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Nicolette & The Nobodies

“The best country songs take you home,” says Nicolette Hoang, frontwoman and songwriter for the Guelph, Ontario-based band, Nicolette & The Nobodies. “I want to write music that does that, songs that take you home.”

Nicolette is romantic about retro Western music; she speaks with a soft grit, a warm and distinguished rattle that lends her observations weight. Performing, she loosens into an unabashed howl, a fluid force turning upward at the edges with unmistakable twang. She keeps her lyrics no-nonsense—earthy comments on the human condition, floridity be damned. She reserves her flamboyance and flair for onstage attire—cowboy hats, fringed vests with matching hot pants, boots by all accounts made for walking. 

The child of Vietnamese immigrants, Nicolette’s embrace of Country music and all its glittering accouterments comes as some surprise, to even herself. “I had a complicated relationship with music growing up,” she shares. “Music was more of a skill or a task, it wasn’t really presented as a place for play or to explore emotionally, even though that’s what I was drawn to the most about it.”

Nicolette’s parents arrived in Canada by boat during the Vietnam war, and were placed in Guelph, where they met. Their stories profoundly shaped Nicolette’s household, where stability was the ultimate, and hard work was the only way to have it. “I remember my mother telling me about her first visit to a North American grocery store,” Nicolette shares. “Even though she couldn’t afford much of it, she felt freedom in the fact that all of it was there.” Nicolette’s mother went on to sponsor every member of her family coming to Canada. Her father became an optician, opening a family business which she and her brother currently run. “It wasn’t the dream of my immigrant family for their child to pursue a career in music,” she confesses, chuckling with a wry modesty. 

Though, Nicolette’s parents were not without artistic influence of their own. The upcoming album’s cover is a recreation of a painting of Nicolette’s mother; she’s sitting on a wicker throne as a young Vietnamese woman—relaxed, confident, smiling softly—and wearing a dress she made herself and eventually passed down to Nicolette. “When the time came for me to put myself out there with my songs, I knew I wanted to channel the feelings of the woman in that picture,” she shares. Her father’s contributions are also featured. A hobby photographer, he taught her the craft and cultivated a significant body of work, which continuously inspires her. Each single from the upcoming album is represented by a photograph of his, what Nicolette calls “ glimpses into a different life.”

By conservatory convention, Nicolette took piano lessons as a child, playing classical and eventually moving into Jazz. “I realized I loved singing solo standards because I could be as loud and expressive as I wanted to be.” Throughout her adolescence, she discovered a love for icons like Shania Twain, Celine Dion, and Bright Eyes, and eventually dropped Jazz altogether. In its wake, Nicolette found something far more resonant. 

“I remember hearing Tammy Wynette for the first time and feeling like, This!” Immediately enthralled by the likes of Glen Campbell, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, and George Jones, she devoured the classic Country catalog with ferocity. “It was so emotionally complex but presented simply and direct. Anyone from anywhere can relate to these songs.” 

The country sound enlivened Nicolette with a new desire—to write her own, to be direct and personal with music in a way she hadn’t been before. She surrendered to the call, but not without some self-doubt. “I had never envisioned myself in Country,” says Nicolette. “Why would I? I had never seen anyone who looks like me in that world.” 

Writing this album, Nicolette took a period to thoughtfully relish the opportunities before her and to reckon with her role as a woman of color in a predominately white, male genre. The result is a collection of personal and adventurous songs. On The Long Way, Nicolette Hoang is unfettered. “It’s a hot mess of emotions,” she says.

Nicolette calls herself a “late bloomer” and is prone to a cheerful sort of awe in acknowledging any of her feats. It’s a charming humility, and in fascinating contrast to the storm of sonic energy she becomes on stage—a galvanized woman, whose rebellious radiance and incandescent holler recall the glory of those legends she reveres. 

She says, “In some ways, I’ve already surpassed my own dreams for myself in having simply written a song. But now that I’ve found that voice, I want to see what it has to say.”


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