The classically trained opera singer has since started her band, singing cabaret/electronic rock tunes, with a group of music school “misfits” from her graduating class.
After a little more than two years of recording and experimenting throughout the city, Nicholas and cohort Cameron Orr – violin and electronic drums – are now working towards releasing two new EP's and a summer of live shows throughout the city.
I met up with Nicholas at Variety Coffee Roasters in Bushwick, to find out what took her from opera to rock, and her take on the Brooklyn music scene.
So where did the nickname Danger come from?
It was actually my name in grad school, in the Manhattan School of Music. I was in grad school for opera but I did a ton of singing outside – like cabarets and I did a lot of this pop stuff – but I never sang anything that people expected. Like, I would sing a lot of guys’ songs – Led Zeppelin or metal music – and people started calling me that. Maybe it was because I sang outside the box, but it was always a risk, so it was never easy.
I decided I wanted that to be the mantra for how we write our music. I wanted that to be our life.
What inspired you to combine these genres in school?
I don’t know, but I look back and I guess teachers led me there. My voice does go very high, and it is classically inclined, so I could sing that stuff. I just never listened to classical music growing up, it was always rock and folk music. I had a little musical theater growing up. My mom taught musical theater, but it didn’t really run in the family. I think college just kind of steered me in that way and people thought I had a talent. But once I got there I thought it was awful. I had to find other ways to sing.
Had you been in bands before?
No, this was my first. I started the group after I graduated with a friend who was in musical theater – he’s doing a Disney cruise line right now – but we started it together because we were tired of not being able to do our own stuff. We were both experimenting with writing, so we just made it a duo, but Cameron, my violinist, stuck by it.
What did you see yourself doing with a degree in opera?
Well, Broadway was always a dream. They have this thing called Young Artists Program for after you graduate, which is supposed to be like baby steps into the Met. It’s like a tour for rock singers. But I saw myself doing that and I did auditions for a year, but it was just very soul sucking – singing the same song that six people sang before you, wearing the same black dress. It was really awful. I was also getting criticized for the way I was dressed, or my hair color. I just wanted to be an individual, but they’re very “you must fit this mold.” I did envision myself doing that, but it just kind of fell apart.
Was the Manhattan School of Music what brought you to New York?
Yeah, pretty much. I always wanted to live here. I had some Broadway ambition when I was young, but I mainly just liked the feel of New York. So, when I got into Manhattan School that was my way to get here.
Were you always into opera music?
I always had some kind of music on. I liked jazz a lot – jazz mixed with rock mixed with folk – just a slew of things. I sang all kinds of music in different hometown concerts. I would sing Broadway and then some classical, but then that would always morph into the Carpenters somehow. It was always that kind of thing. It was always a bunch of influences mixed together.
Who writes the music?
It started with me writing the lyrics and the melody, and everyone writing their own parts. Now that we’re more comfortable with each other for a couple of years, Cameron will bring in lyrics he has been writing on his phone or something.
He plays on the subway with a loop pedal, so he’ll make these loops and text them to me, then I’ll write a melody to the loop and it’s like – I know the Postal Service emails their music back and forth – but we eventually do get into a room and hash it out together.
It is a process though. When we first got into it the music was really folky with the violin, but once we went electronic with his pedals and decided that the violin was going to be like a guitar, it tuned into more rock. Organically, that was the right choice.
What inspires your writing?
Well, I think Charles Bukowski, I read a lot of his stuff. I love Hemingway, I love Sylvia Plath, and the news kind of inspires it. I’m libel to get enraged over things I don’t have any control over. It’s a release for me to write about. Instead of just getting ticked about the girls in Nigeria, actually writing about why this is totally unacceptable and how we should inspire someone to act through art.
Once I started, I just knew this was what I wanted to do all the time. I think singing is a release in of itself. Even if people can’t sing, people love to sing. I am a very tense person so I don’t really let my guard down a lot, so it’s my way of getting everything out. In relationships for instance. I have full songs about fights with my husband, and he’s very aware that they’re about him. I’ll use direct quotes.
But that helps me get over that fight, and stuff about my family. The political stuff, it’s my way of fueling the fire and getting people aware of these certain things. I’m inspired by their reactions or the thought that someone may hear this and be inspired to do something or have comfort in their own relationship.
I have a tattoo on my rib that says “in order to be heard,” and I think that’s my driving inspiration for everything. If you can hear this, then you can hear these words on the certain tone of my voice on this certain note, I would hope that it could help somehow. It seems cliché, but it’s the honest answer.
How has using digital components helped your music?
It has helped so much. A violin and a piano are beautiful instruments, but they can be very limiting. There is one song we have – “Easy Remix” – a lot of people don’t know what the plucking is in the beginning. They can’t really pinpoint it, but it’s his violin filtered through distortion and loops. I love the fact that people will ask what kind of instrument is that. Recently we just integrated electronic drums, so it has created this Radiohead-ish, danceable quality to our music, which I think nowadays is really important for people. They don’t want to just sit around their apartment spinning records anymore.
I think now it’s cool because you can have these lyrics that are really open and honest, with a beat that can set in a feeling that can get you moving to. It was also something I never really thought about. I always thought about music as acoustic because of how I used to sing before with just vocals and piano. So this has opened up all kinds of stuff and been really fun.
Do you find yourself getting oddly booked because of your instruments?
Yeah, it happens all the time. We’ll be on with a female vocalist, and the booker will be like “oh, it’s a female show.” Then it will be a sweet girl with a ukulele,and that just doesn’t work out for us. So, we’ve had a ton of problems in that area, but we adopt an attitude that is kind of, “well, it’s time to get loud now everybody.”
It’s good because people really react well because people mainly put us later because there are so many things we have, so they put the acoustic acts first.
Look for Emily Danger’s upcoming EP and check them out live at Cameo Gallery, located at 93 N. 6th St., on Saturday, June 7.