Nikki O'Neill

Nikki O'Neill

Nikki O'Neill

Nikki O'Neill is a singer, lead guitar player and songwriter for the band, Nikki O'Neill which also features drummer Rich Lackowski and bass player Joshua "Cartier" Cutsinger.

Nikki O'Neill portrays a 'say what you think' attitude throughout their rock-melody music. The vibrant lyrics showcase lead singer Nikki's, superior voice, which has the soulful rock sound of Amy Winehouse. The band creates a pop melody which makes you want to tap your foot and sing along; this music will always leave you smiling.

The band began releasing their 2010 recordings in March with the single 'Say What You Think,' featuring guest keyboardist Ed Lyon (from Californian Grateful Dead-tribute Cubensis); this song certainly provides a fantastic insight into what the band, Nikki O'Neill, is about.

In 2007, Nikki and Rich released a three-track EP with the songs 'Starting Over,' 'It's Simple (But It's Not Easy),' and 'Some Day,' produced by Nikki and Dapo Torimiro (Stevie Wonder).

Since the band formed in the fall of 2008 with Josh on bass, they've played numerous clubs, acoustic shows, red-carpet events and festivals, including International Pop Overthrow Festival (IPO); the LA Marathon; the NAMM music trade shows, a city festival in Chicago and summer concert events in Southern California.

You can listen to Nikki O'Neill music at: or purchased Nikki O'Neill music from iTunes,, Lala, Napster, Rhapsody and more.

Interview with Nikki O'Neill

How did it feel to hear your song played all over the airwaves?

Nikki O'Neill: It's very cool when a song that initially comes to your mind as a little idea fragment out of nowhere goes through all these stages of development, and then finally ends up seeing the light of day and gets played on people's computers, car stereos and radio stations like yours around the world. I also love when a song takes on a life of its own through the interpretations of other listeners… like when somebody in Australia listens to it, posts a comment about it and tells you what the song means to them, or what other songs it reminds them of. It's a beautiful form of communication.

Did you have any pre-conceived ideas about the music industry?

Nikki O'Neill: That's a question that I could easily give a really lengthy response to, but I'll try to restrain myself! It depends what aspects of the music industry you're talking about. I'll think of what I've learned about the music industry at large, and then the people within it.

When I first started playing music and playing in bands, I had very idealistic and romantic views of the music industry. When I took various day jobs in the music industry, I became much more aware of the business side of it. The artists who had inspired me to become a musician were known to be musicians first and foremost, and they didn't necessarily look like fashion models or have perfect bodies, even if they had an image. Very few seemed to talk about themselves as a brand. KISS was probably the extreme exception back in the 70's with all of their merchandise and licensing, but today all artists in the major music industry are expected to be marketable like them, where you should be able to sell all kinds of products that go far beyond records and concert tickets. The major music business - the pop business - is a tough game to get into, where you're going to be constantly reminded of what you're lacking. You'll often find yourself thinking that you're not enough: that you need to "break into" this, know that person, look hotter, check out what everybody's doing on the Billboard charts, etc., be persuaded to sign lousy, exploitive contracts in order to get through this or that door. That type of music career is not for everybody. You have to really be comfortable in that world, be that very marketable type of artist or songwriter in order to thrive in it, and be ok dealing with the kind of people that frequent that world. Luckily there are other ways you can be a successful artist and work in the creative side of the music business without being a rock star.

I've also learned a lot about people in this business. Working once in day jobs at guitar shops, instrument manufacturing companies and even artistic non-profit companies exposed to me to a couple of really sexist people. Working as a music journalist and at a major music publishing company showed me that there are a lot of bitter people in the music business. Many are creatively blocked; some wish that they could be working artists like the ones they write about or handle administrative tasks for. It was hard for me to be around people like that, so I managed to leave those jobs to be a performing artist with my band, freelance musician, guitar teacher and writer.

One last major lesson that I've learned is that success and fame isn't the same thing - you don't have to be famous to be a success, in other words to be working with what you love - music - and to make a decent living at it. If you can focus your values on being truly happy without being a celebrity or living in the Hollywood Hills with the Ferraris and a closet full of shoes, then you can be a working musician and feel really successful on a daily basis.

Do you write your own songs? What's your inspiration?

Nikki O'Neill: I do. I have to. It's not enough for me to just play other people's songs as a side musician or to play in cover bands - I tried doing that to make money, but when I did it to such an extent that I stopped writing my own music, I got miserable.

I really believe that if you want to have a rich and fulfilling artistic life, you need to live a rich and fulfilling life. Get out of your head and observe the world and participate in it. You don't have to suffer to be an artist. In the past, my inspiration often was painful relationships, where intense emotions triggered me to write. When I met my future husband and was in a happy harmonious relationship for the first time ever, I was worried that I wouldn't have any more songs to write. When I worked at a day job in the music business that was 9-5 in a cubicle staring into a computer screen and researching Billboard charts, I did have a major source of misery. But it made me stop writing altogether. I felt like I was a shadow of myself walking around in that office landscape, but how many songs can you write about hating your job? When I left that job and found my right path, which is to be freelance and to use my gifts of performing, teaching and writing, I felt like I got my spirit back… and now I don't have any problem writing songs. I exercise, go and see art shows and all kinds of concerts, go to blues jam sessions, pick up instructional music DVDs to learn new things, read the paper, hang out with my friends, talk to my neighbors, cook or redesign a t-shirt or something if I feel musically stymied. All of that inspires me. And the more I show up to write, the more often inspiration shows up to meet me. Lots of artists say that, but I really find that to be true.

What music/artists do you listen to when you are not playing your own?

Nikki O'Neill: My all-time favorite music is soul music from the 60's and 70's, plus some British classic rock like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles or harder rock like Deep Purple. But I really try to stay open to other kinds of music, so that my own music doesn't sound stagnant and one-dimensional. I live in Los Angeles, so I find my car to be the best place to listen to music. If I know I have a long drive, I'll bring along a crazy eclectic mix of CDs. On one of those recent trips, I brought Frank Zappa's 'Zoot Allures', Max Roache's 'Freedom Now! Suite', Robert Plant's 'Mighty Rearranger', The Racounteurs 'Consolers Of The Lonely', and Stevie Wonder's 'Songs In The Key Of Life.'

What's next? Tour/Album/Single?

Nikki O'Neill: We're releasing one new single every month in 2010. We're rehearsing the new material right now and will start playing some shows in the summer. But I'll actually be going to Australia in July. My husband is a drummer and he's written a number of award-winning drum instruction books, so he's been invited to play at a major drum festival in Melbourne at the end of July. He was also asked to do a clinic in Sydney at that time, so I'll be going with him. I'm really excited to see Australia! I've always wanted to see The Great Barrier Reef, Sydney and Ayers Rock ever since I was a kid, and I look forward to learning more about your country. In the fall, we'll really kick off some intense performing with the band. We're doing local shows at first in Southern California, but the plan is to expand to all of California and the neighboring states Nevada, Arizona and Oregon in 2011 and play more festivals.

Was there a moment you contemplated throwing in the towel?

Nikki O'Neill: Lots of times! (LOL) But there aren't any alternatives that would feel as satisfying… I've tried them. Playing in the band, writing, performing and recording with these guys is more fulfilling than anything. It's not always easy. But it really feeds my soul doing it. And every time I've felt like quitting, I've gotten some serendipitous sign to keep going. I remember when I used to live in New York, and my next-door neighbor was a jazz violinist - there you can talk about being a struggling artist, playing violin in the jazz field. A few weeks earlier, I had submitted a videotape of myself to an audition for the guitar spot in Courtney Love's band. I hadn't heard anything, and an overall lack of momentum made me feel very discouraged. One night, both of us were crying, discouraged and ready to quit and move back to our home towns. I went to bed, and the phone rang at 1.30 AM. I picked up, thinking it was another fool who had dialed the wrong number to order pizza, and it was Courtney Love who had just seen my video and wanted to tell me how much she liked my guitar playing and lyric writing. Nothing else came out of that particular situation, but I've had enough of similar moments like that happen to me to let me know that I can't quit. Being serious about my music lead me to meeting my husband and some of my best friends.

Do you prefer performing live or recording?

Nikki O'Neill: They're two very different animals, and I like treating them as much. I'm much more comfortable singing with a crowd in front of me than standing alone in front of a mic in a dead silent vocal booth. But I also like coming up with additional parts for the songs in the studio and broadening our sound. We've played the songs live a lot of times, and knew the basic arrangements inside and out. When we came up with additional guitar parts or backing vocals in the studio, it added a new freshness to the songs, and now we're excited to perform them again. I think it's ok if records don't sound exactly like the live performances of the songs, they can be a different experience. People can't see the band when they listen to the recordings, but you can make your recordings sound a little bigger and more visual to compensate for that missing element. You don't have to be extreme though as to go from performing as a power trio to go like Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound' in the studio! You want people to recognise that it's you.

What/who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?

Nikki O'Neill: It was two people: Prince and Carlos Santana. My mom had a lot of old Santana records that I re-discovered as I went through her basement. I was mesmerized by his guitar sounds, with those long, sustained notes, and I also loved the percussion and rhythm-intense music. Prince is very influenced by Santana in his guitar solos, so I got hooked on what he played on "Purple Rain" and "Let's Go Crazy." But I also loved his singing, his funk-influences, his look and his stage shows… he had absolutely everything. Together with Michael Jackson, he really raised the bar for electrifying performances without compromising musical talent. To me, that's so inspiring, because people like that show you what's possible. Another great thing about Prince was and still is that he has a lot of female musicians in his band. Wendy & Lisa, and Sheila E, were my first female role models.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced along the way to your musical success?

Nikki O'Neill: To live up to my vision and my high standards of what kind of singer, guitar player, songwriter and performer I want to be, and to never give that up. That's the hardest part, really. I want to be as great and inspiring as the artists who inspired me to be a musician. Our band has one main goal: to be inspiring. It's a tall order. Sometimes I've wished that I could've just settled being a cute LA chick with a flashy image, being a hired gun playing some shred guitar behind a market-friendly pop tart who has a manager and all the representation, and pretend that I'm really digging the music I'm playing. It sounds a lot easier. I'm fully capable of playing that stuff. But that isn't the kind of music that inspires me. I have to be authentic. But there's a reward in that. I have band mates who share my ideals, and we have fans that love our music for that same reason, that we are the real deal.

What's a typical day like?

Nikki O'Neill: A little bit of everything - starting off the day with a yoga or Pilates DVD at home; rehearsing with the band or scheduling rehearsals; promoting new songs; e-mailing booking agents about shows; updating our website and facebook site,etc., preparing guitar, bass or songwriting lessons for my students; teaching; pitching article ideas to editors; doing interviews with musicians; writing articles; checking out a DVD or something that I want to learn; playing guitar; doing my vocal warm-up routine; working on songs; cooking and baking in the midst of it all; trying to get out of the house to see some nature or visit an art gallery or something else than sitting in front of the computer the entire day. Lately, my average day has included the recording studio a lot. Recording lead and rhythm guitar parts for songs, doing lead vocals, figuring out backing vocals, listening to mixes of songs that Josh has done (he's our producer/engineer and bass player.)

What has been your favorite part of becoming a music artist?

Nikki O'Neill: To live my life immersed in art. To be wrapped up in the process of writing a song, and tuning into an idea. To experience those rare moments when you hear a guitar riff, melody, chord progression or lyric pop into your mind out of nowhere, and you pick up your guitar and pen and out pours a song in an hour or two. That doesn't happen too often - you can't sit around and wait for those moments, you have to show up and write even if it isn't inspiring every day. Often you have to use your craft to complete a song. But the more you show up to do the work, the more often inspiration finds you. That's the romance and mystery of music, and it's so important to keep that alive. Being business minded is very important to if you want to make a living in music, but it's real easy to get so immersed in the business and administration that you lose the magic, and then your music will sound as lackluster as your life.

If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?

Nikki O'Neill: Let's see… Robert Plant, Warren Haynes (Gov't Mule), Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Prince, Derek Trucks Band, Jack White, Al Green, The Black Crowes, Phish… and more collaborations with Sly & Robbie (we're releasing a third single in May that we co-wrote with them.)

There are also some awesome LA bands and artists that we love collaborating with, like Mother Jones Band, Jeremiah Roiko and Too Pretty For Porn. Check them out - they all have websites!

Are you single? What do you look for in a partner?

Nikki O'Neill: I'm happily married to Rich, who also is the drummer in our band. I fully believe that taking my music and guitar playing seriously lead me to him. I met him at the NAMM show, which is a big music instrument trade show in LA. I was introduced to him by Daisy Rock Guitars - they knew I was a guitarist and teacher who taught a lot of girls and women to play guitar, and they wanted to work together with me. They introduced me to Rich, who works there. It was destiny in action and love at first sight. We moved in together after six months, and got married after two and a half years. I'm weary of using the over-used term soul mates, but I think we are. We share the same values in life; we feel very comfortable with each other; we support each other in manifesting our creative projects; we play in the same band and it's working out great; we both have teaching and writing ventures and support each other in our work; we have a lot of fun together, and we never get tired of saying that we love each other, even when we do it several times a day. It just comes out spontaneously. We also happen to have the same birthday (October 16.)He's very different from the guys I used to date, which were the rock n roll bad boys who never wanted to commit, and who couldn't talk about much else than music, guitars, drinking and sex. They rarely supported my music as well. Read the lyrics of "Distance" - it's all about my exes! (LOL)

Do you have a website fans can visit?

Nikki O'Neill:

Can you tell us 5 things required for a happy healthy & enjoyable life?

Nikki O'Neill: 1. Find out what you love in life and do it as much as you can - you have no idea how many positive things will come to your life if you do that.
2. Try to live a balanced life: don't be a workaholic that ignores your health, friends and family.
3. Don't be too cerebral - get out of your head and into your body. Exercise, live healthy, get out and participate in the world.
4. Don't let fear and self-sabotage slow you down in life. If you're scared of doing something that has to do with your dreams, challenge yourself and do it. We are here in life to create and to become greater versions of ourselves, and to be happy.
5. Ask yourself what you really, truly value in life. Is your lifestyle supporting that? Are you frittering away cash on lattes and clothes when you dream of traveling and seeing the world? Your dreams might be fully attainable if you simplify your lifestyle, and then you'll end up feeling successful and prosperous - not in the Donald Trump way, but in that you're able to live the life you want, do the work you love and be able to support yourself and maybe even a family.

What message would you like to say to your fans?

Nikki O'Neill: Thanks so much for listening to our music, coming to our shows, and for taking the time to read this interview! Live a creative life, live your dream, find the great things about your community and support the artists that you like. I also want to add a quote by Courtney Love that I've always liked: "Don't date the football player - be the football player."

What is the story behind the bands name?

Nikki O'Neill: None! We thought of using a more creative name than just my name, but everybody seemed to think it was a good thing to promote me as a singer and lead guitar player, because there aren't too many women doing that in the rock world. But I want to make it really clear: I'm NOT a solo act. Rich and Josh are absolutely instrumental in the sound that we have, and we write everything together. I'm not that into playing solo shows by myself, and need the guys to get my spark going. But I might save the crazy, out-there band names for some future side-projects!

60 Second Quiz

>Full Name: Nicole Allison O'Neill
Nickname(s): Nikki
Star Sign: Libra (with an Aries rising!)
Music Talent: Singer, lead/rhythm guitarist, songwriter, band leader
Favorite Food: Vegan and gluten-free, but love Asian, Italian and Indian foods and Jamie Oliver's recipes (which I modify). I do miss sushi sometimes, but that's it. Green ginger-pear tea and vanilla roibos tea. Avocados and tomatoes from the farmer's market! Mangos and coconut milk!
Favorite Film: It Might Get Loud, The Pick Of Destiny, The Big Lebowski, Frida (about Frida Kahlo), Annie Hall, Three Colors: Red (by Kieslowski)
Favorite Actor: Juliette Binoche, Harvey Keitel, Denzel Washington
Pet: Don't have one, but LOVE dogs
Best Feature: Shoulders and mouth!
Worst Feature: My belly that's got an ugly scar from an appendix operation
Person You Would Most Like to Meet: Barack Obama, Quincy Jones
Hobbies/Interests: Traveling and seeing the world, foreign cultures and languages, cooking, learning more about vegan foods, making clothes (redesigning t-shirts and stuff), yoga, spirituality, astrology, spending time in nature, biking, Pilates, visiting farmer's markets, tending my tiny apartment garden plot, jumping into the car with Rich and exploring new places, writing, learning (I'm an eternal student), performing, recording, creating music with Rich and Josh
First Job: Delivering flyers into people's mailboxes - exciting stuff ;)
Are you a Pub, Bar or Club kind: None, unless I'm performing or going out to see live music, then I'm a Club kind, I guess (but not a dance club). Otherwise I'm the Restaurant type - have a great meal and meaningful conversation ith friends.
What Can You Never Leave Home Without: Gluten-free snacks, bags of my favorite tea, pen, notebook and my phone to sing a song idea into if something hits me!
What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning: Either to cuddle with Rich laying next to me (as long as he isn't dead asleep!), or to get up and do yoga.

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