The talented Rhett Nicholl is a soul singer and poet from London. He’s now back with the new single, Love In Vain.
When it comes to music and lyricism, some artists will painstakingly spend every waking moment fine-tuning their work before releasing it into the world, Rhett Nicholl is one of those songwriters. Born and raised in London and brought up in a soul-loving household thanks to his parents who previously worked in the music industry, Nicholl is an artist that produces incredibly emotive and honest bodies of work. You can tell from the get-go that he truly cares about every little detail that he puts into his craft. And when the outcome is a beautiful combination of poetry, soulful vocals and sleek electronic textures, you can’t help but take note of his music.
To celebrate the release of his new single Love In Vain, 1883 Magazine caught up with the singer to discuss his music, London and the music industry.
Hi Rhett, can you tell us a bit about your new single Love In Vain and the meaning behind it?
It started off as a poem, kind of a prose poem, a long-form poem and it was envisioning this couple in the midst of a drug addiction and how that impacts the relationship and how they fall apart. You’ve got the Nasty Poet who is doing the spoken word parts of the song which offers a female perspective and my parts which is the male’s perspective. I just wanted to try and paint with sound a bit, something a bit dramatic and cinematic, rather than make a song.
We love that there is a clear concept with each track you release, we admire the attention to detail. You can tell that you painstakingly perfect every minor detail before releasing a song.
You can say that again mate haha, I’ve been sitting on these songs for a year mostly due to covid. But I generally do take quite a long time for when I’m ready to do stuff. I appreciate that it comes across man! I get bored really quickly and can’t do the same thing twice or even anything similar, it doesn’t really sit right with me. But you know, other people can and it works but it’s not my process.
The music video for Hold On is stunning, how did it all come about?
From a lot of toing and froing in the midst of lockdown, we were trying to shoot it, we were meant to go shoot the video in Bali and there were all these sort of big plans. But basically Melody Maker who does a lot of Greentea Peng’s stuff, she did Mahalia’s recent video, she’s a really super talented director and good friend of mine and we’d always wanted to work together. The stars aligned and the opportunity to shoot a video was there, she was free, I was free, the budget was there, to be honest I just gave her the reins.
She knows my story on a more personal level and I trusted her to give it that extra dimension. Sometimes I don’t want it to be the ‘Rhett Nicholl show’, I don’t want it to come from my mind. It’s like cinema, it’s a collaborative art form. It doesn’t just come from one person’s brain, it is everyone putting their heads together. That video, the Love In Vain. video and the following track all have a connected narrative in terms of visuals.
You released your debut EP, Omertà, back in February last year. You previously mentioned in an interview that the title of the EP is “about the relationship we have with our sins and wrestling between dualities.” Would you say that religion as a topic is central to your songwriting?
No but like most lapsed-Catholics, I was brought up in the catholic church, I went to catholic school and at no point throughout that time was I a boy/man of faith. But it’s that stereotype isn’t it, every sort of lapsed-catholic has it in them somewhere and that kind of grandeur, drama and mythology and whatever you want to call it, all kind of sinks into your brain. It kind of dictates certain elements from the art and all the qualities of it have a way of permeating in you, whether you like it or not and whether you identify with religion or not which I don’t.
It just seems to come out, it seems to be something that I can’t escape. I have three or four crosses tattooed on body for no reason haha but there has to be something there, you know what I mean.
As someone who’s grown up in London, what would you say your favourite and worst thing is about the city?
At this point in my life, my favourite thing is that you can turn round any corner and if you’re in the right mindset, you can encounter anything. It’s the same way with New York, it has that convergence of so many different energies, you can turn a corner and bump into someone and it can change the course of your life. The worst thing is that the city is disappearing due to gentrification and just the general state of affairs, it’s sucking the soul out of our city. I’m currently sitting in the heart of it, I’m in Hackney Wick right now, the belly of the beast haha. So I’m complicit unfortunately but that is the worst thing about it, we’re losing everything that is great about this city.
New York is five years ahead of us with regard to that and I go to New York every year and I see what is happening, it doesn’t bode well. But optimistically, with the way things are going politically, there might be a backlash, we will see.
As you have battled mental health issues and spoken about them in the past, would you say that music has always been a therapeutic output for yourself? And do you think there is enough mental health support in the industry at the moment?
This is always a delineation I try to draw, mental health has become such a broad stroke capsule for mental health but what I’m dealing with is very much more on the side of mental illness and they are both connected but I do think there is an important delineation to be drawn there. It’s funny because sometimes when you’re at your worst you don’t even have the ability to make music, it’s not fathomable. But it does tend to be when you’re coming out of something that you can kind of utilise it as a kind of catharsis.
As far as support within the music industry, not at all man. The team I have around me is fantastic from the label down to the management, they are all incredibly supportive. But as far as actual systemic resources there is nothing. I do come from a different sort of mindset where I personally take things on my own back but some people don’t have that ability, so I think it is something the industry needs to look at because people need the support.
It’s one of those things but how the support would be implemented is beyond my scope of understanding.
Thank you for sharing, it means a lot and your courage to speak openly might help someone that reads this article.
That’s alright, mate.
You cite Terry Reid as an influence for your sound, what is it about his work that inspires you?
For me, he just has the best voice, it’s one of those ineffable things. He is well-known for being the best white soul singer and he’s earned that title, he just has so much power, emotion, cadence, dynamics, raw skill and tone. That’s what I aim for, I think naturally my voice falls in a similar kind of tone, minus the technical ability which is kind of what I’m working on. Everyone’s kind of got their thing that they want to emulate and if I can sing like him, I’d be chuffed. I’m big on improving my craft, just from what I hear, people don’t always work on vocals like the way musicians rehearse and I want to rehearse the same way a musician does.
Your parents have both worked in the music industry, your father is a former tour manager of The Ramones, and your mother was an artist manager at New York’s Sire Records. Have they offered you any particular advice for navigating the industry? It is such a fickle industry…
Yeah and my family definitely learnt that the hard way, my dad in particular has a lot of advice to offer, being that his role was a bit more relevant to how the music industry is now. The landscape is so different but what they both imparted on me is good people skills and how to deal with people because people never change. The laws, mechanics and the royalties, all these things are transient but yeah, they taught me how to deal with people and how to judge people and who to put your trust in.
A lot of the stuff I learnt was by osmosis just by being around it. My parents were in the industry up until the age of when I was about seven years old. So I just soaked a lot of it in as far as judgement and instinct when it comes to the music industry. The whole thing has been a learning curve, I’ve come into it with a head start when it comes to the business side of things but I’m just as new to the actual process of working as a musician, every session, every new music video, working with other musicians, there is a big learning opportunity.
You actually studied English and American Literature at Goldsmiths University, if you weren’t a musician, do you have any idea on what your dream profession would be?
I feel like visual art is a big part of my life on so many different levels. One day I would like to write a novel or a book of some sort but do I see it as a viable career? I don’t know. In the best case scenario I would be some sort of visual artist, worst case scenario, I would be a crook unfortunately as I don’t think an English and American Literature degree from Goldsmiths would get me very far haha.
I’m sure the degree would have transferable skills, don’t worry haha!
Out of curiosity, you mentioned before the interview that you were in a studio session today, can you tell us anything about it or how it’s going?
I’m working with the same producer who made Love In Vain., a guy called George Moore. I really enjoyed working with all the producers I worked with on the last EP. I just want to keep the momentum up following on from Love In Vain. and my debut EP.
Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year, is there anything exciting that you can reveal to our readers?
There’s nothing I can reveal unfortunately, I would love to but hopefully there will be some live shows coming up, we’re just figuring it all out at the moment.
Love In Vain is out now, follow Rhett Nicholl via @rhettnicholl
Interview by Cameron Poole