When soul-pop singer-songwriter Autumn Nicholas witnessed #BlackLivesMatter protests out on the street near her home in Raleigh, NC, she didn’t feel comfortable jumping into the fray. “I had fear because of what the TV and news blasted – they lacked the good, it was all focused on the bad,” Nicholas says. “But I wanted to make a difference and raise my voice.” She asked herself what she could do to further the movement and how she might inspire others who are hesitant to protest. The answer to that question was her latest single, “Side by Side.”
“I chose to write about it and learn more about the injustices and the facts behind the news,” Nicholas says. “I took away my own fear by connecting with the community and the artwork posted to display everyone’s voices through images.”
The song spotlights her powerful, rich vocals with minimal instrumentation, primarily acoustic guitar and piano. You can hear the passion in her voice, not just for social justice but also for her music, as she sings, “I can’t understand why we all just keep taking sides/Why can’t we sympathize?/If we really care about each other’s lives/Then let’s go and make it right/Standing side by side for equal rights.”
On September 14, Nicholas released “Version A” of the song, which is intentionally minimalistic; she wanted to release it as soon as possible just to get the message out. But she also plans to record a “Version B” featuring more production and other artists of all different races from different parts of the world, representing the unity she sings about.
When the queer, biracial artist plays the song live, she introduces it by talking about #BlackLivesMatter. “It grabs the attention and captures the importance of those words,” she explains. However, she adds, “it is deeper than that — it’s about equal rights and LGBT, but it ties in as a whole to unity, something during these times we do not have a lot of, especially since we are feeling like we’re trapped in our homes, like we are divided, whether it’s by sickness or by color. I hope this song can bring some unity to our time period.”
In the video, she performs the song in Raleigh in front of different pieces of street art related to #BlackLivesMatter and other social justice movements, her way of giving her community a platform and a voice. For “Version B,” she plans to make another video that spotlights even more street art. “I want it to focus less on me and more on the words and the art and the community,” she says. “It was a little bit rushed because we were getting it out before any of the artwork was actually taken down.”
“Side by Side” will appear on Nicholas’s second EP Shades of Beige, a followup to 2016’s Chapter 1. The other songs on the EP are consistent with the message of “Side by Side” – unity and equality – and Nicholas cites Pink as an influence on it. “She has very strong beliefs, and she also is more of an anthem singer; she sings about things that are really passionate to her,” she explains. One of the songs she’s working on, for instance, “On Sunday,” is about the internal conflict of belonging to a religion and being LGBT and “trying not to be placed in a box just because you are gay,” she says.
She’s still hard at work on the EP, as the process of recording music during COVID-19 has been a challenge. “It’s been hard because of the times we’re going through, the lack of spaces to go and produce it,” she explains. “That’s been a struggle, but we are working tirelessly, hand in hand with where we are and where the world is and whatever phase we’re in, trying to adjust and make this EP work and release singles as fast as we can with the times.”
In the meantime, Nicholas has also been developing a clothing line called Unbrand.d, which features items designed to be worn by anyone of any gender. “Ever since I was younger, I have had issues with finding clothes I liked to wear that weren’t super girly but weren’t boy-y either,” she explains. “Some people call it tomboy, but I’d rather not call it a gender, and my goal as I gain success is to create a brand where people can feel comfortable in the middle.” She’s currently working on rolling out the first item from the brand, a t-shirt whose proceeds will go to a food bank.
Growing up with a father who played drums and a brother who played guitar, Nicholas took up the guitar herself at age 13. “I just wanted to show off — that was my main goal. I didn’t think I would actually make a career of it,” she laughs. When she’s not creating music or clothing, she spends time with her family, her partner, and her “25 pound child” — that is, her dog. “Making sure I stay balanced in being a human and an artist at the same time has been a journey,” she says.
Follow Autumn Nicholas on Facebook for ongoing updates.