Nikki Hill is a blues shouter in the great tradition of Ruth Brown and Etta James. Her debut, 2013’s Here’s Nikki Hill, placed her in a raw R&B and rockabilly setting. Its follow-up, Heavy Hearts Hard Fists, is equally urgent and energetic, although Hill also reveals herself as a dab hand at slow blues and soulful ballads too.
Heavy Hearts Hard Fists was recorded and mixed by Billy Horton at his Fort Horton Studios in Wildwood, Texas.
Billy’s place is really cool. That guy has an ear, and a penchant for correctly using old studio equipment. Not just the ‘let’s make that cool old-but-sounds-like-shit’ sound: it’s still sonically great.
How has Durham, North Carolina shaped your sound?
North Carolina is the birthplace of lots of great musicians like Nappy Brown, Nina Simone, Link Wray, Thelonious Monk, George Clinton, Lee Fields. But really, it’s just where I’m from, where I grew up, and the base of some of my songs. Because it’s home, it feels good when we’re there!
Was the church an influence?
Yes, my dad and stepmother made me sing in the gospel choir. I never cared for the actual church part. I asked too many questions and couldn’t get answers that made sense. But what did make sense was the music. I remember as a kid, even if I wasn’t paying attention to the words of the songs, what was amazing was the reactions, the rhythms, the voices, the feel, and even the entertainment factor. It would move the people in such a way. I was drawn to that.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was crucial too.
When I saw her, I knew that was it. It was the bridge of gospel and rock’n’roll, and for a girl who grew up singing gospel, that was a huge realisation for me. But influences shift around. Some pretty consistent ones are Otis Redding, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Toots And The Maytals, The Staple Singers, Outkast, Los Lobos, James Brown, The Duchess (Bo Diddley’s guitar player), Little Richard, Howlin’ Wolf and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
To these ears, the album track (Let Me Tell You ’Bout) LUV sounds like Tina Turner fronting The Faces.
Could you imagine the insanity that would have taken place had Tina Turner fronted The Faces? The world couldn’t have handled it! That is the type of thing I daydream about. And then I attempt to make songs of little ideas like that.
Heavy Hearts Hard Fists is out now via Deep Fryed. See nikkihillmusic.com for details.