Nikki & the RueMates on band drama, music nostalgia, and a new album

Nikki & the RueMates on band drama, music nostalgia, and a new album
Photo by Peter Lee

Nikki & The RueMates have finished an album that was four years in the making. Rise & Shine is the band's answer to country-folk-rock of decades past. In a music industry where most artists seem to take yesterday's remix as a starting point, it's refreshing to hear music that has the nerve to dig a little deeper and look a little further back.

Gimme Noise spoke with lead singer Nikki Matteson prior to their CD release at the 331 Club on Friday.

Band members:
Nikki Matteson - vocals/guitar
Rich Rue - backup vocals/guitar
Jon Olson - bass
Liz Draper - bass
Jimmy "T" Tollesfrud - drums

It's been quite a while since the last album was released. Why such a long wait?

The reason for the long wait was due to band drama. Band members quit or were let go -- depends on whose side you want to take. The recording engineer, who was also an unsaid member of the group, quit. We made up and are now friends again; he's apologized and claims that at the time he has some kind of mental issue going on. We had to find a new place to record, and it was a blessing in disguise because we found a better studio and a more experienced recording engineer. I also went back to school for web design two years ago, so that held things back a little bit.

How has your writing and music aesthetic changed since the last album?

My writing hasn't changed much -- some of the songs on this CD were well in the works by the last time the last CD came out.

The songs that I've written after the last album came our are me trying to write blues songs, mainly country blues, that sound "old," and to make it seem like they were written by someone else. People often ask, "Who wrote 'Mail Slot Blues'? Who wrote 'Sweet Daddy'? Who wrote 'Train Won't Go'?" They are surprised when I tell them that I did; that's what I'm going for.

I have the same approach to writing songs now as I did a few years ago -- from writing down on pieces of paper quick song ideas, stashing them away, revisiting them later and working with them, from dreams, and from jamming. I also get ideas from just listening to music as well as watching and seeing live music.

Musically, if there has been a change, Rich and I are into strapping on our electric guitars more often. Instead of maintaining an acoustic sound, we are gigging. We've both played in rock bands for years on the side, and we both decided it would be nice to change up the RueMate sound. We started doing so especially after I bought a Joe Strummer model Fender Telecaster last November. We play the electric guitars more in our trip, as well as our band. Playing as a four-piece is something we've been doing a little more too, including a bass player and a drummer. The RueMates, as a duo (me and Rich), consists of me on the acoustic and Rich playing electric.

There's a lot of bluesy and country qualities to the new pieces. What influenced you when you were writing for this album?

Like I said previously, I am trying in my blues songs to make them sound like they originated in a past era. It's surprising to hear you pick up on a country quality -- I think of this CD as being more country-blues and folk-rock -- our version of folk-rock, I guess.

What influenced me for this CD: old blues songs and some rituals, bad politics, a road trip out west, revenge, the experience of trying to overcome young person insecurities, love/desire, dreams, an apple field, a wedding, good singers like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Bessie Smith, and booze.

Does it feel satisfying to be done with such a big project after working on it for so long?

Hell, yes! Especially since we have new songs we wrote within the past year that will be on the next CD -- we definitely want to start recording again soon, more so now that we have access to a nice studio.

How did the RueMates contribute to the evolution of the songs in the writing process?

The songs are written by me and Rich Rue. I write all of the song lyrics, but musically it very much is a collaborative process. Rich comes up with the musical ideas, such as the chord progression, a guitar melody; he'll play it for me and let me come up with the rest. The happened on a few songs. On others, I will come up with the basic melody, chord progression, rough layout of a new song, then show it to Rich. From there, he helps on the development/production process.

The band plays a Thursday evening residency at the Sea Salt Eatery this summer and into fall. How did this come about?

We've been playing this gig for at least five years. I really don't remember how exactly it came about -- I think by networking; a musician friend who books there asked us.

How did you come to picking the 331 Club for the CD release, and what can we expect at the show?

Jackson Buck is a long-time friend and music promoter. He hosts a show on KFAI radio called Freewheelin', and he is also in charge of organizing the music the first Friday of every month at the 331. Rich contacted Jackson about out CD release party and he took us on.

You can expect a full band with special guests, a jazz interlude, and my Joe Strummer model Fender Telecaster guitar. All of that, plus a good time!

Nikki & The RueMates will release Rise & Shine on Friday, July 6, 2012 at the 331 Club with Matt Latterell.
21+, Free, 10 pm

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