Nicole Atkins rebounds well with ‘Slow Phaser’ 

click to enlarge Nicole Atkins
  • courtesy photo
  • Singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins worked on her new self-released album in Sweden.
New Jersey-bred singer Nicole Atkins did not have a banner year in 2012. The ethereal, mausoleum-reverb sound she created with Swedish producer Tore Johansson on “Neptune City,” her 2007 debut for Columbia, essentially had been appropriated, then popularized, by the buzzed-about new artist Lana Del Rey.

“Or that’s what people say,” she says. It didn’t anger her, necessarily. It only reminded her how poor she was, since she had ditched Razor & Tie, the imprint that issued her rootsier 2011 follow-up “Mondo Amore.”

Then, in October, Hurricane Sandy hit, flooding her family home on the Jersey shore. Dark days, indeed.

But Atkins has rebounded with “Slow Phaser,” her dazzling new return to form, from which she’ll play at her show in The City today.

It was a minor showbiz miracle. Hearing of her troubles overseas, Johansson generously offered to produce her album for free. All she had to do was purchase the plane ticket to Sweden. “The first time I was there, we didn’t know each other, I was on a major label, there were all these expectations, and it was very anxiety-ridden,” she recalls of the awkward “Neptune” sessions. “This time, so much time had passed, it was like, ‘Wow! My old friend!’”

Atkins had made a tentative pre-Sandy visit to Johansson’s live-in studio, where they tapped right back into their classic, quavery vibe.

“We wrote “Who Killed the Moonlight?” and “It’s Only Chemistry” together — in one day,” she says. The songs eventually became “Slow Phaser’s” opening tracks.

Post-hurricane, the producer insisted she return to finish a full album. “I said, ‘I’m not doing too well — I don’t have a label or any money now,’” she says. “He didn’t care. So when I went back, he gave me a new start and a place to live at the time, because the first floor of our house got ruined.”

During her two-month winter stay, Atkins felt right at home in dark, chilly Malmo. In the morning, on the milelong trek through the snow to the studio, she stopped by a lone coffeehouse for her usual — a double espresso and lemon-almond cookies.

“And on the way home, there was one little Greek restaurant, with poker machines and a karaoke machine with ABBA on constantly,” she says. “So every night, this 70-year-old Greek lady would feed me moussaka, feta and olives, and I’d play slot machines with her and sing ABBA karaoke.”

Using her own drummer Sam Bey, plus local musicians like Cardigans guitarist Lars-Olaf Johansson, Atkins wrapped her Swedish project, then started a PledgeMusic drive to launch her own Oh’Mercy! Records. “So I’m thankful that I have this musical family that goes beyond people just needing to make money,” she says.


Nicole Atkins

Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $15

Contact: (415) 522-0333,

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Tom Lanham

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