By: Ricky Carden
Coming off a stretch of production work, I immediately took the chance to sit down with two of the most powerful women in Chicago, IL. It takes a lot to make it in the music industry, but Emily Nichols and Catherine Poulos are well on their way towards stardom. Emily was recently featured in the Chicago Tribune after just releasing her debut solo EP called The Strange on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016. Catherine is lead vocalist of Nasty Snacks, whom have recently been added to the North Coast Music Festival lineup this coming Labor Day Weekend, September 2nd-4th, 2016. Sure, I would love to sit down with both of these ladies separately. Personally, I thought it would be a better interview if they were together. To me, their friendship and camaraderie is the driving force behind both of their individual successes! How about we learn why this might be?! Read what they have to say, below:
Ricky: We are here at the home of Emily Nichols and Catherine Poulos. It is located in the Pilsen neighborhood of our city. Is this the art district?
Catherine: I think so. They do the Art Walk right down the street.
Ricky: This is a really beautiful place. There is really elegant furniture and I see that you have a piano. Do both of you play?
Emily: We actually have two pianos.
Ricky: Two pianos?!
Emily: Yes, there is another one in the kitchen. It's broken though.
Ricky: Haha. Where are each of you from?
Emily: We both grew up in the Glenview area. About like thirty minutes outside of Chicago.
Ricky: When did your music careers start?
Catherine: Choir. We were both in choir programs throughout elementary school.
Emily: It was either school or park district related. Both of us took voice lessons at the same place in middle school. We did our musicals primarily through the school. But, I did some musicals through the park district ones myself.
Ricky: What were some of the musicals you sang in?
Emily: One of the first ones was How to Eat Like a Child, and Other Ways Not to be a Grown Up.
Catherine: One of the music teachers wrote it for middle school kids.
Emily: We did that together.
Catherine: I did one from Virtuoso Performing Arts, which was some little performing arts school. It was called Once On This Island. It is something probably no one has ever heard of ever.
Ricky: I never heard of either of those.
Emily: I was in the Wizard of Oz and Alice In Wonderland.
Ricky: Ok. Yea, I have heard of those two. Ha.
Catherine: Ha. Yea, I have heard of those two—the mainstream ones. In high school, we did like Les Miserables and Thousand Dolls…
Emily: Classics, like Rent.
Catherine: But, we weren’t in that. Haha.
Emily: No, no we weren’t…
Ricky: How would you transfer your musical passion into theatre?
Catherine: Well, I never did any plays that didn’t have music in them. I never dove deep into the acting side. I was always casted as something named choirgirl 4 or like dancer 3. You would have a little line here or there. But, I was just there for the singing part. For me at least. Emily, you did a play didn’t you?
Emily: I got into singing because I wanted to be like a famous actor. I got the headshots and did like a short film when I was twelve. Haha.
Ricky: Who were some of your inspirations growing up?
Catherine: I listened to a lot of James Taylor, Carole King, and Elton John when I was a kid.
Emily: Yea, I remember getting fed that by my parents.
Catherine: Totally. Then, of course The Beatles.
Emily: My dad was a Beatles fanatic. And, Michael Jackson. I love Michael Jackson.
Catherine: Yea, I would say that kind of curated the start of my songwriting.
Emily: High school, I was super into singer/songwriter stuff like Sarah Bareilles, Missy Higgins, and some really folky actoustic guitar kind of stuff. That was my schtick!
Catherine: In high school, I discovered both Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
Emily: Uh huh, Yea! Then, she showed me that. It was all history. We start smoking weed! Ha.
Ricky: Are both of you only children?
Catherine: No, both from families of four kids.
Emily: I'm the baby (in my family). And, she's second to the youngest (in her family).
Ricky: Did your siblings have any musical influence on you?
Catherine: My brothers a little bit. Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, and Rage Against the Machine. Though, I tended to lean more towards my Mom's taste in music. I would always go through her records; steal them and put them in my room...even though I didn’t have a record player. I was like “these are mine now!” They eventually had to get me my own.
Ricky: When I watch both of you perform, it makes me think of the great artists that I used to watch on that VH1s Diva Showcase television show from the 90s. They would always have performances by Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Tina Turner, and Celine Dion. Both of you have that kind of power, confidence, and drive; like those artists. I was excited to do this interview; specifically with both of you together, because I have noticed that one of the biggest driving forces for both of your careers has been your friendship. You push each other to a higher level of standard. There is never just one leader when both of you are performing together. A great example of this came from the In The Loop Productions' Perse As Funk: First Ladies Show @ Subterranean.
Catherine: Yea, that was fun show. That was an experience we have not had in awhile.
Emily: It was really cool. It was such an egoless experience. Every single lady was sharing the stage up there that night. People talk about singers being divas. There was none of that. It was just like, "I support you. I think you're really talented. And, you need to be heard. Here is your shot. I am going to sit here, cheer, and back you up." That was really cool and something you do not really get with men. They are not as verbal or quick to compliment someone else for doing a good job.
Catherine: We are both in bands with all men. In my band we let it be known that we all love each other. It is just a different animal to play in a band with all women. Literally. Women will yell stuff like "That was so awesome! You're so good!" There will be hugging all the time and stuff...
Ricky: It sure worked for the First Ladies.
Catherine: Yea, and it built friendship. It makes the music and everything that much better.
Emily: I mean doing anything that supports fellow women is really important. Doing that Perse As Funk show just put the message out there. The First Ladies had many talented women included—having the bad-ass DJ Sahar Habibi as an opener, or even Jas Peterson who live painted throughout the entire show. It was about supporting each other. Generally speaking, that should always put out a good message for women.
Catherine: It takes out the competition aspect. This is music. Something we love everything about. Love each other.
Ricky: Right. I do not like to think about the labels (in anything). A good example, is Noname Gypsy’s recent Facebook post that read, "I'm a fucking rapper. You don't have to keep saying female." There is no point including things like genre, race, and sex..
Catherine: Yea, we need to break down these stigmas. I have always had a huge problem when people consider vocalist as just singers. Well, no I am a vocalist. My vocal chords are my instruments. People do not know how difficult it is to sing, or how much you have to learn and practice. It is a hard job.
Ricky. You two do it very well. Lets dive deeper into some of your other projects. Let’s start with Catherine. From Tha 99, what is going on with this band?
Catherine: We have not played a shows in a bit. The last thing we did was down at SXSW. We played a show there. It was super fun, but we had to stop performing for the time being. Our drummer, who was also Emily’s drummer for Woo Park, went on a World tour with The Blue Man Group. We are not disbanded. Everyone is just doing a bunch of stuff.
Ricky: That is good. That has actually opened up time for you and your other project, Nasty Snacks. Performances at Green Music Fest, an opening slot for The Nth Power, two shows at Lincoln Hall, and now you have recently been added to the lineup of North Coast Music Festival.
Catherine: Yea, we have been playing a lot.
Emily: Crushing it.
Catherine: We rehearse every week and about to record an album. We haven’t started recording yet, but we are trying to get in during October. It is definitely exciting. And, I also have the time to work on my own music. That has been a whole new thing for me. Not having to write for a band. I get to pick up the guitar again, or play the piano more.
Ricky: I loved that collaboration you did with Grood. The song called 'The Habit.' Both you and Emily really know how to bring the disco vibes! I know she also recently released that track with The Outsiders called 'Say It Again.'
Catherine: Yea, these kind of songs are really fun to make.
Ricky: Speaking of Emily... You have had a busy Summer!
Emily: Haha. I sure have...
Ricky: Well since the great and powerful Oz, or what I like to call Woo Park went on hiatus. Luke Sangerman leaving for his World Tour and all that. He must be having fun... Ha.
Emily: I was actually just hanging with Luke. It was dope. He had a five-week break and we both went out to Europe. Andrew Block, the guitarist from Russ Liquid, was out there playing a show with Gramatik. There is nothing better than looking at the horizon while in the Swiss Alps. We also went to help a friend of mine that was singing in Spain. We saw a lot of music. Even worked on track together while I was out there.
Ricky: Ah nice, you went abroad. You hit the ground running with this solo stuff! You played a couple smaller shows in Chicago. Now you have this huge EP release party. But, lets talk about what happened in between these show. You have been running with some big names like Manic Focus, Russ Liquid, ProbCause, et. al. You got to play at Red Rocks. That is incredible.
Emily: It was incredible.
Ricky: I still haven’t even been there!
Emily: It’s a fucking amazing place. It is magical.
Ricky: How did you feel up there on stage?
Emily: I definitely cried a little bit. I only sang one song. While I was waiting on the side of the stage, it crept up. I was telling myself, “STOP STOP, YOU'RE ABOUT TO GO ON STAGE. YOU CANNOT BE CRYING OUT THERE.” I was just looking at this epic structure and all of the beautiful people out there. It was right about the time the sun set too. It rained a little bit and then stopped. It was this surreal moment for me. I was kind of choking up a bit! That group of people is so fun.
Ricky: All this traveling has probably been giving you a lot of inspiration for your songwriting. What kind of things goes into that for both of you?
Catherine: It is definitely a culmination of a lot of different things. My goal I guess for any songwriting that I do is to try and make someone feel something. Even if it is bad and that person says, "I hate what you just did." Maybe that person will do better than I did from that feeling they had. As long as I am doing that, I am doing my job.
Ricky: Some of the better music that I have heard in my life has been written in a way that has made it difficult to pinpoint the character of the story. It allows the fans to use their creativity while they listen. This is how I felt when I listened to Emily’s new EP called The Strange.
Emily: Yea, it is a combination of a bunch of different things. I will write a song about a personal experience, and instead of using I, I would use YOU. This opens the song up for my fans to connect with.
Ricky: Connection is such a big thing. I will keep my focus on that during #thestrangeEP Release Party. What are the details for that?
Emily: The Strange EP Release Party will be at Canvas on Friday, August 26th, 2016. It is 21+ and costs about $10-12. The door opens at 9 PM. Get there early to see both Byzmuti and Highness! The night is going to included a lot of talented people. My band for the night will include Catherine, Elli Elli, and Parker Grogan.
Ricky: Sounds great. I will be there! Catherine, do you have any EPs in the works that we all should be ready for?
Catherine: Working on it. I am definitely in the middle of writing some kind of piece of work.
Emily: It's badass! I walked in on her working a couple of times. It sounds great.
Catherine: I have about five songs right now. But, I want to keep writing some more so I have a choice of what I want to put out. Yea, I think I am going to start recording here soon. ha.
Ricky: Great news! People need to be on the look out for this...
There you have it. I had one exciting interview with Emily Nichols and Catherine Poulos. These fine artists have so much to give to the World! They have helped each other grow through much of their lifetimes-- specifically in the music industry. Through such, they have developed characteristics like passion, professionalism, charisma, love, and happiness. These are the characteristics that can take you places. Mark my words: keep on the look-out for both Emily Nichols (@groovetuna) and Catherine Poulos (@_cath0sings)!
Buy tickets to Emily Nichols's #thestrangeEP Release Party at Canvas tonight: www.intheloop.com
Buy tickets to see Catherine Poulos perform with Nasty Snacks at North Coast Music Festival: www.northcoastfestival.com