Vol. 1 Interview with Nikki Vly (AKA Nixie Unterwelt)

A tenacious, yet reserved woman dressed as a black cat asked if I could please plug her white phone into the sound board. Her stage name, Nixie Unterwelt. I carefully rode the 2 channels (1-Vox, 1-IPhone) on the mixing board (yes, chicks do sound) not knowing what on Earth to expect. The orchestra of silverware ceased behind the bar, as I asked the bartender to dim the lights, while jaws dropped to the floor.

Nixie’s controlled vocal explosions, combined with her own created, recorded backing tracks (on her “magic” phone) equipped with a tasteful choir and sound bites, will be sure to raise a brow, or three at any venue. The small room got quiet, real quick as people held onto their drinks and starred at the sexy cat woman sing original songs you just don’t hear on the radio today.

This fine feline became one of my favored ‘irregulars‘ at the open mic I (willingly) hosted each month in the ole’ small mountain town. I began to bring in vintage disco balls, cosmic lights and candelabras to add to the hip-vibe of our underground scene that conspired through the ice and snow and rain to bring our poetry and song to the melting pot that kept our spirits nice and warm, even on the coldest of nights.

Rich LaSalvia (drums/percussion) artfully adds a stripped down, live kit to add intensity to the simplicity of the 2 “being” group. Rich has a vintage, 50’s style to his vibe with his squared, black-rimmed glasses, nice, clean-cut, button down shirt while adding color to Nixie’s pre-recorded backing tracks. A true, intuitive production of brushes or mallets on the tom or wild crashes on the cymbals varies on each song. Such contrast to the “not so reserved” blue eyed, kinky~dark-haired, seductive songstress only amplifies their live unusual sound. His tasteful use of percussion instruments adds dimension to the uniquely, dynamic songs, as his mid-century modern style does not define nor limit his eclectic, crafty drumming techniques.

Nixie’s layers of superposition include punk-infused vocals, theatrical performance, imaginative costumes, modern rhythms, laced, backing tracks and hypnotic beats, as if she were inviting you into her own personal rave, realm or “underworld.” Her costume changes keep the audience entertained as her commentary between songs, stays in character(s).

An aspiring tattoo artist, singer-songwriter, composer, playwright, performer by night, teacher by day, she infuses a divine imagination to the potent spell of characters or ‘alternate egos Nixie Unterwelt so fearlessly brings to the stage…

Photo credit: Ocean Lofgren

Who are your musical influences (then & now)? (What musician or band moved or inspired you growing up?)
Nixie Unterwelt: “I was completely obsessed with Prince as a child. I would draw pictures of myself as part of Prince’s frilly, mascaraed, curly-haired entourage. In about sixth grade I discovered Talking Heads, The B-52’s, and Nina Hagen. A convert to punk and new wave, I threw all my pop music records into the road to be run over by passing trucks, except for Purple Rain, which I ceremonially buried in the back yard.

By the time I got to high school, my reputation preceded me as someone who was in the know about obscure bands, and I had to catch up to save face, because it wasn’t really true. There was a kid with thousands of CDs of bands we’d barely heard of: The Cure, the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, et cetera- and from hanging out at his house we all got schooled. That era/loose genre of music- alternative before it hit mainstream and was called alternative- was a big influence. 

Probably my biggest influence was my schoolmate Alex Trimpe, who now has several projects going; The Strungs, Alexander Strung, and House and Hawk, to name a few. First person I ever collaborated with, in an extremely short lived band called Nikki Vly and the Mongrels. I’m still copying Alex. I notice it all the time. Alex and I wrote and recorded a sludge metal album three years ago (band name: The Vly) that I hope one day will see the light of day.

Jess Howard, who was guitarist of Pinchu Macha, the riot grrrl metal band I sang in in the 90s, was also a giant influence. Through her, metal got into my bloodstream. We still work together; she recorded the guitar track for my song Rubber Tree and also a new one, Honey Butter. Playing off of her intricate, fast, middle eastern-influenced style really shaped the way I vocalize.”

(Who/what group(s) inspire you now?)
“I love Bjork, Kate Bush, Saint Vincent, Made Out Of Babies, and The Melvins. Acid King is a good band someone recently introduced me to. I found this band called From The Kites Of San Quentin that I really dig. Shilpa Ray and Marnie Stern are incredibly inspiring. Generally speaking, I wander between ethereal, complex, but kind of dark electronic stuff and very murky doom or sludge metal. Sometimes I take a breather and go back to Getz/Gilberto bossa nova or music from Fellini films or Spanish guitar music or even Maria Callas. I think all of these influence me.

I gravitate, always, toward female vocalists.”

What genre(s) do you consider your music to be described as?
“The stuff I wrote on my own as Nixie Unterwelt– with collaborator Rich LaSalvia coming in to add drums and tweak the ideas as a producer- is electronica. I’m not sure how else to classify it (too personal). I want to be doing heavier, darker, more dissonant and distorted music, and have for a very long time. Nothing is quite as satisfying to me. It’s like chocolate. It’s not dessert unless it has at least SOME chocolate in it. That’s how I feel about darkness in my music. I’m making some headway to that effect in the stuff I’m writing now. So excited to finish it.”

If you were in a spaceship with 3 musicians, who would they be and where would you go?
“I’ve pondered this a lot. They would be Derek Cross of Nasty Bastard, Myles Donovan of Disemballerina, and Jess Howard, formerly of Sick Of The Abuse and A.D.D. Yes, these are all my friends. Myles plays viola, harp, and bass; the genre of his band could be called chamber doom. I think we could form the most beautiful, numinous extraterrestrial doom band imaginable. Our sonic influences would be black holes and nebulae. We’d tour around galaxy, writing between stops, and play for dead people. Now I’m all excited! I actually hope this happens one day.”

What is the name of your band & how did you come up with the name?
“My band is called Nixie Unterwelt. It actually began as an alias for me at a time when I kept my creative efforts underground. It was an explosive time for me and there was a repression narrative in all the music I was writing. Repression creates a lot of power because it becomes a matter of life or death to find your voice. Also, because everything is forced to grow in darkness, what grows there can be ghostly and macabre but beautiful, like white asparagus. And there’s this feeling- like the Jaws theme- that at any point what’s lurking under the surface can break through and do damage. A Nixie is a seductive, malicious underwater sprite from German folklore, so that part represents the wrath and beauty of something from below the surface. And Unterwelt is a German word meaning “underworld,” so it deals with that fermenting, dark, heavy, subconscious place that creative expression grows from. Nixie Unterwelt is also a pun on Nichts In Die Welt, which means Nothing In The World in German; it was a tongue in cheek way of denying this creative alter ego even existed. It was also a play on Nikki Vly (vly means swamp in Dutch, so that’s an underworld), which is now my legal name, but at the time was just a dream of who I would be if I were unbridled. Which I now am, so it’s a whole different era.”

What instrumentation varies in your group? (What sounds or instruments/tools would we hear?)
“I make most of the Nixie Unterwelt tracks using an application called Ableton Live, which allows you to use almost any sound you can imagine. There are a few I really favor, like trembling strings, wobble bass, an old timey organ that reminds me of the one they had at the roller rink when I was growing up, and a sound called Chillout Zone that reminds me of passing cars at night. I also add a lot of vocal harmonies- all me- with reverb and ping pong delay. We’re working on including more live drums in the tracks. Rich recently added a tiny toy piano to one of them. Also, a friend gave me his old guitar with a distortion stompbox that I’ve been learning to play, so you can expect to hear that more soon. It has a sticker that says “Hooker Dragger” on it. Can’t wait to use it in a show.”

Where do you like to perform & why?
“Well, Market2 Cafe in Rosendale, though I haven’t been there in a while- it’s my Cheers. Everyone knows my name there, and it’s a comfortable, supportive place to play. I also love playing house parties. Bob Lukomski- who’s got a lot of irons in the fire, but is mostly relevantly here as an electronic musical artist- had an event at his home last Fall called,The Quiet Village. It was an ambient music festival. I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in but there was something really compelling about standing on his back deck playing beatless versions of my songs to a lawn full of people reclining with their eyes closed. My teenaged daughter thought it was very bizarre.” 

Besides music, what are your creative outlets?
“I draw incessantly and would like to learn to tattoo, so I copy and design flash art, draw with a tattoo machine attached to my pencil, and work a lot with ink. I’ve practice tattooed a few people, myself, and many grapefruits and learned a bit from established tattooers. It’s going to be a process, learning to do this in the midst of supporting a family, doing music, etc, but if I have learned anything it is that true desires are unstoppable. They must manifest.”

What local bands do you like or what local groups would you like to do a show or concert with?
“I’m a terrible shut in and don’t get out enough. I saw this band called Multiple Bird Strikes that featured a saxophone. There was something really cool about importing your high school band instrument to your adult punk metal band. I truly need to get out more.”

What is your profession?
“I’m a Montessori elementary school teacher. I also write and direct for a youth theater troupe.”

How long have you been a performer, musician?
“I’ve been doing music and performing since I was in high school. I’ve been performing all my life.”

Where are you from originally (town, planet)?
“I’m from Bloomington, New York, planet Earth. As far back as I can remember, anyway. Maybe going up in that spaceship will jog my memory?”

How can people hear your music?
“They can go to nixievly on soundcloud.com. There’s also a Nixie Unterwelt facebook page.”

Electronic Diva Extraordinaire Nixie Unterwelt & drummer Rich LaSalvia Photo credit: Harvey Garrett

Do you listen to the radio?
“I listen to my daughter’s music service, which I guess is the radio of today. Listening to pop music with her since she was about twelve has inspired me. I’ll eat up almost any pop diva she introduces me to: Ke$ha, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Sia. She’s also turned me on to EDM like Knife Party and Skrillex. Singing along to Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Rihanna is great vocal exercise. Beyonce has some chops.”Where do you create your music?
“I usually start in the car, singing into the voice memo on my phone on the way to work. Then I play it back at my piano or while I’ve got my guitar in my hands and write other parts, or just play back in the car and sing other parts along with the original idea. Eventually I put a track together at The Cat Peed Up Here Again Studios, AKA my attic, in Kerhonkson, New York.”

(Produced & edited by Harvey Garrett)

What are your greatest accomplishments as an artist?
If you go to soundcloud and listen to Gilgamesh, a track I did with a friend, you’ll see the picture for the track is a drawing I did of Tiamat, the ancient water dragon Goddess that represents the chaos before man ordered the universe, being sliced up by a God. I did that with watercolor pencils and magic marker. I’m pretty satisfied with that drawing. I’m also very proud of that song. Putting together the entire set of Nixie Unterwelt songs and performing them right around this time last year was also an immense accomplishment. I had wanted to perform a rock opera the year I turned forty, and I did. But manifesting children’s plays, creating my own business, and building an independent life after a divorce are also great creative accomplishments, so it’s hard to say. Seems like my whole life is one big creative accomplishment.”

Why do you perform?
“I love the eventfulness of a performance; the buildup, the pressure, and then being up there in that magical moment when it all comes together. It’s a surreal feeling being on stage, almost like life is flashing before your eyes. And I love the denouement, when you pack up your stuff, shrink down to regular size, eat a bowl of cereal, and go to sleep.”

How do you manage to make the time to create your own music & perform? (What advice would you grant someone who wishes to embrace their creativity, yet doesn’t feel they have the time?)
“I try not to put too much pressure on myself to work on music or art, though I try to pick up an instrument or sing and draw at least for a half an hour daily. I know when inspiration strikes, I will make time to do it- working on ideas in the car, sitting down at the piano or fiddling with the guitar when I have an extra few minutes. My six year old’s obsession with Minecraft can be a great boon when I need to go up to the studio and devote time to art for my own sanity, I must admit. 

The advice I would give is that, first of all, time is flexible. You have to make use of those moments of inspiration and opportunity, and sometimes just the momentum of being busy provides those. I get twice as much done creatively when I’m busy as when I think I have all the time in the world. Also, find your happy balance of providing for yourself and your family and doing something expressive. It may be that the happiness you get from being creatively active is worth more than the money.”

*Update: Check out Nixie Unterwelt’s new website: http://nixieunterwelt.com/

————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–“My good friend Kelly McNally is a powerhouse. She’s a freelance writer, a multi instrumentalist, and a billion other things, but more foundationally, she’s a brave and warm soul who gets a vision of something she wants to do and goes for it fearlessly, forging connections between people all the way. She began her self-published series of interviews with musicians with me (of all people), continued with Sarah Perrotta, Gordon Raphael and others, and is now getting ready to interview John Carter Cash and his bride Ana Christina. Can’t wait to read it. Go, Kelly!” -Nikki Vly (AKA Nixie Unterwelt)

 Wish to share your VOICE? Contact Kelly at: thevirginiawolves@yahoo.com

VOICES OF THE VALLEY – ((Underground ARTISTS & Beyond))



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