Jersey Country: Nikki Briar is Coming Back to Hoboken
When you think New Jersey and music, you likely think of Rock and Roll: Springsteen, Bon Jovi, maybe some Steely Dan or Blondie. You probably don’t think about country music (although Clint Black was born here, FYI)—unless you’re already a fan of Nikki Briar.
Hardest Working Woman in Country Music
Briar famously performs more than 220 shows a year, all while recording and performing in Nashville. She’s headlined at legendary places like the Stone Pony and the Starland Ballroom in Sayerville, NJ, and she’s been an opening act for superstars like Tim McGraw, Outshyne, Cassadee Pope, and Big Country. Her second release, Free From the Demon, is out now and the title track is making a splash. To top it all off, she’s setting up shop in Hoboken in the coming weeks, and was nice enough to sit down with Life in Hoboken for a chat about her career, being the first country artist to appear at Maxwell’s, and her upcoming shows at Green Rock and House of Que.
LiH: What's your opinion of today's popular country music?
Nikki: I love the diversity that country music now has, like sub genres that exposes a bigger audience. As a country rock artist my fans are very diverse in their style of musical interests and that's fantastic, people are now open minded to country music. We noticed that our style of country music has converted many non-country music fans into fans because it has influences of rock and southern rock.
What's great too is that there are more country concerts and festivals than ever before, especially in the NY, NJ area. This summer alone we performed at 13 national acts concerts and have many more added to our fall and winter dates!
LiH: What's rocking your MP3 player right now?
Nikki: I am always listening to Kenny Chesney, I am a huge fan! Also I have been looping Miranda, Garth and Reba a lot lately!
LiH: Growing up in New Jersey, how did you first get into Country Music?
Nikki: I grew up in a musical family being both my parents are musicians. My father was a Motown/jazz/big band drummer and my mom was a classical piano player and artist. I literally grew up on everything from the Jackson 5 and Whitney Houston to Frank Sinatra and Shania Twain. When I picked up the guitar in middle school I started learning some Garth and Sheryl Crow songs and I just never categorized them as country but simply ÛÝmusic.’ I did everything from jazz to musical theater my whole life but something was always missing. The inspiration came after I met my husband ... while we were dating I would sing the national anthem for his army events prior to his deployment to Iraq. During one of the events a fellow soldier approached me telling me of a great friend and talented songwriter he knew in Nashville and that I should contact him to do music. At the time I was finishing college and working towards my masters but did write a lot of songs and poetry as well, so while my husband was deployed for a year I decided to collaborate with his friend and head over to Nashville to record a song we wrote together entitled “A Soldier's Princess.” It immediately got radio play and was streaming on military radio airwaves and that was when I knew that I had found my calling in country music. Country music is not about where you grew up or how you lived your life, it is about your story and I have a story to tell.
LiH: Tell us how the SweetBriar Band got together.
Nikki: I was very fortunate to develop the SweetBriar Band 5 years ago after doing numerous open mic nights and searching online for local musicians who wanted to perform country music, covers and originals. I could not ask for a better band! In fact, they are more than a band, they are my big brothers and best friends! We spend 5-6 days a week together performing, traveling and rehearsing and we have a blast! I wanted my band to also have their own identity as well and give them a name because they are top notch, professional and talented musicians. Of course it took some time to weed through some musicians who flaked out and did not have the passion for music, but we have been going strong for a while and have so many big plans ahead!
LiH: Tell us about your husband's military service and playing military gigs. Have those experiences affected your songwriting and musical style?
Nikki: He now has 13 years in the military and he enjoys it tremendously and that is as much as I love being an army wife. I have met so many amazing soldiers and their families that the community is just so strong and supportive, even in the hardest times of deployments. I sing the national anthem for deployment ceremonies and homecomings and it is an honor to do so in front of generals and commanders. It is bittersweet at times but it fills my heart with such pride and happiness, it has made me more patriotic. I dedicated all 3 of my albums to our brave men and women and families because being an army wife is what inspired me to become a country artist. We have been performing for veteran functions and fundraisers for vet hospitals, concerts and are currently working on traveling overseas to perform for deployed troops. I am also planning a visit to Walter Reed in Maryland to perform for our wounded vets. It warms my heart to fill others with music and help them escape even for a few minutes or hours.
I am also a proud ambassador of an amazing charity called Heart Songs For Veterans where I donate proceeds of my songs to help vets in need. My current song for sale through Heart Songs is called “Unknown Soldier”, which was written while I visited the Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC. I was so moved by the Changing of the Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that I wrote the song and donated it. My new Heart Song entitled “Man’s best Friend” was written after I learned about the United States War Dog Association created by Ron Aiello in New Jersey. I contacted Ron and had to get involved. Now my song is the official song for their organization as I got to perform it recently in Atlantic City's Golden Nugget for their corporate sponsor Pet Valu.
As a songwriter, every little thing can be an influence and being an army wife is such a huge part of my life ... it only feels natural to honor them through music.
LiH: As someone whose house was flooded by Sandy, I was interested to hear more about “Rock Those Jersey Blues Away”—thanks for that, by the way!
Nikki: I am very sorry to hear that. I was fortunate to have minimal damage and knew I was in a position to help. My good friend John Hegedus and I brainstormed on how to help and put together concerts to raise money and supplies for those in need. We traveled from Atlantic City to the border of NY doing shows and raised thousands for various organizations including Bon Jovi's Soul Foundation. The series continues today as we expanded it to creating events for various reasons for assistance. We have had numerous charities reach out to us to put together events and we enjoy it tremendously.
Nikki: I am super excited about this new EP and the response it has gotten in just a few weeks. The entire EP will be available as a CD and online before Christmas. My new radio single “Free from the Demon,” written by Janice Higgins and Jeff Lampert, is currently on sale everywhere. I had the privilege of working with top notch musicians and producers again in Nashville and I could not be happier! We have Carrie Underwood's guitarist, Shawn Tubbs playing on “Free from the Demon” and “Never Been the Type (To Bring Home to Mama).” My good friends and talented musicians Matt Emerson and Daniel Swartz not only produced the EP but also played on the tracks. Being on lock down for a few days in their studio is always a fun time!
The new EP “Ain’t Just for the Boys” highlights the independence of women, “Bro Country Music for Girls.” The 4 songs off the EP show passion, sass and attitude, which seems to be contagious to our fans as they sing and clap along to every song. “Free from the Demon” is a song about domestic abuse involving alcohol and is about a woman no longer feeling trapped in such a tormented world. She gains her freedom, is redeemed and feels empowered and justified ... with a little side of ass kickin’! It's a catchy country rockin’ tune that sends a great message of empowerment but will get you singing along too!
LiH: Any interest in signing with a label, or do you prefer the DIY way?
Nikki: I am currently in talks with a few labels and I feel confident to take that next step as we have come so far on our own already.
LiH: You're often referred to as the hardest working woman in Country—your tour schedule is incredible. You've played Maxwell's before, what's your experience with Maxwell's and Hoboken?
Nikki: It's an awesome title to have! We perform over 220 shows in a year and are topping that from last year's final performance count. We love playing in our home state but enjoy road tripping out of state as well. Maxwell’s is a great venue and I am proud to be the first country act to perform there when they started their country music series. We now play in Hoboken on a regular at Green Rock and we have a new country series beginning November 6th at House of Que on Sinatra Drive.
LiH: You're a Jersey Girl—any Hoboken ties? Hoboken stories?
Nikki: My first New Year's spent with my husband when we were dating was in Hoboken and it was just magical, We wanted to be near the city minus the crowd and chaos and decided to spend it in Hoboken. I was hooked after that night and have enjoyed being part of the country music influence in Hoboken.
We’re grateful to Nikki for taking the time to chat, and we’re super excited to see her perform at The Green Rock and House of Que in the coming weeks. What about you—will we see you there?