It’s hard not to cling to a handful of oft-repeated adjectives when describing the music of Nik Lone. Melancholy. Plaintive. Sorrowful.
The Melbourne singer-songwriter, whose just-released debut album These Pictures Won’t Tell is a gorgeous 10-song collection of string-soaked ballads held together with his strong, sombre voice, told the Star Observer he was used to people drawing attention to the gloomy nature of his songs.
“Everybody points out that I write a lot of melancholy material, but I try to be conscious not to sound too downtrodden, and to infuse beauty into my songs too,” he said.
“My feeling towards melancholy is that it’s a very beautiful emotion, a very authentic base emotion. To listen to something that fills you with that sense — it’s a wonderful experience, not a negative one. Sad songs say so much, as Elton John sang.”
As lead single We’re Dying Alone proves, while Lone’s music is sad, it’s anything but tough going for the listener. The song has echoes of Fiona Apple’s best work with Jon Brion. Elsewhere on the album, Lone’s songwriting and vocal talents recall morose gay hero Rufus Wainwright.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point. Lone eschewed formal musical studies, instead earning a degree in biology and biotechnology and working for a short time as a scientist.
Musical yearnings soon took over though, and in the mid-2000s an acoustic duo called Ethan Frome was formed, lasting all of two performances.
He released a more guitar-based debut EP (Close) with backing band Goodnight Thomas in 2006, before noticing his musical tastes change at the tail-end of a 2008 American tour.
“At the end of that tour, something kind of switched over for me. I started becoming much more interested in strings. It was a sound that affected me emotionally much more. I came to the realisation that I should be writing music that’s more string-based and piano-based.
“I came home from the tour and put my band on hiatus, and took time out to see if I could actually write more classically-influenced material with strings and piano.”
The influences had been lying dormant since Lone was a child, growing up the son of Greek-Egyptian immigrants and with only a handful of English-language records to choose from in the house.
“What we did have was Kate Bush and the Carpenters, and things like ABBA and Engelbert Humperdinck. I think listening to those albums, I was subconsciously influenced by the melody and the melancholy.
“But someone like Kate Bush, I didn’t really connect with when I was a kid — she was so quirky I thought she was a bit of a joke. It was only when I got older that artists like Kate Bush and Dusty Springfield really spoke to me, particularly with their use of strings and piano.”
It’s a decidedly queer list of influences, something the openly gay singer said happened largely by accident.
“Oh, it’s absolutely a queer list. But it was always very instinctive — that’s what I’ve always been sincerely drawn to. It’s interesting to see what you’re drawn towards as a gay man. It’s a bit of a cliché, I suppose, but that’s OK.”
Lone said he was reticent to pigeonhole himself as a ‘gay singer’, but was nonetheless eager to have his music heard by his gay peers. He’s been involved in gay community events and garnered some airplay on JOY 94.9 in his native Melbourne, but admitted he wondered where his music fit in alongside more flamboyant queer artists like the Scissor Sisters and Adam Lambert.
“In the past, I’ve definitely felt that support [from the gay community], but I don’t know if anything I do is particularly queer-oriented. I’m not sure if I feel like a queer artist — even though that’s what I know I am, as a human being.
“I don’t particularly feel like my sexuality is infused in my music. I feel like my music deals with more universal stuff, like sensuality.”
These Pictures Won’t Tell is available now on iTunes, with the physical album available from Lone’s own website and select record stores in Sydney and Melbourne.
He launched the record with a show at Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club last week, but the forward-thinking songwriter won’t stick around to continue the local push — he leaves for New York this week to find inspiration for the next album.
“It’s a six-week trip where I’ll play music, see music, live music, basically. It’s another escape to the US to lead a solely musical life for a while.
“Some of the musicians I met last time around were really inspired by the ’80s, and that introduction of synthetics into music. That’s something I’d like to incorporate into the next album, so hopefully I can get together with them again and start work on some new ideas for songs.”
INFO: These Pictures Won’t Tell out now. www.niklone.com.au