Nikki Lane speaks as fast as she moves. The gregarious singer-songwriter is dashing around Nashville’s ornate Hotel Indigo, shaking hands and arranging stock. She’s here to put the finishing touches to her latest project – an intimate outpost of her High Class Hillbilly vintage boutique in the hotel’s lobby – and everything needs to be just perfect. “I’m an artist but I’m also an entrepreneur, big time,” Lane states, in her warm Southern twang. Finally, in her star-printed denim and with a grin as wide as the nearby Cumberland River, she sits down for a breather.
A country music mainstay for the last decade, Lane has just released her first album in five years, Denim & Diamonds. With Josh Homme of Queens of The Stone Age on production duties, her classic melodies are backed by strutting guitars and an indelible swagger.
“Making a record with Nikki Lane saved my life,” wrote Homme in a recent Instagram post. The project came along after the breakdown of his marriage to fellow musician Brody Dalle and during a knotty court case that saw Homme and Dalle file conflicting domestic violence restraining orders against each other. “Her songs about life, love, loss and just plain picking yourself up to go for another round in the ring,” he added. “Well, they helped me do the same.”
As I’ve already seen, Lane is someone who gets things done. But even though she’s been off the record store racks, she hasn’t been resting on her laurels. Her Stage Stop Marketplace, selling bespoke western wear, was a hit at California’s Stagecoach Festival (aka the “country Coachella”), and she’s also been making music with best friend Lana Del Rey (more on that later). She’s even found time for touring. Lane likes to do this from the seat of a Jeep Cherokee, driving cross country for shows; in between, she hunts for bits for her boutique at estate sales and thrift stores in America’s dustiest corners.
“The hunting is great – I am an addict, but I am addicted to weed and antiquing,” she explains, totally deadpan. “Addiction is not a choice, but I’ve just picked some things that aren’t gonna hurt anybody. If I want to compulsively buy old belt buckles, everybody’s fine!” Lane’s latest obsession? Wine decanters. “I wish I could give you a cooler answer. I don’t even know what to put in them.”
Lane’s been crafting her brand of confident yet corruptible country music for well over a decade. “I took a shot at being pageant queen/But I wound up hanging with the punks at the park,” she sings on Denim & Diamonds’ gutsy opener, “First High”. Her ballsy breakup debut Walk of Shame, which included a Muddy Waters cover, was released in 2011. Before that, she had been living in Los Angeles in the early 2000s (she refers to this as her “razor haircut era”); it was a few years later, in Brooklyn, that she experienced a musical awakening.
“When I moved to New York, I started diving into old country and psychedelic music,” she says. “That’s when I began leaning into the stuff that made me want to make music, which was the weird stuff.” It was the strange, seemingly non-commercial voices of singers such as Neil Young and Karen Dalton that appealed most to Lane. It was then, too, that she began listening to the classic country sounds she had dismissed for much of her youth. “I grew up knowing who Loretta Lynn was,” she explains. “But I was from the south and we were trying to fight against old country music. Southern teenage girls want to go out and get tattoos and go against all that.”
She got the tattoos. But Lane’s arms are sprinkled with cowgirl-adjacent ink, combining that teenage urge for rebellion with the more traditional side of her heritage. There are horseshoes, feathers and the logo of the great Texan “outlaw country” star Waylon Jennings. When we meet, she half-jokes about getting permanent versions of the handstamps needed to get into Nashville’s two best bars, Robert’s on Broadway, and the Legion, home to the infamous weekly bash Honky Tonk Tuesday and scene of much two-stepping, cowboy hat-wearing and cheap beer-drinking.
Denim & Diamonds is Lane’s fourth album. Whether or not it will inspire a mezcal margarita of the same name, like 2017’s stomping Highway Queen, remains to be seen. That cocktail still graces the menu of Pappy & Harriet’s saloon bar in Joshua Tree, California. It was there that Lane sang a couple of acoustic tracks with Queens of the Stone Age at the venue’s “last supper”, before it was sold to new owners in April of last year. By this point, she had already recorded the album with Homme, working at his Pink Duck studio in the suburban neighbourhood of Burbank, Los Angeles during 2020. For the sessions she left her band in Nashville, bringing only her pedal steel player along for the ride. Extra sonic assistance came from Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders, PJ Harvey and Mark Lanegan collaborator Alain Johannes, QOTSA bassist Mikey Shoes and Autolux drummer Carla Azar. The result is Lane’s most rock’n’roll-leaning record to date – in approach as well as sound. “I drank more tequila that week than ever,” chuckles Lane. Joy, and high percentage spirits, rip through 10 taut songs, which skip from the thumping menace of “Black Widow” to the high and lonesome balladry of “Faded” and plaintive ranchero swing of “Chimayo”.
Fans had to wait a long time for new music from Lane; they might have to get used to waiting. She co-wrote and sang on bluesy ballad “Breaking Up Slowly” from Del Rey’s 2021 album Chemtrails over the Country Club, but when I ask about a possible release date for the songs the pair penned on a road trip through Texas in a F-150 pick-up truck, she laughs. “There’s this thing synonymous with our job, where it feels like if you don’t do something in a timely fashion, [the interest] will go away. But what I’ve proved to myself by accident on this new album, is that it’s not going away. As long as I’m here, it’s gonna be here. And it’s cool to do something and for people to be kind of waiting for it.”
Another close friend is Sierra Ferrell, whose unique brand of gypsy jazz and polka-laced bluegrass has recently taken the Americana scene by storm. “Sierra’s voice is my favourite thing,” beams Lane. Ferrell is also based in Nashville, but like Lane, a punishing live schedule means she’s away from the city far more than she is in it. The second she’s back in town, though, Lane is on the phone and asking to hang out. “I crave those friendships more than anything,” says Lane. “Those are the people I can talk with about direct concerns about my job. They’re also the people who will put on fake eyelashes that are way too f***ing heavy and go out to dinner.” Whenever she gets the opportunity, Lane invites friends over and cooks for them. “Anything to feel domestic together, because we don’t have a normal domestic life.”
There’s this thing synonymous with our job, where it feels like if you don’t do something in a timely fashion, [the interest] will go away
Lane, Del Rey and Ferrell have performed together before, debuting a song called “The Prettiest Girl In Country Music” in January at a show in Austin, Texas; the song’s title was inspired by the words a creepy man once whispered into Lane’s ear. Can we expect an album from the three in the style of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt’s 1987 country collaboration, Trio, anytime soon? “I think that’s the worst idea ever,” Lane hoots. “We would never play any shows. You’d never find a schedule that would work.”
Instead, they’ll just keep on having an extremely good time on those rare occasions they do manage to get together. Maybe they’ll write some music, too. “We’ll go honky tonking together, or we’ll get a big house in Texas and live like a pile of idiots, swapping clothes and whatever – and there’ll be songs coming from that. But if you asked for a record, it’d almost f**k it up. I’d rather you hear nothing until 10 years from now you found out that we wrote a whole album!”