July 5: Dwight + Nicole on playing Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club: ‘This is a room that people love’

If you show up at Jimmy’s Jaz & Blues Club in Portsmouth on July 5, Dwight + Nicole will woo you with the blues. Photo/Eric Antoniou

PORTSMOUTH, NH – It’s a consistent fact in music that collaborations often result in something cool. New sounds are discovered and talents are more refined with a unified voice coming across in sincere fashion. Based out of Burlington, VT, Nicole Nelson and Dwight Richter are a stellar example of this, with their blend of blues, soul and rock & roll. With Ezra Oklan on the drums, this talented duo are going to be taking the stage at Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club in Portsmouth on July 5. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and it’s safe to say that both Richter and Nelson are as excited to play the venue as the people who are going to see them perform. 

We had a talk ahead of the show about their beginnings in Boston and New York City, heading across the Atlantic to do some recording, and how certain things seem to be coming together in mystical ways. 

If You Go

Jimmy’s Jazz and Blues Club

135 Congress Street, Portsmouth, NH

Doors: 5:30 p.m./Show: 7:30 p.m.

Rob Duguay: Before coming together, you both initially met in Boston after just getting out of school and performing around the city with other bands. What would you say was the catalyst for the both of you wanting to start this current project?

Dwight Richter: We both ended up moving to New York around the same time and we would each play on bills together separately, her band and my band with other bands in the city. Sometimes there would be five or six bands a night and people would often ask afterwards if we had something together, or we would sit in with each other and somebody would ask if we could play another one. We started to organically work together like that, we started writing together and then from there it just kind of took off.

Nicole Nelson: For me, I was obsessed with any other person in their mid-20s who was eating, breathing, sleeping blues music, which is kind of a pretty niche thing at that age. I was a blues and jazz head, so over the top, and Dwight’s band was literally living music, it was so alive, so good and original. I was obsessed as a fan. 

DR: We were both fans of each other. 

RD: You’re both currently based in Burlington, so how has it been living there versus living in Boston and New York City? Is it a bit more relaxed than dealing with the hustle and bustle of a major city?

NN: For sure, we’re so close to mountains. 

DR: We’re also part of a nice community up here and there’s an airport here as well. It maybe adds an hour drive to some places and there’s so much that we love about the cities as well, but it’s been really nice with what we have going on right now to be up here and to be working on our stuff. We’ve ended up making permanent moves here now, so it’s been very, very nice. Like you said, there’s less hustle and bustle but when we get down to these cities we get to do all the things that we love about being there as well, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds. 

RD: Burlington is a beautiful city. I’ve been there a few times in my life and I always enjoy myself when I go there. 

NN: Yeah, it is beautiful. 

RD: The latest album that you’ve put out is “The Jaguar, The Raven & The Snake,” that was released last year. It’s your first full-length since your debut “The Rear Window Sessions” in 2016. I know that you put out various singles during that time period, but what was the experience like making it after such a long gap of time in between albums?

NN: Honestly, I love having space in between putting out music. For me, it’s cyclical. I don’t sit down, write a little bit every day and play some music every day. It’s all very, very cyclical so when we’re in touring mode I’m just all about touring and when we’re in writing mode I’m about writing. We had so much other stuff happening in our lives that it didn’t feel like it was a long time, it felt like the perfect amount of time. All of a sudden, you look up and there’s apples on the trees or it’s warm outside and suddenly we have music to put out again. 

Our latest album was actually supposed to come out right before the pandemic and our tour was supposed to be in the spring of 2020, so that derailed all of us. We ended up having this opportunity in 2021 with this pile of great music and our producer called us asking if we wanted to go to Norway, do some recording and stay out there. We went to this unbelievable studio out there and we spent a couple weeks recording some songs as a band. 

DR: We were out in Giske at Ocean Sound Studio and it was just a beautiful thing and a beautiful experience. It was so nice to be invited as part of this whole artistic exchange thing and I’m writing all the time. For me, it’s not as cyclical in that way, but Nicole knows how to pace and she knows when it’s time for us to execute it and when it’s not. I feel like it fueled our sessions for when we released the “Further” EP and when we released the “Electric Lights” EP, and it was just time for a full-length record. She kind of has a sixth sense about this stuff when it comes to picking the time to do it, so we did it.

RD: It’s cool that you had this experience in Norway, that sounds like it was amazing. How did that all come about? Who reached out to who?

NN: It feels like it was divine because my grandfather on my father’s side was born in Brooklyn, but his parents were born in Norway. They both died when he was 10 years old and it was during the Great Depression so he became an orphan. I don’t know anything about my family that’s there, but I learned that I have a ton of family there and I wanted to approach some government officials about getting funding to do a trip. I have heritage on all of the continents, so I want to go and bring the band to all of these places where my heritage is from and meet my family and record. To piece it all together and have it be this thing where there’s music linking the planet together through me and my own experience of what it is to be a human alive today with all of this different lineage across the world. 

This was a dream project I started dreaming up around the time I was writing out a proposal and Dwight and I were talking about it when Joel [Hamilton] called us. It was really funny, as we were talking about this project he called us saying “Hey guys, I have this really weird question, but do you guys want to go to Norway and record?” and it turned out that the studio is just a few miles from where my great-grandparents lived. It was so intense, it felt so much like their spirit was part of it and it felt like it was much more than just a coincidence. 

DR: It was definitely amplified by the fact that right after the pandemic, we hadn’t flown for any dates or anything. We hadn’t been on a plane and we didn’t trust anything due to what was going on with COVID, so we finished the last two songs off of “The Jaguar, The Raven & The Snake,” which was “Angel” and “Hold Tight,” with the latter being off of the upcoming deluxe edition. They were already written and framed, but they were really fleshed out in Norway and you can really hear the environment in those songs, we even used a Norwegian pump organ on “Angel.” I remember saying to myself that I had to get to the gym more because I had to keep pumping this thing for hours during a bunch of takes. I had to keep my feet going so it was a kind of situation where that landscape and Nicole’s story with her great-grandparents, all of that stuff kind of fed into the music and really rounded out the record. 

I don’t think we’ll ever have an experience like that again, it was incredible. 

NN: It was a moment in time, for sure. ‘

RD: That’s a fantastic story behind going up there. What are your thoughts on coming over to Portsmouth to play at Jimmy’s Jazz & Blues Club?

DR: I have a lot of thoughts about it. We saw that place when we were going through town for another reason, which is a whole other story. We saw the upstairs of the club while walking on the street level and somebody had said that the owners wanted to take out a side of the building to bring in Herbie Hancock’s piano that he has on his rider for all of his shows and have him christen the club. Not only that being an amazing thing and giving a nod to the maestro Herbie Hancock, but also the idea that our contemporaries such as Soulive have played there and Cindy Blackman is going to be playing there soon as well. This is a room that people love, either they’re touring or they’re working there. 

Everything I’ve heard from the people who have been to the venue says that it sounds great and I think that it’s going to be a home away from home for us. We’ve been looking for the right fit in New Hampshire and I just have a really good feeling about it as well.

NN: I have a little quick story about the show. When I was a kid just out of high school, I was talking with my dad about what I wanted to do. He worked for Kodak and he was subcontracted with Apple at the time and he told me that he could get me a job through a temp agency because Apple was hiring a ton of techs to fix a major issue that was going on. They had sent out a bunch of units that had a defective ROM chip in the motherboard, so he said that he could literally train me so I could go through this temp agency to become an Apple tech. He’s an engineer and I was going to be following in his footsteps, which he probably would have loved, so I did it when I was around 18 or 19. 

I started traveling and fixing computers while I was working as an Apple temporary technician full-time. I was going to all these schools such as the Berklee College of Music and MIT and I remember going into these universities feeling that maybe this was where I’m supposed to be. I didn’t know if I was supposed to be a hardware technician, but I knew that I was supposed to be an artist because that was what made me feel alive my whole life. That was where my biggest talents lied for sure, certainly singing and playing music, so I got into an argument with my dad about the fact that I wanted to stop doing what I was doing, I wasn’t going to go back to school and I wanted to become a singer and a musician. I’ll never forget it, he said “With that choice, you’re subjecting yourself to either a decent level of fame and success and the problems that come with that, or you’re on a street corner singing for pennies and dimes.”

I said, “I disagree, I don’t think that’s true. I think there’s a whole myriad of ways that a person can carve a life out for themselves while playing. I just know that there are musicians who are doing it in the middle you don’t hear about because it’s not as salacious a story as those other examples.” He mentioned that he saw this girl who was the most talented drummer he’d ever seen – and he’s seen a lot because he was a jazz head in New York City during the ‘70s. He couldn’t remember her name but he said, “She was biracial like you, she was this really vibrant kid and she was so talented.” 

He said that she would play by the subway station every day and during lunch him and his friends would come check her out. She would bring these amazing horn players and singers and they would just be jamming. He didn’t know what happened to her and I said,”I guarantee you, barring any life choices, if she kept her nose to the grindstone in that professional way and if she was as talented as you say, she probably has a career today but you just don’t hear about her.” The next day, I came home from work, I had MTV on and Cindy Blackman showed up on the TV. She’s playing in Lenny Kravitz’s band doing exactly what she’s here on this planet to do and it was a full circle moment for me. 

I took it as a sign that I was supposed to do it, I needed to do it in my own way and trust that if I did it with my heart and my mind intact while moving forward with integrity that I could do this for my life. That’s exactly the way it has rolled out and I knew in my heart that one day I would look at a calendar or I would cross paths with her and that’s how I would know that I’ve done it. This literally is happening, I looked at the calendar at Jimmy’s the other day and she’s playing on the day before us and this is that moment. It’s this confirmation, not that I even needed it because I’m very fortunate in my life and I’m glad I get to do what I do while still sort of flying under the radar. I’ve had a beautiful career in a beautiful community and there it was, I’m playing the same place that Cindy Blackman is playing and it means the whole world to me. 

RD: That’s an excellent story. After the show at Jimmy’s, what are your plans for the rest of 2024? I know you mentioned that you’re going to be releasing a deluxe reissue of “The Jaguar, The Raven & The Snake”, so when can we expect that to be out?

DR: We’re going to be releasing the vinyl edition of “The Jaguar, The Raven & The Snake” on August 23rd with an additional single from an EP that we’re also going to release. The name of the single is going to be called “Saying Goodbye.”

NN: That’s coming out on July 12th. 

DR: Yeah, July 12th, and then the day after the show at Jimmy’s, we’re going to be performing at the Strand Theatre on Martha’s Vineyard and hopefully in the fall we’re going to go back to play in front of our fans in Boston again. We’re also going to be recording a live record on July 20th, it’s going to be the first time that we’ve ever done something like this and it’s going to be at Studio G in Brooklyn with our cohort in crime Joel Hamilton. It’ll be with two small seatings and two shows and we’re going to record 14 songs for a live record. Those three things are going to be the releases for the next few months and we’ve been writing songs for another EP as well, which I imagine we’ll probably record in February.