“Isn’t there a philanthropist motherfucker out there with ten million dollars who wants to kill it as much as I do?” asks Nikki Lane, seated at painfully hip East Nashville coffee shop Barista Parlor with two iced coffees and two biscuits, to go — one for her, one for her “pedal steel boyfriend.” It’s 10:30 a.m., and she rolled in to town last night from California after driving days through the mountains, all while fighting off a self-diagnosed case of bronchitis. “On the road you become more of a hypochondriac,” she says in her raspy South Carolina drawl. “Based on statistics, we’re probably going to die in the van.”
Lane’s been touring nonstop since the release of 2014’s Dan Auerbach-produced All or Nothin’, hitting events like Willie Nelson’s Heartbreaker Banquet and the Blake Shelton-headlined Stagecoach Festival. She’s played with Shakey Graves and Spiritualized, and, soon, she’ll open for Jenny Lewis and Social Distortion through the fall. But country radio hasn’t been so friendly to her outlaw-spirited songs, which extol the benefits of one-night-stands and spill over with slinky, Seventies-era inspirations cased in a streetwise, modern shell that’s as unapologetic as Johnny Cash‘s middle finger. That’s where the philanthropist motherfucker comes in. Why can’t some rich dude just create a station, she wonders, for her kind of music?
“There’s alternative, Triple-A and pop,” Lane says, waving “hi” with a tattooed arm to the occasional passing friend, while Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” plays in the background and patrons eat breakfast sandwiches on reclaimed wood tables – this is the kind of place, where, if you time it right, Auerbach might pull up on his motorcycle. “So why can’t there be pop-country and country-country? We just need two genres.”
Still, it’s been a pretty good run for the outlaw of late — Lane’s LP made such an impression that her label, New West, is re-releasing it tomorrow with several bonus tracks, including the naughtily romantic “Can’t Get Enough,” premiering exclusively today on Rolling Stone Country. Sturgill Simpson‘s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music scored a Grammy nod (albeit in the Americana category) and Chris Stapleton’s debut Traveller is snuggled right under Mumford & Sons on the iTunes chart. But Lane knows it can be a fickle climate for the rebel — she’s been listening to Jamey Johnson and Gretchen Wilson, two artists who once held the “Second Coming of Waylon Jennings” title but only came out shredded and shattered by the mainstream machine.
“What did country music do to them?” she asks. “They were the best thing in that time period, and where did they go? Jamey Johnson was the Sturgill eight years ago. Did they jump off the ship because the climate was so bad, or did we kill ’em? Do we really like outlaws, or do we just like to kill them off? I don’t know, but at least I feel like the doors are opening again.”