MAJOR LABEL ARTIST GOES INDIE

Sheila Nicholls is a self-professed “post-atheist,” with an inner spiritual and socio-political compass that directs her music and her life. The former Brit, who now resides in Los Angeles, has put her time in with the major label system. She released three albums during the late ‘90s and early 2000s, had a deal with Hollywood Records, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, toured with k.d. lang and had a big hit, “Fallen for You,” which topped college charts and was featured in the film High Fidelity. After a few years away from the business Nicholls is returning with her fourth album All of Nature, distributed by Dash/Go.

Music Connection: You recently returned to live performance, with a successful show at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. How’d it go?
Sheila Nicholls: We had a really good time. I feel really confident. I did take time off so I could get some perspective and then throw myself back in it. Because it’s really obnoxious to think you can sing songs and get a lot of people to listen and give a shit.

MC: Interesting perspective considering all the performance experience that you have.
Nicholls: Well, I came from a place where if you wanted to become a songwriter you might as well have said you wanted to be a lion tamer. It was considered to be arrogant. How dare you aspire?! We didn’t grow up with the American Dream. It was a lot more provincial where I came from. But I think this body of work is some of the best stuff I’ve ever done and I’m feeling really good right now.

MC: What was it that took you away from music? And what’s inspired you to return?
Nicholls: I was in a very complicated marriage that was a bit distracting. I had a child. There was a lot of contemplation. My songs are a reflection of my life, like a lot of songwriters, I guess. It’s important to me that my writing is not forced. Living in L.A., many people write so formulaic because they wanna make money from it. For me, music delivers itself from some ephemeral place and you are the vessel that’s sort of there to receive it and take it from the invisible and make it visible. For me it’s important to not force that.

MC: Your latest album, All of Nature, is very musically and lyrically diverse.
Nicholls: Thank you. … I took a lot of time on this. And I’ve been really lucky to be  surrounded by amazingly brilliant people. And you have a lot more freedom on the final piece if you know how to write, engineer and produce. And I try to stay in many of those roles as much as possible. In the end I have something I can love and deeply respect.

MC: Was this your first self-production?
Nicholls: Actually, my first record was self-produced before Hollywood Records picked it up, and we put some overdubs on it. I was very much schooled by the patriarchy of my own childhood. And then watching Ani DeFranco do what she did, I’ve really been determined to wear as many hats as possible. You end up with an experience where you’ve created something as pure as possible. That’s not to say you don’t want to collaborate with people. You can’t be closed off, and it’s good to get other people’s opinions. But to make final de-cisions is important to me because I grew up in an environment where women were not even allowed an opinion about certain things. So I push myself to make those choices.

MC: What can you tell us about transitioning from a major label or distributor like Hollywood Records to becoming an indie artist?
Nicholls: I think they always knew I was an indie artist from the beginning. The first record did really well on the Top 10 college charts. And I think that was something they really liked about me. But, when you get into the corporate element, the bottom line is money. That can, over time, play you a little bit. And you have to keep your wherewithal for sure.