GSCowgirl Records artist, Nikki Briar, is making some serious waves in the country music circles. She sat down to talk with us about it.
Nikki Briar (vocals), Derek Katz (drummer), Dominick DiPalma (bass), James Ryan (steel guitar), and Paul Baccash (guitar) make up the spunky little outfit, The SweetBriar Band. Having played a lot of shows, with some big names, and getting a new album done, Ain’t Just For The Boys, these New Jersey musicians have been busy. We got a chance to sit down with Nikki and made her laugh more than once going over our grilling questions. Below is the interview with all of the giggles included. Please enjoy it as much as we did doing it!
NCR: Tell me about what has been going on with you and the band in the last year?
Nikki Briar: In the last year we completed 220 performances, toured, completed a new album and enjoyed every second of it! We got to open for Tim McGraw at Taste of Country in New York and it was surreal to perform with an artist whom I admire. Time has been flying by into 2016, I would certainly like to hit the “slow” button.
NCR: What has been/is the current album that perspective new fans should know about if they want to hear your most current work?
Nikki Briar: A Soldier’s Princess, my first album, was very touching as it was written during my husband’s deployed to Iraq, Dancin’ In The Headlights was a rockin’, fun album with our radio single, “Country Thang,” being the highlight. And now my new album, Ain’t Just For The Boys, is rockin’, soulful and sassy. It’s also directed towards being a strong, independent woman in a very guy driven genre of music, so the lyrics have extra punch and attitude.
NCR: How would you describe your sound to those same new fans?
Nikki Briar: My band and I, The SweetBriar Band, enjoy rocking out and blending sounds into our version of country music, it is very diverse. You get a taste of rock, country, and blues – all in one sound. We are so pleased that our fans enjoy it! I am a Gemini, so you get a flavor of my various sides through my music and lyrics, which keeps it interesting and unique.
Ain’t Just For The Boys – Jenk’s Club
NCR: Who are the influences that helped to formulate your style?
Nikki Briar: I am a huge Gretchen Wilson fan, I had the honor of opening up for her and I admire her drive and talent. Other influences include music I grew up on such as Frank Sinatra, Whitney Houston, Shania Twain, and Garth Brooks. My father was a Motown drummer and my mom a classical piano player, so growing up in a musically diverse home was the best and inspired my style.
NCR: For every artist it’s a little different, but when did you think you could leave your career as a teacher and be successful at being a musician full time?
Nikki Briar: I thought it would be a tough decision but I was a Catholic school teacher for six years, and once they announced the unfortunate closing of our school, I knew God had a new plan for me. I had just finished getting my masters when the school closed which also was a big blow, but I was proud to complete the program even if I was no longer teaching.
By that time, my music was getting picked up on radio, we were performing with national acts, and I knew a life change was coming. I miss teaching and, of course, my students, but I am very lucky to have had the chance to live my passion and do both in life, teach and make music. I love seeing my students at our concerts and reconnecting with families that impacted my life all the years teaching, it all is part of me and who I am as an artist and entertainer.
NCR: How much of a supportive environment did you come from with some fairly accomplished people musically, in your own parents?
Nikki Briar: Extremely supportive! With both parents being musicians, my brother a drummer, my uncle teaching me guitar at twelve and being the first girl to play the drums in our middle school band, music was without a doubt a part of my life.
My parents say I learned how to talk by singing along to songs on my Fischer Price record player. I went to a performing arts high school, did off-Broadway plays, cabarets and musicals, modeling, acting, the whole works! I just loved being on stage and in the spotlight. Of course, there were struggles and rejections, but that’s all part of the journey and process. I was a competitive tennis player from grammar school throughout college, so I always had the fire in me to succeed and try my very best.
NCR: You are a self-proclaimed country girl with, a lick of rock in her. How much does the rock genre really come into your music and is it hard to keep the balance in your songs?
Nikki Briar: It actually comes natural[ly], being I am a Jersey girl. The great thing about country music is that it is diverse and accepting to new twists and flavors. So I am very pleased with the way my music has been projected through the production of amazing producers, musicians, and fellow songwriters.
NCR: Speaking of which, how does a typical day writing go for you? Do you write the lion’s share and then get help to flesh out the songs or is a group effort from start to finish?
Nikki Briar: It is very random actually! Melodies and lyrics come to me at the oddest times, like when I am working out at the gym, relaxing at the beach, rollerblading in the park, or sitting in my truck! My new song, “Big Red Truck,” was written in 15 minutes as I sat in my new truck one night listening to some country music. I wrote the song about my truck because buying it was a huge stepping stone in my life; it symbolized that I was all in, and it represents my personality. My truck takes us to every performance and gets us there safe, plus it is badass and sexy, (laughing). So, I had to write a song for her.
By the way, her name is Ruby. I am a very visual, in the moment kind of person, so I get more influenced by my surroundings rather than sitting in my room with my guitar. All the songs I wrote came to mind while in the moment. A Soldier’s Princess I wrote while my husband was deployed to Iraq. “Unknown Soldier” was written while we visited the Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC and witnessed the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “Jersey Girl,” I wrote while at the beach you get the idea, (laughing).
NCR: You are very involved in doing charity work. How did you become involved so deeply and is there one charity you’re more passionate about than others?
Nikki Briar: I am very passionate about helping others in need, I always have been and it runs deep. I ran fundraisers as a teacher for our school, we collected money to donate to help endangered animals, get books and pajamas to children in need, I even developed a program where students would go outside and recycle the trash we found on the school property. I wanted to continue that in my music and not only write songs that have special meanings to people where they can relate and connect, but also donate proceeds to veterans, animal, and people in need.
I am very passionate about each one in their own way. I adore animals and am a huge animal rights advocate so doing charity concerts and raising money for rescues and farms has been a blessing. I dream of owning my own rescue farm in the near future. Performing for our veterans is very personal for me being an army wife, I get emotional at the ceremonies. Singing the national anthem to me is like singing a prayer of thanks to our country and veterans.
I found a way to combine my love for both animals and vets and got involved with the War Dog Association. I learned about them while shopping at my local Pet Value store and was compelled to help. I contacted the founder and have been performing for their events and wrote a special song dedicated to service dogs called, “Man’s Best Friend,” which always gives me a lump in my throat no matter how many times I perform it.
I work with Heart Songs For Veterans and my great friend and founder Jill Pavel. And I work together on a veteran radio show called Project Lips where we highlight veterans and charities and chat about hot topics. My two songs “Unknown Soldier” and “Man’s Best Friend” were donated to Heart Songs For Veterans where when the songs get downloaded, proceeds get donated to veteran charity groups.
I also work with the TJ Martell Foundation, NJSPCA and we get hired to perform at various benefits and functions for firefighters, police, families in need, etc. My good friend John Hegedus and I run a touring benefit concert where people come to us to arrange shows in order to help them raise money. We did several after Hurricane Sandy and worked with Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation.
My goal is to travel overseas and perform for deployed soldiers. We put our passports in for that and would so love to do that. I just want my music to help people escape for a while and enjoy the moment.
NCR: Being from New Jersey, what would you say to those that might not think that’s a hotbed for country music?
Nikki Briar: Great question. I get it a lot, and I love the shock factor. My response is that music is music, it’s not about where you are from, farm or city, it’s the story you tell. I grew up next to a farm in a small New Jersey town an hour from New York City, an hour from the beach and an hour from the mountains. I always loved the stories country music told, and I have many to tell. New Jersey has been inviting to country music and along with other east coast states, has jumped on board which is great. We are now busier than ever, perform four to five times a week and I love watching our fan base grow, in and out of state.
NCR: You’ve played a lot of shows live. Is there anything in all of those shows that makes you laugh or still shake your head when you think about it? A Spinal Tap moment if you will?
Nikki Briar: Oh, without a doubt, (laughing)! We have many road stories which in the four years we have been doing this. It’s funny in itself that we have so many stories to laugh back on! My band and I are together more than I see my family sometimes, which I see my parents almost every day, they are like my big brothers, and we enjoy each other’s company.
Just last weekend in Philly we did a show and a very fun fan did a few interesting dance moves, and I died laughing! In the middle of the song I could no longer sing and my drummer started singing for me which made it worse! I laughed so hard I cried, and it was so much fun to laugh that hard with people I love.
Our road trips together are always fun too, especially the snoring – gotta love the snoring, (laughing).
NCR: Not knowing if you partake in a drink now and again, if an adult beverage brewer would be willing to sponsor you on tour, is there a favorable brand that you’d be happy with?
Nikki Briar: BLUE MOON! LOVE it! Also PBR and Kenny Chesney’s Blue Bay Rum. I am trying also for the energy drink ROCKSTAR because we drink them at every show, (laughing).
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