Val’s Chat with artists Dwight and Nicole

Their list of musical influences goes on and on and it’s solid gold: BB King, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Gladys Knight, Dr. John, Staple Singers, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Bonnie Rait, Michael Jackson… Meet Dwight and Nicole (a duo both musically and romantically) who claim their songs are inspired by their love together and trying to look at the world’s bright side… not the “brite-lite-city-lite” kind, but the “inner-lite” kind. Dwight Ritcher and Nicole Nelson are an American roots band that rolls rock, gospel, pop, jazz, reggae, rhythm and blues into a sound that conveys a spiritual energy, a message to the world…

Val: Dwight and Nicole, tell me about yourselves.

Dwight: I was born in Long branch NJ, right next to Asbury Park. I grew up on music, my grandfather had a big band in the 40s. As a kid I was playing drums behind him, and his sister who was a jazz singer, my uncle played bass, my mom played ukele and piano by ear… I guess music is in my blood [chuckle]… I grew up next to the racetrack and there was this bar… Bar Bombay – when I was around 16 they snuck me in the back door (not my grandfather!) and I played drums with some of the blues musicians in Jersey, pretty incredible… it was then that I knew this is what I wanted to do…

Nicole: Dwight is a rapper on the side… !! (ha)

Dwight: Wait, what?!?! (haha)

Nicole: No really, I have to jump in… Dwight is one of those people who plays every instrument and wears every musical hat… And every now and then – when the perfect right exact stars align – he’ll bust out free style and sing/rap about whatever’s going on in the room… It’s amazing – it’s very rare but it’s pretty much the best thing when it happens.

Val: Nicole, hopefully you can feed him the magic potion at the GPN fest so he’ll do this for us?!

Nicole: Whooo! I’ll have to start working on that potion now… [chuckle].

Val: Nicole?

Nicole: I’m from Brooklyn NY and I’ve always loved music and art of all kinds… as long as I sense some authenticity there, I easily get swept away in it… any kind of art works for me! I’ve always been driven to express myself creatively, and as I get older I’m even more driven to affect the world in a positive way – you know, leave things better than the way I found them…

Val: Nicole, you were a contestant on The Voice. How early did you start singing?

Nicole: My mom says I started singing immediately – my first words were little pieces of song… I guess I started singing and never really stopped… I played piano, guitar at 7, studied classical violin… I’m not from a musical family. Music was more of a pipe dream for me. Then I ended up auditioning for RENT on a dare – and ended up getting a call back for the lead! That was a freak out moment for me because I’d never had a singing lesson, I didn’t know how to read music, and I had no experience. I felt like an imposter. I went down to Broadway and basically gave up this huge opportunity. I left and went to a groove jam…

Dwight: Which landed her in Boston… where I was working on a blues record. We met there, listened to each other play, and ended up becoming fans of each others’ grooves. We each moved to NY, knew the same people, and they started to ask if we did any [music] together?
Nicole: So we decided to give it a try and see how it goes. And the rest is history.

Val: Ok, I’m just going to ask this because I can’t find it in your bio anywhere. Are you guys a couple?

Nicole: Yes! We date each other and we play music together!

Dwight: Yeah, it all came together at the same time about 10 years ago. We were friends for years in Boston, involved with other people. In NY we happened, and music happened… wrapped up in a big bow I guess you could say [chuckle].

Val: Tell me about Burlington Vermont.

Nicole: We moved to Vermont because we wanted to have a different kind of life outside of the rat race…. I love New York and love to visit, but I wanted to take a step in the direction toward health and inner peace. Being here is wonderful –Dwight and I live in a community that‘s very rich in art and talented and beautiful people.

Val: Not to mention the surrounding natural beauty…

Dwight: Absolutely. Val, right where you were at the fest last year, on the waterfront, that’s about four blocks from our house – this is our front yard, the water, big open sky, the mountains.

Val: When we were here last year I felt like everything I ate was pulled from the ground one hour earlier… ha.

Dwight: There’s some truth to that.

Nicole: This fest is a great road trip for anyone – especially at this time of year.

Val: Nicole, I saw this quote from you and I like it: “I don’t like to be categorized because I’m changing all the time. At every moment I’m a little bit different.” Your music reveals this – it’s very diverse, many different moods!

Nicole: You sing what you believe.

Dwight: The songs come out how they come out – we try to nurture them along and are excited to vary our sound. Our music is a pretty honest representation of us.

Val: You guys, as a couple, seem very positive. Your outlook on the world, what you want to convey, how you want to transform your listeners – it’s a very positive message.

Nicole: That’s a very accurate description Val, and it comes from a place of having been through hell and coming back out of it. Being called “positive” is a complement and a wonderful thing. For us, we’re making a conscious movement toward stepping out from the shadow and embracing life and all the tings that have been given to us. A good album is a cross section of life – it takes reality, adds personality and hope, and shows a full cross section.

Val: Do you collaborate with each other on the songwriting?

Nicole: Oh yes! Sometimes it’s an instant collaboration but more often we’re off writing our own thing, then we come together and share. Technology is great for that – we can sing little things into our phone. Dwight lives and writes all day long. I’ll hear him when I’m in the kitchen making breakfast… then I’ll come and listen.

Dwight: We’ve been really traveling a lot. We’re both itching to get back into the studio – to write and have quiet uninterrupted time. Since we tour more in the summer we equate writing with the winter – we love being hunkered down while it’s snowing outside…. And not be bothered with the business side of the business.

Val: You’ve opened for some huge acts: BB King, Buddy Guy, Maya Angelou, Mavis Staples, Ray LaMontagne, Trombone Shorty, Levon Helm, Norah Jones, Avett Brothers, Chuck Berry… Does a big audience cause a freak out or fireworks in you?

Nicole: Not a freak out at all! I think the bigger the audience the better our performance – there’s like a spell that casts on you. If you can reach a big audience it’s magical. When we open for a big artist we’re sooo respectful of that headliner, knowing how much it took for them to build that audience. Our goal is to warm up the audience and get them ready for a great show with the headliner.

Val: How were you chosen to be on the lineup at Grand Point North this year?

Dwight: Our fans voted us in! We owe them a huge thank you that we’re on the bill.

See you in September!

Read more of Val’s artist interviews

Val’s Chat with artist Anders Parker

Val’s Chat with artist Lowell Thompson

Val’s Chat with artist Rayland Baxter

Val’s Chat with artist Caroline Rose