Editor's note: Nicki Walker is a local singer-songwriter, musician, lead guitarist, music and vocal coach, and an avid human rights activist. She joins San Diego Gay and Lesbian News to offer her take on personalities in the local cultural music scene.
I am next to her hip pocket at a super secret location for Laura Jane Wilcock's (aka Laura Jane, aka LJ) new band. I got the best seat in the house, right behind a ride cymbal. She is uncharacteristically tight-lipped about this new project, which is as yet unnamed, but rest assured she will have an all-star supporting cast and the music will be great.
Laura Jane is one of my favorite singers, activists and members of the local LGBTIIQ community.
She is a great local talent and is extremely busy what with hosting karaoke every Monday night (from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.) at The Harp in OB, to performing with her [current] band the The Tighten Ups three or four times per month, as well as being a DJ on The Hornblower Cruises, being an emcee at several local festivals and is part of the improv comedy troupe The Borderline Players.
It was shortly after rehearsal with this new band that I was able to catch up with this funny, quirky woman with a hearty laugh and I am doing my best to keep up with her and her sharp wit. Suffice it to say we had a few beers and a lotta laughs and I hope I do her humor justice here.
SDGLN: what inspires you to play music locally?
Laura Jane: Well the type of music that we play is funk and soul and blues and rock and roll and we have a 3-piece horn section, so that combo platter pretty much propels me into rehearsal and performance consistently, just because of the inspirational style of the music - like that's where my best voice is. You know, I could sing jazz and classical and choir and real smooth and easy, but I'd rather SCREAM & WAIL! That keeps my fingers on the pulse of the scene.
I like to ask this question of all my interviewees - so tell me of the music you are listening to now, is it mostly male voices or female voices?
I definitely tend to listen to more guys than girls, just because there isn't as much girl rock-and-roll out there. There is plenty of girl's soul though. I feel like the girls have more of the mellow singer-songwriter edge, but like I don't want to listen to Celine Dion, she's a whore. [ I am overcome with laughter] I'd like to avoid listening to her at all costs, but now listening to Aretha Franklin, I mean that woman taught me how to sing, she's the queen of soul.
But getting back to music and what I'm listening to, I love the Foo Fighters, the Beatles and the Stones, for example, are awesome bands with great vocals and there's not enough women in that category, but if I'm honest, I gotta say Joan Jett taught me to have balls too and the ladies of Heart I really love, but when I look in my iTunes, I notice I have a lot more guys than girls. Maybe what we need is more girls to come forth and wail. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of great local female talent here in San Diego I'd just like to see more.
What are some of your accomplishments in your music career?
One of my crowning achievements is I sang the national anthem for the Detroit Red Wings. That was in front of my home town of Traverse City, Michigan in front of my son and all my neighbors and friends and peers. It was an exhibition game between the two wings team at their training camp and I sang the national anthem twice for 2 games. That was huge for me because I'm a big hockey fan plus I LOVE the national anthem and I have been singing it at events my whole life.
Is it true what they say, that the national anthem is in no one's key?
[chuckling] I just hum the lowest note I can think of to start out and then I know I'll be able to hit the higher one when I get there. I don't bring a little pitch pipe with me or anything, I just stepped out on the ice and started with the lowest note I could find in my register, so by the time I get to "rocket's red glare" I can sing it comfortably and I love the song. It truly is one of my favorites to sing.
What is a challenge area for you musically?
Right now it's writing. I want to continue to write, write, write, write, write. I don't really have a good songwriting partner right now and I would love to do that more.
In The Tighten Ups, we write some originals - which I write with my bass player, Gerry who I love - but I'd definitely like to do more. He's super busy right now because he just got married. Back before he had his fiancé we used to get a lot of work done between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., which of course in known worldwide as the BEST time to write, but not so much anymore [more chuckling from the both of us].
You can never really write too much, ya know? I'd like to write, record and sell them to other people. That's the legacy I'd like to have is to leave some songs for the world to understand who I was that walked this earth and bounced around and it really doesn't get much better than that.
What LP's do you have to have for Christmas? If Santa could stuff your stocking what would you be asking for?
Well there are some tasty new box sets out there which I'd love to have. I was titillated [more giggling from me over the word titillated] by the new Bob Dylan box set, there's a Bruce Springsteen one I'd love to have. Box sets are things I would not necessarily spend my money on so [she looks up to the sky and says: SANTA! Can you hear me? Ram one or more in my stocking this year? I am literally on the floor roaring with laughter.]
When it comes to writing songs do you prefer a lot of sections in the song to sing or would you rather have fewer, so you can build your own improvisations on it?
Well let me start by saying I am a fan of more parts vs. fewer parts. As an example, I'm not a big fan of the rose because it is the same part like 4x in a row. There is no bridge, there is no chorus, there's just A part so that's snoozyfest for me. Give me different parts to explore and don't keep them all in the same key, people.
With the debate of passion vs. formula, what's your take on that?
Well I'd hate to think of an artist that doesn't write from passion, I mean I cant imagine why you would do this if you didn't have passion about it, because in the real world, there's not much reward.
There are a lucky few who make a good living off of it, so I just assume that even Celine Dion is coming from a place of passion as an artist [I nearly spit out my drink. Once the laughter dies down she resumes].
To me, none of her soul follows thru with that, but technically she has a brilliant vocal instrument and is in complete control of it, but that's not the way I would control my instrument [more laughter]. Not that way, not that way at all.
But if we can digress into performance for a sec. Live performance gets me off way more than any studio experience or the song-writing experience ever could. You get me in front of that audience and watch me fly ya know? The energy of the crowd propels me towards a better voice, a better performance and subsequently, a better interpretation of the song than I could have ever done without anyone around.
That being said, her phone which has been going off pretty much thru the entire interview has rang again and this call she takes. when she returns i decide to wrap up our time together as she's a busy lady and obviously pressed for time.
So where can we see you and The Tighten Ups?
Well The Tighten Ups perform all over San Diego county between two and four times per month. We've taken the month of December off, but we ramp back up in January.
The first is a private event in Covina and it is by invitation only, so if you wanna go you gotta contact one of the members of the band about that and it may depend on how TIGHT YOU ARE [laughter erupts again].
But seriously, we will be at Bar Leucadian on January 22nd, from 9:30 p.m. to Close. It's a 21+ No Cover show.
Then we play on January 29th @ Wong's Dragon Room in La Mesa, from 9:30 p.m. to Close. Again a No Cover 21+.
We played South Bay (Gay) Pride this year, which we loved. Few people know that South Bay Pride has been around for about 5 or 6 years now. I volunteered the first year and continue to volunteer each year. It used to be in a park for the first few years but now it's moved to downtown Chula Vista and has been there for two years.
I love that pride is everywhere now, it's in Lemon Grove, North County and South County now. So that's another little known fact, that in San Diego county we have four prides each year. That's a lot of pride in our county.
So how can we find out about upcoming gigs for The Tighten Ups?
Check us out and TIGHTEN IT UP PEOPLE.
Nicki Walker is a guitar, vocal and drum instructor, as well as a longtime advocate for the queer community and human rights. She is also the lead guitarist and singer-songwriter for local band, DROPJOY. DropJoy has been together for five years and their newest LP "DIRTY VIRGIN" is now available on iTunes. Nicki is still mourning the loss of her brother and fellow band-mate (drummer) Andrew Light, who died early last year from heart transplant complications. Nicki dedicated the song "369" on "Dirty Virgin" to his memory. You can also follow DropJoy on Facebook.