Nicolle Galyon is a study in contradiction. She grew up in the tiny town of Sterling, Kansas, but thrives in the big city of Nashville. She writes songs for country music, but she’s trained in classical piano.
With that said, it makes sense that country singer Nicolle would end up on rocker Adam Levine’s team on NBC’s smash singing competition “The Voice.” As you will find out, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.
The 27-year-old moved to Nashville after graduating from high school. She enrolled in Belmont University’s Music Business program and was focusing on a career behind the scenes in the music business. But her undeniable talent wouldn’t let that happen. She secretly began writing songs in her spare time. Thanks to the urging of her friends, she entered a few of her songs into the Songwriter’s Showcase Series at Belmont. Her success there opened up some doors, which opened up more doors, which led her to a publishing deal with Warner Music Nashville, where she has been a staff songwriter since 2007.
Several of her songs have made it onto records — including a pair by a certain American Idol alum. But the voices singing those songs — telling her stories — weren’t hers. That’s one of the main reasons she auditioned for “The Voice.” She decided her love of music was greater than her fear of failure. Score one for love.
The auditions were back in October, how hard was it to not say anything to anyone?
It was difficult. Honestly, though, I think that my mom had a harder time with it than I did. If you watched the episode my mom and my little brother, Cooper, came out to L.A. for a week. Cooper is in fifth grade and was gone from school for a week. He was the one who had to keep a secret in a tiny little town of two thousand people.
If I leave Nashville for a week, nobody notices. But if a fifth grader leaves school to go to L.A. for a week, you can imagine all the little rumors that were going around my hometown back in Kansas. (Laughs) I think it was actaully ahrder on my mom and brother than on me.
Who were you with on Monday night when your segment finally aired and what was their reaction?
I was with about 40 of my close friends here in Nashville. I was really blessed to have a bunch of friends that threw a party for me. I just kinda got to show up and it was in my honor and we all watched together.
Everybody knew I was going to be involved in the show in some capacity because they had been showing me in these commercials that had been airing for weeks. I was doing a pretty good job of just laying low and not really saying anything about the show.
Then they started airing these promos with clips of my audition. That’s when it really became torture because everybody knew that I was going to be on at some point. But I still had to act like I had no idea what they were talking about.
(Update: We now have a video taken at Nicolle’s viewing party. See it by clicking here.)
You’re a country girl, who sang a Kenny Chesney song in your blind audition (see the video below), yet you’ve said that even if all four coaches had turned around, you still would have picked Adam Levine and not Blake Shelton. Why Adam over Blake?
I was a fan of the show the first season. The coach and artists pairings I was most fascinated by, and most taken by, were the non-obvious pairings. I think that is what was so special about Blake and Dia or Blake and Xenia. They were non-likely; not your common pairing. I thought that it was really interesting to see that. So I thought it would be cool for a pop-rock guy to work with somebody that was in country.
But in addition to that, I’ve never really thought of myself as a singer, per se. I’ve thought of myself as a musician first and then I became a songwriter, Now I’m kinda growing into and putting the finishing touches on calling myself a singer. Adam Levine is probably the most like me in that sense. He kind of does it all. He’s a front man for a band, he writes the songs, and he’s a musician.
And he himself, I’ve heard him say in interviews, “I don’t think I’m the greatest singer in the world. I just happened to have the best voice out of all five or six of us in Maroon 5. So I was automatically the front guy.” To me that was attractive to work with because that’s kinda how I feel about myself. I became a singer almost out of necessity as a songwriter. Now “The Voice” is really helping me find my voice and kinda putting that final puzzle piece in place.
But it turns out you did have an impact on Team Blake. We understand he might not have RaeLynn without some help from you.
(Laughs) Well, my day job is basically as a songwriter, so to speak. Last summer I was connected through my publishing company with this little girl who was a singer who wanted to start writing for her own project. So they sent her to Nashville.
I got put in a room with her and it just happened to be a few days before the Nashville “Voice” Auditions. I had been contacted and I had secured an audition spot. But I was still pretty skeptical because I didn’t really think of myself as a big, powerhouse vocalist. I know there are a lot of singers out there in this world that are still undiscovered. And I thought, “Seriously? What am I doing? This is such a long shot!” So when I met her, she had this voice that, to me, was really, really, really special.
On my blog at NBC.com, I share how I told her to audition in my place. Long story short, we both ended up getting to audition and we both ended up in L.A. a few months later and just embraced each other.
Honestly, it’s been a big lesson. You get what you give in life. I think you get what you give in the music business, too. I looked at her and was seeing outside of myself in that moment. I thought this girl was made to do something like that. There was, honestly, a little voice in the back of my head that was like, “She might be your competition down the road!” But I didn’t care. It’s not about that. There’s room for everyone.
One of the sweetest moments with your audition was the tearful reaction by your little brother. How important is family to you and your music?
I feel like I flew to Nashville on the wings of my family. If I were ever put in a position where I had to choose between my family and music or my family and career, I would always choose my family. They have done nothing but liberate me and send me on my way and told me at 18-years-old, “We’re gonna miss you, but that’s where you belong is in Nashville.”
I also think that you don’t really know somebody until you know some people in their family, too. So to have my mom and brother on the show, even if it was just for a minute or two, I feel that helped the world see a bigger picture of who I am. They’re such a big part of my life and such a big part of my support system.
My 10-year-old brother, Cooper, is probably the biggest star of the family, whether he knows it yet or not. (Laughs) He’s almost like an icon of my time in Nashville. I call him my “bonus brother” because my parents had him by surprise when I was a senior in high school. He was in diapers when I moved to Nashville and I was always that cool, unique older sibling that is 17 years older than him. I come home from Nashville every few months with all these cool stories and everyone’s asking me what’s going on with my music journey.
Over times he’s become my biggest fan. Honestly, when I look at him, he’s almost like this visual kind of map of how long I’ve been in Nashville. Now look at hm. He’s 10-years-old. His lifespan is basically how long I’ve been here working on music.
How is it that a girl from Sterling, Kansas, not known as a hot-bed for classical music, takes up classical piano?
(Laughs) When I was four years old I had a babysitter that gave piano lessons after school to kids who were, at the time, older than me: they were fourth and fifth grade. I would just sit there on the floor and I would just watch her give them piano lessons. After she was done and they all left the room I would go and sit down and mess around trying to mimic what they were doing.
She said she wouldn’t start giving me lessons until I could read. But my mom was like, “That’s totally fine. Whenever you think she’s ready.” But she started unofficially giving me lessons really early and I just excelled at it. I wasn’t one of those people whose parents had to tell them to practice. In fact, they had to pull me from the piano because I was playing for so long and they wanted some peace and quiet in the house. (Laughs)
I’ve loved music my whole life and I’ve embraced whatever opportunity has been put in front of me. When you grow up in a little town of two thousand people in the middle of Kansas, it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of people who want to start a band with you. And there’s not a lot of opportunities to do commercial music.
Classical was awesome! I learned a lot about discipline and hard work and doing things not for the accolades. It’s not really cool, to say, “Oh, yeah, I did this piano competition this weekend.” That’s not going to get you a bunch of attention normally in a small town. At a certain point I was on the basketball team in high school and I got way more attention for that than I ever did for my piano.
I think it was really good for grooming me for doing music, in the long-term. Because if you do music for the love of it, that’s what is going to sustain you. If you’re doing it for the attention or the accolades…Opportunities like “The Voice” or getting songs on the radio; those things are just a vapor. They come and they go. There’s gonna be a next season of “The Voice.” If were doing “The Voice” to get rich and famous, that’s not really enough motivation. You’re going to end up quitting.
My whole life I’ve been doing music for the love of it. No matter what happens with “The Voice,” I’m going to continue to love it just as much.
Have you thought about the battle stages of the show and how you might have to step away from the piano? Will that take you out of your comfort zone?
You know, I came on this show because I wanted to be challenged and I wanted to grow. My motivation for doing “The Voice” was to see who I could become. That’s a big part of it for me.
If that’s presented to me, I’ll take that challenge gladly because I want to stretch myself; I want to be pushed. I think that’s another reason why working with Adam was such a big deal for me. The cool thing about Adam Levine is that he’s not gonna do anything that anyone else tells him to do. He’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks when he thinks it.
I think he’s gonna shoot me straight and if he wants to see me without a piano, I trust him and I’ll try that, for sure. I go to shows and I don’t want to see somebody sitting there at the piano for three hours straight. I totally get it. I want to be as multi-faceted as possible and I want to have as many layers as I possibly can. I want to surprise people, too. I want to be able to grab that mic and just go on the stage.
“The Voice” will serve as your introduction to most of the world, but many are already familiar with some of your songwriting. You wrote two songs that Lauren Alaina put on her CD (“Dirt Road Prayer” and “Growing Her Wings”).
I was just blessed to have the people at her label and also her fall in love with those songs. There’s a song on there called “Dirt Road Prayer” and I heard that she and her parents, especially her mom, just fell in love with that song.
The funny thing about “Dirt Road Prayer” is that sometimes you’re writing songs with people in mind and sometimes you’re writing songs for yourself. I wrote that song for no other reason than to just get some things that were on my heart out there. I never thought in a million years that song would be recorded by anyone else, let alone somebody with as much momentum and success as Lauren.
I think it was a big lesson for me in songwriting. Write what you feel, write what is real.
You’ve served as the Music Correspondent for Nashville Lifestyles magazine. Are you still doing that and, if so, will you now be reporting on yourself?
(Laughs) That’s a little bit on hiatus right now. I guess it’s on suspension for the moment. I’m a big blogger. I guess it’s an extension of my creativity and of my writing. I started adding video blogs to my blog. In 2010 I did a 365 day video blog where I would do a video every day for a year and then I wrote a little bit about it.
It was more than anything, like I said, an extension of my creativity and helped me practice the discipline of writing a little something every day beyond writing a song. From that Stacie Standifer, who is editor of Nashville Lifestyles, kinda of happened upon it and was like, “Oh, my gosh! I love your style and I love the way you present these everyday events in these videos. Would you mind coming and doing some stuff for us?” And I was like, “Absolutely! I would love to!” because I love that magazine and I love Nashville. It’s another way for me to be involved in Music City.
It’s only been a few days since we found out you’re on “The Voice,” but you’re now probably getting tons of attention (including this interview). Are you enjoying the ride?
I’m a big dreamer, but I’m also 27-years-old. I’ve been a songwriter in the business end of things long enough to understand the ebb and flow of it all and how everything comes and goes and everything has its time.
I know that this is so special so I’m soaking up every second of it and not taking any of it for granted and really soaking up all of the relationships. All of the other artists that are on the show – I could sit here and talk with you for hours and hours about how much I love all these other people that I’m getting to spend time with.
But I also know that it’s a TV show. And it’s gonna help me change who I am a little bit. It’s gonna help me figure out who I am and then it’s gonna send me out into the world again at a certain point. At that point it prepares me with all of these tools to go make more music and to make better music and to better reach the people who want to hear my music.
I didn’t get into music because I wanted to sing, as much as I wanted to say something. I wanted to write. This is another vehicle for me to be heard and to get my songs out there. And it the process really stretch myself and really find my voice. I’m not lying when I’m saying I still have a lot of doubts as to whether I can cut it as a singer. And this show, just the blind audition process alone, made me feel like a brand new person. That’s priceless to me.
Where do you hope this journey on “The Voice” takes you?
I think on a personal level, I just want to see how much I can stretch myself. You said, “What are you gonna do if they if they take the piano away from you?” I hope that happens! I hope things come out of this show that stretch me and makes me do things I would never had the opportunity to do otherwise. I really want to be heard. I really want to reach people and let people become invested in my music.
Beyond that I want to introduce to people this idea of a girl sitting at a piano and singing songs about middle America and do it in an educated, sophisticated and charming way. That’s the kind of music that I like.
I remember when the Dixie Chicks first came out and they presented country music, to me, in my eyes, in such a unique way that hadn’t been done before. I remember looking at them playing those instruments that maybe girls really hadn’t played in country music so much. I remember thinking, “Oh! Maybe I can do this!” And at that point in my life I had never even sung in front of anybody. I was just a piano player.
I hope that maybe just by me sitting up at that piano on “The Voice” in my blind audition, some girls are like, “I can do that!” or “I want to learn to play the piano!’ or “I can see her doing this on the CMA Awards.” If I can start to plant that idea in some people’s heads, then what a win – no matter what happens on the show.