Alex Nicol

Photo by Stacy Lee

Alex Nicol, not so solo

The Montreal folk rock artist explains why his chosen genre has a spotty history when it comes to this project’s mandate.

The idea of a musician “going solo” evokes a familiar set of assumptions: the band must have broken up; the band must have been stifling the artist’s creativity to the point where they had to break free. For Alex Nicol, neither of these things are quite true.

His band Hoan is still working on a record together, albeit at a slow pace. It was pacing that drove him to “go solo” in the first place. In Dec. 2018, he made his own record with Howard Bilerman at Hotel2Tango instead of a record with the band. But despite frustrations with timing and some creative differences, there’s no bad blood in Hoan. Alex Nicol’s bandmate and childhood friend Michael Heinermann plays bass with the live band in this new project, alongside Nicol’s brother Oliver (guitar). Together they’ll launch Nicol’s debut LP All for Nada next month. The show will also feature Nicol’s sister Marielle (keys and vocals) and Ryan White (drums).

Nicol’s key collaborator, however, won’t be on stage. His girlfriend Nada Temerinski handles the visual element of the project, but her role as a kind of artistic director goes beyond videos, photos and album art. Nicol’s music is the result of their artistic alliance, even though she’s not a musician or songwriter. 

All for Nada album art

“There’s a reason why the album is called All for Nada,” Nicol explains. “She’s essentially a producer. She doesn’t play an instrument and she’s not engineering anything. She’s sitting there with me, listening. She’s saying, ‘This is what I think.’ She’s invested in making great art that she likes.

“The origin of this project is our ability to be inspired by each other and to see through the ideas that we have together.”

Alex Nicol, who moved to Montreal from Ottawa 11 years ago, played in a succession of bands (among them Kurvi Tasch, and She Divides with Tess Roby) and worked at the underground music venue Poisson Noir. Sonically, he fell in with the tendencies of the indie scene at the time, towards math rock, jangly guitars and electronic experimentation.

“(Nada) would hear me playing acoustic guitar and singing, and she’d say, ‘So you can do that? Why aren’t you doing that?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know, it’s not what I’m into.’

“And she’d say, ‘You should do that,’ and I’d say, ‘No,’ and that went on for years.” 

Folk-rock is how Nicol himself classifies his sound now. The genre, however, has a spotty history as far as this project’s ideological mandate is concerned.

“You have your Bob Dylans and your Neil Youngs and your Leonard Cohens — these are men who made a living writing songs about their sexual attraction to the female body or the essence of a female or the ideal of feminine beauty.

“There’s a lot of ego in that, and there’s a lot of elements about that that I find not to my liking. I think songwriting has the potential to go deeper. White men like me who don’t have much to gripe about almost have it as our duty to engage in the realness of life in a deeper way than sexual attraction. This project is my attempt to articulate that feeling; the notion that no songwriter stands alone on a cliff and looks out and is sad about some woman on some cloud somewhere. That’s not the reality of how life is.

“And these men get helped a lot along the way by their partners. There’s a hidden history there of women supporting men in their art. The emotional support that women provided these artists is often ignored. In my own work I wanna be so ignorant of what my own ego is saying that we can objectify the work that Nada and I did together and give her equal appreciation. This wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for her. I want that to be said more often by men who make music.

“This isn’t about me and how sexy chicks are and how everybody thinks that chicks are sexy. Music is more than that. There needs to be an element of depth. I’m hoping to do that more, even if I don’t always know how. Love is an open-ended topic and you can’t get away from talking about emotions without it being physical. But I’ve written lyrics that Nada agrees represent ideals that she supports. I think that’s enough. If we see eye to eye, then I think it’s something good.” ■

Alex Nicol & co. play with opener Michael Feuerstack at Ursa (5589 Parc) on Saturday, March 7, 8 p.m., $10

Watch the video for And I Wonder, the debut single by Alex Nicol, here.

For more, go to Alex Nicol’s Bandcamp page.

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