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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Three Local Performers Come Home For Annual Holiday Concert

Noah Sugarman 
There are three singer/songwriters from Fort Thomas who are just ripping it up - Noah Sugarman, Brett Nuelsen (AKA Hank Erwin), and Jasmine Poole  (AKA Wonky Tonk). All are Highlands graduates and each one has a unique voice and approach, full of dynamic energy, strong writing skills, and each one is good. Very, very good.  And you’ll be able to catch them all in a shared bill at the Southgate House Revival on December 23 at 9:00 PM.

I had lunch with Noah recently and we had a wide ranging and rambling conversation about songwriting, performing, the business, and his latest project - Camp Sugar. Noah says of his chosen professional path ”I’m a carpenter of intangible things and every time I build one (a song) it’s better than the last one.”  That is the job description to print on a business card.
He began his musical education at home - his mother is a Kindermusic instructor and his dad played guitar and harmonica. He is the bass player with local favorite 500 Mile to Memphis and he pursues a solo career in between those gigs. He has managed to record record four albums with the 500, two albums as Noah Sugarman, and one as Camp Sugar, and there is more in the pipeline.

Noah recounts that  “When I was 11, I heard Guns ‘N Roses’ version of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door.’ I found my dad’s guitar in the attic and I wanted to learn that intro. I took lessons and within three months my teacher suggest that my parents take me to CCM for formal lessons. So by high school, I was in bands, but when everyone was listening to Nirvana I was listening to classical music or jazz or James Brown.  I loved James Brown’s band the JBs.” He says of his life in music, "All of this was an accident!" He laughs.

He was nervous his first time playing out.  “I was 13. It was at the Bellevue Vets. I was playing with Honey Lime and I couldn’t feel my legs the entire show. I never became un-nervous the whole time.” So when did he finally start getting comfortable? “I’ll let you know! He laughs. The second I start to perform I step into this state of Zen. I still get the nerves. I mean, I‘m rehearsed. I guess it’s a necessary energy. I need that surge of energy.” 

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Noah has the distinction of being one of the first artists signed to Johnny Depp’s record label. That connection was made through a relative who went to high school with Depp in Florida. Noah played a few songs for Depp and his long time friend and musical partner, Bruce Witkin, at a wedding. He must have made an impression because he received a call a few years later inviting him to come to California to record. He made two albums with them and loved the experience.

Noah’s music is pop oriented but there are flavors of funk, blues, and folk. It’s good driving music.  His new gig, which you will see at the Southgate House Revival, is called Camp Sugar. It is just Noah, a guitar, a keyboard, effects pedals, and looping stations. Each song is built layer upon layer resulting in a rich and full sound. He becomes a full band. “Half of the fun is listening and the other half is watching to see if I mess up.” He laughs. It’s a high wire act without a net and a whole lot of fun.

Click here for more information about Noah.

Brett Neulsen performs under the name of Hank Erwin. He says, "My father and grandfather were Hank Erwin Nuelsen Jr. & Sr. who both died when I was young. The stage name is to pay homage to them." 

Hank received his first guitar at age 9. "It was a Series 10, a cheap Strat knock-off my parents bought from Denny Heglin music in Covington. I remember being confused that I couldn't make it sound like Vernon Reid, even though I was mimicking the motions of his fingers in the video I saw on MTV."

“I actually used to write songs before I even had a guitar. I would get a melody in my head and write down the lyrics and try to chart out the arrangement - how long the intro would last, how it would lead into the verse or begin with the chorus, where the guitar solo would go, how the song would end, etc. I started doing that when I was about seven.… These days I try to leave more to the imagination and write lyrics that are more descriptive of imagery and experiences. Even more recently I've tried to be less obsessed about what I'm trying to make the song say and focus more on the flow of the marriage of the melody and the phonetics, thinking of the syllables as more of an instrument in itself.” That’s the hallmark of true writer when the sound of words matter.
Hank Erwin

He knew he would be a professional musician when he woke up “one day after I'd been stressing for a long time about finding a straight job and realizing I'd been paying my bills for months just from playing gigs and that if I could just keep myself busy, I could make a sustainable living.”

Hank left northern Kentucky at 21 and "began bouncing all over the country. I took a music class at Washtenaw Community College in Michigan. That's where I met Shari Kane of Detroit's blues duo Madcat & Kane. She taught me finger style Delta Blues. After that I ended up in Hollywood, California where I studied at Musician's Institute from 2006-2008. He didn't teach at the school but my biggest influence there had to be Philip Sayce, formerly of the Jeff Healey Band and Uncle Cracker. He was playing for Melissa Etheridge when I met him….After that I moved to Austin where, at the time, you could run into local heavyweights at a handful of clubs any night of the week." And that is where he makes his home now.

Hank Erwin’s music is lyrical, appealing, and speaks to the timeless themes of joy, sorrow, the lost, the found, and the universal topics of being human. There is no pretension. His deep voice hints of Jim Croce mixed with a bit of Greg Allman. His songs reference his time in Texas and crewing container ships in the Great Lakes. "When I promote shows I have to give some description that gives people an idea of the sound without hearing it, so I call it folk, Americana, alt-country, rock, whatever. But I probably mostly identify with folk, as unspecific as it is."

You con find out more at

Jasmine Poole is Wonky Tonk and her album “Stuff We Left Behind” is getting a lot of attention. She is a hip country singer, true to country’s roots but with enough quirkiness that makes her music appealing. Her songs are full of catchy lines and memorable melodies.  Jasmine/Wonky Tonk says that she seriously began to pursue music  “two years ago. After a bad break up I drove to Chicago to get away and ended up going to a tarot card reader who convinced me to give up love for now and pursue what I was made to: travel and play tunes.”

I wondered if her songs were more observational or confessional. "I like to think both. I often only really begin to understand a song months after writing it. In this way, each time I perform I imagine each song is a letter I have written myself to remind me  where I've been and where I'm going."
Wonky Tonk

Her phrasing is unique and appealing and makes her stand out from the crowd. "Well, I spend a lot of time alone. I think that without the influence of others around you all the time you create something entirely your own. I love to still play pretend. Talk to birds and sing out loud, alone. I don't pay much attention to phrasing. I just say what I mean, no poetic code." She is traveling in support of her recording and is making fans around the country and I would not be surprised to see her playing large music festivals soon.

Click here to visit her website

You know, I had always heard that Fort Thomas was a protective bubble, but I think that’s all wrong. It’s more of an incubator where talent is nurtured and then released into the world. There is so much talent from Fort Thomas and it’s always wonderful when they come home to visit. And that’s what is happening on December 23 at The Southgate Revival. See you there for some musical cheer.

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