Switching up his career path from education to music, Ohio’s Nick D’Andrea first began his musical adventure by starting the band Nick D’ & The Believers. For three years, the band toured regionally and had television show placements for their songs, including Showtime’s Shameless. Nick also found himself working as a freelance songwriter with music licensing and publishing companies during that time.
2016 then became the start of his new project, Doc Robinson. Their debut EP, Golden Daze, released towards the end of the year, followed by three full-length albums, three EP’s, and numerous singles. They toured nationally opening up for the band CAAMP, as well as also had songs featured on shows such as Netflix’s Bojack Horseman.
Stepping away from the band and focusing on growing his family, in 2019 he began working with the music non-profit, We Amplify Voices, which connects middle school students to professional producers to create songs. The time also allowed him to focus on writing his own music, with his first full-length album, Aslan, having just released.
The album captures an authentic singer-songwriter storytelling, with his raw vocals and instrumentation revealing his heart and passion for music. “Running Scared” presents a beachy breath of fresh air, while “Look Up Close” calls listeners to recognize the light that was put inside of them.
With the next two singles off the album, “Sweet Paradise” captures the kind of song you sing around a summer campfire, while the album title track showcases the feeling of wanting to be seen for your potential instead of faults. The laid-back and relaxed sound that runs throughout the project will bring the sense of ease and perspective that listeners are looking for.
We had a chance to shoot some questions his way to learn more about his music and his story.
So where did you grow up and who or what inspired you to play music?
I grew up in Westerville, Ohio, right outside of Columbus. Music really started to mean a lot to me in high school. I transferred schools a lot and music became a core part of my identity around then. It carried me through a lot of that loneliness of being the new kid all the time, and it really soothed me like nothing else. I started taking piano lessons when I was 15 or 16 from a singer-songwriter named Matt Munhall, while I was kind of in the middle of all that loneliness, and he started with teaching me the chords and scales, which really quickly unlocked music for me to where I could open up a book of The Beatles or Billy Joel or Bob Dylan and kind of grind my way through it without really knowing how to read music. He also showed me what it looked like to go from knowing how to play chords to making up your own songs from it.
But I remember hearing this one Nick Drake song from his album Pink Moon called “Know” that was really short, and the same little guitar lick the whole time, and I thought, wow if a song can be that, I can do that. And I remember listening to that song in my friend’s car, then getting to his house and immediately trying to make my own song like it. Mostly I think I was trying to get out whatever pain or loneliness I was feeling at the time. I had depression, which I think a lot of kids do at that time, but music became my therapy tool.
How difficult was it to switch careers and leave education to start pursuing music?
From a family perspective it was tough, because at that point I’d been married for a few years already, and the whole time I was dating and married to my wife I never tried pursuing a career in music or even really considered it, even though I was always writing and recording songs on my own. So I think it really took her by surprise when I sprang that on her, because we were in our mid-twenties and I was half way done getting my teaching license when I dropped out, and I think I only had a year left of school. She was incredibly understanding and supportive given the circumstances, but I always felt like I needed to prove to her that it was going to work and also be something that would be financially viable to support a family, and be gone in a way that didn’t strain our marriage.
The music business is especially tough in both of those departments, making money and having a good marriage, so those were always top concerns. I think the biggest impact it had was it really pushed me early on to try and figure out how I could make decent money out of music in a hurry, which led to doing a lot of music licensing with my first band The Believers. I think that had I started out younger or with less at stake, I wouldn’t have pushed so hard in that direction, but I’m incredibly grateful for the luck we had with that. When it came to trying to go on the road, that was also really tricky, just juggling prioritizing my marriage, and also trying to launch a career. We would do a lot of regional weekend warrior runs or trips to LA or New York but always trying to keep it under a week at a time. But it was definitely tricky to make that switch.
Who are some of your musical influences that reflect most in your music?
When I really started to connect with music in a way where it was why I woke up every morning, I was completely obsessed with The Beatles. I listened to, watched and read EVERYTHING I could get my hands on about them. It was just an inexhaustible source of inspiration. I still feel that way too. I’m constantly going back to the complete collection fake book I had from then and going over the arrangements and just having fun playing their songs, and I always find something new. They just gave me so much joy, and I wanted whatever I did with music to bring that kind of joy, where it could lift somebody up from a dark place, because that’s what they did for me. “Rocky Raccoon” was the first song I remember learning how to play on any instrument, and I would just play it and sing it over and over and over again. My mom took me to see Paul McCartney on his Back in the USA tour when I was 17, and the memory of it still blows my mind today. So yeah…The Beatles.
I of course listened to all of the other 60’s, 70’s greats a lot too, and when I really got into Bob Dylan a few years later, that was another full-on obsession that has carried through to the present. Those two have always spoken to me the most and been my musical bible to keep going back to the well and wearing out the pages on. More recently The Grateful Dead became a big influence too. I had a lot of friends in high school who loved them, but I always wrote them off up until the past few years actually, but it was a really significant moment for me to rearrange the record shelf and move all their albums to a spot of honor. Also of course many other of the greats like Tom Petty, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and the younger guys like Jeff Tweedy, Conor Oberst and Ezra Koenig.
Do you still work with the non-profit, We Amplify Voices, and what was/is your role?
Yes, working with WAV has been my full time job for the past two years. I was a producer with them running songwriting workshops in schools for 3 or 4 years when it was originally called the Dick and Jane Project. Then two years ago I became the director. When I first started doing workshops with them I knew I found something special because it combined what I loved about education, working with kids, and what I loved about music, writing songs. Once I started doing workshops I just made sure to make myself available as much as humanly possible for it because it really scratched both itches for me, and it just feels good to watch kids get to experience the magic of the songwriting process. Songwriting as an art form means so much to me, and it has been such an important part of keeping myself alive, so getting to share with other people, and have them get that same release of turning something painful into art that can give someone else joy is just deeply satisfying.
Having been in the bands Nick D’ & The Believers and Doc Robinson, was there a certain point where you realized you would like to pursue your own solo career? And what are the pros and cons of being in a band versus working solo for you?
I was always writing and recording my own solo songs while being in those bands, but I just really tried to harness all of my creative steam into those projects, so when it came to recording anything else, my heart just wasn’t in it in the same way. I also really feed on collaborating with other people so it was just so much more exciting to me to work on songs for the bands with my bandmates than it was to try to record something on my own. I think to a certain degree with the bands I had these characters that I could play as a writer that weren’t really me, so it was easier and more comfortable to put on a mask and use the craft, but not really have to put too much of myself into it. That’s pretty general though, I know there’s plenty of songs recorded with those bands that have a lot of feeling behind them, but I guess I was just afraid of what it would mean to take off a mask completely and just be myself.
Starting this solo project was exactly that journey. I hit a really low point about two years ago, that stemmed from going out as the opening act on a national tour for a month or so. It was something I’d always really wanted to do, so I felt like I had to take the chance. But at that time my wife was pregnant and working full time while also caring for our two year old daughter, and the whole time out traveling just really got me down into a hole, and when I got back I needed to dig my way out of it. I really started exploring a lot of different spiritual traditions, meditation, yoga, reiki, etc. and it all definitely helped me get my head clear and start to climb out of the hole. My spiritual life started to become really important to me, to the degree that I felt called to leave the band I was in at the time, and just focus on learning more and growing spiritually.
I started writing the songs for the album in that head space, and guided by the things I was reading and learning about at the time. I really felt afraid to even start but I had a few really important people, including my friend and piano teacher Matt, really encourage me. And I had a heart-feeling that I was following that got louder and louder the further I got into the project. From the beginning, I wanted it to be an album that I was making for God to say thank you for all the things He was doing in my life, and for getting me out of the lowest place I had been in my life.
When did you start working on your new album, Aslan, and did 2020 hinder or help the process?
So I started writing most of these songs in the beginning of 2020, then writing more along the way as I started recording them. I had a grant from the Greater Columbus Arts Council to cover some of the recording costs, so once COVID hit and everything started going off the rails, it felt like an invitation to dive into the album and what I was learning about and working on in myself. It took the better part of the year, I think we finished all the final masters for all the songs in October, but some of the songs like “Here I Am” and “Thanks” were written and recorded really fast right towards the end. I don’t think I could have or would have made this album if 2020 wasn’t the kind of year it was. I know it brought a lot of hardship to a lot of people, but I think it also brought a lot of blessings and self awareness and insight that people needed, and I’m not sure what else could have given us those insights but for the situations we all found ourselves in last year.
Did you co-write with anyone on this project, and who worked on the production?
Not this time. We did a lot of co-writing with Doc Robinson and the Believers but for this it was a lot about getting to know myself, describing what it felt like digging out of a hole, and also discovering who I was in relationship to God. So I think by necessity these songs all had to come from a truly personal place that was assuming a character, but was really my own perspective. The process for production happened mostly online because of Covid.
We did have one live session at Secret Studio in Columbus to record rhythm section for a few of the songs (“Cheaper by the Dozen”, “Aslan”, “It’s Okay”) but other than that I recorded the guitars and vocals at my house in my basement studio, then sent them to the drummer Aaron Bishara, who recorded his parts at his house, then off to Seth Bain in Cleveland who recorded bass and harmonies from his home set up. Once I got all that back I would add some more layers of keyboards and guitars, then if there were strings I’d send to Chris Shaw to record violins, or if it was feeling done, then I’d send it to Matt Vinson to mix and master. A lot of times he would have some notes for production ideas and changes we would make together or he’d add some more harmonies or other sprinkles on top.
While it may be difficult to choose, what song or two were you most excited for fans to hear or that are closest to your heart?
I think “Here I Am” is probably my favorite song from the album, it came very fast and I felt like I had very little to do with writing it, it just kind of happened. Also the title track “Aslan” had some special saxophone from my friend Terrance Farmer, and to me that song is the spirit of the whole record.
What might fans expect to see from you this spring and summer?
I’m not planning on playing shows very much, but I have another batch of songs to start recording for another album that I’m really excited about, so I’m hoping to start working on those this spring. I had a close friend pass away in December and he had a truly remarkable life story. It was very important to him, and now it’s very important to me, for people to know his story. So a few of the songs are about his life and his journey, and the rest are about Jesus in one way or another, and how he changed my life. My plan going forward is to try and make an album a year and play one show to release it, then rinse and repeat.