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Singer Nikki Lane on her new album, growing up in a town of ‘700,000 rednecks’

Nikki Lane.
Nikki Lane.

On the title track of her third album, Greenville native Nikki Lane sings of a woman who rules the road and is always on the move. This woman eats up “60,000 miles of blacktop” and lives “the life of a highway queen.”

It’s an idealized version of the touring musician life, one Lane says isn’t exactly representative of the sometimes grueling constant travel.

“I think that’s the least autobiographical song on the album in that it’s this make-believe girl that can hang all the time. Most of the time, it kicks my tail.”

Yet Lane’s currently on the road promoting “Highway Queen,” which was released on Friday, Feb. 17. The album was co-produced by Lane and fellow singer-songwriter Jonathan Tyler, who will play with her at New Brookland Tavern on Friday, Feb. 24.

Lane has been described as a crossover country artist, an outlaw country singer and a mix of Lykke Li and Loretta Lynn. Her husky vocals allow her to turn from edgy to vulnerable on a dime.

After leaving Greenville for Los Angeles, Lane developed an interest in fashion that she continues to cultivate for High Class Hillbilly, her vintage clothing store in Nashville, Tennessee, where she now lives.

It’s a hobby that provides a nice distraction when life in the van gets old.

“On the road, I’m bored during the day, so I like to antique,” she said.

Before her show at New Brookland Tavern, Go Columbia spoke with Lane about her antique finds, traveling with Tyler (her boyfriend) and a South Carolina-inspired song on “Highway Queen.”

Q: On your new album, is the song “700,000 Rednecks” about Greenville?

Lane: Yeah, but it’s kinda tongue in cheek. I was in New York doing a recording session, and somebody asked me where I was from and how many people lived there, and I said I thought there were about 700,000 people (in Greenville). There isn’t, but I was kinda drunk, I don’t know what I was talking about. And the rednecks, that’s not really true either. Greenville is really nice now. That became kind of a jab at pop country in that if you have 700,000 fans, you are at the top of the list. It’s about South Carolina only in my imagination that there’s 700,000 rednecks there.

Q: For “Highway Queen,” what has your experience been like as a co-producer?

Lane: Basically I had made all my records with producers before. And I went to New York to record last summer and I used a different producer and we made the whole record. I think I created this thing where I let the producer do his job, and then the outcome wasn’t completely reflective of me because I hadn’t asserted myself. So I felt really unsettled with the record I had made and started searching for a different process.

Jonathan Tyler, my boyfriend, kind of convinced me to just record for fun. And we ended up recording what I thought were the best interpretations of the songs, and I had called the shots. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to having somebody dial it in for me.

Q: What’s it like working and touring with your boyfriend?

Lane: It’s ever-changing. There’s been periods when we’ve been touring in different places, or one person is at home while the other is on the road. But what’s fun about being in the same vein musically and running in the same circles is that we’ve gotten booked at the same festivals and have gotten to travel to places like Europe together. As musicians, it’s hard to maintain relationships at home. It’s nice to be with someone that understands the workload.

Q: Do you enjoy the on-the-road aspect of the job, as the title track suggests?

Lane: I feel borderline hog-tied driving and being in the van for weeks at a time. That’s why High Class Hillbilly has been a really positive outlet for me, because I love antiquing, and I love stopping and browsing at stores. It breaks up the day and gives me an opportunity to stretch my legs and experience the places we’re going. What’s fun is just going to the estate sales and finding things like cowboy hats and boots to bring back and throw in the store. It’s a way to kind of spread my travels around to everyone else.

Q: How do you feel about the descriptor “outlaw country?” Do you think that’s an accurate description of your music?

Lane: I think trying to verbalize genres and explain what you sound like is the hardest part of the puzzle. In that sense, I’m happy to continue to use the “outlaw” moniker because it represents a society of people that aren’t trying to play into commercial strategy or compromising integrity for the sake of numbers. So it’s outlaw in the state of mind. Technically, it’s a genre that has almost died out, and the people that are maintaining it are either revivalists or people like myself, who are paying homage to it.

If you go

Nikki Lane and Jonathan Tyler

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24

WHERE: New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St., West Columbia

COST: $15 in advance; $18 day of show

INFO: newbrooklandtavern.com/events

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