Global citizen Nicky Rubin is an international alternative singer-songwriter and performer. After being rejected by various record companies for being too ugly to promote, and never one to give up, he set up his own record company Ugly Mother Records. New single “I’ll Never Forget You” is out now, we caught up with Nicky to find out more about his musical journey.
First up Nicky, tell us bit about yourself - what were you doing before your solo career began?
I had been playing the drums in bands in Manchester and occasional acoustic guitar gigs but when the opportunity arose I ran away with my guitar to India settling in Afghanistan and Iran from where for several years I commuted to Paris selling antiques. When in Paris I was also playing drums. The boys in the band persuaded me to sing and so I eventually returned to England to start. Arriving in London I sang in endless bands. The rigours of being a bandleader forced me to go solo.
What was the first style or genre of music you really got into?
From childhood onwards in order: the Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Edgar Broughton, Stevie Wonder and all Motown, Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy, Acid Rock i.e. Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Doors, Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Erik Satie, Gino Vannelli, Bowie, early Queen, Thin Lizzy, early U2, Bruce Springsteen, Ultravox, and most recently I enjoy Keane and Richard Hawley, Bruno Mars.
Was there a particular song or artist who inspired you?
The list is endless, but even with tough pop bands I’d always tend to gravitate towards the more ballady tracks even with Jimi’s “Drifting”, the Stones’ ”Wild Horses”, Queen “Love of My Life”, but “Waterloo Sunset” is one of my all-time favourite songs and although Jagger and Jimi were probably the greatest influences in my childhood, Freddie Mercurey would be my greatest inspiration. I saw him live at Wembley Arena, the small one, and he was mesmerising. He convinced me that this was what I wanted to do. I left Paris several weeks later to come back here to crack on with it.
How did this project come about?
If you are talking about this current project, I had been in Kiev producing another album and on one particular song I enlisted Danny Steagall’s help from far away, distance producing if you like. Danny had worked with me on my first studio album. After the Revolution in Kiev I returned to London and Danny and I teamed up with him coming up the idea for the musical sound… the “backing” if you will, said in a Lancashire accent… strings etc.
I try and play the guitar first thing in the morning with my first cup of tea. It’s a bit like meditation.
Did you expect to be following the musical path you are now?
Expectation is the mother of all disappointment. I didn’t expect anything. I just came back to London, teamed up with Danny for the studio in the day and, as usual, put a band together at night and got on with it. After a lifetime of grafting at your trade or craft, call it what you like with little to show for it but your experience, it would be ridiculous to fantasise but of course we all come in to this business with a dream and mine has never left me. You could call it a curse!
If you had to describe your sound as a personality, how what would it be?
I write about lost love, failure, violence, personal angst, corruption, occasionally even things of beauty like landscapes, historical images, things I’ve seen, even current affairs! A musical travelogue through a bumpy life! The News with Music.
What would you say makes your music unique?
No comment. Everybody is unique in their own way. I’ve just led a slightly more unconventional life than most I imagine. Last night I came off stage and some guy I’d never met says ‘I love your music, man, you’ve got stories’. I guess the stories and how I got them is what makes NR unique as the stories are unique to me.
How do you create your music? Is there any kind of routine that helps?
My only real routine is that I try and play the guitar first thing in the morning with my first cup of tea. It’s a bit like meditation. I do my vocal exercises when I’m cleaning the flat or doing the washing up or cooking. I want to make this clear. I never sit down with the aim of writing a song, 99.9% of my songs come to me on public transport or in the street when I’m not even thinking about anything; usually the lyric and the melody together with some sort of groove or rhythm. Occasionally I will sit down with the guitar and play a few chords and out pops a tune. I don’t seem to have the time at the moment. The best ideas can come to you when you are empty, not rushing around with a hundred things to do but then on the other hand when you are upset and emotionally moved it comes, or angry or frustrated waiting for a train for example. An airport bar. I like the escalator in the tube. I guess it all depends what’s on your mind. But sometimes when nothing is on your mind something comes through. It’s a paradox.
What was the most significant moment of 2015 for you and why?
The most significant moment was with Danny gathering the studio band together to rehearse ‘I’ll Never Forget You’ in Kings Cross. Because after seven years of Soviet nonsense I was coming back to the one place I know where this rock ‘n’ roll thing, pop music, call it what you like, is our heritage and we don’t copy anyone really. And with Danny at the helm I knew I was in good hands, I trusted him, and felt we were a team on a path together in a non-conflictual situation. I didn’t know where were going, but we were going there together (I stole that quote from Bono) and it felt right… it felt serious. Like were in the business rather than on the fringes of it where I’ve felt I’ve been all my life touring toilets! But really it’s the friendship vibe, the looking in the same direction which maintains the momentum. It’s a team effort. Nobody can make it alone in this business. No one ever has.
99.9% of my songs come to me on public transport or in the street when I’m not even thinking about anything
If you had to pick one act to see live this year, who would it be?
I’ve never seen Keane. I’d like to.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
Mick Jagger… the Stones need some new songs! Jesse Glynn… she can sing. Bruno Mars. Richard Hawley.
How is 2016 shaping up for you? Where can we see you play?
It’s busy. We’re recording the follow up singles to “I’ll Never Forget You”, “Cigarette Song” and “Ukrainan Kiss” in Tileyard now. Plus I play all over London about three or four times a week anywhere, guest appearances, open mic nights, flexing the performance muscles, and to test the reaction to all the songs especially the new material. Just me and the guitar, but sometimes with a bass player and drummer. We just lost our guitarist sadly so I’m back strumming and plucking!
If you could pick any venue or festival to play, where would it be and which slot would you most enjoy?
Glastonbury, V or Field Day. A slot on the biggest stage possible with a rehearsed band and ideally me only singing not playing guitar. It really interrupts my singing. An early evening slot would be fine by me. When the sun’s gone down. I once sang on the beach in St. Tropez, in the afternoon, everyone was asleep or sunbathing, all I could see were yachts bobbing on the horizon and us sweating under a burning sun.
Listen to ‘I’ll Never Forget You’ Nicky Rubin on Soundcloud.