Possibly 4th Street: Nicole Atkins and the Sea

Tonight, January 25, Nicole Atkins and the Sea headline the Bowery Ballroom. It is already sold out.

Bigger version after the jump

Possibly 4th Street

Episode Nine, Part One
Nicole Atkins and the Sea
Text and photos by Rob Trucks

No matter how much we’re tempted to romanticize, the major-label musician’s road is not all champagne, rosebuds and chatting up Slash backstage at Letterman. No, sometimes along the way there are obstacles like multiple moves (including nights on nasty mattresses) and trying to hold down a job without losing sight of your dream. And sometimes you get by with a little help from your friends. So while Nicole Atkins has danced with Lenny Kaye and downed tequila shots with Bruce Springsteen, if her music career has a guardian angel it’s very likely an Upper West Side entrepreneur by the name of Gustavo Szulansky.

On the last Thursday in November (not Thanksgiving, but the week after) we’re in Gustavo’s neighborhood. And though we’ve been in dog runs and back alleys, this is our strangest location yet. On the Upper West Side, on the second floor of a building, with fake Astro-Turf below and some glaringly harsh florescent lights above, we’re surrounded by a swarm of orange-shirted preschoolers, boys and girls, the tallest just about belt-high, and they’re chasing silver soccer balls. That is, when they’re not wondering what we're doing in the middle of their indoor field.

We’re here because of Gustavo, of course. I don’t know who’s doing who a favor – Gustavo for Nicole (again), or Nicole for Gustavo - but this is his all-ages, year-round, indoor soccer camp that started in his basement almost eight years ago.

“I met Gustavo at one of my shows,” says Nicole. “He came out to Piano’s during our residency, and after the show he gives me his card and he’s like, If you ever need anything, just call me. And I look at the card and I’m like, 'Super Soccer Stars?' Yeah, I’ll call you if I need soccer lessons.”

But Gustavo and his wife didn’t lose touch with the aspiring singer-songwriter. They took Nicole to lunch, for example, decided she needed a website and had one created for her.

Gratis.

And when Nicole found herself working long hours as a graphic designer for the smaller salary of a receptionist, Gustavo and his wife gave her a job.

“They were like, If you need work, you can work here. And since you’re getting courted by labels you can work here one day a week or you can work here seven, whatever you need.

“It was like really at a time when I really needed it. Like when I was super broke and getting fired from pretty much every restaurant in Manhattan. It really happened at the right time.”

And though Nicole has since moved back to New Jersey (Asbury Park, to be specific) and no longer puts in hours at Super Soccer Stars, that doesn’t mean the end of a relationship. Not at all. As she and three-fourths of the Sea stand in the middle of an indoor soccer field within a traffic circle of confused five-year-olds, at the end of the floor, behind some impressive netting, Gustavo Szulansky beams.


photo by Rob Trucks


photo by Rob Trucks

Possibly 4th Street
Episode Nine, Part 2
Nicole Atkins and the Sea
by Rob Trucks

Videocamera-holding by SOC blog emcee Cami D

Who:
Nicole Atkins and the Sea (get it?).

When:
Thursday afternoon, November 29, 2007

Where:
Inside Super Soccer Stars, a day camp for Upper West Side youngsters on Columbus between 89th and 90th.

Nicole Atkins’ number one friend on her MySpace page:
Twin Peaks composer Angelo Badalamenti (“he’s from New Jersey,” Nicole offers brightly.)

Nicole Atkins’ number two influence on her MySpace page:
Patsy Cline

What Nicole Atkins and the Sea sound like when they’re full out on the Neptune City album as opposed to stripped down on an indoor soccer field:
Well, yeah, there’s some Patsy Cline and Angelo Badalamenti in there. As if k.d. lang got stuck in a horror movie (particularly on the album’s title track). A little torch, a little twang. Absolutely.

The three states Nicole Atkins has called home for the past decade even though she’s never lived in one place for more than six months at a time during that period:
New Jersey, New York and North Carolina.

Something Nicole has never done before:
“Smoke crack.”

Something she’s done once and one time only:
“Took something that I didn’t know what it was. At a Dead show a long time ago.”

The title of a book she’s read at least twice:
The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

And a movie she’s seen at least three times.
Mulholland Drive.”

What album have you listened to more than any other in your life?
“Probably The Jayhawks’ Tomorrow The Green Grass.

Really?
“Yeah. Probably that, because I had that in high school, or when I graduated college I got Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tape stuck in my car. It was the only thing I could listen to. It would play but it wouldn’t come out, and Steve Malkmus’ first solo record was on the other side of the tape so for a whole summer . . . and I didn’t mind it for the whole summer, but then I just took a butter knife and stabbed it.”

Do you own a rake?
“No, I don’t. I don’t own a backyard.”

New Jersey musicians have a tendency to name their albums after local settings. Springsteen has Greetings from Asbury Park, The Wrens have Secaucus and Bon Jovi decided he’d just use the whole state. Your album’s called Neptune City. Is this a point of pride or are you being ironic?
“I didn’t have a title for the album and my parents go to this bar called Bilow’s, which is a bar in a liquor store in Neptune City. And it’s like I basically grew up at this bar. So, you know, my parents have all their little bar friends and stuff. There’s like wood paneling on the wall and this guy, Uncle Danny, that plays guitar to a karaoke machine and I’ll get up and sing Kid Rock songs with him if I get drunk enough.

“And I was just like, What if I just named the album Neptune City and then you guys will have an album? Screw Greetings from Asbury Park. We’ll make Neptune City like a thing and then it’ll get popular and I’ll open up a rock venue here and we’ll have something other than just a pizza place and a tombstone carver and Bilow’s. And they’re like, Yeah, let’s do it. So I was like, Yeah, I’ve got to do it.

“And I figured Neptune City, too, it seems so ominous. It sounds like very, you know, aquatic and mysterious. People don’t even know it’s an actual town.”

The distance between Neptune City and Asbury Park, New Jersey:
Just about two miles.

You flunked Morality in high school?
“Yeah, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t even know I did until the day I graduated.”

I didn’t even know there was a course in Morality.
“I went to Catholic school so there was like Bioethics and Morality and they wanted us to do this project where we picked a job out of a hat and budget like for a two-week vacation and groceries. Like all this stuff like kids, and I just didn’t know what that project had to do with morality.”

So it wasn’t really morality as much as it was housewife training.
“Yeah, housewife or typist. That was my job. And I’m like, 'Dude, are there even typists any more?'”


photo by Rob Trucks



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