Homecoming: Nina Storey Returns to Denver

January 2013

Coloradans who love bold, pure, and achingly lovely voices surely miss Nina Storey playing regular shows around the Front RangeAlthough the multifaceted singer-songwriter—her catalog includes songs that range from heartbroken ballads to bouncy ditties to sultry R&B riffs—migrated to Los Angeles about five years ago, she’s back this week for two shows: Friday night at Swallow Hill (with Wendy Woo and Katie Cole, 8 p.m., $22); and Saturday at Stargazers Theatre in Colorado Springs (8 p.m., $20). This weekend's shows are acoustic; Storey plans to do more Colorado dates with her full band later this year.

Storey is here to promote her new CD, Think Twice, a lush work of modern pop and soul with a distinctly retro feel. Although she calls the release a "culmination" of everything she's done in her decade-plus career, Storey isn't slowing down. On the eve of her Swallow Hill show, she chatted with 5280 about life in L.A., writing songs for soap operas, the delicate art of vocal conditioning and lyrical understatement, and that @!#%#?$ Broncos loss.

5280: Are you now a Californian, or still a Coloradan?

Nina Storey: [I’ve been on vocal rest, so I’m speaking softly.] I’ve spent a lot of time in L.A., but I still consider myself to be a Coloradan. The Bronco loss was a big blow. Such a bummer. I had a big show that night, and I knew I had to watch this game. And you know how people get superstitious about these things. They were doing well, and I showed up at a bar to watch it with some friends, and they started doing poorly. And I thought, “I have to leave; it’s me.” So I listened in the car, and when I turned it on something great had just happened. But then a few minutes later something bad happened, and I thought, “It’s totally me.” And I vowed not to talk about it that night at the show because I knew it would just bum people out.

5280: On Monday the whole town was depressed.

NS: I didn’t get to see the end because I had to get ready for the show.  What happened? I know we shouldn’t be talking about this, but there was like a minute left...?

5280? You mean what happened literally or spiritually?

NS: They had to turn the ball over, or…?

5280: Sportswonky explanation of one of the worst sequences in NFL history.

NS: But Manning will be back next year.

5280: Oh, yeah. He’s got at least a few years left if he stays healthy.

NS: Oh, good. I just don’t want the Patriots to win.

5280: Why did you move to L.A.?

NS: Because I wanted to try living in either New York or L.A., and I knew a few more people in California. Colorado was a great home base, but I wanted to try living in L.A. as an adult, and it’s been good. I love it. I’m a little bit of a wuss in the cold now. But I miss Colorado a lot.

5280: It comes up frequently when we talk to creative people here, the question of whether you have to move to a coast to get to the next level.

NS: I think you can argue yes and no. I wanted to be present for more opportunities, but I think because of the way our world is now, the way you can share your music over the internet and communicate in all these different ways, you absolutely do not need to be in L.A. For me it worked out, but you could live anywhere in the world and share your art. For me it was a new experience that I wanted to have. But now that the new CD is out, I’m looking forward to spending more time here in Colorado.

5280: In the business sense, are there any benefits to being in L.A. other than proximity?

NS: It’s a funny place. It’s got that big-city vibe, and it took me some time to find a music community. But you’re constantly bumping into different kinds of people from different businesses. There are a lot of opportunities that just pop up from nowhere. I’m very driven, so I’m constantly pursuing a lot of things like trying to get better at my craft or my social media skills, whatever. But the level of artistry and musicianship here in Colorado is tremendous, and the talent is ridiculous. I’m constantly telling my L.A. peers they should come to Colorado. They love you, you get paid well, it’s a great music scene. I may come back here to shoot my next music video.

5280: How does the song placement process work?

NS: That’s been something that being in L.A. has been good for. I’m one of the songwriters for Days of Our Lives, and I was originally hired on to be a session singer.

5280: They do original songs?

NS: Yes. They're played in scenes where they’re in a nightclub or a coffee shop. One of my songs was played during a wedding and another while a baby was getting abducted. I rarely get script information; they just tell me what type of song they’re looking for, and it’s all very last minute. I usually don’t know where it is until I see it onscreen.

Everybody in L.A. has a million things in the fire. Planning my record for a year was the most time I’ve had to do anything in a while.

5280: In your voice I hear a striking variety of other singers: Dusty Springfield, Duffy, Alicia Keys, Tori Amos, Nelly Furtado…Where does this come from?

NS: Those are all awesome, by the way, thank you. I’m constantly trying to improve my craft as a vocalist, as a writer, as a businessperson. My latest record was a very comfortable place for me. I started off as a kid listening to a lot of soul and jazz, and I did R&B when I first started singing at 11. But then, constantly learning and listening to all kinds of stuff, I got into indie rock, then pop. So it all just filters into my writing. And this past year, I collaborated with a lot of different people and tried to figure out the best way to serve the songs.

Obviously, singing is an incredibly enjoyable experience for me, but I’m always trying to serve the music so that I’m not over-singing and I’m really refining the art of understatement. I want it to be authentic and not about how many notes I can hit. And working with a lot of great people who were trying to bring out the best in my voice, all of these colors on the album are because of that. I try to embody all these things I’ve seen in other people and then reinvent them and make them my own.

I’m also a huge proponent of longevity and saving my voice and keeping it healthy until my last breath, whenever that is. I’m militant about voice rest—not talking at all—and vocal care. I try to be really mindful of my instrument so that when I’m onstage I can be completely fearless and have fun. I think it’s inherent that singers are neurotic about their voices, because you can’t see when someone is struggling like you can with a broken arm or something. So I try to find balance between not being neurotic but then also saying, “I’m not going to scream even though I really want the Broncos to score a touchdown.”

5280: I’ve noticed that in many of your love songs, the end-of-the-relationship songs often have a jauntier beat than the beginning-of-the-relationship songs, which tend to me mellower, or even sad, but in a hopeful way.

NS: I guess so; I’ll have to think about that. Actually, here’s a little secret: A lot of those end-of-the-relationship songs were written before the relationship was actually over. I just knew and admitted it to the general public before myself. Healthy.

5280: Or to your boyfriend.

NS: Yes.

5280: I guess if it doesn’t get released before the break up, then you’re fine.

NS: Right. I think there’s a sense of empowerment and sassiness in those songs, and especially for this CD, I really wanted to embody authenticity and badass-dom.

5280: You’re only a week out from the release of Think Twice, but do you know what your next projects will be?

NS: I already have songs written and in the can, and I’ll release some of them as singles. I’m going to shoot a new video. More TV and film stuff, and maybe some more composing. The response to the record so far has been amazing, so I’m really excited to promote the hell out of it. This record is just the culmination of everything I’ve been working toward for a long time, and I’m really excited about this being a launching pad for me to get to the next level.

5280: What does the next level look like?

NS: It involves big, big crowds. [Laughs] I’d love to be touring and doing it on a much larger scale, and having this record heard in film and TV. I would love to be a household name. That’s the master plan: To do it with integrity and with my heart.

—Image courtesy of Nina Storey

—Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad