Smooth jazz guitarist Nils is one of those nice guys in the music industry that is enjoying one of those ‘lived happily ever after’ lives after experiencing near disaster earlier in his music career. His first attempt at releasing a CD occurred in 1998 with the Blue Planet CD, but the label that had signed him declared bankruptcy, without doing any promotion or marketing of him or his album.
"I got stuck with a $3,000 band bill because the label support just fell flat. The CDs never got to the radio stations with which we had advertising deals, so I had to go to Tower Records and buy twenty-six CDs at retail price to give away on radio. It left me really disillusioned with the genre and stuff," says Nils.
Fast forward to 2004, Nils recorded another CD, an independent project that he was shopping to record labels while he continued his work for television and film. Two labels wanted the CD Pacific Coast Highway, and he opted for the smaller of the two, Baja TSR Records, because he felt the label would have more time to devote to marketing and promoting his CD.
The same week that he signed his record deal, he was waiting to hear back from the producers for an independent feature film who had discussions with him concerning developing the score for their movie. "On the drive down, they (the film producers) had another meeting and called me to tell me that they had decided to use another composer. I was so bummed out because I loved the gig, and I didn’t even care about getting another smooth jazz record deal," he says.
What the film producers seemingly brushed aside became a huge gain for smooth jazz fans. Nils recalls, "Before I knew it, I had the number one song in the country (the title track "Pacific Coast Highway"), and I didn’t know what had hit me! All of a sudden, I had the number one song, and not only was it the number one song, it stayed there for more than seven weeks."
In talking about the success of the track "Pacific Coast Highway," Nils says, "I think I hit the nail on the head with this one. It had a good beat and all of the elements that people like in smooth jazz. The advantage we had was that it was a little more upbeat than most people were used to. It was the perfect tempo for people to dance to. At that time, the market was oversaturated with sax players and it was refreshing to hear a guitar player in there. The guitar made it stand out and easily identifiable. In the past, the smooth jazz format has had too many people who sound alike.
The second single released from Pacific Coast Highway, "Summer Nights," also went to number one. "At that point I was saying to myself, ‘Well good, I am not a one hit wonder.’ That was the biggest thing for me, and it allowed me to establish myself as a real player in the field," Nils says.
Despite the success of Pacific Coast Highway, Nils says, "I think Ready To Play (his current CD) is the stronger album. It was also conceived in a more cohesive way. Pacific Coast Highway was put together at a time when I didn’t have a record deal. Whenever I had an idea, tracks, or access to musicians in the studio, I would perhaps get (something like) a drum track done, or a song here and there, without any idea what I was going to do with it. It was more like a patchwork quilt of songs that I thought fit together on an album. We even took a couple of songs from Blue Planet and put them on Pacific Coast Highway."
Ready To Play’s "Catnap," which has a contagious melody and funky groove, had climbed five spots on R&R’s smooth jazz charts to number 21 for the week ending July 20th. Nils says he had strong feelings about the song from the time he first penned it. "There was something about that song, and I knew I nailed the format. Certain songs I feel strongly about and "Catnap" is certainly of them," he says.
The title for the song "Catnap" has a humorous and heartwarming story behind it says Nils, "I remember the moment when I named it. I was sitting here in the studio. I turned around and both of my cats were lying on the floor with all four paws up in the air, lying on their backs digging the groove (he laughs), so I called it "Catnap."
Nils’ fondness for R&B music is evident on Ready To Play as he covers the Temptations’ hit song "My Girl," which in 1965, went all the way to number one on the charts. This time, instead of a quintet of male vocalists from Motown, Nils enlisted the help of friend Clydene Jackson, part of the vocal trio Gravity, whose debut album Nils produced. Jackson suggested her friend Carmen Twillie to both write the arrangements and take the lead vocals. Readers may remember Twillie as the lead vocalist for the song "Circle of Life" from the movie The Lion King. Terry Lynn Wood is the third female vocalist on Nils’ interpretation of "My Girl."
Nils says the music he enjoys "Has to have a good groove and a good beat. I am a big funk and R&B fanatic. I also bring certain rock elements into my music when I play live. When I was a kid, I used to listen to Richard Blackmore (guitarist Deep Purple). He was my first guitar hero. Later, I got into funk rhythm guitar and listened to George Duke’s records. It was at that point that I got into jazz."
Nils was first introduced to electronica by his wife Mo. He will often listen to the music of bands such as Massive Attack. He hints that we may eventually hear some electronic music blending with his own guitar rhythms.
Having a studio in his home has been a blessing of sorts for Nils. "My inspirations come at the oddest moments. I might have an idea one night when I can’t sleep and I can go into the studio to work something up."
While Nils has enjoyed production and writing credits for television and film projects such as the independent film Beyond The Ring, Fox’s Undeclared, the television show Weeds and the multimedia project Transmuteo, he says, "My smooth jazz career is what really put me in the big time." Although he intends to keep that door of his career open, the guitarist confesses that his smooth jazz/R&B career is keeping him so busy, that he doesn’t have time to aggressively pursue new projects on the film and television side of the industry.