Nicole Saphos Blends Her Jazz Beginnings with Alternative Rhythms in her New Album “Figure Eights”

Patterns-they’ve always been a crucial part of Nicole Saphos’s life. From her background in jazz to her time at the residency program at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, she’s always valued discipline and structure in her music, but that doesn’t mean she’s trepidatious when it comes to trying new things. Her new album “Figure Eights” is all about patterns and how they affect our everyday lives. From deriving inspiration from popular Netflix shows (“Keepin’ Eyes”)  to tackling topics involving changes in our environment and nature (“Stoic Companion”) and urging her listeners to realize there’s more than meets the eye (“Spend A Little Time”) Nicole Saphos and her trusted band that has assisted her on three other albums Ele Rubenstein and John Lee, deliver 10 tracks of melodic bliss with beautifully haunting harmonies, electrifying solos, and lyrics that’ll leave listeners contemplating. 


Q. A lot of your songs were recorded in your living room. How does this environment help your music thrive?

A. I think it was more of a budgetary thing honestly! Everything you hear, aside from the drums, which were masterfully recorded by Justin Nazario at Sound Splitter Studio, was recorded from this very intimate space in my living room.

I took up learning how to record myself and setting up a home studio during the pandemic, and while I by no means consider myself a professional audio engineer, I found the process of recording/producing the album myself to be very empowering (also time consuming and frustrating — but mostly empowering). There may be certain aspects of the sound that could have been better achieved in a big studio, but performance wise, I got exactly what I wanted, because I was fully in charge. Also, it turned out the acoustics in my living room are pretty good, so that was lucky. 


Q. You’ve been compared to other prominent female alternative artists Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor. Are these artists points of inspiration for you? 

A. Oh definitely! I love both of them so much. Regina Spektor’s albums, all of her albums but especially Begin To Hope which I believe came out in 05’ or 06’, that was super inspirational for me to see someone who came from a jazz background make music that was predominantly not jazz. Same thing with Fiona, she has this really alternative kind of poetic rhythmically driven sound, which to me, feels clearly rooted in jazz.


Q. Talk more about the production lyrically and musically behind your single “Keepin’ Eyes”.

A. Musically, the instrumentation for “Keepin’ Eyes”…. let’s see, well, I play the Fender Rhodes, electric bass, and sing lead vocals plus the harmonies and “talking” parts, of which I’m particularly proud. Ele Rubenstein is responsible for the drums/handclaps, and John Lee plays all those beautiful ethereal guitar lines you hear. This track also features a pretty epic full band “chant” section at the end.

Lyrically, the inspiration kind of came from the Netflix show “You”. I saw that show and I was so taken by that storyline of how they make him a little bit of a protagonist, but he’s…you know, a creepy serial killer and has all of these dark urges–but they try to play it off that he’s also a loving boyfriend. I thought that the play on morality was really interesting. 


Q. Your band’s first full-length album “Figure Eights” is releasing February 24. What was the process of creating it like? 

A. Well, beyond just the logistical elements of getting the album together like recording and mastering, I spent a lot of time thinking about the overall theme for the songs. “Figure Eights” is all about patterns, and the songs on the album relate back to that idea in one way or another; like when patterns are helpful for us, versus when they might become detrimental or even harmful. In “Keepin’ Eyes”, for instance, it’s fairly obvious that the repetitive pattern of obsessively watching someone is not a particularly helpful or healthy one.

Another example would be the song “Stoic Companion”, which is about a coyote talking to a mountain. I grew up in Southern California, and of course, there’s not usually too much rain out there. Last December, I had an idea for a story about a coyote displaced by an unseasonal amount of rain. Lost, and thrown out of their normal routine, the coyote starts up a conversation with a familiar mountain. Sort of like a Neil Young-styled fable!

Q. Based on the title of your album and the skates you’re sporting on the cover I have to ask if you’re an ice skater. 

A. I’m not (laughs). Not at all. I think maybe in the multiverse or whatever I was an ice skater because I sort of love the idea of being one, but I absolutely can’t ice skate at all. When I was little, I had a pair of skates, and I’d just go around the carpet inside constantly. According to my parents, this is apparently something I would do somewhat manically as a kid, just skating around the carpet to Bruce Springsteen. 

Last year, I found an old childhood VHS tape of me actually doing this! I thought it was hilarious, but I also loved how I just seemed so free and happy, doing the same thing over and over again. Coming from an academic music background, I was taught to practice the same thing over and over again, and there’s a certain freedom in that…but there’s also a time where it can become limiting and make you feel stuck.


Q. You’ve performed at a variety of venues such as The Kennedy Center, The Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Rockwood Music Hall. Do you have a favorite venue to perform at?

A. Well, I love Rockwood. It’s hard to compete with the energy in that place. The Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian is also an amazing room to play. Those two are probably my favorites. 


Q. Which song from the album are you most excited to release to the public? 

A. Probably “Stoic Companion”. I feel very strongly about the writing on that song and the concept behind it. I feel like it ties a lot of the album together. I double-tracked myself on upright bass so there’s this really cool bridge. I’m really proud of the production of that song. I think it’ll be something new for people who have heard my music before. It’s also totally different from the other singles I’ve released.


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