You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unique and worldly band creation story than that of gypsy folk outfit South For Winter.
Dani Cichon and Nick Stone met on a Peruvian rooftop while on a volunteer mission, Cichon being from Colorado and Stone being from New Zealand. It was on that rooftop that a kindred spark was created that carried over through the years, across the seas, and into the ears of thousands of fans.
After some back and forth from Nashville to New Zealand, the two settled in Music City, and are pushing full steam ahead with their unique musical trio, which also includes Alex Stradal. Cichon possesses a powerful, almost operatic voice, while Nick holds down guitar and vocal duties, while Stradal implements cello and additional guitar.
The trio has their latest single, “Devil is A’ Calling,” officially releasing as I type this, and will be a part of their upcoming album, Luxumbra, set for release later this year.
We had the chance to sit down with all three members and discuss their coming together and much more.
Music Mecca: So you guys have a unique story of how you met, which involves a Peruvian rooftop. Could you elaborate on that and how you guys discovered the foundation of South For Winter?
Nick: So I used to work at a volunteer organization called Reach Out Volunteers, it’s a non-profit from Australia. Not to be mistaken, since I’m from New Zealand. So they sent me out to Peru to do some work and I was just assisting their project, working up in the Andes building sustainable greenhouses, about 13 to 14,000 feet. I think they have year-round projects, rather than just like, grow corn and potatoes. And then Dani got off the plane –
Dani: So I was also a volunteer. I showed up on his first trip in Peru. We both had guitars, so of course we hit it off. We started traveling with about 20 people in the group. So, you’re kind of in close quarters for two weeks. We spent a couple afternoons jamming out on a rooftop and then one day we were just thinking, “oh, we should write a song together”. So that song ended up being the first single we released for South For Winter, and it’s going to be on our first album too. Then we ended up dating long-distance.
Nick: It was probably like three years later.
Dani: Three years, so yeah, we had written that first song and we were each doing different music project. I was doing a pop project here in Nashville, Nick was doing a rock project in New Zealand, kind of folk rock. So when we were dating, I moved out to New Zealand for a bit, and we were playing together a little more, writing together a little more. Then, when I moved back here (Nashville) to start my nursing job, and he came back with me and we were like, “you know, we wrote some songs together, let’s kind of see where this goes.”
Dani: We posted on YEP Nashville [Facebook group], looking for a graphic designer for our music – but we got a response that said, “Do you want a cellist instead?”
MM: Looking for a graphic designer, find a cellist. Classic.
Dani: Yep, exactly. Two years later. (laughs)
Nick: Like, musically we bounce off of each other. And she very much controls the lyrics, and we do the songwriting together and do the music together.
MM: What’s the New Zealand music scene like?
Nick: There’s a big scene, but it’s typically more rock. Rock, dub. Dub is like our version of, like, jam bands. It’s not dubstep, but it’s like jazz influenced reggae kind of thing. Like Fat Freddy’s Drop. Or, maybe you would have heard [unintelligible] or that kind of thing. The New Zealand music scene isn’t big enough if you’re looking to go international, like, you could never. There’s bands now where’s it’s just like, they have their heads, and they’ll just play tours of the country and do well, but typically if you’re trying to make it big, you move to Australia or out to Melbourne. Or to America. Most New Zealand artists go to the UK for visa reasons. It’s substantially easier for us to get into the UK. But yeah I mean, it’s an industry. It’s just that folk is not a big thing there, even though there are artists like Albert Harding and Marlon Williams, who are really blowing up in the folk world. I think Marlon Williams just recorded with, like, Brandi Carlile.
Dani: We want to put new music out in New Zealand. They’ve got a couple indie rock songs that are like New Zealand classics, and they play those all the time. They’ve got a really big cover scene, they love music in the bars, but it’s harder to break in new music.
Nick: Yeah, there was a time where a lot of that music never left New Zealand. So, some of the classic, quintessential cover songs you hear at a bar are like – you would never hear of them outside of New Zealand.
MM: So how long have you lived in Nashville then?
Dani: So, I went to nursing school here, and I went to Belmont. I’ve been a nurse here for three years, and have been here for about five or six years with a one year hiatus in New Zealand. Nick has been here now for two and a half years, and Alex for the same amount of time.
MM: Where’d you move here from, Alex?
Alex: Michigan. So I went to music school up there, at a place called Hope College. I guess the only thing of note is that’s where Sufjan Stevens went. So I graduated from there and lived in Michigan for a few years, and then kind of had a quarter-life crisis. Things were hard because I was living in this college town where I was doing data entry and drinking and it was getting old fast.
Nick: Also, he put away the cello for male cheerleading. Then he gave up male cheerleading to get back into the cello.
Alex: Yeah, it’s been weird.
Dani: Alex is like, classically trained. He’s played cello for 17 years. He’s the real deal.
MM: What do you guys like most about Nashville other than the music?
Nick: To me, it’s the studios. There are so many incredible studios in the city, and because of how many there are, they’ve got to cut the price down to compete, and it makes it very affordable to record at a very high standard in a studio.
Dani: And I love the used gear. I find so much used gear for so cheap. And these guys are on Facebook Marketplace ALL. DAY.
MM: So you have a unique approach to your sound. Who collectively are some of your primary music influences?
Nick: We always get people telling us we sound like The Civil Wars. The Civil Wars are great. It’s like guy-folk. I really like —
Alex: Yeah, I mean people say The Lumineers, because, y’know, there’s cello and that makes sense.
Nick: Mumford & Sons.
Alex: That sort of folk where it’s just the range of instruments are absurd.
Dani: I love like — Alison Krauss, and Gillian Welch.
Alex: We’re kind of all over the place.
[Conversation steers a bit]
Dani: Typically, I usually bring like the melodies and lyrics.
Nick: If you analyze our stuff, you find a lot of time-changes, and elements that are not usually folk. But the whole point is, when we’re a 3-piece, and we don’t usually play with drums, then it’s like if we get bored, then someone else will too. So we have to make it eclectic.
Alex: We bore easily.
Nick: We have some interludes on this album, and some neo-classical, just to try to showcase what we do as a 3-piece and then move into the full band realm, as big as the southern blues rock movement or something else. Maybe even world music stuff, too.
Alex: But the goal is you can still hear it’s the three of us, with our main instruments, and then everything else is just recording. We can all run into new challenges and something could sound badass, but it’s like “where are we?”. We are gone. Now it’s a band – now it’s a six-piece.
Nick: We definitely have fun, but now we’re in the studio, so we have to work out in terms of how we can play the notation, but how do we increase the sound? Alex uses his cello and sub-bass, and yeah.
Alex: Not excessive at all.
Dani: It is excessive. It’s got like an octave pedal on it, a resonator, etc.
Alex: The cello is my realm, and I want creative control.
Nick: We kind of figured, you put folk forward and then you have the effects to give it another level – which sounds to make bigger. When you hear the album, you’re hearing it more so as rock. Whereas, when we’re live, it’s more folk.
MM: So, you’ve got your new album, Luxumbra, coming out later this year, and Dani said you’ve got your fourth single coming out this Friday? [asked a few weeks ago]
Dani: So, we changed the date [to 1/31], but it’s [Devil is A’ Calling] more of an indie rock kind of thing. It’s one of the more rock focused songs on the album. The last one we released was more a folk kind of vibe.
MM: How many songs are going to be on the album?
Nick: Ten or eleven songs.
Alex: Three interludes.
MM: Is there an overall theme or influence to the album as a whole?
Dani: The main thing is in the title. We really struggled with the name since it was so eclectic, and someone told us, “your main thing is that you’ve got the, like, the light and the shadow”, so that’s what it essentially means in Latin- light and shadow.
Nick: Like, going back to that Peruvian thing. They talked about in their culture the duality, where nothing is a positive or negative thing, they’re just contrasting things. And then it’s kind of like – you have the light and the dark. So, we really liked that.
Dani: And murder ballads.
Nick: Yes murder ballads. That was the first feedback we got off the first album, was, “well, that was a little deep”.
MM: So how did you guys get hooked up with Tracking Room as the studio?
Nick: That was another YEP find.
Dani: Crazy. We had found a graphic designer, a cellist, and now the studio.
Nick: Matt Lay, who manages the Tracking Room, he also does work in SAE and he was looking for a band to showcase miking techniques with. The idea is that you tune-up, you play the song, and he will mix it for you as a free track. So, we went in there and, because of the free track, it was like ‘let’s see what this guy wants to do, let’s see how he likes to do it’. So we play the song, and he said “yeah, I think you should be playing this guitar part on a hollowbody electric guitar and maybe get Alex on bass”, and we just got a drummer who had worked on the first EP, but we then used him on the drumkit. So we followed this producer’s advice, and the three of us got him involved, and then we did overdubs afterward, and it was really fun. I was super impressed.
Dani: Super impressed. We went in with the concept of, ‘oh, this is a free song for a school, etc’ but we were ‘t expecting very much, but we were like ‘holy crap!’. It really changes the sound.
Nick: Yeah, Matt has been basically crucial with how he formed us. We kind of consider him a fourth member.
Dani: We do. We have him play bass a lot of the time, too. He offered us a really big deal on the Tracking Room if he was the producer/writer/bass player and the Tracking Room was the studio credited on the record. I think that helped a lot, since he played live, but he recorded the parts live. He understands what we’re trying to achieve. You know, every song we worked on over the last year and a half is like being in sync towards the sound we want.
Alex: You know, you would push, and someone pushes, and then there’s pushback, and then through this sort of directing each other, you grow together, right? And you go somewhere that I think both of you didn’t plan on going. Cause so much of Matt is, he has really great opinions and we challenged most of them. Like, he had to prove everything to us. Especially with the first EP.
Nick: So, after we did that single, we recorded all the tracks ourselves at Outward Bound in the UK, and then I gave him the final comp tracks, but obviously the span of the equipment is far superior at the Tracking Room than at my house.
MM: Do you have a specific atmosphere or pastime that aides in songwriting process?
Nick: Sometimes I’ll come home from work and she’ll [Dani] show me something that she’s been working on, something that she wants to play for me, and she’ll play it, and I’ll be like “Shit”. We’ve gotta put this song down.
Alex: Once they’ve hashed it out, they tell me nothing, then we go on stage and they tell me, okay, we’re playing in this key, I’m sure you can fill that in for us.
Nick: So Dani will be like, “hey, do you have any flamenco sort of style guitar parts?” And I’ll be like, “sure, were you thinking this?” So that’s sort of how we bounce off of each other. She’ll say, “do you have any bluesy licks, and I’lll say, “what do you think of this bluesy lick”?
Dani: I’ll write the lyrics, and then I’ll have him [ nick] do the guitar parts or the melody. And that’s how it was for a while.
MM: Do you guys have a tour lined up in support of the album?
Dani: Yeah, we kind of always have at least another tour in the works. We do little stuff a lot of different weekends. For example, next week we have Asheville, then New Orleans. But our next big tour is in March. It’s a tour of the east coast, just a couple weeks. This coming summer, the next we’re planning is our first Europe tour. So I’m still trying to figure out visas, so we might not be in the UK, but we are trying to do Europe.
MM: So what’s your ultimate goal as a musical artist, or in other words, how do you define musical success? What’s your goal with all of this?
Nick: We’ve almost actually reached the level of success I’ve wanted. I wanted to complete a professional album to stand on its own. That was always one of my goals. Another one was Newport Folk Festival. Once I played that, I was set.
Dani: Both of us have just been wanting to do this [music] full time.
Alex: I just want this gig to be full time. Especially with the way that we tour, like every three or four months. Cause I used to work in corporate America, and they don’t take kindly to, ‘hey I need to leave for two weeks, and then ill be good for four months, but I need these two weeks even if I take it unpaid’. I’ve managed to make it work for some time, but at the end of last year I finally quit my full time job because we were going on a tour where my boss pulled the trigger on ‘you’ve gotta go’. So, I made the move and now I’m trying to scramble full time.