t see me/ Some days I’m love with Shaggy/ Other days I want Daphne to bang me/ I’m feeling so torn apart/ who will mend this queer heart/ And who will see me?” There’s also “Ruins,” with “It’s quiet tonight/ the city’s gone to sleep/ It’s just you and me/ and all this concrete/ There must be a thousand lives inside that I can’t see/ I just have to ask/ could you hold me/ I just have to ask/ could you love me?”
Asked who’s influenced her singing and songwriting, she responds, “I draw from a lot of places. Some personal, some more craft-driven. I am always interested in human nature and interpersonal relationships. I also think a lot about my upbringing – my childhood in Milwaukee, being raised by my grandmother and my single father. We always had…Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker on the record player. Finding truth and joy despite struggle, creating beauty out of ugly circumstances, taking a hard look at our nation’s legacy of racism, classism, and sexism, all of these lessons are things I have learned and continue to re-learn from the blues.” In addition to her formative wellspring, she’s found in the Twin Cities that plugging into artistic circles has had its impact. “Some of my biggest inspirations regarding the craft of songwriting have come from artists I met at open mics and early shows when I was first learning how to write and play. In that regard, I owe a lot to Andrew Lynch, Adam Marshall, Sarah Woolever, Bernie King, JoAnna James, Chastity Brown, and Holly Newsom.”
What’s the biggest difference for her between singing out front and singing backup? “Well, I like to think about my backing vocal work as singing support. When I front a band, my mind is in a million places. I know what it is like to rehearse a song one way and then take it in a completely different direction depending on the audience’s energy in a particular moment.” She adds, “Singing support makes me a better listener and my musicianship has grown leaps and bounds because of it.”
Lost and Found (and Lost Again) is an excellent offering by a strong performer. You can catch Nikki Schultz backing Chastity Brown at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis on September 18th. Online she’s at CD Baby and on MySpace.