Vermont Vibes: Nicole & Dwight

Dwight & Nicole
Dwight Ritcher and Nicole Nelson are an American roots act based out of Boston/ NYC and currently living in Burlington, Vt.
NextUp: How did Dwight and Nicole come to be? Where did it all start?
Nicole: I’m from New York and Dwight’s from New Jersey. We both moved to Boston around the same time and started blues groups. We were fans of each other’s groups. I used to go see music all the time and I would see Dwight’s bands open for all the coolest people like Buddy Guy. I used to go see him opening for these guys in the House of Blues and I was floored. He would come to my shows too and he was a fan. We both coincidentally moved from Boston to New York in 2004. We started doing shows in New York together and then we would sit in with each other and our fans were asking for a CD or if we had anything that had us together. So we thought maybe we should record something together. We started recording, singing and doing shows together from 2004 to 2008. We both moved into a studio together where we’re at today. We lived in the house and recorded in the studio for a year or so whenever we could get down there.
Dwight: We recorded with Milt Reder, he owns the studio and actually invited us to come and live with him and his family for a year.
Nicole: It was awesome. We had time to be creative and focus on writing. Then we moved to Burlington. I fell in love with the place. We would come to Burlington and visit and I found myself never wanting to leave and wanting to be there all the time. So as soon as we had the opportunity to move there, we did.
Dwight: To be on the road as much as we are, going to places like Boston and New York, it’s such a recharge to come back to Vermont. We’re lucky to have a really nice group of friends here and when we do get off the road, we get a chance to recharge our batteries and really enjoy the openness and spaciousness of Vermont. You almost can’t put it into words there’s just a thing about it that’s really, really cool. Especially in the summer, there’s so many opportunities to get out and camp and bike.
Nicole: Vermont speaks to who we are as artists, people. I feel like we’re always trying to come into balance and I think we do musically together where we are a man and a woman and we complement each other well. There’s also balance in our lifestyle. It can be a very unhealthy lifestyle, being a traveling musician and being on the road at 3 a.m. tired and hungry. it can lead you down an unhealthy path, but the two of us are both determined and focused to be healthier and living in Vermont is part of that. It makes that possible with our lifestyle. It’s great
NextUp: How would you describe your sound? What were your major influences?
Dwight: We have a lot of soul, a lot of blues, some rock n’ roll, a little bit of country and jazz gospel. We have a very eclectic taste. My grandfather had a big band in the forties and he played piano so that music was around a lot for me as well as Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin. It was a big swatch of interests.
Nicole: I think the most accurate description would be American roots music because we sort of touch on all of it. We both love so much of the classic country music, classic R & B, classic rock music and I think american roots music really does it. We kind of touch on all of that stuff. I think that we are most often categorized as soul or blues because we have soulful songs and voices so it comes across that way. That’s how people categorize us, but we are just as likely to do a Cyndi Lauper cover as Buddy Guy.
NextUp: In a place like Vermont, with such diverse music offerings, how do you set yourselves apart?
Nicole: I think all we do is we are just ourselves. I never think about how we are different than what’s going on. If I’m guilty of anything, then it’s not knowing what else is going on. Our lifestyle is so busy, it takes all of our energy just to move ourselves forward and be creative in our own way. It takes an awful lot of energy too to be myself. I can’t be fully myself and also be watching what other people are doing, comparing, because that takes away my own energy - my own life force. It’s easy for us to stand apart from our peers because we are not trying to stand apart from our peers.
NextUp: Do you have any particularly memorable shows or jam sessions?
Dwight: Oh yeah! Definitely some! We had a great show at the higher ground for the farmers benefit.
Nicole: We just recently became ambassadors for a nonprofit 1% For The Planet. We did a kick off party for their bonanza and it was just beautiful. So many great people came together for a great cause.
Dwight: For us, to be able to give back and think about a cause and just in general think of something that’s larger than ourselves, it’s an important part of what we do. The one percent group was started by the owner of Patagonia. It’s been really great to be able to do what we do and also maybe be able to give back some and consider a bigger picture than ourselves.
Nicole: I think having the cause larger than yourself, it made it all that much more powerful. It was a powerful experience knowing that you were helping people and helping our community and protecting each other and taking care of each other.
Dwight: Vermont is about that too. Vermont has a just great feeling of community and I hope we exemplify that a little bit.
NextUp: What do you do specifically as an ambassador for 1% For The Planet?
Nicole: Spreading awareness. One percent is asking large companies to donate one percent of their sales to One Percent For The Planet to be distributed throughout their network of organizations that support the health of the planet, the environment, the rainforest and so many other companies. It’s really fantastic.
Dwight: One percent really tries to streamline things and I think they raised about 100 million dollars so far.
Nicole: They’re reaching out to creative people in the community because we have a platform where we’re interviewed and in front of thousands of people. We can talk about things that are important.
NextUp: Nicole, can you tell me a little bit about your experience on The Voice?
Nicole: I got a call from someone who was a producer who I had worked with in Boston and he asked me if I would audition. He got an email from a friend of his who was a producer on the show and they were looking for a recommendation, so I said I would think about it because I didn’t know. I’ve been an indie girl for a long time and it means a lot to me to do things myself and to not be involved in a business I don’t feel 100 percent good about. I don’t know how I feel about reality TV. I don’t even own a TV. I’m not trying to seek fame in that way. I went home with it and talked it over with Dwight and Bonnie who works with us and my family. We were about to take on investors and part of our mission as Dwight and Nicole Music is to proliferate, spread and be able to use music as a tool for empowerment - as a bridge for people to connect with us and foster healing and love. If I put my judgements out of the scenario it’s an opportunity for me to sing in front of millions and millions of people that would never hear about us or wouldn’t have any idea of what it means to be an independent artist. So I said I have to do this. As long as I go there and I am completely myself while on camera and I’m honest, then I’m doing the right thing.
Dwight and I were going to do it as a duo, but it couldn’t really happen that way - mostly having to do with the contract. It worked out completely perfectly I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. It was unbelievable. I loved and am still good friends with everyone I met out there. I met so many beautiful, talented artists and working with the NBC crew and producers, who had just the highest level of professionalism and talent, it was inspiring and wonderful.
NextUp: What is your songwriting process like? Do you both contribute?
Nicole: It’s changed a lot through the years. I think that we are both very different as writers, the way we connect to a song. Dwight, maybe because he was an English major, is writing all the time. He writes every day at least a little bit. It’s so inspiring to the amount of output he creates. He’s the architect. I call him that all the time because he comes up with forms and then I’ll come in. When I write a song, I give up on a song before it’s done if in my mind at that moment it isn’t going to be amazing. Then I’ll scrap it instead of putting it away and come back to it like I should. What I do is that occasionally I’ll get struck by the lightening and three hours later I’ll be coming out of some little hole somewhere with a complete song that’s perfect. A couple times a year, I will write a whole entire song that I love. Now what ends up usually happening is that Dwight will have the base of a song and say let’s go work on this and I will come in and do the trim and paint. He has the foundation.
Dwight: What’s nice about the Dwight and Nicole thing is that its really an umbrella for us. We both have very eclectic tastes creatively. So in reference to the songwriting, yeah I can write a song, she can or we can together. Nicole is really good at selecting the songs. A lot of times you get too attracted, connected or repulsed to what you’re writing for yourself so a lot of times she’ll be nice enough and has a great ear to pick the songs that she likes that I’ve written. You get caught up in the whole process, so its nice to have someone else who can be objective.