popYOUlarity: Out of everyone you worked on the “Frondescence ” EP with, who taught you the most valuable lesson and what was it?
Nicole Berke: I would have to say that the musicians that I played with, Jesse (the bassist) and Rory (the drummer), taught me a lot during the process of the recording. They are phenomenal musicians, and I realized that songs can transform a great deal when they are brought into the studio and when collaboration ensues. I learned how important it is to listen to the ideas brought forth by others and to be unafraid to try different and new things in order to find a certain sound.
popYOUlarity:Can you describe how you approach your music?
Nicole Berke:Writing songs has always been a natural way for me to interpret my surroundings and my own thoughts. Because of this, I like to view music as something that happens organically and I try to always remain true to the notion that it should never be forced and should only be played and created for the love of it. In this way, it’s evolved into a passion, something I can’t live without.
popYOUlarity:What are they key challenges you face during your creative process?
Nicole Berke:Usually patience and flexibility are the biggest challenges. There are times when I feel as though I need to put a certain thought or emotion to a song but am not quite ready to successfully do so. That’s when it’s easy to become self critical, but when this happens, I try to get up, move on to something else, and come back to it later when it feels more natural.
popYOUlarity: What are the biggest things you have learnt about yourself during the creation of the album?
Nicole Berke:While creating the album, I realized that I can be a relatively impatient person. I thought we could record all five songs in a weekend at first and that it could be done quickly and painlessly. It didn’t take long before I learned that this would have been impossible, and that it’s more important to take the time needed to do things right. Even when you want to get something done on a particular deadline or within a time frame, it’s often worth it to slow down and pay close attention to details, especially when creating something like an album which is going to be around for awhile.
popYOUlarity: Can you talk about some of the highs and lows you went through while recording?
Nicole Berke:Some of the lows while recording involved a frustration when things didn’t sound the way I wanted them to at first, whether it was in the levels of the mix or in the overall arrangement of the songs. Also, the whole process took a lot longer than I originally thought it would: it involved a lot of hard work and invested time. However, these lows were exactly what made the final outcome a high point. When the EP was finally finished, I felt so proud of the result and was so thankful for all of the people who helped along the way.
popYOUlarity: Did any of the songs surprise you by taking a different direction than you initially envisioned?
Nicole Berke:The general format of the songs didn’t change very drastically, but the textures added in the studio (from other sounds, effects and instruments) was what eventually made them sound different than the original idea. The title track “Frondescence” especially took an interesting turn: we added reverse reverb and really let the ending build up and carry out instead of ending on a quieter more subdued note, which I really like.
popYOUlarity: What do you feel are the most significant musical moments in your life that have influenced your journey as an artist?
Nicole Berke:I think a lot of the musical influences I’ve been fortunate enough to experience have been relatively continuous. I grew up in a very musical household and was lucky to take piano lessons from a young age. My parents were always very supportive and never pushed or put pressure on my pursuit of music in any way. Some of the big decisions I made, such as moving to a bigger city (Boston) and then eventually moving across the country to Portland, OR certainly shaped me a great deal as well, because I was (and still am) continuously meeting talented musicians to learn from, collaborate with and become inspired by. Going on tour this past summer with my friend Kiernan McMullan was a big turning point for me as well because I was exposed to a lot of new cities, people and sounds.
popYOUlarity: I wanted to throw out a couple song titles and get your initial thoughts: First, “Blind Dumb and Deaf.”
Nicole Berke:This was actually a song that I wrote in high school, believe it or not. It describes a situation where two people with an extensive history together find themselves unable to communicate any longer. One person wants to hold on where the other doesn’t. There are a lot of things each person wants to say, but in the end the wall is up and neither can see, think or hear anything rationally anymore.
Nicole Berke: I always considered “Fire” to be an extremely personal song, but the more I played it for others, the more I realized that a lot of people have experienced a similar thing. When you love someone so much that you feel as though you need to hold back for fear of becoming too dependent, it’s a powerful thing. It’s like forcing yourself to take time on something that is so good yet so fragile; something you know has such a capacity for growth but could also crumble if held too tightly. Despite knowing that, though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t pull yourself away. Eventually you realize that there are no laws depicting what you should or shouldn’t do in a relationship; you need to just let it happen naturally.
popYOUlarity: Do you find that when you perform songs that they are evolving or changing with each time you play them? Do the songs ever grow?
Nicole Berke:Generally, the structure and lyrics in a song remain pretty close to the original. However, the arrangement and textures within a tune can absolutely change. This is especially true when I bring new songs to my band. Lately, we’ve been working at taking each section of a song apart and trying to find the way it sounds best. I believe that this process is absolutely essential for growth and continuous improvement.
popYOUlarity: Since there has been a couple years since Frondescence has been released, how do you keep the music fresh and interesting for you?
Nicole Berke:When I got to this question, I got totally distracted and gravitated towards the piano to learn a new song that was stuck in my head. And that’s exactly it. There’s so much good music going on all the time; I love learning old soul tunes and writing new songs and finding great music to be inspired by. When rehearsing with my band, we are always striving to get better and better, so there’s never any point where things get dry or boring. You can always learn more and you can always improve.
popYOUlarity: What emotion do you wish most to evoke from your fans when they hear your music?
Nicole Berke:I don’t have any particular emotion that I’d most wish for people to feel when they hear the music. I think the main goal is to make a vital connection with the audience so that people feel something when they listen. If my music can help someone through a difficult time, make them feel less alone, or just make them feel good and happy, I’m completely fulfilled.
popYOUlarity: Can you describe your attraction to music?
Nicole Berke:Perhaps my love for music verges on obsession at times, but it is undoubtedly, ultimately and absolutely an intrinsic natural part of me that I cannot imagine living without. I have music and melody and words running through my head all the time and I am happiest when I am creating or listening to music. It grounds me while also serving a sort of spiritual purpose. It’s my language and the way I can connect with others.
popYOUlarity: At this point, what are your hopes for your music?
Nicole Berke:I’d like to continue to improve while pursuing opportunities to share and play for others. Also, I’m starting to become more disciplined and focused with all aspects of my music: the business, the visual presentation, the overall sound and the minute details within a song. I’m taking piano lessons as well and spending a lot of time practicing. I’ve come a long way, but I know I still have a ways to go. The truth is that I hope I’m never satisfied; I hope to keep on playing and learning and evolving until I’m old and grey.
popYOUlarity: Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of popYOUlarity?
Nicole Berke:Thanks for reading! You can hear some tunes on www.myspace.com/nicoleberke and on my new website, www.nicoleberkemusic.com.
Photo: Dave Owczarek