Nicole Atkins hails from the quaint seaside borough of Neptune City, N.J., population 5,218. But her Colombia debut "Neptune City," named in honor of her beloved hometown, was recorded in a land betteNicole Atkins hails from the quaint seaside borough of Neptune City, N.J., population 5,218. But her Colombia debut "Neptune City," named in honor of her beloved hometown, was recorded in a land better known for its ski slopes than sunbathing: Sweden.
Atkins met producer Tore Johansson just in the nick of time. She'd been signed to Columbia in January 2006 by Steve Greenberg, but a change at the top meant much of the team Atkins had been working with disappeared right in the middle of the making of her first album. On top of that, she had been recording with Lenny Kaye, of the Patti Smith Group, who ended up having to give up the helm to turn his attention to Smith's new album.
"I started getting worried about getting dropped," she tells Billboard.com. "A million people had left and I wasn't sure what [Columbia] was going to do with me."
Atkins felt she'd lost a lot of time as "another summer just slipped by." But after having the pick of her next producer, she innately knew Johansson would be the one to help get her vision on tape. "He spoke my language -- children and dolls and creepy and beautiful things."
She headed off with her band to his native Sweden in September of last year and began working on what would become the rich, dreamy "Neptune City," which debuted at No. 20 on Top Heatseekers.
Atkins says they spent two weeks working, took a break, and then continued for the whole month of November last year.
"We were in the middle of nowhere," she recalls. "The studio was a half-hour from anything. We were in the middle of a field, in an old barn. It was dark out all the time."
Although Atkins says she often felt homesick and depressed -- "You would not have wanted to know me at that time," she only half-jokes -- she also credits the cold, barren environment with helping maintain "good focus. All you had was the studio to lose yourself in."
Of the tunes that made the final cut, Atkins says "about a third were songs I had done for my demo, a third were songs I'd done with the band earlier that year and a third were new songs I wrote just before I got to Sweden or while I was there."
The tracks written in Sweden -- including one of the album's highlights, "Brooklyn's on Fire!" -- capture Atkins' mindset at the time, reminiscing about home and the people she missed.
But there was a beauty in the depth of the band's isolation in Sweden that found its way into Atkins' music, which ultimately helped to enhance the final product. "The landscape really inspired me to go for something dark and psychedelic," she says. Her dark pop songs have a baroque, Beach Boys-styled '60s feel, juxtaposed with sinister sounds "because of where we were, mentally and physically."
Currently on tour with the Raveonettes, Atkins says she's grateful for how "Neptune City" turned out and for all the opportunities she's been granted to travel and see the world.
But ultimately, her focus comes back to home. "I'm in Asbury Park [N.J.] now, and a lot of my friends in bands are living here now, too. We're trying to create a scene again, to make it a viable music town again. The roots go deep."