Interview with Abby Nissenbaum
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I started performing in musical theatre productions around the age of 7, and performed in regional shows through high school and college. I took piano lessons as a kid and am a classically trained soprano, having also taken opera lessons for many years as a teen. I put my musical endeavors on hold midway through college to focus on lab work and research, and went to grad school to pursue an academic career in social psychology and data analytics.
I currently work in the data development sector and will continue to do that as I build up my music career! I am a vocal advocate for women in STEM and, no matter where my music career takes me, I want to be a role model for women in male-dominated careers like data analytics.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Music takes up nearly all of my spare time, but I’m also a fan of video games! I love any type of adventure game with a strong narrative. I’ve consulted for a small indie game development studio for a few years now, so I spend some of my free time researching and writing for their upcoming games.
How long have you been making music?
Since childhood. I was recently reminded that, in middle school, a few neighborhood kids and I formed a band called Goldmember, after the Austin Powers movie. I was the designated songwriter, and my mom still has my handwritten lyrics for some of our songs (including smash hits “D-D-D-Dormitory” and “Close the Door to the Opportunity of College” – clearly there was a collegiate motif happening). Obviously I’ve also performed in musical theatre productions and recitals for voice lessons all my life. I didn’t start writing my own music in earnest until 2019.
Where are you based and how has that influenced your music?
I’m currently based in Nashville, which is, of course, Music City! The talent here is incredible, and it’s a privilege to be within a stone’s throw of top notch venues and studios. I moved down here in 2021 while Covid was still in nearly full swing, so I haven’t been able to get involved in the local music scene as much as I would have liked, but I’m hoping to do some outdoor shows later this year.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
TheatreWorks, a regional theatre in Connecticut, holds a special place in my heart and many fond memories for me. In Nashville, I am itching to perform at Basement East! It’s a treat to have such an excellent venue right in my neighborhood.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the line up?
In my fantasy world? Frightened Rabbit, LP, Tegan and Sara, Sufjan Stevens, Pinegrove, Daughter, Lucy Dacus, and Amythyst Kiah. Contemporary indie heaven.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into making music and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
Find people who respect your work and the resources you’re putting into it (be it money, energy, or time). This isn’t like a corporate office environment where coworkers may dislike one another but still perform to complete an objective deliverable – this is art, and when you’re creating something so deeply personal, you want to be working with people you trust. It’s also completely appropriate and normal to work with different producers, engineers, and instrumentalists as your career progresses. The beauty of being an indie artist is that you aren’t usually contractually tied to anyone, so you should feel free to work with as many people as you need to get the sound you’re looking for.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Always get a service-level agreement stating the exact nature of deliverables due, the timeframe in which you need them rendered, agreed-upon payment/splits/copyright credit, and a term to remedy late or missing deliverables. I’m not someone who enjoys dealing with the business side of music, but it’s a necessary evil.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Probably “Glass Half Full.” It was the first song where I felt very confident in my lyricism, and the first song I had ever written a lead guitar part for. It’s very wordy and kind of a marathon to sing, so I had demoed it in a bunch of different keys and styles until I felt like the lyrics and story could shine. My producer Matt Qualls and I are actually currently re-recording the song in a completely different style for my EP, so I’m looking forward to retelling the story in a new landscape.
What is your creative process for writing your music and what inspires you to write your music?
I find that the rawer my emotions are, the easier it is to write (with the former social psych researcher caveat that catharsis can beget self-defeating prophecies, so it’s not really the healthiest to stay in that headspace for prolonged periods). I work long hours (such is the nature of tech) and can’t always sit down with my guitar when inspiration strikes, so lately I’ve found myself jotting down lyrics in small spurts. I’ll usually create a melody or small riff during weekends and write lyrics in small increments throughout the week as they come to me.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I don’t try to convey any particular messages in my music. I want listeners to ascribe their own meaning and find themes that they can resonate with.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
I’m putting the finishing touches on my debut EP, “Unreliable Narrator,” which I will be releasing later this year. I’m also hoping to do some outdoor shows, depending on fluctuating Covid rates. I also keep plugging away at writing a full-length album, which should keep me busy for a while!