When you meet country singer Nikki Lane, one thing is abundantly clear - she’s a character. She’ll probably crack you up with a colorful tale about her ex-husband or beloved dog, Tammy Faye Barker, in minutes or ask you where the nearest yard sale is located.
Laughs aside, this woman is a road warrior that makes some serious music in the tradition of great storytellers like Loretta Lynn and John Prine. The South Carolina native snagged the cover of the Garden & Gun music issue last year and has garnered a heap of praise for her sophomore record, “All or Nothin,” a twangy collection of songs that chronicle the life of a person who isn’t afraid to live boldly, produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys..
Style Weekly caught up with the down home sweetheart on the road (or parking lot, in this case) to chat about working with the blues-rock superstar, opening for Loretta Lynn, and her soft spot for all things vintage.
Style: When I saw the band recently in Charlottesville, you had just purchased a horse trailer, or should I say 'closet on wheels.' The guys weren’t too thrilled dragging that big old thing around. Did they let you keep it?
Lane: Well, guess what? We sold it because they refused to pull it. Hear that sound? I’m in a parking lot right now and that’s a welder in the background repairing my old piece of shit trailer. We should have kept the horse trailer. I don’t know why I even let them have an opinion in the matter.
How’s Tammy Faye Barker doing? She didn’t come out this go round, right?
She’s good and has been living with my sister. It’s hard because I feel like she wants to keep her. At a certain point, you have to accept that you’re not a very good mom when you are giving your child away every four months. I thought I was getting her back at Christmas, but some things got scheduled and it looks more like March now. That was a brutal blow. She’s in love with my sister though, so she might not care if I come back.
I can imagine when she can’t go out with you it sucks. Is that the most difficult part of touring?
No, the hardest part is definitely never getting the chance to properly catch up and that grind of continuous movement. When the van breaks down, you don’t have four days to get it fixed, you have half a day and the mechanic doesn’t give a shit about that. You get to the venue late and they’re pissed. Even on your day off, you’ll work. Last night, I was sewing patches on hats. There’s also the lack of privacy. In the end though, it’s fun.
You just opened for Loretta Lynn recently. How was that?
Insane. Days like that, you’re just like - "holy shit!" We drove straight from Aspen at 1 a.m. to that show, played for Loretta Lynn, and turned right back around to drive 28 hours to a show in Seattle with a blown-out fuel pump. You know you are enjoying yourself with your dream job when you can do that, even if you can’t turn the van off to pump gas.
What do you even say to someone like Loretta Lynn?
I met her for about four seconds. In the picture with her, I have a stupid look on my face because I was excited. When we watched her, she thanked the “that little ole’ band” for opening up, so she doesn’t know me from shit. Every magazine that has written about me compares the two of us, which is so flattering, but I’m not even a blip on her radar because I’m not pop country. It’s a little bit devastating [laughter]. I was just pleased to be in the room, because she definitely wasn’t going to invite me to hang out with her [laughter]. No really, it’s an honor just to watch the damn woman sing on stage.
You’ve got a thing for yard sales and flea markets. What’s the best find you’ve ever scored?
A pair of wooden monkeys that are about eight inches tall. They have little droopy arms. I researched the mark on the bottom and they turned out to be Kay Bojesen. He was a famous designer in the fifties whose stuff is rare and valuable. I found a restored pair of them at the MOMA retail space for something like $600 and I got them for $4 each. It’s weird when you just find money sitting there.
Does a lot of that stuff go up for sale at your store, High Class Hillbilly, or do you keep it in your personal collection?
Both. I don’t want those kinds of items to be left behind and presumably wasted if someone doesn’t nab them up. The hobby also allows me to support my habit. I’ll buy $1000 worth of stuff, I’ll keep $300 of it and sell the remaining stuff for a profit. I’ve found amazing furniture in alleys of East Nashville on trash day and furnished the upstairs of my house. People seem so pleased to get rid of their one of a kind thing to buy something in a box at Walmart. I can’t even imagine that shit.
Speaking of flea markets, is it true that you met Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys at one?
That’s true. It was one of the first ones I was selling at. He bought the jacket I was wearing.
He produced your most recent record, “All or Nothin’.” What’s the best and worst advice you got from him?
I don’t know so much about advice, but I got a great sound from him. One thing I noticed about Dan was that he wasn’t trying to change my lyrics or melody, but sculpted the sound which was his job.
As far as the worst part, there was this one guitar player he brought in. I feel bad saying it, but I just couldn’t bear him. After watching him for about forty minutes, I just went up on the roof until Dan came up there and said he would send him home because I wasn’t having it. He had a gut feeling and I didn’t. I wasn’t able to verbalize what I was feeling so I disappeared until he got it (laughter).
Are you writing the next record just yet or taking a break?
Not actively trying to write a record, but definitely capturing song ideas as they come up. I’ve finished four that I know will be on the next record. I’ve also spent some time listening to demos that I had put to bed a long time ago that might be considered.
Your divorce influenced a lot of this sophomore album, what’s fueling these new songs?
I’m happy with the person I’m dating now, so I wrote what might be my first love song. I wrote a sweet one for once! There are still a few topics looming around from post-divorce early dating too and a song called “700,000 Rednecks.” I’d like to say that musicians are always original, but we really just write about falling in and out of love and being tired of the road.
Are you surprised that some folks are shocked by the honesty in your lyrics?
I had a guy yesterday point out that the lyrics in “Sleep With a Stranger “ and “Good Man” are so drastically different and he asked how I could pretend to be both of those people. I was like, I don’t know what the fuck you are talking about. I wrote “Good Man” when I was deep in a monogamous relationship and really wanted the guy to up hold his half of the bargain. The other was after my divorce when I wanted to get rowdy for a few nights. Of course it can be the same person. We all go through a variety of emotions. I think almost everyone has gone home with a stranger or been involved with some kind of infidelity, be it the person who caused it or the other side. This stuff is not just for the gossip magazines, it’s happening everywhere. Plenty of people tell me they can relate to it.
What’s the weirdest thing to happen to you so far doing this job?
I got a text the other day with a picture of a tattoo a guy had gotten of my face. Things like that make it surreal.
You’ve been called an outlaw. What’s your guilty pleasure
Just marijuana all the time. I have so much anxiety as a person and can think of a million ways to handle it. I could do more yoga and meditate if I didn’t live in a van; or get some Xanex. Participating in this though works and I feel so creative when doing it. We get out to the states where it’s legal and just a way of life. It’s so amazing it’s still widely illegal. That stigma from “Reefer Madness” just kinda stuck and is still a thing.
Ever been arrested? If so, what was your crime?
No, never. We got pulled over at the border on the 10 and had a small bag of marijuana. I thought for sure that was it. I even called my lawyer. I’m always checking to make sure I’ll be good in the long run when I get caught misbehaving.
Nikki Lane opens for Trampled By Turtles at The National on Dec. 10 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20-$25. thenationalrva.com