For some artists, the art of making music takes years to perfect, for others, like New Jersey native Christina Nicole, it comes naturally. As a child growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, Christina was always singing songs around her house, and performing karaoke for school talent shows. Throughout middle school, she participated in choirs and voice lessons and was accepted into a high school entertainment technology program, where she began writing her own music.
Christina Nicole’s songs, inspired by Lorde’s meaningful lyrics and instrumentation, have been compared to the likes of Beach House and Kate Bush. With her evocative melodies and elegant vocals, Christina Nicole makes music like no other, combining her years of classical vocal training with knowledge learned from her time studying Recording Arts & Music Production in Drexel University’s Music Industry Program.
Christina says that her love of music comes from her childhood in New Jersey, spent singing in talent shows and vocal groups. But, it was her time at an entertainment and technology high school where she discovered a love for songwriting and sharing her music with the world. About sharing her music, Christina Nicole says, “The fact that something I love so much and has always been my escape also has the power to be somebody else’s escape at the same time, is so powerful to me. I want to be the conversation over morning coffee. Being able to have that same emotional impact on an audience, but this time with my own words, and my own stories, truly became life-changing.”
Christina Nicole makes music that has a beautifully haunting quality to it. Her debut single, “At Sea” was released in September 2020 and she is preparing for another recent release, again inspired by the ocean, “Drifting.”
Outlander: How did you get your start in music?
Christina Nicole: As a child, I had always loved to sing. I remember being extremely excited for all the elementary and pre-school shows where the class would sing a few songs together. As I grew up, that love of music grew right beside me. There never really was a time where I didn’t have music directly involved in my life. The elementary school concerts turned into high school solo performances, which then led me to start writing my own material. While I was involved with a music program in high school, I realized the amount of passion I had for this field, and how much I could say through songwriting. Songwriting opened up a whole world of creativity that I could manipulate to tell my stories. I continued to let this passion grow with me, and am excited to see what else it evolves into.
O: Is there an artist that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin your music career or someone whose work inspires you today?
C: The first artist I became a real fan of was Lorde. Seeing somebody so young accomplish so much, and make absolutely beautiful music really inspired me to try the same. I instantly became a fan of the vibe of her songs, and how unique it felt. It led me to try experimenting with untraditional moments in my own music. Her lyrics felt genuine and true to herself. I strive to be as genuine as that, and make a unique vibe in my music. Even today, I am still a huge fan of hers and enjoy seeing her genuine vibe persisting.
O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why?
C: Thoughtful, experimental, thematic. I try to make my music have a lot of meaning, and be something you really think about to understand what the big picture is saying. This meaning hides inside the lyrics as well as the sounds I choose to use. Which is why I would say it is also a bit experimental. The instrumentals tell the story as much as the lyrics do. I choose synths and sounds that I manipulate to help the listener paint the story in their head. I love writing about a metaphor that turns into a theme. In my song Drifting, this metaphor is sinking into the sea.
O: What is your favorite part of the creative process?
C: For me, my favorite part is recording vocals. As a vocalist, it is super fun to figure out the style vocals that best fit the song. I absolutely love to sing, and singing my own material is super cool. I like to experiment with different registers and tones, and decide what works best. It is the part of the process that I feel I can truly let go and kinda just do my thing and see what works and doesn’t work. Different styles of vocals can really change up the whole vibe of a song.
O: If you had only one sentence to pitch “Drifting,” what would it be?
C: Drifting tells about a journey, and makes you feel immersed in it.
O: Tell us about your experience writing and recording “Drifting”!
C: I wrote the lyrics to this song a long time ago. At first it was a slow piano ballad, in a higher key. I let this sit for a while, and eventually came back to it to add what I have learned about music and songwriting. When I did this, I completely changed the vibe. I lowered the key and added tons of synths and experimental soundscapes. It was super cool to see the song change directions so drastically.
O: Both “Drifting” and your debut song, “At Sea” are about the ocean. What about the sea inspires you?
C: I think the ocean is so fascinating. For me, I use it as a metaphor. The thing is that it looks so stunning from a distance, you just want to jump in. But once you’re in, it is ruthless. It is deep, unpredictable and rough. It quite literally pulls you in. Using this as inspiration for songwriting really opened a lot of doors for creativity to pour in.
O: Since a lot of your musical influence comes from Lorde, we have to ask: What elements of her music do you love and wish to emulate for your own style? And in the same vein, how do you deviate from what she puts out?
C: I absolutely love the vibe of her songs. Something about it feels super unique, and genuine. Her lyrics feel real and true to herself. I definitely strive to have a unique style and raw lyrics. A lot of her music follows the traditional verse-chorus style. I do tend to not follow this pattern in my songs, and just let them flow out the way that feels right. I like not being confined to a pattern I have to follow.
O: You studied in Drexel University’s Music Industry program for a few years. How does your classical vocal training translate into the music you produce today?
C: It is definitely very helpful to know how to manipulate my voice to fit a style and a vibe. Vocals can sometimes be the most important aspect to creating a style. It is cool to be able to experiment with different runs and little things to add in. Knowing how to add harmony has been amazingly helpful when songwriting. Also, vocals are the most enjoyable aspect for me, since it is what I feel I know best.
O: You talk a lot about how escapism is a key point in the music you produce. What do you define escapism as, and how does that translate into your music?
C: For me, escapism in my music is the ability to get lost and forget everything else for a brief moment while listening to music. I had a high school teacher describe to me how powerful you can be to an audience. He explained that as a musician you have the ability to take away the audience’s stresses and worries while they are listening to your music. All that matters to them at that moment, is the music they are listening to. The music allows them to be completely present inside that moment. I completely understood what he meant. I have been to concerts and during those two hours, nothing else mattered in the world besides that moment, and the beautiful music I was immersed in. Music has been an escape for me while listening and writing. I hope to be able to share that feeling with my listeners when they hear my songs.
O: If you could give new artists some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?
C: Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated and stuck in writer’s block. However, I have come to learn that you cannot force art. It won’t be genuine, and it won’t feel right. Writer’s block is terrible, but it always passes. Sometimes even writing down brief ideas and letting them sit for days or weeks is okay. When you come back to those ideas, you’ll have a fresh headspace and bring more ideas- and then leave those ideas to sit. As the ideas build up, an “ah-ha” moment will come along. Definitely write down all of those little ideas though, you never know what will grow into something amazing.
Another thing I would say is that the most inspiring things in life are sometimes not obvious. I will often see things in public that seem cool to write about. I’ll take out my phone and write a very brief note of it to pull inspiration out of later, for when I am ready to sit down and write. There is always meaning in the mundane. Even if the world around you seems a little gray, something deeper is always hiding beneath that grayness ready to be written about and shown how beautiful it really is. Or, write about why the world seems a little gray. There is always meaning ready to be uncovered.
O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for?
C: At the moment I am currently working on some lyrics that definitely have the potential to grow into something super cool. I also have some projects that I plan on working on this year. They need lots of work, but I am excited to see where they go.