Nicole Boggs & The Reel Release New Full-Length, Dystopian Book Club
Nicole Boggs & The Reel sing the thoughts many of us have been thinking these last few bizarro years on their new album, Dystopian Book Club, out now. Combine three-part harmonies and rock riffs with some “Existential Blues” (the first single released from the record) and some R&B grooves, a healthy dose of social commentary and you have Nashville based trio, Nicole Boggs & The Reel. I caught up with the band’s songwriting, singing and bass slinging frontwoman to talk about writing a new full length album while re-reading classic dystopian novels during the pandemic and for Nicole, from a new, more clear perspective. Dystopian Book Club is out now. Listen for another track this Sunday on The Local Brew Hour at 8am or Monday at 7pm at 89.5 WMOT.
AnaLee: Nicole Boggs & The Reel is a trio of writers, players and singers and while your name is out in front, this really is a band effort with everyone’s individual skills contributing to create this sound. Can you tell us about yourself and your bandmates, growing up in musical families from different regions of the country, including a Nashville native and what music you bonded over?
Nicole: I grew up in Denver, CO with an audio engineer/keyboard player father. I went to the Denver School of the Arts from 6th-12th grade which had a profound effect on the way I see the world not only as an artist, but as a human being. Sam Gyllenhaal (Guitars, Vox) was brought up in Raleigh NC with journalist parents and his dad is an incredible banjo player. Alex Kramer (Guitars, Vox) was raised right here in Nashville and grew up singing and playing with his family in church. His dad is a fantastic bass player and toured with several great country artists like Charlie Rich and Lynn Anderson.
I think growing up in musical families gave each of us really diverse taste in music which has been something we’ve all bonded over. We’re old school souls that grew up on the classics: The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Carole King, The Eagles, Motown, etc. Our professional experiences as musicians have led us down so many roads from jazz to country, R&B to rock that you’ll find a little bit of all of it in our sound. We often talk about the similarities between the genres rather than the differences and I think that in between space is where we all like to live.
AnaLee: The album also includes one of Nashville’s most sought after drummers, Fred Eltringham and his band mate with Sheryl Crow, guitarist Audley Freed. Talk about working with those two legends and the others that played on the record, who produced it and where you recorded?
Nicole: We are SO honored to have Fred Eltringham on this record. I think at one point, I was looking at credits on some of my top favorite albums and found that he had played on all of them. It was such a surreal moment to realize that he was the glue on all of these different projects I love like Sheryl Crow, Lucie Silvas, and Tracy Bonham. Since we were locked down while making this album, we tracked basics during our livestreams and sent those roughs over to Fred who completely transformed the songs. Then we would go back and recut any of our parts that needed replacing, but there are a few spots on the record that are original audio from our pandemic livestreams. “I Don’t Wanna Know You Anymore” is one of the songs that stands out to me as something that Fred breathed completely new life into. We thought it was our ballad on the record, but halfway through the first verse he came in with this side stick groove - very reminiscent of The Police and it became an entirely different tune. What a cool guy. We would have loved to be in the room with him but are so grateful that he was free and able to do the whole album. That might not have been possible if we weren’t shut down.
Audley Freed actually played on our last EP on the title track “None of Your Business.” It was a blast getting to watch him work. Just an endless well of cool ideas and execution that feels both polished and rough around the edges at the same time. I am a MEGA Sheryl Crow fan so having the opportunity to work with her incredible team has honestly been a dream come true.
It was produced, engineered and mixed by my dad, CJ Boggs in his basement studio, Level 14 Productions. It has been such a gift to have a space to consistently work out of that feels like home and even more amazing to get to share my creative life with my father. He’s put more work into this project than anyone.
AnaLee: I feel like I am either a member of your Dystopian Book Club or maybe even just my own personal one. Great album title and a perfect set up for the material on this record. But there’s more to it than just the weird dystopian-like times it sometimes feels like we’re living in. Can you let us in on what inspired the writing behind the songs and what was driving you all at the time, which I believe was pretty early on in the pandemic?
Nicole: Thank you so much! We came up with the album title about halfway through writing the project and thought it would make a great band name. We’re constantly coming up with new band names and wishing we had thought of them sooner. We knew we needed to use it for something though. At the beginning of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time reading. I have always been a bookworm but found myself grateful for the extra time to really escape into these worlds. I guess I must be a masochist because I got inspired to re-read classic dystopian novels. In 2020 I read 1984, Brave New World, The Giver, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 and The Road. We were meeting pretty much weekly to write and what I was reading would often open up a discussion around the themes in these books and their similarities and contrasts to our current reality. That led us to songs like “Existential Blues” touching on anxiety and mental health, “If You Can’t Be Cool” which is about our complex relationship with the internet, and “Poor Little Rich Girl” addressing materialism and featuring Alex on lead vocals. There’s also the quintessential dystopian song, “No Good News” which I imagine is self-explanatory.
AnaLee: Dystopian Book Club is the third release from Nicole Boggs & The Reel. Scenes From Last Year included thirteen tracks and came out in January of 2019, you released another album in 2013 and now almost ten years later we have this gem! With the experiences you’ve had since then, what advice would you give yourselves if you could go back ten years?
Nicole: What a great question! We’ve each released a handful of solo records at this point and been a part of countless others as songwriters and sidemen outside of our three band releases. It seems silly to say, but it feels like we finally know what we’re doing, and it has taken a decade to figure out who we are. I sometimes get down about how much youth worship goes on in the music business when I think about how lost and clueless, I was at 23 and how strong my identity feels now. If I personally could go back 10 years, there are a lot of people I wouldn’t listen to. The music industry is full of unsolicited advice, and it seems to be particularly directed at female artists. I spent a lot of time letting other people define me as a person and point me in musical directions that never quite felt like home. I’m not sure I would have found my way to where I am any faster, but I would have saved myself a lot of tears and misunderstanding.
We recently got back some pictures of us taken by the lovely Tammie Valer and my first thought was, “there she is.” It just clicked that it was the first time the external really matched how I feel inside, and I think there’s just no way to speed up that process. I don’t regret taking the long road, but I am grateful to know how to tune out opinions that aren’t useful or constructive now.
AnaLee: “No Good News” has some smokin’ guitar sounds along with a very relatable theme today. What keeps you going and moving towards positivity when the daily news cycle is pretty much as you’ve described in this jam?
Nicole: I have a very complex relationship with positivity and hope. It seems like those words have become so synonymous with catchy corporate slogans. Something we discussed a lot while writing the album was feeling like we’re always being told we have to feel hopeful in a culture that’s not looking out for everyone’s best interests. I don’t mean any of that to be nihilistic. I believe we can have a better world, but I don’t think we can even scratch the surface without acknowledging the state of reality. We wanted to say the things that people feel like they aren’t allowed to say for fear of being perceived as negative. Something to sing along to that feels like a vent session. Sometimes just getting things off of my chest will turn my whole day around.
I try to surround myself with amazing, loving people to fill the well. I have met so many incredible people in Nashville. I know one of the things that brings me the most comfort while the barrage of bad news barrels our way is art. Knowing that people came before me and shared similar thoughts and experiences makes everything less lonely. Books, movies, music are all such intimate ways to float through the world in someone else’s head, see a new perspective or gather wisdom. The day of the Dobbs Decision the first thing that came to mind was a quote from my favorite book, A Wrinkle in Time. “Stay angry, little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”
AnaLee: I also included a live performance video below for the song, “Hard to Love You”. You’ve released several from your live session at a small studio in Nashville called The Sanctuary and “Queen of the Dive”, which is very personal song for you. Can you tell us about that song and about the experience at The Sanctuary?
Nicole: We love The Sanctuary so much! It’s a beautiful local studio space owned by our dear friends, Amanda and Mikie. Every corner has something unique and interesting to look at. We just knew it was where we wanted to film our live sessions. We filmed all 9 of the songs from the record live in front of a very intimate audience of friends and family. It was actually our first time playing for an audience post-lockdown so there was a special kind of magic and love in the room. “Queen of the Dive” is one of the most personal songs on the record for me as it was written 9 days before I stopped drinking in January of 2020. The song is essentially about losing yourself to alcohol and I was very much living that when it was written. I knew I wanted to stop and hadn’t quite figured out how yet. I listened to the work tape from the day of the write recently and could hear the desperation in it. I will always be grateful to Sam and Alex and our good friend, Connor Rand for being open to deep diving with me in that writing session. Singing it now feels so powerful being on the other side of it.
AnaLee: Your album release show is August 31st at Analog at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville. Are you planning to hit the road after this hometown show?
Nicole: Yes! We’re so pumped about the release show and we will be hitting the road this fall. We’ve got 15 regional dates in September, October and November and we couldn’t be more excited about it! You can find out where we’ll be at : www.nicoleboggsandthereel.com!
“No Good News”
“Hard to Love You”
“Queen of the Dive”