Jade Nickol hated her first single. Looking back on the song, titled “Best Friends,” the 19-year-old singer-songwriter seethes with palpable frustration.
“Even my mom didn’t like it,” Nickol says. “And when your mom doesn’t like it, that’s like, damn.”
“Best Friends” is a country song Nickol felt forced to make.
“The whole time I was making it, I knew it’s not what I wanted to do," Nickol says. "I thought my image should be this innocent Texas girl, even though I knew that wasn’t me. I thought it was what people wanted to hear from this 4-11 small-town singer.”
Nickol went to great lengths to scrub the song from the internet, and at first glance, it seems like she was successful. A cursory Google search directs you to an Amazon Music page for the single, but when you click on it, you get a 404 error message. She learned a lot from her brief foray into country, the biggest lesson being she should just be herself.
“I’m a dark person,” she says. “So I went all in on that.”
Nickol recently released her second single, “Marijuana and Gin,” and her debut EP, Murphy’s Law, will drop on June 15. The single is a moody rumination on a love from which she cannot free herself, a piano-driven ballad that showcases her considerable vocal range. Listeners can expect similarly themed songs on the rest of the five-track EP.
“I wanted something that stood out,” Nickol notes. “I wanted to rebel.”
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Nickol’s story is not atypical for a young artist trying to make it as a singer. She started singing at talent shows at age 7 and loved the high she experienced performing onstage. When she won $1,000 in a talent competition near her family’s home of Lake Dallas, Nickol believed she could possibly build a career in music. The singer started gigging, honing her voice and her skills on guitar while pursuing country music. Her talent caught the eye of fellow musician Droo D’Anna of the band Droo’s Peace Crush, who now plays bass for Nickol.
“The first few times I saw her play live, it was mostly covers,” D’Anna says. “She had the voice, but no identity yet.”
D’Anna also noticed that, despite Nickol’s talent, she didn’t have a passion or interest in the genre she was pursuing.
“She was showing me music she likes, and none of it was country. Why make country music when it’s not the stuff you like?”
Privately, Nickol embraced her darker side. She’s a true-crime junkie with a predilection for bone-chilling podcasts and stories about serial killers.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the morbid side of life,” she says. “And I used to think that wasn’t a side anyone wanted to see.”
Nickol felt a personal pressure to release a single, in order to “get something out there.” Yet when it came time to promote “Best Friends,” Nickol couldn’t bring herself to do it.
“I learned that if you don’t believe in what you’re putting out there, then you’re not going to promote it,” she says. “And how could you? How could anyone?”
Looking to make a change, Nickol turned to the music she actually enjoys, including Billie Eilish and Lorde. By merging her morbid, moody side with the skills that got her noticed, the artist is out to carve a new niche under the umbrella of indie pop.
“Marijuana and Gin” epitomizes that new direction. While it shows sonic traces of country origins, the lyrics touch on the kind of themes that Nickol is determined to embrace. Her former piano teacher, Julie Bonk, isn’t surprised.
“Jade was always versatile,” Bonk says. The pianist used to teach Norah Jones and prides herself on the strong bonds she builds with students. “She was always able to write great lyrics that went far beyond her age.”
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That style has its detractors; Nickol says a friend and fellow musician declined to promote “Marijuana and Gin” because of its lyrical content. While Nickol was initially irked, D'Anna, who has become a mentor figure for her, is happy to see that she's finally creating the music that she likes.
“I think art is a little better if it’s controversial,” he says. “The goal isn’t to make people happy. I may not be hugely successful, but I’m satisfied as an artist, and I want that for her.”
Nickol, too, has changed her tune and now feels different about that kind of reaction.
“Maybe I do like that someone didn’t want to promote it,” she says. “At the end of the day, I’m glad I get to write my truth.”