The video for country singer Nikki Lane’s new “Right Time” presents her as a leather-jacketed, baseball bat-toting agent of two-fisted female justice. Her songs on 2011’s “Walk of Shame” and the recent “All or Nothing” sound ready-made for a roadhouse where bikers with slicked-back hair and hot-rod mamas with Bettie Page bangs drink whiskey to Motorhead and The Misfits, Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn.
For Lane, who will play at The House of Blues Friday night, style counts.
“My idols are characters,” Lane said by phone from her home in Nashville recently. “They’re not just people who hop on the stage. Look at Jack White, who’s doing it in modern-day times. He has a color theme. He’s a character.” To help support her musical career, Lane has a vintage clothing store in Nashville, High Class Hillbilly, and when on tour she sells merchandise that is consistent with her sensibility.
“My merch is kind of expensive, but it’s so good,” she said. “I’m calling up hat makers like Brixton and saying, ‘Do you want to do a custom run with a little Nikki Lane pack on the left-hand side?’ And having smaller margins, but my stuff is cool. If somebody ponies up the extra $10, they get a made in the USA, badass T-shirt. Part of the allure is getting to brand what my lifestyle looks like, and hope that people with similar aesthetics are really into it.”
Lane didn’t set out to be a star. She grew up in South Carolina, dropped out of high school and went to Los Angeles where she had a number of jobs, as well as the start of a music career. She wrote some songs and performed a little, but she didn’t learn to play guitar until she moved to New York City, where a bad breakup with a boyfriend started her writing again.
It was there that Lane began to take her music more seriously, but not too seriously. Her first record deal was a product of talking trash on Facebook, telling a supportive friend to get her a label — something he did within weeks.
Lane’s not sure she’d have a deal without the big talk online first. “I was too nervous,” she said. Once she had the job though, she took it seriously. “I’ve been doing that with all jobs — jumping in to something and figuring it out, making myself be competent,” she said.
Her songs are “very” autobiographical, Lane says. “Very very very,” which gives songs like “Walk of Shame” and “Right Time,” from “All or Nothin’ ” album an additional buzz.
She admits that not everything in her lyrics comes from her life, but enough does that it makes her nervous.
“It has occurred to me that the next record might be weird because I’m in a healthy relationship,” she said. “As an autobiographical songwriter, your career is dictated by your personal life.”
She recorded “All or Nothin’ ” with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who also produced Dr. John’s “Revolution” and Lana Del Rey’s “Ultraviolence.”
A friend showed him one of her videos, but Auerbach only knew Lane from High Class Hillbilly and didn’t know she sang.
They scheduled a meeting to talk about recording music together and wrote a song instead. Then they did it again.
“Then you come clean and write about the stuff that was really on your mind and some of it was great,” she said. Their relationship developed organically, and they made plans for him to produce the album.
“I got lucky because then he won the Grammy,” she said, “and now he’s way too busy.”
Being a musician was not Lane’s first career goal, and in conversation she gives the impression that she’ll land on her feet if it all blows up tomorrow.
“I wanted to own a store as big as The Gap but as cool as the stuff I’m into,” Lane said. “I liked spreading around what I’m into. That’s what this job is — trying to present something to a bunch of people.”