Leaving their old life behind, Nikki Talley and her husband, Jason Sharp, sold all their belongings to dedicate their careers to life on the road. With travels out West and on late-night shows, the band has ventured to various parts of the nation over the past four years, in their van, “Blue Bell.” It was all about passion and doing the one thing they loved most: music.
Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, Talley constantly was surrounded by music. Her extremely musical mom often played Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Dylan throughout Talley’s childhood. From this Talley learned to play the guitar, banjo and piano at a very young age. “Singing was always my main instrument,” she says. “I sang harmony with mom as a kid at the age of 5, all the time. When I came to the world, I came out singing, not crying.”
As Talley entered her adolescent years, music remained her primary hobby. She began writing songs around the age of 10 and participated in her high-school choir. Talley’s choir teacher guided her in finding the styling and pitch of her own voice.
Talley attended Bervard College but dropped out after several semesters to pursue music professionally. In the meantime, she met her husband and future bandmate in Asheville, where he was attending school. They both moved to the East Coast in the ‘90s, so Talley could start a band with her sister and sister’s ex-boyfriend. Sharp—who grew up in Wilmington and attended Hoggard High School—decided to finish his education at UNCW. His familiarity with Wilmington opened doors for he and his wife, who played gigs from Copper Penny to Port City Java, as well as festivals like Wilmington’s springtime azalea celebration. “Our ties to Wilmington have always been strong and, they have always been very supportive,” Talley says. “I’ve played at open mics all over.”
When Sharp left his job with the U.S. government, he and Talley began dedicating their time and effort to music. To date, Nikki Talley has released six albums. Her first, “Brothers” (2002), was simply Talley—her voice and guitar—with a more electronically bent “Telling Lies” following in 2006. It was on her third album, “To Be a Bird” (2008), she found the layered folk style she’s known for today. Sharp joined in on the recordings with 2010’s “Beautiful Charmer,” which was then followed by a live CD.
All independent releases, Talley’s catalog of music has continued expanding, including their recent June 6 release, “Out From the Harbor.” It was the first album recorded at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, NC—a studio that has seen the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and the Avett Brothers. Due to a Kickstarter campaign that raised $18,500, the band Nikki Talley produced and marketed the album in a more creative and professional way.
“We felt very flattered and honored to have a budget to work on what we consider the best album of our life and careers,” Talley says.
The band was able to have ample time in the studio, as well as hire a radio promoter and an artist for the jacket’s artwork. “Out From the Harbor” also was the first album that featured both Sharp and a member of Grammy-winning bluegrass band Steep Canyon Rangers’ Mike Ashworth. Talley and Ashworth grew up together and had crossed musical paths on various occasions, thanks to the friendship of their mothers. The two always talked about collaborating.
“He is a fantastic player, and, basically, having him on the bass and drums is a very unique situation, because he is a master at both,” Talley praises. “We didn’t want too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. We were afraid of too many opinions and wanted as few people as possible, and it worked out perfect. He had good ideas, but wasn’t like, ‘I want to change everything about the song.’”
“Out From the Harbor” is very diverse across the indie-folk platform. Upbeat jams intermingle with bluegrass elements. The opening tune from the 10-track album is “Rainy Day.” It is a very simple, mellow song that sets the theme for the album: water. “Whether it be the cleansing power of the sea or tears or rain, water is a big part of the album, as well as traveling and rivers and the ocean,” Talley explains.
Another track, “Trouble,” demonstrates the Americana, honky-tonk vibe thanks to its upbeat, full band leading the helm. It winds down with “Willow’s Daughter,” composed of piano and strings.
Though diverse in arrangements, Talley’s voice and Sharp’s guitar keep it focused and centered, according to the lead lady. “Some of the songs were very new and some were songs I had written several years ago,” she informs. “Some I had been playing a long time. I was looking through song books to find what all could blend together.”
One of the band’s personal favorites is “Gracie Blue.” It is a particularly long song, clocking in a little over 7 minutes. “‘Gracie Blue’ is our secret pleasure song, and we just really wanted to put it on the album,” Talley says. “While we aren’t sure of how people will take it, it’s basically a ballad between a woman and a man who work on a ship. It’s really a crazy story, but we just developed it [while] watching a ship in the harbor.”
“Traveling On” sets the tone and theme of the album, as well as Nikki Talley on a whole. Autobiographical, it divulges info about life on the road, and the good and bad that come with it.
“The hard part is always the non-musical part: answering e-mails and phone calls,” Talley says. “Music isn’t my job. It’s my passion and hobby. I get to do what I love.”
Nikki Talley will be playing in Wilmington at Bourgie Nights, as part of a CD release party for “Out From the Harbor” on June 26.