New York Minute: Troy Native Niki Lee Returns to Scene

Nicole Suto aka “Niki Lee” is an indie singer/songwriter living in Troy, NY who is returning to the live music scene after taking a hiatus to have and raise a child. Her first show in a self-admitted long while will be this Friday, April 1 at the Dinosaur BBQ. She opens up for fellow Lansingburgh natives, The Lawn Sausages, at 9 p.m. The show is free.

With the help of her friends Gary Levitt and Erica Quitzow of New Paltz, she recorded five tracks found on Reverbnation. She plays the guitar and loops her own backup vocals. “Accelerate” is a fun tune that shows off her playful, rocker side and incorporates the organ. Her sound is similar to Liz Phair and other 90s female musicians in the similar genre. Her style however is unique. Instead of your typical chord progressions, Niki often slaps the strings to create both percussion and notes.

“Faith” represents a darker side of Niki. This expression of negative emotion is something she says drives her to write music. Her live performances are a balance of both upbeat positive songs and those that are melancholy.

While performing live is something she intends to do, her real goal is to continue to write, produce and record music.

We recently chatted with Niki about her music and living in Troy.

After listening to your tracks on Reverbnation, we kind of get a Liz Phair vibe. Is that what has influenced you?

I first started really heavy in the singer, songwriter, kind of folksy vein, listening to Ani DiFranco, Suzanne Vega, really growing up with the 10,000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant stuff. But I think it was really PJ Harvey who kind of hooked me into the electric guitar, not just playing acoustic. Then Liz Phair – I think I’ve probably listened to Exile in Guyville like a million times. I probably can sing the whole album from beginning to end, so yes, that’s a definite influence for me.

What inspires you?

I feel like a lot of the music that I’m playing now has been inspired by relationships, questioning the world about why things are the way they are and how you have an emotional reaction to that. A lot of my songs, I write when I feel upset about things so it’s very hard for me to write upbeat songs. When I’m happy, I’m not in the writing kind of mood, it’s so hard to write a happy song. But I know people don’t want to just hear bitching and moaning when they see me perform so I’ve worked in some positive ones as well.

So your show on April 1 will be the first one in a while, and a hometown show?

I’m opening up for the Lawn Sausages. A lot of us are from Lansingburgh, born and raised there. So it’s a lot of old time friends. I haven’t really played a gig in a long time and one of the members of the Lawn Sausages put this gig up so I asked if I could open for them. It’s going to be a very hometown, packed crowd. It will be a special gig because all my friends and family from years and years, being a Troy native.

I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve lived and played in San Francisco and New York City but I had to come back home. Something about being home it’s hard to get away from sometimes.

Do you have a favorite spot to hang out in Troy?

I really enjoy going down to the Farmer’s Market. It’s one of the best and the fact that it’s all year round is really great. My daughter loves Famous Lunch – we like greasy food in our family.

So I understand you had friends from New Paltz help you with your recordings. Did you go down there to do it?

Yeah. Gary Levitt and Erica Quitzow who I met in San Francisco but were from New York. After we all moved back I reached out to them because they are just amazing engineers and musicians. I asked them if they could record a few songs for me. I had done a few recordings in the past but never ones I felt proud of. I felt OK about them but they just didn’t represent how I wanted my songs to sound in a studio recording. These guys really nailed it. I like Imogen Heap and Tori Amos, people who pull in a lot of different elements and layered harmonies into their music. Unfortunately I can’t recreate that on stage so it will be kind of like a PJ Harvey four-track demos kind of feel at the show (laughs). I like pushing the boundaries of the singer-songwriter into the different musical sounds that you can play with and layer. It’s one of my favorite things about the music that I’m drawn to.

What else do you like to do when not songwriting or recording?

I work for the state as a budget analyst. I really like spreadsheets! (laughs) I do a lot of work with spreadsheets, tracking or spending. It’s nice because it’s really easy, it either adds up or it doesn’t. Plus, I don’t make the decisions of how it’s being spent In my free time I am a 4H Club co-leader for a dog training club call the Clover Paws. It’s something I do with my daughter. We have two dogs, so when I’m not making music or taking care of my daughter, I’m playing with my dogs.