Blues Matters! Magazine Interview with Sybil Gage
Nicole Hart Interview in the April Issue of “BLUES MATTERS,” UK, bySybil Gage
Sybil Gage: Nicole , it was very nice to meet you at the Daytona Blues Festival. I thought your show was fabulous and I love your voice and they way you connect with the audience. I think you are a super talented hard working lady. Here are my questions.
SG: 1. You are used to being lead. Describe your experience working with the Shirelles as a background singer?
NH: I have loved singing harmony since I was a very young girl. I began in church singing soprano in a group with 3 or 4 part harmony and, as I grew older, I sang in a capella madrigal groups and in large choruses with up to 8 part harmony performing music by composers such as Handel and Copeland. For me, singing harmony with other vocalists and blending well is another art form, and one I absolutely love. Any opportunity to blend with or back up other vocalists is always welcome for me.
SG: 2. Did touring with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Shirley Alston for almost a year give you any preparation and strength as you continued to strike out on your own?
NH: Her voice is a truly unique instrument, and her phrasing, well I just don’t think you can teach phrasing like that. So natural. At the time, I felt Shirley was like a second mother to me. She is a total sweetheart and used to call me her “Pink Baby.” Watching her go out on stage night after night and just kill the audience was very inspiring to me. Sometimes she would have a little stage fright, but would pop a piece of “Big Red” chewing gum just before the show and gracefully walk out on stage wearing a huge smile. So, yes, I think watching a pro so up-close definitely did help me prepare . Whether I’m afraid, in a good mood or not, or tired – I just go out and think about giving the audience the best I have to give, no matter what.
SG3. What challenges do you face daily being a lead singer? It’s kind of a man’s world out there.
NH: Yes, ma’am, it’s kind of a man’s world but, fortunately, there are a lot of nice men, nice people, out there, too! Seriously, as a woman working with so many men, I learned fast how to keep boundaries, but I think I also know how to enjoy the fellas, appreciate them and let them be themselves. We’re all in the same crazy business, and they have their roles to play as do I. Sometimes, there’s no getting around certain prejudices, however when problems do arise I have found that they lie more with the individual rather than the gender as a whole. There are plenty of cool guys and plenty of jerks. There are also plenty of cool girls, and plenty of jerks there, too! I think one has to have the attitude that you want the best from people – and expect it.
Vocally, I face challenges daily with an instrument that is subject to being a part of my body – the human voice is so sensitive to things such as lack of sleep, stress, over singing or talking, and I have a lot of allergies, especially to certain foods. You’re a vocalist, too, so I am sure you understand!
SG: 4. How many CD’s do you have now and are you working on a new effort?
NH: I have 3 CDs released, one being with a band called, “The Shades,” which featured myself and a wonderful vocalist named Julius Dilligard, Jr.; we had an absolutely effortless way of singing together. He was a real joy to work with. My second CD is called, “Nicole Hart & The NRG Band – Live” which was a self-release with my husband, Lance Ong. That CD brought us to the attention of Blues Leaf Records, and the third release, a studio project, is called, “Treasure,” after the title cut which I wrote inspired by my husband. I was very fortunate to have Lance as arranger and musical director on that project as well. I am currently choosing new material with executive producer, Joe Morabia, for the next project.
SG: 5. You were living in New York, and have moved to Florida. Why the change?
NH: In 2007 I signed with an agent and began touring in 2008 to support The NRG Band record. I went from Maine to Ohio, Nashville to Asheville, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. I met so many wonderful people along the way, but I kept feeling a pull toward Florida. Your next question really holds the answer as to why I moved.
SG: 6. 2008 found you riding on a wave of happiness. You married your long time best friend and keyboardist Lance Ong. The very next year Ong lost his battle with lung cancer on Dec. 7, 2009. How have you been able to move on? Where do you find your strength?
NH: I read a book which advised no major changes for a year after the loss of a loved one, especially a spouse. Everyone’s experience with grief is unique, but knowing I wasn’t thinking too clearly in the months after losing Lance, staying put in New York seemed to be the right thing. However, getting past the memories there proved extremely challenging – in every direction was another heartbreaking reminder which held me back from being able to truly move forward. I have met a lot of wonderful, wonderful people in Florida through touring and, though it was very difficult to leave New York, it has become increasingly obvious that the right decision was to come here. It’s truly a fresh start with a new landscape, and without the painful echoes of the recent past. Remembering to have gratitude gives me strength. Sometimes it is just an exercise, but more and more I feel myself truly coming back to life through simple things such as petting a cat or dog, hearing an amazing lyric, witnessing the kindness of total strangers and courageous acts of people – focusing on something other than myself!! Additionally, there is new love in my life which is good fortune in and of itself. Of course I still have deep ties to New York, and do miss my many close friends there. Thank goodness it’s only a 2.5 hour plane ride away!
SG: 7. Where would you like to see yourself professionally next year this time?
NH: Touring Europe and Japan have always been on my wish list. My goal is to manifest that reality.
SG: 8. Please describe a favorite mind blowing moment that you have experienced on stage.
NH: No one particular moment comes to mind, but what drives me despite all the obstacles is music, which is transcendental. I am often so moved by the interaction that happens onstage – be it a particularly brilliant solo from one of the players, or a deep and amazing connection with the audience – that I am really outside my body experiencing through music something much bigger than myself. In the end, it’s really about the intangible relationship with other musicians, the audience, as well as the spiritual element. It’s about connecting, and I live for that privilege.
SG: Many Thanks Nicole.
NH: You are most welcome, Sybil. Thank you!