What is your name?
Nikolaz John Rael is my full name, but I go by Nik Rael
What is your genre of music?
It’s all just music!!
When my favourite musician, Louis Armstrong, was asked late in his career about the genre of Jazz and how he felt about it, Satchmo discounted the concept of genres indirectly when he replied, “To me there’s only two kinds of music, good music and bad music.” When pressed how to tell the difference, Pops just said, “Good music makes you want to tap your foot.” These days I think we’re getting to a post-genre world of music. I hear elements of the most diverse styles being used in an endless variety of ways. That’s the creativity of fusion. Like modern chefs using flavours from all over the world. Same is happening in music. In the end music is really all the same. There are only 12 notes – we all use them. The essentials don’t change in music: It’s melody, lyric, harmony, and rhythm. And with modern technology we can use any sound in the world to create those components. One thing I will say: the primacy of the human voice will never disappear. It will always be the most powerful instrument. Nothing will ever move masses of people the way a voice can. As for the other sounds, although technology has overtaken pop music, and I’m open to any sound in the recording process, I still tend to be moved more by organic sounds made by human musicians performing, than by beats and electronica whipped up on a computer. Musical performances are what excite me the most. I’m chasing a feeling, a moment of spontaneous power and beauty flowing through a human. That can happen in any style. But I understand the need to talk about “genres” – it helps clarify things, so I’ll play along. I work in many genres – for fun I’ll put them in order from most to least: Rock and Roll, Singer-Songwriter, Americana, Soul, Reggae, R&B, Country, Pop.
Give us a little bio about you.
California born to LA hippies. Father was a rock musician and music connoisseur. Family transplanted to NJ as a young child where I now still make my home. I began performing rock music professionally in 1992 and have done over 100 shows a year in various formats and genres ever since. I have supported my music career financially by working as an Elementary School Teacher, a Music Teacher, a Music School manager, a construction worker, a process server and at least 10 other things. I raised a family in Cresskill, NJ, and have recently divorced.
What made you go into music?
I’ve been absolutely obsessed with music since I was a little child. I was a terror as a toddler, and my mom says the only thing that I would sit still for was listening to Beatles records on the headphones. Although I have always instinctually understood music in an intellectual way, music came very slowly for me as a performer. I wanted it so, so bad, but every step of the way has been a lot of time and work. I had a mediocre voice as a child, and I gave up playing guitar at 11 because it just seemed so impossible to me. In discouraging moments I’ve occasionally turned my back on “being a musician”, but that never lasted. I always came right back. I could never leave music alone. This is how I learned the importance of desire. If you really want something so badly that it hurts, then that is what you must strive to get. It was frustrating to suck as a performer at first, but time changes that. Nobody escapes the necessity to work hard and develop the talent they’ve been given. Even though I sucked at first, I knew that I had talent – I just knew it. It was just not developed. Now, after all these years of performing, music is by far what I’m best at in this life – and it’s the only thing that settles my mind. I’ve put so much time and effort into playing music, and I can say that now I get an incredible amount of satisfaction from it.
To answer the question directly: I never chose to go into music. It chose me. There was never any escape for me. I gave in a long time ago.
Who are your influences?
It all started with my father’s records from the 60’s and 70’s: Beatles, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Steely Dan, Jimi Hendrix, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Phoebe Snow, Boston, Peter Frampton, Roberta Flack.
I absorbed all of that almost every day – my parents played a lot of records around the house.
Then as I became a teenager the first band that I found all on my own was Rush, the Signals album. Particularly, the song Subdivisions blew me away.
As a bassist, The Police (Sting) was a huge influence. The rhythms and melodies of his basslines were so unique and gorgeous. Before that I had already absorbed Paul McCartney’ iconic pop bass work as a child, and his bass playing in my opinion remains the best I’ve ever heard.
As a college student I discovered Bob Marley, and I almost immediately absorbed the essentials of roots reggae bass work. Sting had prepared me for that.
Later in my 20’s I went through a long soul music phase. I really wanted to sing like Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. I sang along to every note of Aretha’s Atlantic recordings for months until I had completely absorbed her phrasing. Along the way I came to also love and copy the Motown and R&B bass styles of guys like James Jamerson and the many various session bassists who played on records by people like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.
Another artist and performer who really had a huge impact on me is Martin Sexton. One of the greatest singers on earth, he really helped me realize the potential of my voice. Just singing along with his masterpiece album Black Sheep was like taking me by the hand and showing me what was actually possible with my voice. Also, his live performances, often solo with acoustic guitar, really influenced me to move to the acoustic guitar as a performer. And to this day that is primarily how I perform.
You released your new single ‘Medicine Man’, tell us more about the single and the meaning behind the song.
Well, I’m named after my great grandfather, who was a Cherokee Medicine Man. My first name “Nikolaz” is my mother’s phonetic spelling of his name, which had the emphasis on the second syllable. So I decided to write a song with that title. In the end it’s a song about rising from the ashes to come back to life. It’s about the opportunity for new adventure and new love after a time of pain and tragedy.
Describe the track in two words.
What was the writing and recording process like?
The song came easily. It’s a simple chord progression. The words came with only gentle nudges – not the usual process – which is often frustrating and riddled with false starts and cross outs. In my experience, the songs that come easiest are the best. So that’s a good sign for me. I sort of just receive them and write them down – I guide the process, make editorial decisions, but there’s a flow that can happen sometimes that feels effortless and makes the song feel inevitable, as if it was meant to be written. That’s how this one felt. The recording was a breeze. It was practically all done by Todd Mihan.
Who did you work with on the single?
I worked with Todd Mihan. We have a production partnership. We both write and perform, but he is also an accomplished producer and engineer who operates a studio out of his home.
For Medicine Man, I just sang and strummed acoustic guitar, eventually adding a shaker. Todd did everything else himself – played electric guitar, mandolin, keys, drums, and bass. He’s pretty amazing. I’m listed as a co-producer but actually I just told him stuff I was thinking about, and he was the one who turned all the knobs.
Will we see a music video for ‘Medicine Man’, and if so, what can we expect from the creative process?
The video is here:
It was done in one afternoon at a Mahoney’s pub in Poughkeepsie, NY. Directed by Derek White of Good Time Films. We love it!
You are also set to release your new album, tell us more about the naming and creative process of the new release.
The Album (an EP) will be called Medicine Man.
There are 4 songs total on the album all written by either myself or myself with Todd Mihan. These songs will all be released in the next few months.
This Time (I’m Leading With My Heart)
A Thousand Cuts
Describe each song in two words.
This Time (I’m Leading With My Heart): NEW HEART
Medicine Man: ADVENTURE, LOVE
Recognize: ETERNAL FRIENDSHIP
A Thousand Cuts: PAIN, SURVIVAL
Do you have any live shows coming up?
Friday 7/28/23 Hoagie Barmichaels New Windsor, NY. 7pm
What else can we expect in 2023?
The sky is the limit. My creative juices are flowing and artistically I feel strong. Look out.
Where do you see yourself now in 5 Years?
I see myself making much progress as an artist in the next few years. I am committed to following my muse, and my muse is fickle. I can’t describe the music I’ll be making in five years, but I will tell you that it will be exciting and will be plentiful. Many of the obstacles that have taken so much of my time and energy in my life have dissipated. I think this will be the best few years of my musical life.
What quote or saying do you always stick by?
”Don’t push: Let it flow.”
When you are at a gig, what are 5 things you cannot forget?
- Do the music that I love and do best, and be in it 100%
- Consider the mood and context of the performance, and strive to please your audience. The show is not just about me – it’s about the audience and me experiencing the performance together.
- Be fearless and flexible on stage and allow for spontaneous magic.
- Enjoy myself – that is most entertaining to an audience.
- Fearlessly be myself with confidence that this is my best, offer that to the audience (no one else can) but don’t take myself too seriously: be quick to laugh at myself when I misstep