Nicholas D’Andrea is Relentlessly Carefree on “Cheaper by the Dozen”
It is refreshing to hear an artist that doesn’t attempt to prove anything to their audience. Instead, they take them along for the ride. Rather than saying, “listen to me,” the artist says, “Hop in. We’ll take this song for a spin together, and see where it leads us.” That’s exactly the attitude on Nicholas […]
It is refreshing to hear an artist that doesn’t attempt to prove anything to their audience. Instead, they take them along for the ride. Rather than saying, “listen to me,” the artist says, “Hop in. We’ll take this song for a spin together, and see where it leads us.” That’s exactly the attitude on Nicholas D’Andrea’s new single “Cheaper by the Dozen.”
Within the first few seconds of the song, there’s an openness and sincerity in the chords. As D’Andrea strums along to a loping drumbeat, I couldn’t help but visualize the endless plains of the American heartland. Hailing from Columbus, OH, D’Andrea has no doubt gazed upon that same grassy horizon with wonder. Combined with a little twang, and a wistful vocal style, “Cheaper by the Dozen” hits like a gust of wind across the prairie.
What I love about songs with room to grow is that there’s so much space for melody. As I listen closely to the scrappy acoustic guitar that provides the backbone to the song, I’ve found myself humming along to it’s simple, plaintive progression. Jangly chords peek out into the mix, adding a little bit of 60s folk nostalgia. D’Andrea’s vocal performances on this song are everything you’d want out of a rock and roll vocal. He sounds confident, without having all the answers. Introspective, but inviting. There’s a swagger there that only comes from finding your true voice. In the middle of the first verse, he sings, “Let yourself be whatever you feel.” That line is a call to the listener; a call to get carried away.
With hints of Grateful Dead, loping country, and Dylan-esque vocal delivery, “Cheaper by the Dozen” is a perfect song for those winter nights ahead of us. It’s a song for when we want to reminisce about the first days of Spring; when we can roll down the windows and drive that lonesome highway through the flatlands.
We were fortunate enough to ask Nicholas a few questions over email. Read the interview after the song link below!
1. How has living in Columbus, OH impacted the songs you write? Do you feel connected to the scene there?
In so many good ways. I think the best way I can say what I love about Columbus comes from a great musician and guitar player here Jesse Barr. He once made a brilliant observation about Columbus that I think about a lot. He said Columbus is the middle path, which in Buddhist teachings is the way you should strive to go through life, living moderately not living like a libertine in complete debauchery, but also not trying to be the holiest of holies and renouncing everything. Basically be like the little bears soup in Goldilocks, not too hot, not too cold, just right. That’s Columbus. It’s not trying to be New York City, but it’s not a one horse town either. And if you live here long enough I think that feeling starts to get into your blood stream. There have been many times over the years where I thought it would make sense to move to LA or Nashville, but Columbus has always been where my heart is for so many reasons. I grew up here, and all my family is here, but I also transferred schools a lot from K-12, and have lived here permanently ever since, so I have some deep memories from all different parts of the city, and all of those memories are the landscapes for all of the songs, its where every story develops as its taking place. I’ve also spent my life listening to the music of Columbus and playing music with people that grew up here and started bands. There’s a depth to the connections in the community that I don’t think you can find anywhere else. It goes down to a family level, there are a surprising number of full time working musicians in the city and they all play with everybody, it flows freely and it’s beautiful and rare and is a testament to the collective and collaborative energy that I think is in the DNA of the city, looking at these grass roots, community based events that have been running here for decades and decades like Com Fest and the Doc Dah parade, that is the spirit of the city in my eyes, all for one and one for all, and thats how the music scene operates. I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else
2. Your songs have been used in a number of TV shows, including the hit Shameless. Does having your music included in TV shows help you write cinematically?
Well the first serious band I started , Nick D & the Believers, we were really tuned in to that world. I was kind of a late bloomer with really trying to pursue a career as a musician, and we started that band when I was 26, but I was already 2 years married and in school at the time to be a teacher, so I felt a lot of pressure from myself to try to be successful financially in a short amount of time, to prove that it could be a viable career and that I’d be able to someday support a family from it if I really committed to it. All that to say when we put out our first release we started working with a licensing company and had some early success with getting some songs licensed for tv shows and commercials, which financially was good and really helpful for making a case to keep going down the path of being a full time musician, but I think creatively it was limiting, and I think ultimately for me at least, to have the intention when writing a song that it could be used for licensing, I found that it was difficult to feel like I was really being myself, or speaking from my heart. But instead I was always trying to create characters and write from their perspective. That being said we still put a whole lot of love and care into making that music and threw everything we had at making something special together. The more I was exposed to music licensing and the songs that were chosen for spots, it started to feel not necessarily random, but just that the music supervisor picked music that they liked, and connected with, but it didn’t really need to be any certain genre or about anything particular, at the end of the day it was more about the energy and feeling behind it. So in the next band I was a part of, Doc Robinson I tried to course correct stylistically, and write things that felt more like the music I listened to and connected with, but I think in a lot of ways I was still stuck in writing from the perspective of a character rather than from my own voice, and my own experiences. We also did a lot of co writing in that group and so a lot of different experiences would bleed into one song, which was honestly a lot of fun, and created some songs I’m really proud to have been a part of making. And in those group writing settings I think that really helped develop that cinematic narrative approach because you’re trying to make an idea come to life in 3 different minds at the same time so you really have to talk it out and think through the story. Who are the characters? What do they want? When has one of us felt like them? How do we get that into the song? With songs that we had licensed though It was always a surprise and never the ones I thought it would be, so for a lot of reasons I’ve tried to really not entertain that possibility when writing new songs, but I think cowriting was a really sound education on telling a story in a song because the process really made you start at square one and write your way through a storyline.
3. Who are your main influences? What were you listening to when you wrote “Cheaper by the Dozen?”
Through the first three months of shelter in place we got into a habit of listening to the same two records every morning. They were two gospel albums by Elvis called His Hand In Mine and How Great Thou Art. I had watched a documentary called the Searcher about his life a few years ago and they talked about these two records as being his two favorite and the most important to him. He made the first one shortly after his Mom died very suddenly, and she had been his guiding light in life,. She had raised him on all of this music, it’s where he learned how to sing and to love singing, and he brought in the Jordanairres who were this legendary gospel group who he looked up to as a kid to come and sing with him on both records. From start to finish they just make you feel good all over. He’s clearly just singing straight from his heart for his mother and for God, and you can feel it every time you listen. And the songs all have a joy and a purpose to them of carrying good news. I can never get sick of them, but it was especially helpful in those first few months of COVID with keeping the mood light and spirits high. I have two young kids 1 and 3 , and was looking for something pure and positive to set the tone for each day. So that was on repeat at the time I was writing Cheaper By The Dozen. I wanted it to have that same kind of feeling of hope, positivity and goodness that I felt from those records. I can’t say that there are any songs on the album that it sounds like, but I was hoping for that same good feeling.
4. I would describe the mood of “Cheaper by the Dozen” as carefree. Does it feel that way to you? What’s your connection to the song?
Yes absolutely! It was very therapeutic to record for that reason, I had a lot of fun making it, and I think that fun made it onto the recording which doesn’t always happen so I’m grateful it did with this one. I’ve had the experience a lot in the past of spending too much time trying to get things perfect, get the perfect vocal take, or guitar or get the piano lined up just right, but I tried to forget all that with this one and just tried to keep it light and have fun the whole time. It also really helped that we were able to record the rhythm section live together in a studio. Most of the other songs on the album were woven together from home studios so nothing was played at the same time, but I specifically booked a session for this song because theres nothing that can synthesize the feeling of musicians being together in the studio, and I felt like getting the groove right on this song was essential to it having that carefree joy to it. Aaron Bishara the drummer and Seth Bain the bass player really helped to dial in the feeling too. After a few times running through it together the energy was there and it came together fast! Once I started adding layers at home there was already so much of that fun, carefree feeling from the studio, that was kind of infectious with everything else that was added to it.
The song took a long time to form , about 6 months. There were a few lines and the melody, but the original lines were more joking wordplay “cheaper by the dozen, meaner by the cousin, moon up on the river, higher than a sinner” then the verses started coming together and the themes that were coming out were more sincere and heartfelt so I gradually whittled away at the original idea until Cheaper by the dozen was the only original line left. But for me its about the peace I got from starting regular meditation practice, what it felt like, where it took me, and how much it meant to me. I wanted it to express the joy I was getting from it. Its one of those things that can be hard to talk about, especially when you are new to it and still very much a beginner, but I felt so excited about it and wanted to share it so that was the feeling behind it. I felt the upbeat, fun energy of it from the original germ of the idea, but it took some significant time and effort to get the words to feel right, and carry the right message.
5. What’s next for you?
Well, this song is part of an album that I’m releasing in March called Aslan, with a few more singles from it coming out before then. I’m starting to work on another collection of songs for another album that has similar themes to this song and to the rest of the album, I’ll probably start putting those out not too long after the album comes out. Then I think I’ll just just rinse and repeat on that cycle for the rest of my life haha. I don’t have any plans for playing shows or touring, which really isn’t all that big of a deal these days thankfully. For my day job I work for an organization called We Amplify Voices that does songwriting workshops that pair up professional producers and musicians with small groups of kids and some adults. We record and produce the songs they write together and release them online and on the local radio station. COVID has been helpful for trying to ease up a little on the pace of life. My natural inclination is to be more than a little obsessive and driven to achieve with whatever I’m doing, so I’ve been really working this past year to get a better handle on respecting my own work/ life boundaries ,and making family time sacred. It’s become really important to me with young kids because you start to feel how fast the time can go if you’re not paying attention. So I’m trying to get more intentional about staying in the moment.