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The album And The Sky Caught Fire by Austin, Texas (by way of Colorado) singer and songwriter Nichole Wagner opens with the laid-back song “Winner Takes All,” demonstrates Wagner's ability to create a cinematic landscape with her lyrics, as she explores both the physical and emotional uneasiness of a relationship coming to an end.

Nichole Wagner says, “(The song) “Winner Take All” is interesting to me, because a lot of my songs tend to be very storytelling, so they cover a large period of time. “Winner Take All,” is about a moment shorter than the actual song. It is that last few seconds while the sun was setting on this breakup that I was going through, but that is not when I wrote the song. I wrote the song a couple of years after the breakup.  Things in your mind get triggered and you think about what it was like to be in those very few seconds and if anything could have possibly changed the outcome.

It is a song that came together fairly quickly and I wrote it in maybe an hour and one-half, which is also unusual for me. I tend to sit around with songs and work with them instead of just letting them come. There were a couple of verses that got cut, because they didn’t say anything new.  They just delved into more of what went wrong in the relationship. It turned out it didn’t really matter, because the song is not about the relationship, so much as it is about the last few seconds.”

Nichole Wagner Photo ThreeAs to whether or not Nichole Wagner finds it easier to write about those more personal times, while still sitting with those feelings or if it is easier once she has a little bit of emotional distance, she says, “It really depends on the subject matter. There are other songs on this record that were written very much in the moment. “Let Me Know,” was written when I was out of town and getting ready to go on an adventure. I was going out for dinner with somebody that I fancied and I was really struggling with the feeling. That song was written in the moment whereas with other songs I need that space for me. If I am acting on a more immediate emotion of wanting or anger or any of those types of things then I can write them in the moment.”

The second song on the album is simply called “Dynamite,” and at the risk of a groaner pun, it is a dynamite song that packs a punch. The song moves along briskly and Wagner is joined on vocals by her co-writer for this song, Terry Klein. The setting for the song is Wagner’s hometown of Louviers, Colorado located in Douglas County, with a population of 269 the last time a census was done.

After bumping into each other at each other’s gigs, Nichole Wagner decided to approach Terry Klein about co-writing some songs.

“I do not have a poker face, so he knew immediately when I wasn’t digging the ideas he was pitching and he would tell me very politely that he didn’t like my ideas either. After an hour of this we gave up and he said let’s go back a little bit, we don’t actually know each other that well and this is probably very uncomfortable, because we don’t know what we are dealing with. He started to ask me where I was from and basic getting to know you kind of questions.  It turned out perfect, because the answer to that question was that I grew up in this very small town in Colorado called Louviers. It is French and named after the (Delaware estate of the Louviers family). It was the home of the DuPont dynamite factory.

In Colorado at the turn of the 20 th century, because of mining there was a great need for dynamite, so the factory was built and it was a company town.  Anybody who lived in the town up until the mid-1980s worked at the factory. Based on your position in the company if you got a promotion you would get a different house and you would move up in rank. In the seventies they shut down production and eventually they closed the factory. When that happened they sold off the houses of the people who lived there. It took some time for people to move away. My family was one of the first families that came in and my parents bought their house a couple of years, before I was born. They bought an old dairy farm. It was an interesting place to grow up, because the majority of the people had lived there for their entire lives. There is a lot of history there.

Because it was a dynamite factory it was very isolated, but it was only forty-five minutes to an hour from Denver. It wasn’t growing up rural, because we still had access to all of the city things. Yet it still felt like growing up rural, so it was the best of both worlds. The con of that was there was not a neighborhood structure. There were only one hundred houses. There were only so many things that a town like that can support when there is also not a company supporting it. We had a post office and we had a library that was open twice a week for a couple of hours. If you wanted groceries or anything else you had to go further into town.

I am happy to report that Louviers has really come back. There were a few years when it was a place you would not necessarily want to move to and things were starting to get run down. In the last five or six years it seems to have really come back. It is more of a suburb. Nothing is around it still, but the houses and the park are being kept up. It is really getting some love,” explains Wagner.

Nichole Wagner’s music can best be described as Americana meets Folk Rock or Joni Mitchell meets Neil Young and Wagner agrees with that observation.

“You hit the nail on the head. There was so much available to me. My parents were huge fans of music. They took me to go see big shows when I was at a very young age. I was two and one-half when they took me to see George Thorogood. I had all kinds of influences, my mom loved Joni Mitchell and my dad liked Neil Young. There is a video of me when I was a very small and I am running around singing Grateful Dead songs and listening to Jackson Browne records. All of those seventies Rock artists were played during my childhood. From there I discovered stuff that was a little more mainstream. When I was a teenager my rebellion took place when I got into Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles and the Eagles, which were more popular. (At the same time) it was hard to pull away from that kid who went to Bluegrass festivals.  I listened to the Grateful Dead, Springsteen and all of those (other types of music).”

It would appear that most if not all of Nichole Wagner’s songs are inspired by personal experiences.

“I have written songs about somebody and then realized that person was in the room (when I performed it) and maybe they didn’t know it until that moment that the song was about them.

I think every song on And The Sky Caught Fire is about a very specific relationship, whether it is with a person or an idea or in the case of a dynamite town. It is about relationships between the narrator of the song and somebody or something.  Most songs tend to be about a relationship otherwise you wouldn’t bother to write songs. A lot of them are also breakup songs. The breakup songs and then the ‘I wish I could have you,’ songs at the same time.

Songwriting to me is about gathering parts of the world and parts of your world. Somebody may say something or turn a phrase or something that happens to somebody, it is all fair game.  The intent is never to call somebody out for their behavior that is bad, but just to incorporate that realism into what you are doing.  You have to be careful what you say around songwriters.  Also, on the flip side of that I have said something that ended up in somebody else’s song and I was hey! It is a lesson that I have to learn too in the presence of other songwriters.  I have changed lines in songs to obscure their deeper truths, but I only will do it if it doesn’t change the intent of the song. I will only use detail if it doesn’t identify somebody. It is the kind thing to do,” she says.

The sultry vocals of Nichole Wagner and the deep, make you swoon vocals of Rod Picott combine for the slow and sensual “Fires of Pompeii, (We Should Walk Away)” co-written with Kristin Kirkpatrick. The song is a conversation, each trying to convince each other that they should walk away or perhaps they are trying to convince each other why they should stay. As he is throughout the album, Will Sexton is elegant on guitar and Jan Flemming is just as eloquent on keys. Drummer Chris Haulser is subtle in keeping time. Justin Douglas did a wonderful job of producing, engineering and mastering this album.

Nichole Wagner Photo One Will Sexton was recommended to Wagner and she also knew him prior to his move from Austin, Texas to Memphis, Tennessee.

“I was so lucky to get Will (Sexton) on guitar for the entire record. I sent him a text message and I congratulated him on his marriage. I asked if he wanted to be on my record. He got back to me almost immediately and said sure when? I told him the dates and then he (got back to me) and said I bought a plane ticket. I said okay, cool. We are doing this. He was so open hearted about this and just immediately said yes. He knocked it out of the park. I could not have been more fortunate and I don’t think there is anyone else who could have made those songs sound the way that he did,” she says.

As for the co-writing process Wagner says, “The song “Fires of Pompeii,” was the first one that I wrote that I thought I can play this in front of people and I won’t be embarrassed. Kristin Kirkpatrick is really good at finding the excess and pointing it out. With “Fires of Pompeii,” I was struggling to come up with the right metaphor for what I was feeling about the situation and about the person that it is about. I was looking for a disaster and she suggested Pompeii. That is her co-writing style with me to talk with me and to be a sounding board. She would point out that this part was cool, but you just said that.”

How did Nichole Wagner settle on Justin Douglas as her producer and engineer?

“I called up Justin and I said hey could we get some coffee and talk about your approach to this. When we met I knew he was going to be the right match for it. He is very no nonsense, but he is also a very good coach. He is not going to let you do things halfway and I love that about him. He doesn’t accept mediocrity. I think would turn somebody away if he felt they were not the right fit for him. A lot of studios, especially for demos and stuff go come on in and they just cycle you through. It is not just a cash cow. (for Justin). It is not about let’s get the next girl singer in here and churn through them. 

There was an immediate connection (between Justin and me). The way that we talked about music and the things that we heard and how he could translate what I was saying into something that was greater than I was saying, but still keep the essence. While we were making the record I didn’t even call or talk to anybody else. Luckily he was cool and he did not say you are a nightmare.  He is awesome and I cannot say enough good things about working with him. He gives care and attention to every single person who comes into his studio.

Demonstrating that she knows how to invigorate those listening to her music Nichole Wagner cuts loose with the sixth track, “This Kind of Love,” which is a very quick temple rockier type of song.

“The tracking of the record was done with it very much in mind to press it to vinyl. “The Last Time,” would end side one and you would have the great fadeout to close that side of the record. Then “This Kind of Love,” would come in and pick things up. It would wake you up if you had drifted off into folk sleepy zone.  I tried to make it like one of Stevie Nicks’ solo records and make it punchy. I wanted it to be more Poppy,” she says.  

All but one of the songs on Nichole Wagner’s album And The Sky Caught Fire are original tunes, that lone exception being Warren Zevon’s “Reconsider Me.”

“I had two Warren Zevon songs and two other songs and I sat with them for a while. “Reconsider Me,” is a breakup song and (the mood is) why won’t you reconsider me, because we were great together? I love you and why don’t you love me back anymore? It is also a longing song. You didn’t give me the chance that I wanted or the chance kind of floated on by.  If you would just reconsider you would see that I would be really good for you and you would be good for me.

It hit both categories of the other songs, “Fires of Pompeii,” and “Let Me Know,” are very longing songs. I wish I could have you. “Winner Take All,” they broke up, but they are not angry.  There is a little bit of, as much as I wish we weren’t in this place when we are breaking up I understand why we are here and I am sorry to see you go.  “Reconsider Me,” has both of those elements in it perfectly,” says Wagner.

And The Sky Caught Fire is a special album, by a special artist whom Riveting Riffs Magazine predicts one day everybody will be talking about. Our special thanks to Nichole Wagner who did this interview with almost no voice and to Peanut her dog who made a cameo appearance.  Please visit the website for Nichole Wagner.     Return to Our Front Page

Photo Credits: Top and Bottom Photos by Valerie Fremin. Middle Photo by Stacie Huckeba. All photos are protected by copyright © and All Rights Are Reserved.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published December 16th, 2018 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos and artwork are the the property of Nichole Wagner unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved