Diverse voices in country music like Nicolette & The Nobodies prove that country music can be for everyone

Nicolette & The Nobodies take The Long Way when it comes to writing a debut album that’s 10 years in the making

Nicolette & The Nobodies:

The Long Way

Genre: Country

Sound: Nostalgic songs that take you home, whether that’s a place or a person
If you like: Shania Twain, George Jones, Loretta Lynn
Why you should listen: Nicolette & The Nobodies are part of the future of country music. They bring that classic country song to the modern age, with a fresh perspective that reminds listeners that country music can be for everyone after all.
Best track: Better Days

Any day is a good day to fall in love with country music. For Nicolette Hoang of Nicolette & The Nobodies, the Vietnamese Canadian performer first discovered country music when she was looking through her parents’ old record collection and found Tammy Wynette and Glen Campbell LPs.

“Those songs just stuck out to me. They resonated,” Nicolette explains. “Those high notes really made my heart soar, and I wanted to write music like that. It just started from me being a fan of the feeling that this music gave me, and then it gave me a sense of ‘I can do that. I could try it. Why not?’”

Nicolette & The Nobodies write songs for modern fans who appreciate a fresh perspective but enjoy that classic country song twang. On her upcoming debut LP, The Long Way, there’s hope and drama, tender and cheeky moments, and a bit of rock ‘n roll.

Growing up in Guelph, ON, as the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Nicolette struggled with belonging to her community, whether that was feeling Vietnamese enough, Canadian enough or country enough. While a career in music wasn’t withheld in her family, it certainly wasn’t encouraged. She sells glasses by day at her family’s optical shop, where she still works part-time, and plays shows with The Nobodies by night. Now, as a country songwriter who recently signed her first record deal with ArtHaus, she’s let those doubts go — at least externally.

“I’ve definitely had times when I felt like it’s not enough — it’s not different enough,” says Nicolette. “I’m a very harsh critic of myself, and I think a lot of that comes from growing up in a Vietnamese household that was very strict. If it’s not good enough, sometimes there’s reason not to pursue it. When I found country music, I was in a place that I felt safe to give it a try and not have to be afraid of what’s going to happen.”

Though she may not look like your typical country music fan, the thing that makes Nicolette really love it is that the message is generally very simple and direct. She’s tried writing other styles of music in the past, but nothing really clicked for her except country. It’s a songwriting style that can be extremely accessible, although the stereotype of contemporary country music can make it feel inaccessible to people of colour or people who don’t fit that mould.

At the end of the day, anyone can find the beauty in country music if they want to. It’s a genre of music in which you talk about your feelings and where you come from, and those things connect people.

“It’s complicated because I genuinely love country music,” Nicolette says. “I’m a fan of country music and country music history. The reason I write country music is because I come from a respectful love of it. I’m not making up where I’m from. I’m from Guelph. I’m the daughter of two Vietnamese immigrants. I can’t hide any of these things. I look like this! I’ve lived with this challenge my whole life.”

When Nicolette was just starting, she had fears that people would think “What gives you the right to make country music?”

Though she acknowledges that those worries are mostly born from self-criticism, she answers, “I’ve never really thought about whether people want me there [playing country music]. I’m at a point in my life where I’m like, ‘Y’all can just get over it. I’m here.’”

Nicolette is one of the few people of colour who have been pushing the envelope in country music in recent years, amongst the likes of Kane Brown and Beyoncé. It goes to show that the audience for this genre is not as single-minded as one might think and that there is a demand for diverse voices in country music.

“I’m tired of sitting ’round and wondering when my life will start,” Nicolette sings on the opening track, Better Days, from The Long Way. Perhaps it’s this sentiment that has finally kickstarted her music career and urged her to follow her dreams. These nine songs on the album have been 10 years in the making and include a sweet duet, Losing More, featuring Nicolette’s “Country Dad” Paul Weber; the unexpectedly raucous seven-minute rocker, Ready or Not; and the entreating ballad, Show Up.

Though her song lyrics don’t speak directly about being Vietnamese, a lot of the songs, like the title track, were written from a place where Nicolette was able to get in touch with her emotions and reflect on her childhood. It’s inevitable that these songs will be filtered through the perspective of an Asian woman.

“For me, writing songs is already a miracle because when I was younger, I always wanted to be a musician,” says Nicolette. “I always wanted to write music, and to be able to write anything is already a dream for me.”

The idea for The Long Way started when a friend’s parents sold their childhood home and it got Nicolette thinking about those places and moments that you may never go back to again. For example, the way your mother took care of you when you were sick as a child, or going back to visit your childhood home even though another family lives there now. The song is modelled after The Grand Tour by George Jones, and Nicolette tried to channel that emotion and nostalgia. In the end, she was able to finish the song by imagining it as a conversation with her brother about missing their childhood family life.

Not only is The Long Way the penultimate track but it’s also got an extended ending that takes you home. And like the song itself, Nicolette likes taking the long, long way — whether she likes it or not.

“I’ve always described [the music industry] as feeling your way in the dark, and the only things that have kept me going is the fact that music makes me happy,” Nicolette says. “I have to just remind myself that. If I feel proud of my work and if singing and writing music makes me feel good, that’s good enough.”

The Long Way by Nicolette & The Nobodies is out Fri., April 12 via ArtHaus.

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