Q & A

Click here to read Nicola’s recent interview with Diego Rodriguez

Q. Perhaps to give a little more in depth insight as to where you’re coming from musically, did you pursue anything in particular before you got into the music or was music the first thing that really caught your interest? (In other words, where did it begin with you musically?)
I always played and sung music, from a very young age it was a source of joy and solace for me.. just me and my guitar. I could play and sing for hours on my own quite happily. It took me a while to think about it as a career. Career or job/work was always secondary to singing and playing and having the time to do that. So work was always a means to an end basically paying the rent. When I was at school I had an idea that I wanted to teach infant children, specializing in music .. but I went to train to do that in later years and found myself a square peg in a round hole – I left after the first year but during that year I did get to study alongside degree music students so learnt all about classical composition, brushed up my keyboard skills and was taught opera singing which was a wonderful expericene as I had a lovely and enthusiastic teacher and I really wanted to learn.

Q. I have heard you’re independent now. Do you have your own record label?
Yes, it’s called Tempted.

Q. Has your role in music changed your perspective on life at all? Has it made you realize things you never knew before or compelled you to percieve things differently?

Music has been a strong source of solace and comfort for me
so maybe subconsciously I wanted to try and do the same for other people at the same time writing songs is a definitely a cathartic process for me so I’m not suggesting that my motivation is entirely selfless!. You never really know how your music or lyrics are affecting people by just playing live and putting out records other than whether people like it or not! .. it wasn’t until people began contacting me online via Mandalay’s message board that I knew what I was doing was reaching some people on a deep emotional level in a positive and affirming way and was helping them through difficult times. That meant (and still means) the most to me – fame and commercial recognition pale by comparison.

Q. Besides your involvement in music, what other things are you interested in?
At the moment I’m really into photography .. same thing really as the music.. I go out walking alone and just soak everything in
walk and sit and stare and when something lovely appears I take a picture. It’s very meditative for me, relaxing and totally involving.  Meditation too is a daily thing and a bit of a lifeline … and qigong too.

Q. All the usual questions such as “How you got started in the industry”...
I played for years in other people’s bands, starting out at 15 years old joining local covers bands playing pubs and working mens clubs I was what you might call a late developer in terms of confidence and self-belief I progressed to playing guitar/keyboards/accordion on one occasion/ percussion , whatever was required, as well as singing backing vocals in bands performing original material. A self-development course gave me the courage to reply to a box advertisement in Melody Maker box adverts were always more serious, as they were more expensive, and this band said they had a record deal.. so, for me, it felt like a huge leap. I went along nervously and got the job as a backing vocalist & keyboard player. I made one album with them and played a handful of live dates in the UK with them before they folded. The bass player & I went on to form a writing/performing partnership that lasted another three years . After that I had the confidence to try write and perform solo & I wrote a bunch of songs and made a 3-song cassette which I sent tovarious record companies while performing my songs live just me and my guitar – in acoustic & folk clubs in London. F-Beat Records responded to my tape and signed me up for my first album
. I’m told most people think it’s a myth that artists get signed from sending out t ttp twice as thats the way I found Saul Freeman several years later when F-beat folded, again through a Melody Maker ad., and we formed Mandalay a partnership that lasted seven years, releasing 3 albums.

Q…. and “what are your influences”
This is a tough one because It changes a lot of the time! My very early influences would probably be the Beatles, Motown, (especially Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder) Marc Bolan, David Bowie etc. Kate Bush’s Lionheart was the soundtrack to my early teens her lyrics were amazing, especially for a 14 year old, and her musical ability was beyond any other female artist I knew at the time – the fact that she produced her own records was often overlooked and was very rare again for a woman at that time so she was a total inspiration to me. Singers and songs were it for me until I began listening to more alternative & instrumental music like that of Harold Budd, Brian Eno and also a lot of dance and classical music . I had my passion & excitement for music re-ignighted when drumnbass hit and of course bands like Massive Attack changed everything. So my taste and listening palate has expanded a lot over the years and continues to – Im always looking for new music and making risk purchases. Iit keeps me alive and kicking musically, keeps my enthusiasm & excitement up there ..

Q. What drove you to split from Mandalay?
Suffice to say it ran its course.  Personally we just didnt get along any more and couldnt overcome that living in the bubble of making music together.
Q.2. What have you been doing since you went your own way? It isn’t all music, but it says good things about you.
What?!! To be honest it took some years to sort out all the leftover financial and business matters after Mandalay broke up.   Which followed with my contracting glandular fever/Epstein Barr virus, a car accident whilst moving away from London to be  honest..   inbetween times I’d been working on collaborations that came my way via the internet and email – artists who heard Mandalay and wanted to collaborate with me
Q. Any regrets?

Q. What are your creative leanings. I ask this in the sense that the three Mandalay albums had a very distinct sound, how much did your work contribute (other than your spine tingling voice) to that unique sound.
Mandalay worked in a number of ways in terms of the song writing I would often write and record a song at home and send/give it to Saul
. It would be in a rough and minimal form with a basic drum beat, some piano chords, sometimes maybe just a bassline, some guitar, whatever
.. then Saul would re-do the music, sometimes keeping a bassline or piano motif/chords (for instance, the guitar riff in Another started life as a piano riff on a demo of mine), sometimes completely starting the track again from scratch and using none of the original chords/music. Other times Saul would give me an already completed backing track and I would write a vocal melody and lyrics to it. But always the music, at the end of the day was played and programmed by Saul – except I did play some accordion on I dont want the night to end and some piano on However Wrong – but making and recording the final music was, as he wanted it to be, always Sauls exclusive domain.

Q. What do like to read (a great indicator of what makes a person tick)
I usually think of reading at night and then fall asleep after a couple of pages so its a real achievement for me if I get to the end of a novel. Im better with poetry and short stories. One of my favourite authors is Raymond Carver, his collection of short stories Elephant or What WeTalk About When We Talk About Love – very filmic and deeply moving. I also like reading film scripts (anything short!) and loved the Cohen Brothers script for The Man Who Wasnt There. I’m a fan of Mark Dotys poetry, especially Sweet Machine. One of my favourite books is “The Pollen Room”

Q. What do you currently listen to (perhaps a top 5 or 10 would be quite revealing).
Ok :-
Tin Hat Trio The Rodeo Eroded
The Innocence Mission Befriended
Diefenback Run Trip Fall
Hive Working With Sound
Stephan Micus To The Evening Child
E.S.T. Seven Days Of Falling
The Memory Band The Memory Band
Paulo Pandolfo A Solo
Kathryn Tickell Band Air Dancing
The Cocteau Twins Victorialand

Q. How did Mandalay on the “Next Best Thing” soundtrack happen?
No Idea! I guess Madonnas record company contacted Mandalays record company and a deal was done!! Sorry its nothing more interesting.
I have heard that Madonna was very impressed with Mandalay and asked for you to contribute to her “Next Best Thing” soundtrack. (I would have to say “This is where I first heard you and was instantly hooked” )
I heard that too!

Q. Second question I get the impression you are from Europe?
Yes, born and bred in London

Q. What are your feelings of the states?
Ive been to NYC three times and loved the vibe and the people each time.

Q.What do you think of american pop culture?
Pass .. dont know much about it really

Q…. the “Industry”?
ditto ;) (!)
actually, it would take too long to answer properly so .. we all know whats wrong with it (unless were 8 years old) dont we? Looking forward to seeing what happens in the future re downloading/the internet etc etc

Q.I am surprised Mandalay’s “Solace” did not become a top 100 release in the US. And how do your feel about that road…
Unfortunately, as it turned out, just when things were hotting up for Mandalay in the US things were becoming increasingly difficult within the band so we split around the time the US was becoming aware of our music that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Q. Cd sales, chart placement, popularity, breaking through, success in America and in general?
All the above are alien to me to be honest. This probably comes across as fake but I never really got into music to be successful/famous etc (not consciously anyway). it was just an amazing expression for me I always found videos and photo shoots a real ordeal and unnatural so, now, just to be able to make music and spend all my time doing something I love is enough and everything
. And, of course, to get the feedback Ive been getting from people whove come to know my music, as I said, has made sense of it all for me

Q.Who’s your biggest inspiration when you come to write songs? Someone musical or someone else?
I guess everyone and everything Ive ever experienced

Q. Would you like writing songs for other singers? If so, which singer would you like to compose a song to?
Someone who sells lots of records!!!! ;)

Q. Do you miss the Mandalay days? If so, what do you miss more?
Yes, I do miss that particular musical connection.

Q.I’d love to know where Nicola got the inspiration for “It’s Enough Now”
Emotionally & lyrically – a relationship breaking down and not being able to end it
Musically inspired by a backing track from Saul

Q…. and “Insensible”
Emotionally & lyrically – being betrayed and finding out after the fact Musically as above … which are probably my two favorite Mandalay tracks.

Q. I’d also like to know her perspective on the natural world — how does nature inspire her? Does she enjoy being outdoors?
Definitely see words re photography hobby above. .. When I lived in London I was close to Battersea Park for many years and walking there was my solace and renewal
being by the lakes there and looking out across the wide river Thames, watching the boats, birds and wildlife
Now I live in beautiful Devon between the sea and Dartmoor. I couldnt ask for more .. being in this kind of landscape definitely quietens the mind, calms and reassures, if you take the time to be with/in it.

Q.What are Nicola’s favorite songs and artists?
Artists – Kate Bush, Bacharach & David, Carole King, Neil Diamond, Bjork, Liz Fraser (Cocteau Twins), Tin Hat Trio, E.S.T., Diefenbach
. Etc .. a whole range Songs way too many favourites to list or choose just a few .. lots of Motown, probably mainly 60s and 70s music for an abundance of proper crafted songs ..
What about her own music — what tracks stand out in her mind as the highlights of her musical career thus far?
Insensible is probably my favourite track, and most of Mandalays B-sides

Q.mandalay produce some wonderful cutting-edge work. what caused you to go the solo route?
See above explanation. I had recorded as a solo artist before Mandalay.

Q.many of your songs are existential and return to the theme of how alone one is in life. why?
Because ultimately everyone is .. its what we all battle with from time to time
and yearn to be free of its like a longing that can never be fulfilled. So its worth expressing and sharing isnt it ?
Q.what do you feel would be the ultimate visual expression of your music?
Over to you
Q.someone could describe your lyrics as sparse but piercing, your vocals as
sweet but haunting, how do you perceive them?

I just sing and write them. leave the describing to others ..

Q.what color is your music?
Multicoloured & changing all the time

Q.One thing that always made me curious is your (or Mandalay’s) relationship with,
or influence by, Brian Eno – the samples in “Empathy” are quite appropriate.
Yes, we like him

Q.emphasize more when you began with music. How is the process… what comes first to you.. the lyrics or the music??? or you go on both??
The way I write varies, for instance Flowers Bloom began with just a bass line and a vocal melody, then came the lyric for the verses, and for the chorusI used some words I had written some time before in the morning he smiles. That I wrote as during a course in poetry at the City Lit college in London. At the time of my solo album all my songs began with working out a chord structure/song structure verse bridge chorus etc – on the guitar, and then adding melody and lyric. Quite often the lyric comes together with the melody (which saves me a lot of work!) . Later on and now I compose more often sitting in front of the computer working with a sound or drumbeat on the keyboard, then getting some chords , riffs or bassline together to form a completed song structure, then finally work on the vocal melody and lyric. Once I have a song structure together I’ll improvise over it vocally. Sometimes I will get something Im happy with straight away sometimes I will sing several tracks and then listen back to see what Ive got and comp my favourite takes or bits together, but this is more usual when I have been given a completed backing track to write a melody and lyric to. Working like this, often the different tracks can be completely different in rhythm, melody and pitch so it sounds like a cacophony and can be a daunting task but its worth it for me as I think I get more original sounding melodies and can still surprise myself – gets my thinking/judgemental brain out of the way. I’ll sing gobbeldy gook or nonsense which helps me free up and maximize the melodic possibilities. (If Im lucky I will get a melody with a lyric all in one go, but not always). Once Ive decided on a final vocal comp I’ll listen through to it repeatedly to get a lyric together

I found it helps to find words that match the vowel sounds I’ve made, to keep the flow, feel and ease of the original melody. Most often I will write a lyric this way by listening back to and emulating as closely as possible what the gobbeldy gook sounds like. But it has to make sense to me, so its sometimes not possible either the lyric or the melody has to give a bit. If Im writing to a given backing track I will just import it into my computer, get 6 or 7 tracks ready to record and just sing & record whatever comes out (sometimes with out having listened through to the track beforehand),, then listen back and see what Ive got, edit/comp and get a llyric together (usually there I will be some recognizable words in there, which help me get the rest sorted out, and understand what Im on about)

Q.What inspires you to write?
All my experiences

Q. How is a session on the studio?
As above when Im collaborating I usually record my vocals myself in my home studio – all my collaborations to date have been done via email and post.

Q.Which was your first lyric and your age( when you wrote it) ?
I think it was a song about my Dad visiting (my parents were divorced) and taking me and my sisters to the zoo and about my loving my mother too (ah pass the bucket!). I was probably about 8 or 9 years old or thereabouts.

Q.Which whom would you love to make a duet?
I would love to be in the same room as Liz Fraser when shes singing (fly on the wall)
. To hear the purity of her voice first hand

Q.Also, to work with as lyricist and so?
Hmmm .. lyrics are such a personal thing for me, I prefer to work on them alone I think

I went and saw a tag “Madonna’s favourite group” … definetely have to get it!!!

Q.Growing up, what are some of the bands or concerts you saw that really stand out as influences for you still today?
Stevie Wonder – I was so far back in the auditorium that all I could see was a 12 high silhouette but his voice and presence made me cry

Q.How did your collaboration with Hector Zazou come about
Nothing too exciting… he heard a Mandalay album and called me

Q.2.What is your main inspiration for most of your music?
Done this one before!

Q. If you had to choose one song you have written that best defines who you are as an artist and represents best your work what song would that be and why?
At the moment it might be Morning the simplicity of piano and voice and the strings. I love singing just with a piano and the piece Ruiyuichi sent moved me very deeply. The vocal came all in the first take complete with the lyric and it felt complete.

Q. If you had to choose one song by another artist that best defines who you are as a person what song would that be and why?
No Idea. Three Times A Lady ? Not

Q.Listening to today’s music, if you had to be inspired to create, whom would
you dream of having a collaborative project with ?

I would love to work with E.S.T.

Q.In your opinion, who is the best producer on the market today ?
No Idea

Q.Do you feel Artists like you are well supported by the Radio stations in making you as
successful as you would like to be

uhh no Im not blatantly commercial enough, dont fit s into their categories or something?

Q.How do you view the internet as a way to deliver your content to the
furthest reaches…are you going to embrace it or do you fear the copywright
issues ?

Definitely embrace it

Q.Tough one… do you feel you are AT, PAST or heading towards your best work
at this moment in time ?

My best always, I hope!