Nicola wrote her first song when she was only seven years old. “I remember chasing a boy around the playground trying to sing it to him to try to get him to fall in love with me. He didn’t.” She convinced her father to buy her a guitar when she was thirteen years old, and went on her first UK tour when she was just sixteen. “I saw other artists do it and I was like I want to do one! I didn’t know how to do it because I didn’t have a manager or anything, so I just literally emailed loads and loads and loads of venues and was like, ‘Would you like to have me sing?’” Fast forward a few years and she’s opened for artists such as Natalie Holmes and Nizlopi, planned another tour coming up soon, played at Barn on the Farm festival in Gloucester, started studying music in London, began working on her upcoming EP, and released a new single called “Find Me.”
So how did all of this happen? The now twenty year old was approached by Natalie Holmes after she watched Nicola’s set at Barn on the Farm, where she asked Nicola to open for her at an EP launch. Nicola was introduced to Nizlopi when her manager started representing them, and she asked, after being a huge fan since she was a kid, to get to support them on tour. She’s now studying music at “Uni” after finishing her A Levels in biology, psychology, and English literature, and taking an extra year to study music in school, as she had never taken a lesson before. Now she’s prepared to do what it takes to make it. “I write songs about my own experiences, but I write them in a way that I know other people can relate to. Like ‘Ok, I don’t quite know what that means, but I can relate it to me.’”
Can we really relate to her new single, “Find Me,” when it’s about a locket she lost? Only if you’ve ever lost something important to you, or missed someone you’re close to. “When I was about six, I lived up north in Cheshire, and my mom had a big, chunky, gold locket, and it had a picture of me in it, and it had a picture of one of my other sisters in it as well. She gave it to me, and she was like, ‘You can have it, but you have to take care of it.’ And I was like, ‘Ok fine, yeah, I’ll keep it safe.’ And I think I was tidying up my room a couple years ago, when I wrote ‘Find Me’, and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I found it eventually. It took me a long time, but I’ve given it back. I was like, ‘Mom, don’t trust me with this.’ I felt lost, I felt awful, and my parents had moved away, so it was kind of something I had to remind me of her.”
Luckily, Nicola has a new necklace to remind her of her mother. After her parents moved to Abu Dhabi and Nicola had given the locket back to her mother, she was feeling upset about not having anything to remember her mother by. Pretty soon after she mentioned it to her mother, she received a necklace with her name in Arabic in the mail. So if there are no more lost necklaces to write songs about, what can we expect from Nicola’s music now?
“About a year ago, I was like, I need to do something different, because I can’t just do what everyone else is doing. So now, I’m kind of working on this more synth-y, quite strong backbeat, sort of house, but still with the real soulful folk vocals over the top. So it’s still me, but it’s sort of stripped back, and instead of having the guitar in it, it’s going to be a lot more percussion. And I think that’s just more of a reflection of me. If I were a song, that’s what it would sound like. Whereas I think with the stuff I started writing when I was a lot younger, it was a reflection of the kind of people I listened to. I think I’m coming into myself more now, and just trying to express more of myself.”
As an artist who has produced her own work on Soundcloud and released music with her friends (She reports that all of her friends are musicians that she’s met over the years), Nicola is certainly going places with her new sound. However, that doesn’t mean she’s forgotten her inspirations. She loves to listen to Låpsley, Alt-J, SBTRKT, Mary J. Blige, TLC, and “all the old school stuff, because that’s where my roots are.” Strong roots indeed. But Nicola isn’t afraid to vary from the path of synth and soul, which you’ll know if you’ve heard her gorgeous cover of Eminem’s “When I’m Gone,” which received an incredible five thousand views overnight and drew an impressive amount of feedback, both good and bad.
If you, like me, are curious to know what Nicola’s favorite song she’s ever written is, she’ll tell you that it’s a song called “With You,” which is the “B-side” to “Find Me.” “It’s my favorite song I’ve written I think, just because I did it on my own, I didn’t co-write it with anyone, it hasn’t been tweaked. It was literally, I wrote it, and the next day went to the studio and recorded it. It’s pure.” If you’re interested in hearing “With You,” it can be found on Nicola’s Bandcamp. And if you, like me, are dying to know what Nicola’s family thinks of her music, get ready for a shock. “My parents wanted me to be a psychiatric nurse, so when I told my parents I was going to do music they were like, ‘Woah, if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you want to do.’ But they’re really supportive now. Even thought they’re out of the country, they’re always on Facebook sharing my stuff and liking the music and everything.”
Even more surprisingly, it turns out that Nicola is one of four daughters in her family. “I have three sisters and we all were in performing arts, but only me and my eldest sister, Hayley…do you remember S Club 7?” I told her I didn’t. “You don’t know S Club 7?” At this point she began to sing one of their songs to try to remind me. “No? Ok, well there was S Club 7 and once they broke up there was S Club Juniors, which was a junior version of the band. And my oldest sister auditioned for them and they were huge at one point, and my sister got through until like the 4 or 5 rounds in until the end, and then she got dropped. So she was a singer and that kind of prompted me to want to be a singer as well.” Hayley is no longer in music, and I now know who S Club 7 are after a quick Google search.
Even though none of her sisters are musicians anymore, they still remain very close. “I loved growing up with 3 sisters, because I didn’t like school. I absolutely hated school because I was really picked on. So to know that you can come home and just have those friends at home, which are all your sisters, you don’t feel like you’ve got no friends, you feel like you’ve got loads of friends, even when you haven’t. And they’re all older than me, and now that my parents have moved away, they’ve sort of become my new parents. They’re in Bournemouth. They’ve got their own houses and started families and stuff. They’re married. We’re all so close, we speak every day.”
I was shocked to hear that the girl I saw in front of me was ever bullied in school. She seemed so calm, put together, talented, and infinitely full of potential. But when you think about it, how many hugely successful and brilliant artists have we heard of who were bullied in their childhoods? How many of us can relate to Nicola’s feeling of not having any friends to talk to? So I had to ask – what kind of influence did the bullies have on Nicola? Her response only served to reinforce how well adjusted, intelligent, and gracious she is.
“Having a crappy sort of school experience definitely helped me. There was one particular girl who was just like the biggest witch you’ll ever meet in your life. And she used to tease me, she used to say, ‘You can’t sing, you can’t play guitar, you’re never going to get anywhere,” and all this. And I was like, ‘Hey I’m going to post a YouTube video then, because I’m going to prove to you that I can sing and I can play guitar.’ And then now, what I want is for her to see me on TV and be like, ‘My bad, my bad, Nic.’ I think that’s a massive part of it, the fact that it wasn’t just one girl; it was the whole group of them. I used to bring my guitar because we used to live on a beach and they’d all crowd around and laugh at me and sit somewhere else. And it’s just like, fine, you sit somewhere else, because you’re the one going to be driving a taxi around. That’s a massive part, just to show them that I can do it. And even if I don’t make it, I’m still doing something that I love every day, and that’s good enough for me.”
We couldn’t be happier that Nicola took all her criticisms and turned them into motivation. So what’s next for Nicola? Well, we won’t be seeing her in America just yet. “I’d love to tour in the US. America’s quite big, so if was to go and do that, I’d probably be a little fish in a massive pond. But in London, I feel like I know my way around, and I know a lot of venues, and a lot of the artists, so I feel for now, I need to grow as an artist here, and then move myself over there.” But she admits that if she were offered a record deal here in the states, she’d quit school and move in a heartbeat. But while we may not be seeing Nicola Brown in concert anytime soon, we’ll be hearing her new “electric synth soul” EP within the next year. We certainly can’t wait for everything Nicola has planned.