After a near-four-year stretch of setbacks, false starts, and irreconcilable differences both professional and personal, singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins is back in a big way this week with her sophomore LP, Mondo Amore.
On this, the follow-up to her 2007 debut, Neptune City, she paints a canvas of kaleidoscopic rockers ("You Come to Me," "This is For Love"), sentimental weepers ("Hotel Plaster," "War is Hell"), and honky-tonk redeemers ("My Baby Don't Lie," "Cry Cry Cry") that altogether illuminates some rather dark and forsaken themes.
As Atkins explains, "Even though this record is really, really personal, it’s surrounded by a lot of music and lyrics that help either build up the story into something way bigger than it was or, in certain songs, turn a story into something completely different from what it really is. It’s more of a surrealist’s approach to heartbreak."
How have you evolved as a songwriter since your first album?
I love the songs on that first record, but I feel like now — and I don’t know if it’s more of an age thing — it’s a lot less self-conscious. It took me a long time to write a song back then. There’d be little snippets of ideas and then sometimes a whole song would come, but then months would pass or weeks would pass... It’s really only been since the summer that songs have been coming out of nowhere. It isn’t something that I do sometimes; it’s something that I do all the time. It’s more so a part of me rather than something I do, or can do.
I used to get really neurotic about the style of the song, like, “This song needs to be this style,” or “This needs to be this.” Now I’m kind of appreciating the fact that every day I write a different type of song, but I know that I can spin it into a way that sounds exactly like me. That song, “My Baby Don’t Lie,” I almost didn’t put that on the album. I was like, “This is so traditional, country, almost kind of Zydeco,” but now I’m so thankful I put that song on there because it’s one of my favorite ones. I’m learning more so [that] everything I’m making is because it’s a part of me so I shouldn’t really censor it.
While you’re struggling through something in your life, does writing about it make it more difficult at the time? Do you have to wait until that’s over to gain some perspective?
I was writing out about it probably for a year before it shit the bed. [Laughs] I’ve always found that writing about harder things is easier for me. The happier things are harder for me [to write about]. It’s harder to make cool songs out of happiness because most of the time it ends up sounding cheesy. Writing this record was hard, but lyrically it was easier because I’m more attracted to going to the darker places lyrically. I feel like you can get a much prettier, more haunting landscape from the sadder things in life. It was more of a hard situation trying to play it and to record it when all you want to do is get drunk and cry. Making this record definitely saved me from getting drunk and crying every day.