With her throaty vibrato and lushly orchestrated pop songs, Nicole Atkins made her debut in 2006, bringing to mind a blend of Roy Orbison, Loretta Lynn, and Jenny Lewis.
She was raised in Neptune, New Jersey, and relocated to North Carolina during her late teens to study illustration at UNC Charlotte. After befriending members of the Avett Brothers and logging several years with the alt-country band Los Parasols, Atkins briefly returned to the tri-state area, where a series of open-mike performances in Manhattan's East Village helped her hone a sound that was more indebted to pop music than her work with Los Parasols.
Atkins spent the following years traveling between North Carolina and the Northeast, eventually settling in New Jersey at her parents' house. Performances in New York City helped her attract attention from several local musicians, and Atkins began piecing together a backing band comprised of guitarist Dave Hollinghurst, bassist John Flaugher, drummer Dan Mintzer, and keyboardist Daniel Chen. Operating under the name Nicole Atkins & the Sea, the band secured a residency at Piano's -- a popular nightspot in the Lower East Side -- and struck a deal with Columbia Records on the strength of Atkins' demo recordings and impressive performances. Atkins released the Bleeding Diamonds EP in 2006, and the group decamped to Sweden later that year to work on a full-length album. Featuring the songwriter's self-professed "pop noir" sound, Neptune City arrived in late 2007, followed by an EP of cover material in 2008.
After lending her vocal talents to A.C. Newman's album Get Guilty, Atkins went through a period of transition during the making of her second album. She parted ways with her original backing band, broke up with her longtime boyfriend Paul Ritchie (of the Parlor Mob), and found herself at odds with Columbia Records. As a result, Mondo Amore wasn't released until early 2011 (via Razor & Tie), and the album found Atkins exploring new influences, including blues and vintage psychedelia. Atkins toured extensively in support of Mondo Amore, playing shows for close to a year, and then began work on a third album, writing new material with producer and percussionist Jim Sclavunos. However, in 2012 Atkins' home in New Jersey was hit by Hurricane Sandy; she was thankfully in Memphis when the storm battered the East Coast, but she was still left temporarily stranded. Word of Atkins' troubles got back to Tore Johansson, a producer and musician who had worked on Neptune City; he invited her to join him at his residential studio in Sweden, and there Atkins sorted through the lyric ideas and song fragments she'd stored in her iPhone and fashioned them into an album, the ambitious and eclectic Slow Phaser. Rather than deal with yet another record company, Atkins opted to release Slow Phaser through her own label, Oh'Mercy! Records, financing the project through a successful crowd-funding campaign. The album was released in January of 2014. ~ Andrew Leahey, Kenyon Hopkin & Mark Deming