I was first introduced to Nico Vega when I was working with an online music video company several years ago. The band was coming to our offices for a video shoot and, as happens before a shoot, the production team had numerous conversations about what the set should look like.
When Aja Volkman, Dan Epand, and Rich Koehler (“Nico Vega”) arrived, the creative director asked them if they were ok with the set design or whether they wanted any changes. “No, we can go with this. . . Thank you,” they replied. Nico Vega has repeatedly shown that they can play in any location, without requiring anything special. Among some of the more unusual places they’ve played: in the kitchen while cooking, on rooftops, in bathrooms, and while trapped in an elevator during the middle of the night.
When Nico Vega played unplugged at our office that day, you hardly noticed they were playing in front of a warehouse garage door, surrounded by pink balloons. The band was mesmerizing, their power and presence undeniable. The production team’s deliberation about the set design was a professional thing to do, but it wasn’t necessary.
I’ve since seen and been equally blown away by Nico Vega a dozen times.
Flash forward four years. . .
Every summer I visit my family in Colorado and, naturally, the weekend trip is planned around at least one concert. When I checked the local listings and saw Nico Vega was playing at The Bluebird Theater on July 14th, the date of this summer’s trip was set.
If you haven’t traveled outside of your hometown to see a show, I highly recommend it. Getting away from the routine, experiencing new venues, and dropping into an unfamiliar crowd is a great way to expand your perspective.
Being outside of LA, away from the “business”, was liberating. It felt almost as if I were experiencing Nico Vega for the first time. I was able to appreciate everything I love about this band – their music, their empowering messages, and how they interact with the audience – in an expansive, new way.
What I experienced at The Bluebird Theater wasn’t just a show; it was a conversation. Nico Vega isn’t merely playing and singing songs, they’re engaging the audience in a constant dialog. The exchange is dynamic. Everyone – band and audience – participates.
The conversation is about integrity, life, love, compassion, equality, justice, power (individual and collective), empowerment, freedom, strength, gratitude, growth, and change.
It’s not only communicated in their lyrics, it’s part of every beat of Dan’s drum, the way Rich plays guitar and shuffles onstage, Jamila Weaver’s harmonies and bass, each note Aja sings and every piece of equipment she climbs. Nico Vega embodies everything they’re singing about – on and off stage, which makes their shows powerful and transcendant.
When people talk about stage presence, they’re often referencing showmanship. In the case of Nico Vega, it’s truly about presence. They are entirely present, immersed in the moment, feeling and communicating the songs with every cell in their bodies. They somehow manage to connect with each person in the audience, individually, and the crowd responds in turn. Not to be confused with theatrics, an “act”, a show, or even a performance — Nico Vega simply is everything they play and sing about.
The audience shows up and they know their part. The band doesn’t need to cue the claps nor sing-a-longs – it’s felt organically. This was my cousin’s first time seeing Nico Vega and she wasn’t familiar with their songs. However, she was singing along at every opportunity and throwing her hands in the air with each empowering drum beat of “Beast”.
This is true of all the Nico Vega shows I’ve been to. However, at the Bluebird Theater, outside of my usual environment, I was able to further absorb and articulate what was happening. I experienced what makes their shows so potent, beyond the outstanding musicianship, exceptional stage presence and Aja’s powerful voice.
When Aja sings, she is the song. She’s able to communicate the music and messages of Nico Vega on a truly soulful level. It’s expansive, invigorating, and inspiring. It appears as though all in attendance are not only listening, they’re feeling. They feel the empowerment, their feet leave the ground, their hands touch the sky, they lean in toward the stage as Aja’s presence reaches every inch of the venue.
At times she sits down and sings so powerfully that you forget she’s sitting. When she leans over the edge of the stage, it feels as though she’s hovering above the entire crowd. She makes eye contact, smiles, shares the microphone, sings from atop the drum set or a Nico Vega trashcan. Aja is not constrained by the mic stand – she knows it’s not locked to the stage and she moves about accordingly. The way she covers the entire stage is a physical expression of the words she’s singing. Meaning is conveyed in everything this band does, collectively making an even greater impact.
One of the moments that moved me most was when Aja sang a song she wrote upon regaining her voice after an extended hiatus from singing, due to vocal strain. While it’s not possible to truly “know how it feels”, having not experienced it firsthand, Aja shared her experience in a way that allowed me to feel the range and arc of emotions she felt throughout that ordeal. The song came to life, transported us back to that time, and carried us – as it carried Aja – back to the stage, in the present moment.
After the show, the band made their way to the lobby to greet their fans. I watched as Aja, Dan, and Rich, graciously signed posters, arms, t-shirts, and tickets, but what struck me most is the way the band listened to everyone who approached them. They took their time with each person and absorbed everything they had to say. Their presence, attention, and energy was as consistent and strong off stage as it was on stage. Nico Vega is dynamic – musically and personally. At the same time, the integrity of who they are is unwavering. The conversation that took place on stage spilled out into the lobby and is continuing still today.
Nico Vega is on tour now and I highly recommend you see them, even if you need to travel out of town to do so.
If you’d like to experience the conversation for yourself immediately, the band is sharing their music, stories, insights, and friendship over at PledgeMusic. You can pre-order their new album Lead To The Light there, as well as receive personal updates from the band, and see what happens when they try to act.
If you’re a “regular” here at Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend, or if you follow me on Twitter, then you know I prefer to do things unconventionally. Terra Naomi‘s new album, To Know I’m OK, came about unconventionally as well.
When I met Terra more than a year ago, she had a very clear vision of how she wanted this album to sound, even before all the songs were written. She knew she wanted John Alagia (Rachel Yamagata, Brett Dennen, Ben Folds Five, David Gray, Liz Phair, Jason Mraz) to produce the album. She was free from a major-label deal so she could do things differently, not beholden to anyone but herself. At the same time, she was also keenly aware that she no longer had the major-label resources to record and release her second album, and if she forgot about that for a moment, somebody was there telling her it couldn’t be done.
Photo by Ben Watts
Determined to make her vision a reality, Terra ignored the naysayers and set forth on a path to record and release To Know I’m OK, without compromise. Terra raised the recording budget via a direct to fan engagement campaign with PledgeMusic and then approached John Alagia to produce the album. Upon hearing the music and Terra’s plans for releasing the album, Alagia agreed. The result? “This is the album I’ve always wanted to make,” Terra says.
Terra is also going about releasing the album independently, partnering with technology companies and passionate audience communities. As she did with PledgeMusic, Terra continues to go directly to fans, reaching them in unique ways, and including them in the process. Terra partnered with Hipstamatic, engaging their passionate community and incorporating user-submitted Hipstamatic photos as the centerpiece of her video for “You For Me”. She’s working with Klout, providing unique offerings to their influencers, as well as partnering with music and lifestyle bloggers.
Photo by Ben Watts
To Know I’m OK will be available tomorrow, Tuesday June 21st, and I wanted to do something special in honor of its release. I considered interviewing Terra about the songs and the recording process. I thought it might be fun to drink with Terra. Actually, I knew that was fun, having done it previously. Other ideas that crossed my mind were: going behind the scenes with Terra and producer John Alagia during the recording process, posting random outtakes from the studio, sharing footage nobody knew I was recording, and posting full streams of some of the songs on the album. I even considered showing the recording process through the eyes of Terra’s dog, Elliott Osito. I’m of the belief that we can have it all, so below, you will find everything mentioned above.
I hope you enjoy this track-by-track video exploration of Terra Naomi: To Know I’m OK.
It’s time for a listening party
1. You For Me
Michael Chaves, Sean Hurley, Brad Conrad, John Alagia, Victor Indrizzo lend a hand to Terra Naomi during the recording of “You For Me”
Terra’s dog, Elliott, lends his tail during the making of “You For Me”
Listen to “You For Me” (Full Stream)
2. If I Could Stay
Terra performs “If I Could Stay” at a private house party
3. Not Sorry
Terra discusses the re-recording of “Not Sorry”
Listen to the new version of “Not Sorry” from To Know I’m OK
4. Everybody Knows
Terra, John Alagia, Brad Conrad, Zac Rae, Victor Indrizzo, Sean Hurley, and Michael Chaves working out “Everybody Knows” in the studio
Recording “Everybody Knows”
Listen to “Everybody Knows” Album Version (Full Stream)
5. Someday Soon
Terra, producer John Alagia, Brad Conrad, Zac Rae, Michael Chaves, Victor Indrizzo, and Sean Hurley listening to their initial recordings of “Someday Soon”
6. I’ll Be Waiting
Terra discusses the meaning of “I’ll Be Waiting” during our “interview” at Malibu Wines
Recording “I’ll Be Waiting”
Listen to “I’ll Be Waiting” (Full Stream)
I’ll Be Waiting:
7. Take Time
Terra does a special performance of “Take Time” for Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend:
Inspired by a man who dumped her:
Listen to “Take Time” (Full Stream)
8. To Know I’m OK
Listen to the title track from Terra’s new album, “To Know I’m OK” (full stream)
To Know I’m Ok:
Terra’s dog, Elliott Osito, gives his notes on the album
Finally, after a long day in the studio, John Alagia and Michael Chaves had these parting words for Terra:
I remember the first meeting I had at one of the major labels, when I initially started working in music. We gathered to meet about one of their “priority artists,” but they had just signed another “priority artist,” so they were no longer focused on who we were there to originally discuss. Furthermore, the first 7 minutes of the meeting was spent listening to the record label executives talk about how much none of them wanted to go to one of their artist showcases later that night. I remember walking out of that meeting, more than a decade ago, thinking (and knowing me, probably saying out loud), “musicians are fucked if the people in charge of the music business don’t even like music.”
Welcome to 2011. Musicians aren’t “fucked” as it turns out. Musicians have more opportunity than ever before to get their music heard, reach more people, and do things differently and more creatively. It’s up to us, the fans, to seek out the music we love and to take time with Artists we enjoy.
Terra Naomi at Malibu Wines
I recently spent an afternoon with Terra Naomi, drinking wine at Malibu Wines and talking about her forthcoming album, To Know I’m OK. Terra, who is no longer on a major label, has spent the past year creatively working to release her latest album, To Know I’m OK, independently.
She launched a campaign at PledgeMusic, bringing the fans who contributed to making the album behind the scenes, throughout the process. She ignored everyone who said getting a top producer like John Alagia would not be possible, asked John Alagia to produce To Know I’m Ok, and he agreed. She partnered with the creators of Hipstamatic (Apple’s “App of The Year”), and will be using photos submitted by the Hipstamatic community in the upcoming music video for her song, “You For Me.” She’s working with TuneCore, YouTube, Klout, music and lifestyle bloggers, and other fun partners, on the release of this album.
On Monday, June 20, I will post an exclusive track-by-track video exploration of Terra’s new album, To Know I’m OK, so that you can get to know Terra and her music before the album comes out on June 21st. In the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to Terra Naomi and one of my favorite songs from To Know I’m OK, “Take Time”. Enjoy!
Terra Naomi talks to Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend about “Take Time”:
FREE DOWNLOAD of “Take Time” (Live at Yoshi’s):
Live performance of “Take Time” at LA Music Blog (thank you LA Music Blog!):
Studio version of “Take Time” (full stream):
What really happens when you do an interview at a winery:
Track by track video exploration of To Know I’m OK to be posted on Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend Monday, June 20th. For more info about Terra Naomi: