Nicole O’Rielley may be new to the cabaret game, but she is proving to be a natural.
The 21 year-old powerhouse has gone from pub gigs, to selling out (and adding another show, which also sold out) in her first season in the festival. The change of scenery for the Adelaide woman has been nothing but worthwhile, with the Cabaret Festival Director Paul Boylon naming O’Rielley ‘one to watch’. On top of this, The Adelaide Theatre Guide penned her as a ‘manic pixie dream girl’, proving this up-and-comer brings a bit of everything to the table.
Her third show of ‘Publicly Private’ at La Boheme was performed on Friday (23rd of June), and we caught up with Nicole and confirmed our belief that we need to keep our eyes on this woman.
What got you into music?
My dad is also a musician, so there's always been (at least) one keyboard floating around this house. My parents never forced me into doing music lessons when I was young—they stood back and waited to see if I'd spark interest on my own. For me there was a natural pull towards the piano.
I remember I always used to play on this keyboard we had. It was one of the Casio ones with the pre-set songs. I used to write lyrics to the songs and sing over them like backing tracks. Of course the songs were super deep—they were about my collection of toy horses (and, yes, it is I, the token horse chick everyone had at primary school).
Who are your music/art inspirations?
I have my three girls: Regina Spektor (actual love of my fucking life), Bjork and Amanda Palmer. These women inspire me every day. They're creative, original, strong and fantastic storytellers through song. I love that I can feel their personas through their music—that's important to me in order to connect to someone's art and it's what I'm always trying to do, never dilute myself.
My fourth addition to my list is Roger Waters. I love, love, love Pink Floyd dearly, but in relation to me as an artist, Roger Waters is the key. I love the theatrics he brings to the music, which is apparent in The Wall where Waters writes and sings as different characters. His influence inspired me to try using different variations of my voice depending on the mood and emotion or version of myself I'm portraying. An honorable mention should go to Abbe May. That Perth girl oozes power and sexuality.
A couple months back I thought it would be fun to make a playlist that chronologically documents one song from each of the artists I've loved throughout the course of my life (THERE WERE SOME CRINGEY THINGS I TELL YOU). Something I noticed was that there is such a theme of gritty/punky bands spanning my musical tastes over time. The ones I feel changed me? Pixies, Placebo and Queens of the Stone Age.
What’s your show about?
The tag line 'a celebration of honesty, melancholy and quirk' sums it up really well. Maybe it's self-indulgent, but my songs are about me, about my life, about my feelings. It's a collection of the things I've been harboring for the past year. A large part of the show's songs come from a toxic relationship and the breakdown of said relationship, though I didn't want it to be a ‘break up show’, so I scattered those songs as best I could and made the focus more about the different emotional states that come out of an experience like that (because that interests me as a writer).
I talk about having a chronic illness and humorous things like navigating being single and being a chaotic artist. My music has a tendency to be dark in content as I use my art as a way of purifying myself of negative emotions, so I aimed to write funny and light patter to go around the songs. It’s a lovely feeling on stage when you can make people laugh and then the next minute silence them with something somber.
What was the progression of being a musician playing in pubs to deciding to do a cabaret show?
I think I was perhaps destined to find the genre but I thank Catherine Campbell, a tutor at UniSA, for really leading me in the right direction when we met in the Cabaret course she teaches in my degree. Looking back, prior to taking that course my songwriting was already heading down that track. I started out doing fairly standard singer-songwriter stuff but my lyrics were quite abstract.
Over time I had a desire to steer away from that and write lyrics that people could absorb more readily, so when I started learning about cabaret I found I was already heading in that direction. The more I played at cabaret nights at La Boheme the less I enjoyed playing standard pub gigs. I much prefer the intimacy and human connection of cabaret.
Has it felt like you’ve found your feet in cabaret more than other styles? Or is it just another avenue you love?
Nah, I feel that cabaret is what I'm meant to be doing. It's so open and freeing. I feel like a lot of people see cabaret as someone in a lavish gown singing classic show tunes, and, I mean, yeah it can be that, but there are no rules. I see it as just as a genre that is built on connecting with other people.
How did it feel to sell out your first two shows in your first season in the Cabaret Festival?
When the first show sold out I rushed into the other room to tell my folks straight away. I was stoked. Then it sort of played on my mind for a while and it became overwhelming. It made the pressure for the show to be a success higher but it really did push me to rehearse harder.
You’ve mentioned holding your cards close to your chest IRL, which obviously contrasts with your show’s name (Publicly Private) and your willingness to open up on stage. In what way is it easier to communicate feelings through art compared to over a coffee?
I've always been (WAY) more articulate when I write compared to when I speak. I always have a hard time grounding myself and staying calm in the company of others—there's always a thousand thoughts, relevant and irrelevant, flying through my head. When I write I can properly collate my thoughts and express myself properly. I guess I use writing as a way of understanding myself. As a naturally nervous person, the strange thing is I feel more comfortable on stage in front of a group of people compared to if I had to say those things in the company of just one person.
How does it feel as a young woman to get to have a space just for you to say whatever you want and know that people are going to listen?
Being listened to is a wonderful feeling and I'm sure many other people feel like they're rarely heard in every day life. It is empowering. I've always been a highly emotional person with a lot of highs and lows but I don’t find many opportunities to express that. A part of that is, I feel, I don't give people that chance because I'm guarded, but I always feel like people don't want to know most of the time so I—like I'm sure so many other people do—just go along with saying, "yeah, I'm good!" Performing my music is taking ownership of my emotions and my experiences. It validates them. It helps me feel unapologetic for feeling a broad range of emotions and for being me.
All images via Nicole O'Rielley.