Whether the Observer wants to show him the love or not, Nicholas Altobelli is, without a doubt, one of the most gifted songwriters in the DFWd market. He crafts simple and wonderful pop songs with intricate and personal lyrics, and even throws in a key change every now and then. We had Nicholas sit down and answer our usual questions and this is how that went. 🙂
Me: For starters, tell us a little about yourself. How did you first get into music? And when did you know this is what you want to do for a living (money be damned)?
NA: I first got into writing music after I graduated high school. Before then, I spent my time playing drums to top 40 country radio in my bedroom. But after high school, I picked up the guitar and started writing terrible alt-country songs.
I knew it was something I wanted to pursue after I performed my first official show in 2007. I was opening for the newly formed Somebody’s Darling at a little coffee shop in Addison. The live setting hooked me in and I wanted to do it over and over again.
I’m not sure if I’m playing music for a living. I tried, but it never really worked out. Once I made the decision not to pursue music as a career, I started making more money and getting more press from it — funny how that works out. But I have other interests such as writing and teaching that I’m doing now that I’m really excited about.
Music has evolved into a side gig that I do to keep from going insane. So far, it’s working okay — on good days.
Me: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
NA: A panic attack wrapped inside a catchy, yet familiar melody. I don’t claim to be doing anything new. I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just keeping it spinning.
Me: Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and why?
NA: That’s a hard question because I’m influenced by everything. I’m mostly influenced by non-music things such as seasons and landscapes. I usually write about the season I’m currently not experiencing. That’s why Searching Through That Minor Key sounds like autumn, because I wrote and recorded it during the summer.
Southern California also influences my music a lot — it’s okay to say that, I used to live there. I have a super secret plan to move back out there if an opportunity arises. If that happens, my catalog will transition quite nicely.
Also, anything by Nick Lowe.
Me: Which of your songs means the most ot you, and if you don’t mind me asking, why?
NA: This changes a lot, but right now, it’s a song called “Pile of Leaves” on my last album. It’s the perfect autumn song, in my opinion. I was reading about the afterlife in the Wikipedia wormhole late at night; I read somewhere that there is a theory that the afterlife is whatever you want it to be. I’m not religious but that was something I could get behing. I asked myself, “What would my afterlife look like?” And that’s what this song addresses. I also love a good chord progression that walks down and this song really nails that out of the park.
I’m also really fond of “L.A. Rain.” It’s the typical story of someone going to Hollywood to chase their dreams, but I flipped the perspective and wrote it through the point of view of a family member/friend/partner back at home questioning their decision to move to California. It was also one of the first songs I wrote on piano, which is probably why I like it so much.
Me: If you could open for any act, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
NA: I would love to open for Electric Light Orchestra. I love all things Jeff Lynne. I think he’s a genius. I’ve also been really getting into ELO lately — I forget how many great songs they have. So, yeah… ELO at the Hollywood Bowl… somebody make that happen. Like 78% of things I do in my music career, I’d do that gig for free or for a $20 IHOP gift card.
Me: Any favorite new musical acts, local or otherwise?
NA: I really don’t listen to new music very much. I sound so pretentious saying that, but it’s true. I mainly listen to 60’s/70’s soul, R&B, Motown stuff. I really think that’s the golden age of music. If that’s something you’re interested in, I got you covered — I created an eight hour playlist called “Nicholas Altobelli’s Jukebox” on Spotify. Just turn on the random button and hit play.
Me: What’s your “stranded on an island” record?
NA: Probably a live anthology from the Grateful Dead, so it will last a really long time. Or, if I wanted to end my suffering, I’d pick an album from one of those new folk bands — that would be the much needed motivation to drown myself in the sea.
Me: Moving onto the home front, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about the DFW music scene?
NA: My favorite thing about the local music scene is that there are still venues out there that will book me. Honestly, it’s amazing I can still get a gig. I don’t exactly put asses in the seats. I’m that artist who you book where you’re a dozen away from a sellout and you need that extra boost to push you over. I’m a professional support act and I’m okay with that — I actually really love doing it.
My least favorite thing about the music scene are those yearly music awards and the bands who give those ridiculous thank you speeches.
Me: Favorite DFW venue to play (or see a show). Why?
NA: I have three favorite venues: the Kessler, Dan’s Silverleaf, and the Live Oak. All three have very friendly staffs and the best sound guys. Also, parking is a breeze at these venues.
Me: Any favorite local acts people should be looking out for?
NA: Where do I begin? Brian Lambert has a new album coming out and I was lucky enough to be in the studio while he was recording some of it — it’s pretty damn great. Look out for that one.
Daniel Markham’s new album is amazing. Matthew Gray is always doing amazing things. Salim Nourallah and his boombox are a force to behold. John Dufilho has 1,389 bands that are incredible. I hear Rahim Quazi has new songs that I’m excited to hear. The Blondettes are killing it in Dallas. Vanessa Peters’ new album is her best.
I know there are more out there and I apologize if I left a few off this list. I think the music scene is the best it’s been since I began in 2007.
Me: And for shits and giggle, what’s a fun fact that most people don’t know about you?
NA: I have this weird phobia of looking up. It freaks me out.
Also, my older brother and I go on these strange adventures. We have done storm chasing, ghost hunting, hosted a short lived radio show, made a found footage Bigfoot movie, and much more. I’m currently writing these adventures out and maybe I’ll post the stories on my website or find someone to publish them — they are incredible.
Big, big thanks, to Nicholas for sitting down with us. I featured his latest single, “Exit Polls”, last week, and you can find it here. You can find another recent track, “Everybody Knows the Truth” down below. Fort Worth peeps can catch Nicholas at the Live Oak this Thurs, opening for Matthew Gray. Dallas peeps can catch Nicholas at the AllGood Café on Friday for a song swap with Taylor Young (the O’s) and Sean Russell (Cut Throat Finches). If you can’t make those, he’ll be playing at Salim Nourallah’s Open Mic at Sundown at Granada on Jul 26 and at the Local Brews Local Grooves at House of Blues on August 6. Now that I’m a Hype Machine featured blog, you can go favorite “Exit Polls” here.