By Leah Williams

Published 9/4/14


Nikki Hill and the Pirate Crew

If first impressions mean anything, and musically most of the time they do, then get ready to meet a musician who has adequately earned the reputation that precedes her.

“I absolutely and positively enjoy it,” said singer and songwriter Nikki Hill. “I can honestly say I do.”

Hill and her Pirate Crew’s roots-rock sound will resonate at the Hangar 9 as part of the CarbondaleRocks Revival festival. The band, which includes Hill on vocals, her husband Matt Hill on guitar and vocals, Ed Strohsahl on bass, and Joe Meyer on drums, creates an interesting concoction that borrows from the blues but rocks steady with a dirty guitar snarl and a fantastic no-filter energy.

Self-described as a “whiplash moment,” the band provides a high-energy show that does not just require attention, it commands it. Hill and the Pirate Crew have been all over the United States, Europe, and Australia to spread the message of rock ‘n’ roll and soul. Hill said the ultimate goal of any live performance is to connect with audiences in a way that helps them let loose and live free.

“We are just out to help people get out there and have a good time,” Hill tells Nightlife.

Hill and her Crew have been known to dust off old Chuck Berry tunes and other power-packed covers that perfectly complement the raw rock of the band’s originals. Hill has said that she enjoys playing covers because she and her band collectively pull them apart only to put them back together again in a way that is authentic to them. Hill’s southern upbringing had a hand in shaping her musical tastes. When she lived in the college town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Hill was introduced to not only several different styles of music but also the awareness of song.

Hill grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she adopted her deep-soul sound honestly, by growing up singing in church gospel choirs. “I didn’t appreciate it then, but I sure do now,” Hill says. “Most of the artists that I credit as influences started off singing in church. No matter what you believe, you take that style with you. It’s intense, it’s raw, it’s real... it’s rock and roll!”

Despite her singing background, Hill said she never thought about a career in music until she began performing with her husband. They debuted in 2011 at the Blues City Deli in Saint Louis. Hill’s first self-titled EP was released in 2012, and the record garnered instant underground buzz across the country. Hill wrote the four songs herself, and her style proved to be a danceable and delectable take on raw soul and rock ‘n’ roll music. “I try to write about the things that have happened to me, or if they didn’t happen to me, then I want to write in such a way that they could have happened to somebody,” Hill said. “I think of the best songs that I have ever listened to, and those best songs were something relatable.”

Following the EP’s success, Hill reintroduced herself on her first full-length CD. Here’s Nikki Hill exhibited more energy, more songs, and more power in the lead singer’s voice than ever before.

Some of the nicknames thrown her way include “The Southern Fireball,” “the new soul sensation,” and the “New Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” When asked how she feels about such accolades, Hill shrugs them off.

“What can I say?” she asks. “If people feel like we’re giving them all of that, good! What I love so much about what we’re doing is the world is getting to witness our sound as it develops. And what an interesting journey it is. Sure, people may not be able to put their finger completely on it, but if they know it rocks, and they know it makes them feel good, we feel accomplished.”

Hill has also collaborated on a soul-meets-country album, a record that borrows from the various influences from the 1960s golden era of both genres. Hill explains that the seemingly opposite styles may not be so different, especially if they are just stripped down to the bare bones and meaning in them all. “A lot of them deal with the same subject matter: life, love, loss,” Hill said. “It’s all in there.”

Hill and her Pirate mates will work on a sophomore album sometime in the near future. But for now, the new Queen is just enjoying her ride at the helm of the ship.

“It all worked out pretty well, you know?” she said. “We have been touring this record for a while, and now soon we are going to be stopping to record new songs for the new album. It is all pretty great."