For the start of our new “Meet an Awesomeographer” series, I reached out to fellow Sea Monkey and lovely songstress Nicole Dieker, the one-lady band Hello, the Future! Nicole has been performing as Hello, The Future! since June 2010, in which her first show was in the Cleveland Park Library in Washington, DC.
While there’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist having fun, Nicole has plenty of training (and perhaps genetics?) to back up her musical escapades. She holds a degree in music composition and a MFA in theatre, and her parents are both classically-trained musicians who began her music education at an early age with piano and voice lessons. She’s put her training and passion to work, performing at a wide variety of shows and conventions (could this list get any longer?), with one of her most notable projects being Mink Car Cover, a full cover of They Might Be Giants’ album Mink Car to benefit the FDNY Foundation.
In between her summer tour schedule and preparing for the upcoming Intervention 2013, Nicole and I chatted over email as I picked over her brain about her creative process and the challenges she faces as a self-supporting musician.
Awesome Thing: Hello, the Future!
What inspired you to start performing, and specifically as a Hello, the Future!?
I’ve always been a performer. I was one of those kids who never stopped singing or dancing or making up plays. I went to fine arts camp, and I was in all the choirs, and drama club, and the whole deal.
I specifically started performing as Hello, The Future! because I missed singing and making music. After you get out of college/grad school there are fewer and fewer opportunities to perform, and so I decided I wanted to start writing my own songs and see what happened.
That, by the way, is why my band is called “Hello, The Future!” I knew the project would change me, and I wanted to say hello to the future that I was creating via this project.
What do you do to get yourself into a creative mode? What's your process for working?
These questions are hard to explain and answering them actually feels too personal. The answer I like to give is that I set myself constraints and then I solve puzzles to fit those constraints. But that’s really only one-third of the answer, and the other two-thirds is private.
At Awesomeography, we've identified 5 major challenges that stop people from making something awesome: Fear, Time, Money, Skill and Inspiration. Which of these has been the biggest challenge for you and can you share what you've done to fix it?
I like how you frame that question as if I’d already fixed the challenge! The truth is the two biggest challenges for me are money and skill, and no, I haven’t solved them.
Money and skill are linked because you need money to build your skills (see Molly Crabapple’s brilliant essay explaining how that works) but until you become highly skilled, people are unlikely to give you money to support your art.
I wrote a blog post about it earlier this year: the fear that I’ll have to quit what I’m doing because I didn’t get good enough before the money ran out. This is, btw, my current challenge.
Do you have any horror stories that you can share, and how you managed to overcome them?
At MAGFest XI, a guy stopped by my merch booth and I told him I liked his Illusion of Gaia shirt. He immediately began to quiz me about the game. I have played Illusion of Gaia, but it was a ridiculous number of years ago and I didn’t remember how many red jewels there were, or any of the names of the secret levels. (I only remember the names of the Super Mario World secret levels, and that’s because they were Tubular and Groovy.)
Anyway, I asked this dude if he was giving me a fake geek girl quiz, and he said yes, and then he told me I had failed. And then I told him to go sluiceboxmuck himself.
What's the most important thing performing as Hello, the Future! has taught you?
The most important thing Hello, The Future! has taught me is to create and let go. When I did the 100 Song Project, I didn’t have time to write the best song in the world (and anyway, Tenacious D already wrote that one). I had time to write a song, learn it, perform it, and then prep for the next week.
Working like this taught me to worry less about the product and more about the process. I knew as long as I was writing and performing, something interesting would happen. If I stopped everything to write the one perfect song, the interesting discoveries would also stop.
What's your favorite thing about performing in general, and your favorite thing about the Hello, the Future!?
My favorite thing about performing in general, and Hello, The Future! in particular, is telling stories. Every single one of my songs is a story (they have narratives, and aren’t just about feelings or general sentiments like “she loves you, yeah yeah yeah”), and my job is to use that story to connect with people. When people laugh, or tell me afterwards that the same thing happened to them – that’s the best part of performing.
Do you have any goals for expanding Hello, the Future! beyond your one-lady band?
Expansion is a tricky thing. There’s a certain distance you can go on your own, and beyond that you have to be invited to the next level in many ways. I know I’ve taken Hello, The Future! about as far as I can on my own. Whether I find partners, mentors or other collaborators for expansion won’t come from me—it’ll come from other sources.
Out of everything you've created for Hello, the Future!, do you have a favorite song/lyric/performance/etc.?
I’m very proud of Giant Robot Album, my new album that I recorded with The Long Holidays. In addition to this being my first album with a band, it’s also an album of “true story songs.” There’s a lot of nerd-related stuff in Giant Robot Album, but there’s also a lot of more personal stories; it isn’t just songs about liking a particular fandom or character. I’m so pleased with how it turned out.
In terms of lyrics, probably the most lyrically perfect song I’ve written has been Questionable Content Girl. It has clever jokes in all the right places and is funny even to people who haven’t read the comic.
Of course, everyone seems to like the song about those monkeys and those robots.