BY KENT WOLGAMOTT
Nikki Lane didn’t really have much choice: If she was going to become a singer, it would have to be country.
She discovered that when she started learning guitar and writing songs in her native South Carolina.
“I could only play three chords, and it sounded country,” Lane said in a recent phone interview. “I couldn’t strum fast enough to be a punk rock singer.
“What I could successfully cover was Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and John Prine,” she said. “Not that I didn’t love them, I did. But I’d try to play Neil Young songs, and there were too many chords in there. When it came to writing my songs, that’s where they came from. I couldn’t figure out a fourth chord if you held a gun to my head.”
Not that Lane is pure country – at least in the sound that she wants to hear on her records and coming from her band on stage.
“It’s more country for the songwriting and more rock ’n’ roll for what I’m trying to get the boys to do,” she said. “The Flamin’ Groovies’ ‘Whiskey Woman,’ I play it for every producer I’ve ever worked with. It’s a good inspiration. It’s got some of that darkness in it I want to hear in my music.”
There’s a little bit of the Groovies on “All or Nothin’,” the Dan Auerbach-produced album that caught ears when it was released last year. That album has kept Lane on the road, where she’ll be through mid-December, including Harlow’s on Wednesday, Nov. 25. But, she said, those who come to the show will hear some new songs that are likely to be on a new album next year.
“It’s been a year and a half since we put out the record and we’re still going,” Lane said. “It’s been really fun. But it is definitely time to push out a new record.” she said. “… We’ll be doing some more early next year, then get it out.”
The tentative title, “Highway Queen,” would be appropriate for Lane.
“It’s definitely autobiographical or includes some of my friends’ experiences,” Lane said. “I’m usually prompted to write a song by a strong emotion, and it’s something that happened or someone I know. …
“If I’ve written a cheating song or mistress songs, people can relate. If not, good on them. But that’s what it’s for. I write it as a way to get it out of my system.”
That subject matter is far more classic country than Nashville contemporary.
Not surprisingly Lane doesn’t get a sniff from country radio. “ ‘You don’t sound like ’90s alternative; we can’t put you on country radio,’ ” she said with a laugh.
No radio play meant a longer slog to get noticed. Getting tabbed one of 2014’s 10 artists to watch by Rolling Stone magazine, for example, doesn’t get the attention of a single on the radio.
“It’s a little harder crawl when you want to select your fan base,” Lane said. “It’s nice to find true music lovers who are into what I’m doing. It’s cool to go to the merch table and sell them some cool merch and talk about music and whatever and know they don’t just listen to what’s on the radio.”
That means nearly constant touring – and returning to a venue over and over.
“If you go to a place where you’ve been going for a while and you’re playing for 500 people at a sold-out show, you’ve got a grin on your face,” she said. “I don’t like sold-out shows. There’ll be six or seven people outside who can’t get in. I’ll try to use my guest list to get them in.
“But to be coming through a town and playing for 35 people and then you’re playing for 500 six months or a year later, that makes it worthwhile.”
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When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25
Where: Harlow’s, 2708 J St., Sacramento
Information: 916-441-4693; www.harlows.com