Nicole Atkins on Taking Risks, Getting a Boost From Bruce Springsteen

Nicole Atkins gives all props to Bruce Springsteen for helping her exceed the PledgeMusic campaign goal for her new album, "Slow Phaser" -- by a long shot. Seems Atkins met her fellow New Jersey singer-songwriter a couple years ago at the annual Light of Day benefit concert to combat Parkinson's disease, while she was in the midst of raising a hoped-for $35,000 for the album. 

"We were playing at 7 and he didn't play 'til midnight, but he said, 'I was checking the schedule and saw you were playing early, so I need to get there' -- which was, like, 'Whoa...' " Atkins tells Billboard. "We talked, and he gave me advice for, like, two hours. He told me about his old prog-rock band, Steel Mill and pulled out his phone and showed me pictures of him with hair down to his ass, pretty cool. Then he gave me his personal assistant's number and said if I ever need advice on anything to call him and we'll talk." 

Slow Phaser: Full Album

And though she felt "super awkward" about it, Atkins made the call just as the campaign was wrapping up -- and got an unexpected bonus.

"I got an e-mail (address) to send (Springsteen) a link to my Pledge campaign; I wanted Bruce to see what I was doing," she says. "He ended up posting it on his Facebook page, signed by him, and his Twitter. Literally that day we were shutting down the campaign, and I got a text message from my friend that said, 'Check out Bruce's Facebook page.' That was an hour before the shutdown, so I was like, 'Stop the shutdown!' It was really cool." 

Atkins wound up raising $50,000 for her third full-length album, and used it to make something considerably different than its predecessors. Recorded with producer Tore Johansson in Malmo, Sweden -- where Atkins' recorded 2006's "Neptune City" with her band the Sea -- "Slow Phaser" embraces dance rhythms and prog-rock sensibilities, all accompanying lyrics inspired by superstorm Sandy last fall, which damaged her family's coastal home. 

"I felt like I was at point in my life where I had nothing to lose, Atkins explains. "The songs were written about some pretty heavy subject matter, but at the same time I was writing dance music in my sleep -- literally, I'd dream them and wake up and write them down or make phone notes. Some of my favorite rock records are those risky, theatrical records -- Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Queen. I felt like if they did that and I love it, I might as well not be scared of putting it out there, too. So that's what this is."

"Slow Phaser" is out on Atkins' own label, OH Mercy! Records, which she says is also an enjoyable experience. 

"The thing that I'm digging is being able to know exactly what's going on and knowing I could put out the single that I want and that my vinyl is heavy and colored well and all of the product is exactly how I want it to be," she says. "The only downside is time and money. It was, 'Do you want a gatefold (cover) or do you want the 180 gram white vinyl? I thought it was more important to sound good, but it hurt to make that decision." 

Atkins is currently on the road with a production that she says is "more of a Pink Floyd show than a singer-songwriter show." She has concerts booked through April 25 and says there's "a pretty incredible tour for the summer, opening up some dates for my hero" -- but can't say yet who that is. Atkins has also filmed a "hilarious, full-on comedy video" for the song "Girl You Look Amazing."


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