Alison Nichols is a SMU senior majoring in marketing and minoring in songwriting. Don’t judge a book by its cover, because despite her high heels and wrists full of bracelets, this girly girl drives a massive pick-up truck. Nichols’s paradoxical appearance is also reflected in her music, where pop meets country. The Atlanta, Georgia native is an aspiring musician who hopes to one-day stand among her idols: Dolly Parton, Ariana Grande, and Kacey Musgraves. For now, you can find Nichols performing her love ballads at the Rustic in Dallas, or the Blue Bird Café in Nashville. The Look sat down with Nichols to take a peek into her life.
TL: Why do you do what you do?
AN: I have always loved music since day one, and I honestly can’t remember a time that I wasn’t singing or writing my own songs. The first song I distinctly remember writing was called “You and Me” when I was 6 years old. So, it’s something I was naturally doing for fun that just never stopped. Now that I’m 21, it’s become something that I can actually turn into a career. To answer the question, though, I do it because I love it. There’s not much else to it.
TL: How do you balance your life?
AN: I try to prioritize school and get the more time-sensitive work done, so I can get it all out of the way and really focus on my songwriting. It takes a lot of time management to do everything, so my planner is extremely detailed—down to every single homework assignment, exam, and Boulevard. It’s the only way I’ve been able to write songs, book gigs, and practice for performances without neglecting my classes.
TL: Biggest challenge you’ve faced?
AN: An overarching challenge for me has been not living in Nashville (or New York or L.A.). Everyone in the music industry will tell you that you have to live in one of the “Holy Trinity” of music cities if you want to be remotely successful in the business. I’ve noticed the great advantage that artists and songwriters my age have by living in those cities, so I’m really excited to move to Nashville next year and eliminate that challenge. Of course, there are going to be a lot more challenges along the way, but this one has been on my mind for the past few years.
TL: You’re a senior, so what’s next?
AN: I’m pretty much just packing up my stuff and moving to Nashville. I’ve been making trips to Nashville for years to learn more about the music industry and meet other people in the industry. After everything I’ve learned about professional songwriting and life as an artist in Nashville, as well as the skills I’ve gained from the business school, I can’t think of a better time to take this huge leap towards my dream career.
TL: What would be your last meal?
AN: Seasoned seared tuna
TL: What’s your greatest achievement?
AN: Writing and recording my song “Take You Down” because it ended up getting me on the two biggest country radio stations in Atlanta (94.9 The Bull and Kicks 101.5) last year. I’ve been listening to those stations since I was a kid and discovered a lot of my country music idols from them.
TL: What’s your theme song?
AN: “Follow Your Arrow” by Kacey Musgraves. It’s blunt, it’s country, it’s funny, it’s brave, and a little controversial (to some)—it’s me AF. It’s also just a great reminder to be yourself and not care what people think, which is something I constantly need reminding of.
TL: Who would play you in the movie of your life?
AN:I think it would have to be someone who is Korean-American or at least Asian-American, since that’s an important part of my story and who I am. So maybe Jamie Chung? I would also cry if Brenda Song played me because I deeply identify with London Tipton.
TL: If you could explain your “sound”, what would it be?
AN: I would say that the songs I’ve recorded so far are country pop on the more country side. I’ve always been deliberate about making my lyrics meaningful and honest, which is a staple of country music songwriting. I also used to be very insistent on using real instruments (not digital), but I have evolved a little bit since then. In the past few years I have really gotten into pop artists like Lennon Stella and Ariana Grande, so I feel like my current sound is more pop than it has been in the past. The songs I’m writing right now still have country influences, but have rhythms more associated with pop music.
TL: What inspires you when you’re writing a song?
AN: When I write a song, it has to be about something that has happened to me and that I feel really passionate about. It doesn’t matter how long ago something took place, I just have to have strong feelings about the subject. So, when something happens that makes me angry or makes me cry, I know for sure that I will be writing a song about it. It almost always has to do with a boy, I’ll tell ya that much.
TL: Which song are you most proud of? Why?
AN: I’m actually most proud of my least successful song. It’s called “For the Better.” To this day, it is my favorite song that I’ve written because it still makes me cry. I wrote it when I was a senior in high school about the worst breakup of my life that I cried about for almost a year, and I remember how completely honest I was in writing it. Even I’m shocked by my honesty in it, and I think that’s another reason I love it so much. It’s the kind of song that makes someone feel exactly what it’s like to be in that post-breakup rut. Making someone feel an emotion that they’re not necessarily feeling in real life until they listen to my song is my goal as a songwriter.
TL: Do you have a pre-performance ritual?
AN: I pretty much just chug as much Throat Coat tea as I can before I perform. It’s an all-day thing. I also take Zyrtec to clear any congestion in my system and two Advil thirty minutes before singing. I learned the Advil thing from my voice coach. It’s supposed to have a similar affect as alcohol, in the sense that it calms your nerves and vocal cords, but it doesn’t make you lose your mind. I don’t really know if that’s true, but I just do it in case it actually works.
For more of Alison Nichols and her music, find her on Instagram, YouTube, iTunes, and Spotify. Nichols’s next Dallas performance will be at SMU’s Celebration of Lights on December 2, 2019.