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Hailing from Moscow, Astoria−based singer−songwriter Nancy Newlis is fairly new to New York. But with the upcoming release of her new EP “Dreamers,” the rock− and jazz−inspired musician is translating her fresh experience with the city into a musical language anyone can understand.
“The album is inspired by being here and my observations of life and how people live and fit into” New York City, Newlis said. “Being in this city was a huge change — it’s the real world.”
Having been born and raised in Russia, it was major culture shock for Newlis to move to New York City. Now, after two years of struggling, Newlis seems to have found her niche. The album, which drops on June 12, draws on Newlis’ observations of the eclectic people and culture she’s seen in New York. Overall, the songs are inspired by Newlis examination of life in New York City — how people live and fit into the city.
The album “is based on my observations more than my personal feelings,” Newlis said. “A lot of things on this album are based on other people.”
The light and melodic album features Newlis on vocals and keyboards, Michael Feignberg and Ben Lindell on bass, Daniel Platzman and Sarab Singh on drums, and Jeff Berner and Shane Barnes on guitar.
The second track, “Social Standing,” captures the mood of social castes in New York, with the lyrics like, “Beautiful dresses girls looking stressless ⁄ Men wearing white suits looking spotless ⁄ Oh but those who are smaller and poorer, they watch.”
The title track “Dreamers” describes dreamers wandering to faraway places, a reflection of the song−writer’s own journey.
Newlis sings all six songs with an intensity that is enhanced by her distinctive voice, which has a haunting, rich−textured depth reminiscent of Nina Simone. Such a voice can’t be learned, but the craft of song−writing and structuring can be studied. So that’s what she did.
“My love for music is what inspired me to study it,” Newlis said. “Once I started trying to do it, I realized it was coming easy for me.”
Newlis finished her previous album, “Moments” (2007), immediately following her graduation from the University of Miami, where she was granted a scholarship to study studio music and jazz. Having graduated from her high school in Moscow at the tender age of 16 after accelerating her studies to get on with her professional training, Newlis was a young college graduate. She returned to Russia in the summer of 2007 to finish “Moments,” a rock collaboration with Russian band Babie Leto.
Riding a high wave of ambition and talent, Newlis made her return to the States in pursuit of her love for jazz and rock soon after finishing “Moments.” Newlis says it was the musical culture that drew her to settle in New York City instead of returning to Miami.
“I wanted to move somewhere in the North, and with a better indie culture for musicians,” said Newlis.
Another reason Newlis was attracted to New York City was because, unlike in Miami, she could travel anywhere by foot, which made her feel incredibly independent.
But Newlis struggled to find her footing in this city of lost dreams. Only 20 years old at the time, she found it difficult getting gigs, as venue owners were concerned that she was under the legal drinking age. During this time, like so many who venture to New York with big dreams, Newlis felt overwhelmed, even a little discouraged.
“There’s a reason they say, ‘If you can make it here you can make it anywhere.’ If you struggled here and you made it, you’ve got the tools,” she said.
But after some patience, perseverance and open mic nights, Newlis shimmied her way onto the New York music scene. So now, two years after her arrival, Newlis is happy to have finished recording “Dreamers” at Galuminum Foil Studios in Brooklyn.
To this day, the songbird is relieved to find solace in Astoria, citing the cozy neighborhood’s tight−knit community feel and quiet demeanor.
“If you live and work in [Manhattan], it’s like you’re trapped in that metropolis. Living here, you can go outside and see a tree, which is very good,” she said, adding that she loved people and Greek food, a reference to the thriving Greek community in Astoria.
Newlis will perform at an EP release show July 20 at the Rockwood Music Hall at 196 Allen St. in Manhattan. Other upcoming gigs will be posted on her Web site, www.nancynewlis.com. Her album is also available for purchase on the site.
As for the future, Newlis says her goal is to dedicate her life to writing and expressing things that others may not be able to express, and creating music that people can relate to.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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