There's a strange world swirling inside Nicker Jones. For the first few minutes of our recent lunch conversation at Memphis Cafe in Costa Mesa, he gazes down intently at his shrimp po'boy sandwich with a smirk on his face.
"It's hard talking about myself," the 24-year-old says shyly. "This is actually one of my first interviews."
But you can sense the wheels of creativity spinning, even when he's not saying much. Of course, anyone who has seen Jones live knows it's usually his manic, blues-fueled freakouts and ankle-breaking dance moves that do the talking when he's onstage.
At the same restaurant, during a show on the back patio a few nights prior, the crowd's eyes were glued to him during his 30-minute set. His lower body wiggled like wet spaghetti as he howled, sweated and strummed to a prerecorded backing track for "What Do You Want Me to Do?" He sported calf-high athletic socks, tight-laced black Chucks and a vintage green military field jacket. His thick, curly pompadour (an ode to legendary piano-banging rocker Esquerita) kept solid, not a hair out of place. The exaggerated quivering of his rockabilly crooning echoed from crackling PA speakers as people clapped along in the light of flickering candles.
Over the past year, Jones has done his best to channel the bizarre films inside his head into songs. Imagine strange, old-school Looney Tunes dreamscapes soundtracked by Sun Ra, Cab Calloway and Captain Beefheart, and you've got a good idea of Jones' inspiration.
Before moving to Irvine to live with his fiancée, Gianna Gianna (of BLOK fame), Jones was playing in experimental rock bands around San Pedro. Eventually, he opted to ditch the groups and go solo. He recorded all the instruments himself, playing over the amalgam with his twangy strumming. For Jones, this strange format made writing a lot easier, even if the songs themselves became more intricate.
"I've been in bands before, but I always felt limited, like my vision wasn't coming out right," he says. "And with this, I have the control. I can use any instruments I want, and there's no limit to what I can do."
The rubber-band bass lines and plucky guitar over sparse percussion on "Kiss of Death" is a great example of how conventional instruments are given a hypnotic, creepy feel in his hands.
Though Jones is relatively new to OC and hasn't expressed much interest in trying to fit in, we're pretty sure he couldn't even if he wanted to. Actually, that's part of his charm. The Continental Room in Fullerton, Adele's in San Clemente and the back patio of Memphis are sufficient outposts for his music lately. Jones doesn't care where he plays as long as it's in close quarters, where people are able to let go of reality and freak out with him in the dark.
"There's a horror or nightmarish aspect to my music. It's fun to mess with when you're mixing all these different kinds of music together," he says, grinning. "Hopefully, people dig it, but I guess the fact that I do is what's important, ya know?"