Nicole Vaughn has the kind of stage presence that transcends the roar of late-night bar chatter. Her voice—mighty and sincere at the same time—quiets down the buzz in local venues and surprises audience members into listening intently. The petite blonde is in her early twenties and recently added a full band to her act; it has boosted her from the realm of coffee-shop singer/songwriter to a folk force to be reckoned with. This year, the Laguna Niguel resident released her second album, Say It, produced by Kelly Winrich (Delta Spirit), and received a Best Folk nomination from OC Music Awards.
OC Weekly: What's it like singing hyper-personal songs onstage?
Nicole Vaughn with Charles Mansion at La Cave, www.lacaverestaurant.com. Tues., 10 p.m. Free. 21+. For more information about Vaughn, visit nicolevaughn.com.
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Nicole Vaughn: Definitely frightening. Especially when I play "Everything We've Built"—that's the most personal. It's about my family. I hope I don't hurt other people when I sing these songs. I'm a quiet person, and I don't share my personal life in conversation, so putting it out in a song is, like, the same thing. It's scary, but I wouldn't play it onstage if I weren't ready to.
Why is it scary?
It makes me vulnerable to have a song that someone can pick apart when it's your soul that's put into it. If you were ever to get negative feedback, that would be pretty hard to hear.
Why was "Say It" the title track?
For this album, there were so many sensitive songs that I was afraid to put out there, and I was like, "Whatever. Fuck it. I'm just going to put it out there, and if people don't like it, that is what it is. I'm just gonna say it."
Where do you get the inspiration for your songs?
It could be from my own story, relationships , family, or books. For "Soldier," I was reading Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, and for "Too Young," I was reading Lolita.
Where did the idea for your album cover come from?
Camilla Behroozian did this album, Say It, and the Walk Into the Night cover also. This album was inspired by an art nouveau piece [Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen's Clinique Cheron]. It's a veterinary advertisement. I incorporated my dogs and my animals and guitar into it. I really love art nouveau, and it seemed to fit with the vibe.
Is there anything that has changed in your career over the past year?
Putting the band together. I've always wanted to play in a band; I never wanted to be the acoustic singer/songwriter. That's very limiting. I wanted to make a louder sound and be a little more rocking.
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What's your goal in playing music?
I would love to be on a label and tour with bands I admire. If I could live off playing music, that would be amazing. Pretty simple. I don't want to be like Taylor Swift and play on a big stage; that kind of fame freaks me out. I just want to be able to create and write good music.
This column appeared in print as "Heart and Soul."