Born and raised in the small town of Louviers, Colorado, Nichole Wagner grew up with a love of music and an extraordinary voice, but she had no way to really share her passion with the world. “I grew up writing song lyrics and wanting to be a musician, but I didn’t really play an instrument,” she says, “so that was a problem.”
At eighteen Nichole moved to Arizona to study journalism at Arizona State University, a career path that would offer a steady paycheck while also allowing her to indulge her love of photography. But she found that it’s not so easy to let go of a dream.
“I wanted to be Stevie Nicks,” she laughs, “but I had no idea how to start playing music out in public, and I still didn’t play an instrument with any degree of skill.” So I put that dream up on a shelf and said ‘well that’s probably a thing I’m not going to get to do.’”
After college, she moved to Austin, where she photographed the music scene and wrote articles from the sidelines. But the dream refused to die, and one day she found herself onstage at an open mic. She started writing new songs, learned to play guitar, and like wildfire the long-buried dream flared back to life.
In 2018 Nichole’s first album, And the Sky Caught Fire, was released, a terrific collection of country-rock that balances commerciality and integrity. It earned high praise from none other than Americana sage and No Depression magazine founder Peter Blackstock, who wrote in the Austin-American Statesman, “Wagner’s first full-length record establishes her as one of Austin’s most promising young singer-songwriters.”
Her new EP, Dance Songs for the Apocalypse, is another great leap forward. The first single, a funky, soulful take on the Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime, is a stunner: a deep and danceable track that takes David Byrne’s dystopian vision one step further and highlights Wagner’s abilities as an interpreter as she takes the song into deeper and darker territory. Those interpretive skills show themselves again in an intimate and mournful eight-minute take on Neil Young’s Ambulance Blues, a gorgeous piano and violin trip through sadness and reflection. Yet somehow none of it comes off as doom and gloom. There is the triumph of Better Son and Daughter, which starts off with an acoustic guitar and Wagner’s front porch delivery, but then builds as the band comes in, gathering steam and force. Finally, Bird Set Free shows off an electric piano and strings and carries you off to an ethereal and poignant place.
Produced in Austin by Justin Douglas, Wagner’s direct and honest delivery on Dance Songs for the Apocalypse is supported by some of the city’s best, including Jessica Pyrdsa on piano, Eddie Dickerson on the violin, Chris Hausler on drums, and Aboubacar Sylla on the percussion that gives Life During Wartime its groove. Rounding out the team are Daniel “Lit Du” Durham on bass, Abram Shook on synth, and Michael St. Clair providing the horns. Songwriters such as Anna McGarrigle, Blake Sennett and Jenny Lewis, and Sia give Wagner a platform from which to soar.
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