“It seems absurd to have a voice memo as a track on a song, but I absolutely love it.”
That’s Johanna Rose—tireless champion of Milwaukee music, one half of Nickel&Rose—describing one of the songs on her official solo debut, Only Good Nites. Following last month’s raw and unvarnished demo collection postponedalone, the four-track EP finds Rose largely setting aside the folk and bluegrass of her past and moving forward with a sometimes loud, sometimes unpredictable sound. From the whiskey-soaked strut of opener “A Nite Like This” to the tender acoustic back-and-forth of “Only Good,” Only Good Nites is a concentrated blast of an artist working at the top of her game—strange socially distanced times be damned.
“I hoped [‘A Nite Like This’] would be my first official solo release with all the bells and whistles,” Rose says. “I figured I would have to sit tight and revisit it when [the pandemic] cleared up. I found, however, a new freedom in creating under these circumstances. It feels earnest and genuine. All the hot tips I heard from the industry panels at music conferences last year seem tone deaf. Screw the PR campaign, just make things because tomorrow, who knows.”
For more on the three main tracks of Only Good Nites, we’ll let Rose speak for herself:
“I wrote ‘A Nite Like This’ on a napkin at Von Trier one night in November. When I finally put chords to it, the song wanted to be really big. I mapped out the song with my close friends Ellie Jackson and Cheston VanHuss, and we booked a session with Josh Evert at Silver City Studios.
“I almost canceled that first session, but instead called all my friends last-minute and told them to come to the studio, bring an instrument, hang out and maybe put something down on the song. I ended up having an awesome crew—David Wake laid down keys, Josh Backes put down a killer guitar solo, and Josh Evert put down drums. I wasn’t planning on doing a vocal take but making something dark and kind of painful in such a celebratory manner with amazing friends was super inspiring. It was the first time I had felt good in a while, so I jumped on the mic assuming I would redo it in a later session, and that’s the take we used. I had one more session at the studio where Andrew Koenig added a second guitar. I think I tricked him into it by asking him when he was drunk on his birthday, but I’m so glad I did because his guitar totally next-leveled the song.
“I asked Josh to open ‘A Nite Like This’ back up and add some electric bass. The rest of the song was recorded by folks in their respective homes. My longtime collaborator, Ernest Brusubardis IV, added violin and I added bowed bass. I had always wanted a big choir of folks on the song but that wasn’t really doable now. Luckily, I’m friends with Ellie and Cheston. They were really my ride-or-die on this song, so it felt only natural they be the finishing touch. Cheston put together an amazing horn section, Ellie added some incredible harmonies on the bridge, and between the two of them, they put together the perfect ghost choir.
“Right before the pandemic I joined Hughes Family Band and started working on music with Connor LaMue. We’ve continued to collaborate during the pandemic, which is awesome but has required some untraditional workarounds. I started ‘Only Good’ on the piano and he learned it on guitar. We bounced it back and forth debating lines and melodies. He sent over a finalized voice memo of his vocal part and guitar and then I recorded my vocals to it and Ernie recorded some fiddle from his home. Traditionally it seems absurd to have a voice memo as a track on a song but I absolutely love it.
“‘The One That I Call’ is my first official mix using a big kid DAWS. Throughout the pandemic I finally started learning how to use Logic Pro. I recorded my vocals, upright bass, piano/organ, and my wonderful roommate, Chauntee Ross, on violin. My dear brother, Will Rose, put together a drum track for it and I asked Jack Tell to send over a banjo part and Caley Conway for some electric guitar. We finish with a voice memo of Katie Lyne and me singing the chorus at a respective, socially responsible distance.”