Now that all of the Summerfest headliners have been announced and finalized, music fans all over have likely begun planning their plan of attack for the Big Gig. Local country singer-songwriter Nora Collins is no different; in fact, at the very end of our interview, she reminded herself that she still had to buy her tickets to Carrie Underwood. The only difference is that Collins has a performance of her own to schedule her Summerfesting around.
Actually, that’s 17 performances. Not a typo.
Collins is set to playing twice a day – from 3 until 4 p.m. as well as from 6 until 7 p.m. – over at the Tiki Hut stage through Thursday, July 2, in addition to a gig on that Thursday at the KNE New Music Stage at 3:45 p.m. And that’s not the only reason why it’s a busy time of the year for the young musician. She’s also got appearances set for the Wisconsin State Fair, Country Thunder, Riverfront Rendezvous and Mile of Music – all in support of her newly released seven-track album "My Radio."
And in case you can’t make one of her 200-plus performances scheduled for 2015, Collins will also be on your TV on ZUUS Country’s "On The Rise" (channel 24.2 or 988 for Time Warner Cable users) this week, hosting and performing on the Nashville-based music video show. Her remaining appearances – recorded a ways back while she was working on her new album in Tennessee – include Tuesday night at 10 p.m. and Friday, June 12 at 8 p.m. And that’s all not including her recent naming as an Alzheimer’s Champion by the Alzheimer’s Association of Southeast Wisconsin.
So other than all of that, a pretty mellow summer so far for Nora Collins.
Amidst all of that, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to sit down with the up-and-coming singer-songwriter and chat about her music both past and present, her work for Alzheimer’s and – because obviously – T. Swift.
OnMilwaukee.com: What got you interested in music in the first place?
Nora Collins: I always loved to sing from a very young age. I got involved with the church choir when I was younger, and I had a solo in one of our musicals. The church choir director was like, "You know, she’s got something going on here; you guys might want to check into exploring some options with vocal lessons."
So I took some lessons when I was younger and just continued to love singing and eventually picked up the guitar. When I was in fourth grade, I took a summer of lessons and hated it (laughs) because I had to practice, and I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to play songs.
OMC: Fair enough.
NC: So, I put the guitar down, and it hung around in my room until I was 14. I was bored one summer afternoon and picked it up to see what I could remember, and I taught myself how to play the guitar again by writing a song. That’s kind of how it all started.
One of the very first songs I wrote was called "Don’t Slow Down." I made, like, a home-made music video for it, and it actually made the top 16 in the nation with Country Music Television’s "Music City Madness Contest." So I got a lot of local press with that, and that gave me the confidence that, OK, maybe I’ve got something special here. Ever since then, I’ve continued to write songs and record, and now I’m on my fourth CD. It’s exciting!
OMC: What are your musical inspirations?
NC: When I first started writing, I was a big fan of Taylor Swift. That was pretty much right when Taylor Swift came out, and she was all country. But I also listen to all kinds of music. I wasn’t specifically always listening to country. I grew up listening to all different genres of music, so I think that all kind of shaped the songs that I wrote.
Even going back to my first CD, I wasn’t necessarily trying to be country. I just have a natural twang to my voice when I sing, and that even goes back to when I had voice lessons back in fourth grade. The teacher was musical theater and classical, and she heard the twang in my voice and was trying to get it out of me. She was like, "That doesn’t work in classical music!" (laughs) My voice just naturally led me to country music, and I guess my writing kind of did too.
OMC: Did it make you sad that Taylor Swift departed and split from country?
NC: No, I doesn’t really bother me. I think it bothered me more when she was like … I loved her first album; her first album was a massive favorite. And then as she progressed, it just got to be more poppy and more poppy – which is fine, but I felt like she was faking the country thing at that point. And now that she’s gone full pop, I’m like, "Yeah, that’s where you belong." And it sounds great. I love her songs.
OMC: Now, you were recently named an Alzheimer’s Champion by the Alzheimer’s Assocation of Southeast Wisconsin. How did you get involved with that particular cause?
NC: My grandmother had Alzheimer’s, and she passed away last April due to complications with Alzheimer’s. Growing up, I was always very, very close with my grandma up until she passed away, and it was really, really hard to see the disease take over her. My grandma was also a very giving person, so I wanted to do something in her memory that would make her proud. So I recorded one of her favorite Christmas songs, an acoustic version – that was "O Holy Night" – and I put it up on iTunes for download. All of the proceeds I donated back to the Alzheimer’s Association in her memory.
The Alzheimer’s Association was very appreciative of that, and they appreciated my story and my connection to the disease. So they invited me to play at a couple of events and sing at their offices, and then they asked me if I wanted to be a Champion for Alzheimer’s. I was like, "Of course! I’d love to!"
OMC: What was the process behind your latest album, "My Radio"?
NC: I guess I started writing it right after I finished my third CD, "Only the Beginning," which was an acoustic project. I had no idea when I was going to come out with a new CD after that because it’s hard to decide when the right time is and whether you’ve let the last one run its course.
But I had started; I wrote a song called "Harley" – which is about riding on the back of a Harley. (laughs) I had been playing that one out last summer and the summer before, and received a lot of great feedback from it. So that was when I decided that, OK, I’m going to put this one on the next CD. That started me writing more and trying to collect some songs to decide from to put on the new CD. Then I went down to Nashville in December and really started co-writing.
OMC: What were your inspirations or goals for this latest album?
NC: For the whole CD in general, I just wanted it to be a fun summer album, just songs that you’d want to add to your summer playlist. It’s a fully produced album in contrast with my previous release, which was all acoustic. That was a lot of fun for me to see songs that I’ve played acoustic out so much come to life with a full band.
OMC: What is your ultimate dream gig?
NC: I think mine would be to be a headliner at Summerfest, just because I’ve played at Summerfest for the past couple years – and again this year, 17 times. It would be just so cool in, like, 10 years or something be an actual headliner, to see that growth from somewhere I started playing when I was 17 or 18 years old and come back and have one of the later time slots. That would be so rewarding, that I accomplished what I’ve been working for – especially being from Milwaukee with the hometown connection.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.