One of the highlights of the Deep Ellum Arts Festival, an annual street fair that brings together artists, craftspeople, musicians, and, of course, a pet parade, is the Texas Singer/songwriter stage. The stage is located at a street corner space dedicated to local area musicians with a voice, an instrument, and something to say. This is the first year Fort Worth’s Clint Niosi will be performing at the festival. The NX35 vet has great vocal tone and an original style that embodies many different influences. I sat down with Niosi to talk about his music, his influences, and the festival.
How did you get involved in music? Did you start covering bands first, (if so, who?) or did you start doodling and writing your own material early?
Both. It’s always fun to learn a song that you like. I don’t think that ever goes away. Music has such immediacy to it. I started writing poems first, and I still write them, but I love where you can go with a song. Ideally the words and music work towards the same end. I started playing in coffee shops and poetry readings, and after a few years things started to come together.
What instruments do you play, because I hear back up instruments on a couple of your songs?
I mainly play guitar and sing but I occasionally play bass or piano. Many talented musicians have played on my recordings. My last album The Sound of Dead Horses Beaten Against Cold Shoulders had cello by Emma Hertz (formerly of Peter and the Wolf, The Hearst String Stranglers), violin by Nicole Amundson (formerly of the SMU orchestra), drums by Boyd Dixon (Tame..Tame and Quiet), piano, bass, and horns by James Talambas (The Theater Fire), who also produced and arranged the album.
The song “My Mephistophilis” reminds me a bit of Devendra Banheart. Who do you consider your biggest influences to be and why?
Well, in regards to “My Mesphistophilis,” the biggest influence was Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus from which I took the songs plot. Musically I wanted the song to be reminiscent of Robert Johnson and the modern mythology that he brought to the idea of selling one’s soul. Then in the final turn of the song I wanted it to become a Slayer-esque baroque nightmare. My biggest influences are probably Leonard Cohen, Robyn Hitchcock, and Nick Drake. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Kate Bush and Alex Chilton’s discography.
When you sit down and write songs, what inspires you the most? Happy moods, sad moods, excitement?
I’m most inspired by a conflict of emotions. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced what could be called a “pure” emotion. I think supposedly negative feelings are a bit easier to release, because they are so difficult to bottle up. Hopefully some sort of catharsis or closure results from a song, but that’s not always the case. Of course, sometimes it’s just fun to sing.
How did you get involved with the Deep Ellum Arts Festival? How did you hear about it? How did you apply, etc?
I’ve known about the Deep Ellum Arts Festival for years. This year I became involved by sheer luck. My good friend, and an amazing guitarist, Darrin Kobetich recommended me to Lori Dreir (who is organizing the Texas Singer/Songwriter Stage) after one of the bands dropped out of the lineup. I’ll be playing at the Texas Singer/Songwriter stage at the corner of Malcolm X and Main at 5 pm on Saturday April 3.
Will you be playing with a backup band during your performance at the festival?
I won’t call it a full band, but it will be cool.
I’m a fellow musician as well, but for some reason I seem to always miss out on these festivals. What is the best route to take to get on some of these local festivals?
Just keep your ear to the ground. Festivals usually book their performers very far in advance. If you like a festival that you attend this spring you might want to contact them in the fall if you’d like to play next year.
Did you play NX35? Was this your first year to play it? If so, did it help expand your fan base?
I played “officially” at the first NX35 in 2009, which means that I had a showcase slot listed alongside the other performers. I was a bit late catching the boat for this year’s festival, but I contacted the organizers who were kind enough to set me up with an “unofficial” day show at A Creative Art Studio on Saturday March 13. Each year I met some new people, saw some old friends, and had a great time.
What are you most excited about seeing during the Deep Ellum Festival?
I look forward to wandering around the artwork. I also remember years ago they had a spoken word stage, and I’m curious to see if they have one this year.
Now a random question, if you could have any musician sing to you for the rest of your life, who would it be?
That’s an interesting question. Because it’s very rare to have someone sing “to” you. Most live performances or recording seem like people are singing “for” you. It’s a bit more personal to have someone sing to you. I’ll go ahead and say that someone wouldn’t need to be a musician to sing to me. Singing is for everyone.
Other bands to watch at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival:
Pegasus News Stage:
Jazz: Brian Girley- Saturday 1pm
Indie Pop: Sunward- Sunday 4:40pm
Texas Blues Stage:
Blues: Texas Slim- Saturday 3:20pm
Blues: Kayla Reeves- Saturday 8:40pm
Indie: Clint Niosi- Saturday 5pm
Acoustic: Sean Russell- Friday 6pm
Blues Rock: Brad Thompson- Sunday 6pm
Visit www.deepellumartsfestival.com for more information and schedules.