Queens, NY native Nilsa writes songs, and then sings with her soul. (Photo: Daniel Rivera)
It’s a little half way past three in the afternoon as I spot a pintsized female finishing her cigarette behind the old Cooper Union Building. In a playful yet stern tone of voice I admonish, “What are you doing? You’re going to kill those pipes!” She pouts back at me, “I know. But I’m trying.” After she finishes her cancer stick we exchange greetings, discuss a few things going on in our lives, take a few snap shots and then get to business while trekking from Cooper Triangle to Washington Square Park.
I haven’t seen this woman perform since this past January at Amber Village with Upgrade on the song “Farewell” which is on his debut album Smile and Nod. Since then she has been burning up the club circuit with her own brand of rock and soul. Along the way she has managed to connect with her audience no matter where she performs and has certainly garnered the attention of the man penning this article.
Throughout the course of its time rock music has provided us with some powerful vocalists and songwriters since its inception. John Lennon, Chris Cornell, Ann Wilson and Janis Joplin are just some of the many names that come to mind when comes to impeccable songwriting and possessing voices that command an audience while delivering a sound message. Twenty-five year old Queens, NY native Nilsa Astacio just may be one of those who fall in the same line as it is said that she writes songs, and then sings with her soul.
If you don’t know who she is by now then you must be either living in a darkened cave or are too scared to veer in the opposite direction of some of today’s extremely bland brand of pop music. So allow me to be the one to clue you the reader on all things Nilsa.
“I pretty much started singing when I came out of my mother’s womb,” she laughs as we head down to Astor Place. While passing through Astor Place Nilsa elaborated that her formal singing career began at the age of four and was schooled early on by her father who was a singer himself at their local church. By the age of nine she was singing in a Christian rock band. “What they would do is take classic rock songs like The Beatles and change the lyrics. They would take them and make it a song about God,” she recounts. However, this would be a short lived experience as she began to develop a an affinity for such legends as the Fab Four, Michael Jackson, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin by her early teenage years. “It wasn’t until I became obsessed with The Beatles that I wanted to write stuff. I became determined to write music. I always loved music when I was growing up. There wasn’t anything really out there that motivated me to make a name for myself until I started listening to The Beatles, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin. Because all of their songs had a message and made people want to think,” she added.
By the time she was fifteen she began to have aspirations of starting a band of her own but this would not happen for another five years. As time went on she would include Nirvana, Jason Mraz and Gavin DeGraw as influences in addition to her classic rock roots. She would eventually teach herself how to play the piano in order to become a structured songwriter. To help her with this process she enlisted childhood friend and Neil Davis who would eventually go on to co write the track “Goodbye” on her debut EP Out of Reach.
Although she has expressed admiration for female vocalists like the aforementioned Joplin and Mariah Carey Nilsa made it clear that she draws her true inspiration from male vocalists. “I feel that male vocalists have a better hold over their audiences than female vocalists do,” she states as we cross Broadway and head into a local Duane Reade to rehydrate from the searing heat. “I don’t know what it is. But I see the audience reaction to a male vocalist and it’s always much more intense than a female vocalist,” she asserts. When I solicited her view as to if she believes there are any female vocalists with the same intensity Nilsa simply replied, “No. I really don’t.” When I prodded a little further she went to state, “The women that may have been able to create that type of reaction they’re not necessarily artists that I would enjoy. It’s more poppy stuff that I see people react to. Except for Janis Joplin; people would see her and lose their minds. But she was also very masculine.”
After exiting the store with our beverage choices we turn the corner on to Waverly Place. Nilsa shares with me her belief in the connection to her audiences when she performs live. “People tell me that all the time. Which I am so thankful for; they tell me all the time that I’m passionate when I’m singing and have told me when I’m on stage that I remind them of Michael Jackson and Janis Joplin. They feel I have the ability to captivate my audience. To me that’s the most important thing.”
As we turn down on Fifth Avenue and walk underneath the Washington Square Arch in to the park we are met with an array of colorful sounds that range from a man playing the blues on his sunburst finish Fender Stratocaster, a drummer who is wailing away and a trombone player warming up. The park is abuzz as it normally is on a Saturday afternoon during the summertime in Manhattan. During this leg to the journey Nilsa reveals her admiration of passionate vocalists and drops the names of two prominent ones she would like to work with in the future. “I love Marc Anthony. His voice is crazy. I can listen to him anytime and any day. I love Pink. She’s one of the only female singers I listen to on a consistent basis. I would definitely love to work with both of them,” she declares.
As for her current work Nilsa could not be happier to share with me the process of how her EP came to fruition. “I originally went into the studio in 2008. But I was always really uncomfortable with recording because I’m more of a live performance person. Plus the producer I was working with didn’t vibe well (with me),” she told me. The following year she would experience another setback in the recording process with a different producer. This all resulted in not only time and money being wasted but most importantly her songs were not being completed.
Eventually her comfort level in the studio would soon improve when she encountered Scott Gross of From Autumn To Ashes fame and elected to work with him at his studio in Long Island. In regard to her experience working with Gross at his Hit and Run Studios Nilsa beamed, “He made me so comfortable and so relaxed that I actually learned to enjoy the process. He’s the most phenomenal producer. His attitude is great and he let me be myself. There’s no ego about him. It’s not you have to listen to me! I’m your producer! Everything was whatever you want to do well do it. He’d give me his opinion but I had the option to decide what I wanted to do and he would not take it personally. With other producers it was a fight. He gave me the creative freedom to finish this EP.” Nilsa also went on to declare their mutual love of classic rock was also a key ingredient in allowing the recording process to take a smooth path.
As for the debut EP Nilsa iterated, “My entire record the songs are all about the same theme. Which is yearning; you’re in love with somebody. And it doesn’t matter what you do or what you say there’s a part of you that has to move on but you can’t. It was actually a specific situation that inspired me to start writing about these subjects and I never had that type of inspiration before. I’m very thankful for it.” In listening to the five track record one can get the feeling she is starting to dig deep in her soul in order to bring out her message. But she has barely begun to dig deeper and with her bright outlook on things she will have many years ahead of her to do so.
Who knows how far she will go in terms of baring her soul and what depths her amazing voice will travel to. This much I do know. For Nilsa nothing’s out of reach and it will be an absolute joy to listen to her musical journey. I would encourage anyone reading this piece to take the trip and purchase her debut EP you will not be disappointed.
You can follow Nlisa on Facebook and Twitter. The EP Out of Reach can be purchased on iTunes and heard on Spotify.
If you have any questions, comments, or story suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at DanielRivera2424@gmail.com. Also, follow me on Twitter @DanielRivera24 and I will do the very same.