Sometimes, a well-planned getaway is just what we need to discover the strength within. That was certainly true for Los Angeles-based soul singer Nicky Egan, who relocated to the West Coast after seven years living and playing music in New York City, mainly with funk ensemble Turkuaz. Egan also made a name for herself, releasing The Homestead 45 Project via Ropeadope Records, a compilation of numerous ‘digital 45’s’ that she had put out independently under her own name. She built up an impressive rolodex of like-minded musicians, but wasn’t sure where to take things next, and the day-to-day hustle of New York was beginning to feel exhausting.
But opportunity came knocking in the form of psychedelic soul band Chicano Batman, who needed someone to play keys on tour; the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and off Egan went. The change of scenery – not to mention the chance to hone her keyboard craft – was just what she needed. This experience informs the bulk of her forthcoming record and proper debut, due this summer via Transistor Sounds Records; it’s a slice of easy-going Cali soul driven by Egan’s powerhouse vocals and a backing band composed mainly of Daptone Records family musicians (Homer Steinweiss, Victor Axelrod, Brian Wolfe and Elizabeth Pupo-Walker among others) and helmed by guitarist/producer Joe Crispiano of the Dap-Kings.
Egan sings of life on the road, honoring her intuition, and finding ease within her life, and nowhere does this come together better than on the album’s fitting first single “Back to You,” which will be released as a 7″ single with B-side “Run Run” on March 19. “When you’ve spoken your words/And you feel like nothing’s heard/Don’t forget number one,” she croons, a lovely reminder of self-sufficiency as she searches for her place in the sun. We chatted with Egan about her forthcoming record, the move to LA, and living with intention; check out the exclusive premiere of her video for “Back to You” and read our interview below.
AF: When did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career, and why? What were some of your most significant inspirations early on?
NE: Growing up, music was something I always chose to do on my own, and never quite felt totally fulfilled unless I was doing something musically, so going down a more ‘serious’ musical path in terms of a career felt pretty organic. I went to college for music, so I suppose that was when I really decided to focus entirely on it. As a kid, my grandfather was a musician, so he showed me singers like Sarah Vaughn and Jackie Wilson. My parents were definitely music enthusiasts. The cantor I studied under at my Temple was an amazing vocalist and definitely had a great impact on me early on. I also studied voice with a teacher who was the epitome of a crazy cat lady but she really encouraged and inspired me to use my voice.
AF: How did the ensuing decisions – studying at Berklee, touring with Turkuaz, releasing The 45 Homestead Project, and touring with Chicano Batman – help you develop your sound for this forthcoming record?
NE: Well, those are all substantial chapters in my life, that have no doubt added to the development of my musical approach, all in so many different ways. As for Berklee, I studied Contemporary Writing & Production, so I tried to focus on getting a wide general knowledge of many instruments and aspects of the musical world, which I think has definitely paid off, especially being a mostly independent artist.
Touring with Turkuaz was my first go on the road, learning to be a road warrior. I was lucky they were my great friends and a fantastic group of musicians. That band is pretty meticulous musically, so I really value having had that experience.
The 45 Homestead Project was my first go at releasing a record independently. It was distributed through an indie label, but completely funded by myself, so I had to get pretty creative and just learn the ropes of every part of the team… manager, booker, PR, content creation, etc… shoutout to my artistic director Dani (Barbieri) Brandwein on that project, she was my right hand woman!
Touring with CB has been pretty intertwined with this record because I was on the road with them the entire time I was recording and writing it. They’ve been having me play more keyboards/synths live than I had before so that’s been really cool expanding my horizons there and integrating that into my own music.
AF: Was it written in sessions, or while on tour over the years? What is your process like in terms of songwriting generally?
NE: This particular record was written both in sessions and while on tour! I was essentially flying back to Brooklyn any chance I got between Chicano Batman tours and would just hibernate with my writing partner/producer Joe Crispiano, and we’d write and record. A couple songs I wrote or started to write while on the road, like in the back of the van, super quiet into my voice memos… Haha. My writing process changes and sort of depends on my circumstances, but I do generally try to be consistently creating. For me, experiencing life, and changing scenery is all part of the process though. For example, sitting on a train surrounded by people with my headphones on, listening to a demo of a verse/chorus I wrote the night before is an important part of the editing process for me.
AF: You made a pretty big move to the West Coast after living in Brooklyn for seven years; what was behind that decision? How did that affect the making (or the overall vibe) of this record? How has the change of scenery affected you as a person and as a musician?
NE: The initial move was because I got the call to play on tour with Chicano Batman; I’d hit a bit of a wall with my project at the time. I thought a steady touring gig would be nice for a bit, as I was on the multiple side hustle/frontwoman train for a while in Brooklyn and that gets really exhausting, so it felt like a window of opportunity to reset and learn. I started writing and recording these songs right after I made the move, without the intention of it necessarily being my next album, and it just started to be a normal cycle… tour a few weeks with CB, come back to NY, hibernate/make music, rinse, repeat, where the making of the album was really organic and exciting, and in a strange way, focused. Sometimes the universe has its own plans for you, and I think if you can be open to exploring those plans, it can be pretty magical.
California’s got a bit of a slower pace. It drove me nuts at first, and sometimes still does, haha, but I’ve also learned to really appreciate slowing down a bit, and feel like I’m able to be more focused and intentional both in life and musically. I’ve met and played with so many new people, and that’s always exciting and inspiring!
AF: How did you come to work with Joe Crispiano on the record? What does he bring to the table?
NE: Joe was playing guitar for me in Brooklyn for a while in my band at the time. I left to tour, but he and I really enjoyed playing music together so we just started to try and write some songs. Our writing flow seemed to click really easily, so we kept at it. Joe’s firstly, an incredible guitar player. He was on the road with the Dap-Kings, playing behind Sharon Jones for 10 years, and they’re the baddest in the land, so him coming from that school in and of itself is impressive to watch. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist and has a great ear. Production wise, he really tries to serve the song in the most tasteful ways, and I really appreciate that. If I’d had it my way, there’d be way more guitar solos on the record!
AF: How did so many Daptone-affiliated musicians become involved in this recording? Was that something you sought out, and what was the intention there?
NE: That’s the world Joe comes from. He plays guitar for the Dap-Kings, so when he and I started to record our demos and call in other people, he put some feelers out. Homer Steinweiss dug our first couple demos and invited us to come to Diamond Mine Studios, and from there we were fortunate to have some of the Dap-King family in and out throughout the recording process. When I moved to NY in my early 20’s I was a huge fan of Sharon and the Dap-Kings, and that scene was definitely a big appeal for me to move to NY, so to have worked with a lot of those musicians on this record feels pretty amazing. I’m really grateful.
AF: Overall, what was the process of recording this record like? Did it happen before or after the pandemic set in, and what difficulties did that present, if any?
NE: The album was recorded pre-pandemic, so recording wise it didn’t really have an effect on this particular record. The whole record is recorded analog to 8-track, which was a really amazing way to make a record. I’m not a purist, but I enjoyed the experience of recording a record top to bottom to tape, with only 8 tracks. It challenges you to be more thoughtful and hone your craft in some ways. We began recording in Joe’s Staten Island apartment, really quietly so the neighbor wouldn’t get upset, and then recorded some basics in Diamond Mine Studios in Queens, and finished what was the majority of the record in a studio Joe had moved his equipment to and was working out of in Dumbo.
AF: What about the distance – did your bi-coastal status create any obstacles or pleasant surprises?
NE: We recorded everything in NY. The bi-coastal and touring situation in this case actually created what I feel was a pleasant surprise. It allowed me to be really focused in specific time chunks and sort of gave us deadlines which can be helpful when you’re setting your own timeframes. Joe took the reins on a few sessions and recorded some instruments here and there while I was on the road, but for the most part it was all recorded together in little chunks of off-time for me. Also, Piya Malik was on tour singing with Chicano Batman at the time, but was NY based. We became super close and she is an angel unicorn and would let me crash with her in between tours a lot of the time in NY (after sharing hotel rooms for weeks on end nonetheless).
AF: What about teaming up with Kelly Finnigan/Transistor Sound Records? How did that come about and what’s been your experience in working with them?
NE: I was actually set to release the album independently, and had run a successful Indiegogo campaign with that intention, when Chris Edwards at Transistor approached me about putting the record out. Chris and Joe go way back, having worked with Sharon together, and he, Kelly and Vivek at the label had heard the record from a couple different people. They’re all great humans, super hard-working and there’s a lot of crossover in our worlds, so it all felt pretty organic, not to mention Kelly is an incredible artist himself. It’s really nice to have a small team behind me who believe in the record and are excited about putting it out!
AF: Let’s talk about “Back to You” specifically – it functions as a personal reminder to go with the flow and reconnect with the self. How has following this advice played out in your own life, either as it relates to making music, the West Coast move, or some other situation entirely?
NE: Well, this song I wrote right after having moved, so it definitely reflects that immediate feeling of not being quite grounded yet, but trusting that the universe has a plan for you. I got the phone call for the CB gig, and made the decision to relocate pretty quickly, with the intention of getting out of a toxic situation and sort of reset. I’d say learning to trust myself and my instincts, which is an ongoing practice, has been incredibly rewarding. I feel the most clarity and grounded than I have in a while. I think that also comes with just living life a little, experiencing things and of course having a year like this last one where you can reflect A LOT, but lately I’ve found, the more vulnerable I’ve made myself, the more my world expands and grows in a positive way.
AF: Was there a particular reason you chose this as the first single from the album?
NE: I think the timing just felt right – it’s relatable and I think generally has a hopeful message, which felt like the right way to kick off the release. I want people to feel good listening to it.
AF: What about the B-side? What was the intention behind presenting these two tracks together?
NE: The B-side, “Run Run,” is super vibey, for lack of a better word, haha. I love this song. It was one of the first tracks Joe and I wrote. It’s got a more cinematic feel and the vocals are really sultry. Sometimes people sleep on B-sides and they’re the best tracks. This song just felt like it needed to live somewhere on its own, so I wanted it to be out on the 7”… don’t sleep!!
AF: What can you tell me about the making of the video for “Back to You”?
NE: It was so fun to create! I made it during quarantine, with my good friend Pia Vinson. I had an idea of what I wanted it to look and feel like…just super LA, really. It’s a song about my journey getting here, in a way, so I wanted to just show the beauty of the landscape, and have fun with the melodies and lyrics in the song. Pia shot and edited the whole video. She’s an incredible dancer and choreographer, which I think gives her a unique quality and perspective in terms of movement and making you feel comfortable. We went really DIY with it because of COVID restrictions and me having a very small budget. I found some cool locations behind my house in Mount Washington, and we cruised up the PCH a little. It was fun venturing around the neighborhood and discovering how beautiful my own backyard is. My friend, Future Shock, who’s doing the artwork for the album, then added some animation and VFX. It was so fun to work with two amazing creators and just have a good time, especially right now!
AF: You also dispense some wisdom on “Godchild” – can you tell me more about what inspired that track?
NE: “Godchild” I wrote after getting back from visiting one of my best friends. Her son is my Godchild, and her and I have been friends for about 20 years. We’ve been through most of our lives together and her path hasn’t been easy to say the least. She’s managed to build this wonderful life and beautiful family. I just have a lot of respect for her, and her family holds a really special place in my heart. Anyway, I’d just gotten back from visiting them and the chorus of this song kind of just came out of me while sitting at the wurlitzer in the studio and Joe was like, ‘What’s that?!’ and we recorded the whole song, just he and I.
AF: So much of the record is about transience, touring life, etc. – “Funny Feeling” talks about this especially well. As someone who is used to touring pretty consistently, what’s the past year been like with the music industry basically at a standstill?
NE: Woowee! That’s a loaded question! This year has been insane for so many people, but I think I speak for many when I say it’s been really tough as a musician, specifically one who spent a lot of time touring. It’s the financial AND spiritual combo for me. The financial aspect is a whole conversation. I think this country needs to do a serious readjustment in how we treat artists, creators, and 1099 workers in general, and I think a small light has been shed there. Hopefully the door to that conversation continues to open into real change.
I think what a lot of people don’t realize is, aside from touring being a (whole) source of income for people, it’s also our livelihood in a non-financial way. The visceral experience of connecting with your bandmates, creating together, learning together, growing together and bringing something you love so deeply to audiences to connect with them… That’s someone’s spirit. That’s their mental health. That’s their craft that they’ve spent years perfecting, usually at a cost. So to have that spiritual outlet, let alone career, stripped away is really hard. I’m generally a pretty optimistic and rational person, and I’m fortunate to not have experienced debilitating depression really in the past like I know a lot of my peers have. So to think about how hard it’s been for me personally and how dark it’s felt this last year, I can only imagine how it’s been for many of my peers. Music is the fucking best, I really miss playing for people!
AF: When you’re eventually able to tour again, how do you plan to translate these songs to a live setting?
NE: Hopefully with a super amazing band of humans behind me!!
AF: What are you hoping listeners take away from this record, and what do you want them to understand most about who you are?
NE: I hope listeners feel a connection. I hope they find joy, lightness, sadness, strength, peace of mind and understanding from these songs and can grab onto something and feel whatever it is they need to feel at that moment. I’m trying to live and create with intention and genuinity and be here for the journey.