Interview: Nicky Renard of Nightstage – the teenager at the heart of a classic American rock band

Recently, Los Angeles-based band Nightstage released its debut album “Sunset Industry”, an album recorded in Nashville which is full of classic-sounding American rock music. Nightstage’s core duo, father-and-daughter team Max Foxx and Nicky Renard, is backed up by a band of seasoned music industry veterans from the American rock scene. Roppongi Rocks checked in with 16-year-old co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist Nicky Renard in Los Angeles to talk about her role in the band, the debut album and what’s next for Nightstage. 

You have co-written Nightstage’s debut album. What inspired you when you created this music? “A lot of things. What I mostly set out to do was write music which takes people to a different place in their mind, sort of like an escape. And I guess Nightstage’s rhetoric is to simply write music which we like ourselves and hope that other people have a similar taste. Really, the creative process varies from song to song. With ‘Illusion’s Way’, for instance, I actually had parts of the lyrics and I knew what I wanted the song to be about before I had the music. I composed the music with the lyrics in mind. Usually, though, I’m just experimenting around the guitar when the song hits me, or I guess I should say a part of a song hits me. If something sticks out and sounds particularly good, I’ll record it, just my guitar track. Sometimes I’ll immediately get to work on making a song out of it. Other times, I just keep the riff as it is and share it later with my dad, Max, to see if he comes up with something interesting. If my dad comes to me with a song or a riff, that’s a different story. Then I have to listen to what he’s playing and try and come up with something that fits the song, yet sticks out as having a complementing but separate melody. If what I’m playing isn’t different enough, meaning it only acts as ‘filler noise’, then it wouldn’t even have to be there at all, in my opinion. Lyric writing also has a different process for me. With composing, the music hits me randomly. Lyrics usually come to be by listening to the music over and over again. I try to block everything out and listen to what the song is making me think. I interweave memories, dreams, and thoughts and attempt to put all of that as best I can into a limited number of words.”

When I listen to your music, classic rock acts such as The Eagles, Journey, Tom Petty, New England and Bad Company come to mind. How would you describe Nightstage’s music? “In the band, we call our genre ‘heavy soft rock’, which at this point I’ve started describing as soft rock plugged into a Marshall amp if you get the idea. No, what it really is is soft rock which we turn into heavy rock by adding heavy guitar riffs, groovy basslines, massive drum fills and at times mysterious vocals. I guess everybody has a different interpretation of what our music sounds like. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what our music sounds like and not many people agree with each other.”

You are a young musician and songwriter and in Nightstage you’re surrounded by seasoned veterans who have played with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Do you ever feel overwhelmed or do you see them as just fellow musicians in a band? “Well, it does put some pressure on me to perform well, but at the same time having such seasoned musicians in the band gives me a great sense of support. There’s nothing better than knowing you have a good, solid band with you on stage. I think we all support each other to put on a great show.”

You are a self-taught guitarist. What made you pick up the guitar in the first place? “It really started when I was thirteen and a half. A lot of changes had happened in my life at that time, but at the same time, it felt like everything sort of was at a standstill. I guess that something just drew me to the guitar at that point. I had been listening to a lot more music at the time. Then, when I started playing more guitar, I realised that playing guitar was what my passion was. I don’t think I would ever have ended up playing another instrument than the guitar. I don’t think the option of playing another instrument was ever something I had in my mind. I remember being nine or so and stumbling across one of my dad’s videos, Deep Purple performing at the California Jam. My mind was blown, seeing Ritchie Blackmore up on that big stage. I thought that being a guitarist had to be the coolest thing you could be.”

You co-founded the band with your father, Max Foxx. Was it obvious for you both to do this together from the start? “In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. It wasn’t ever that we thought ‘both of us play instruments, let’s start a band together’. It came a little more gradually. It started with the two of us just jamming out together and then we got to work on some material we had composed. Just as a fun thing. After a while, though, we decided to work to release a single and that was when it started for real. By the time we had recorded the single, ‘Grovy Lane’, we had a bunch of ideas for more songs, so we made the decision to start working on forming a real band and recording a full album.”

After a lot of hard work with your debut album, it was released a few months ago. Were you nervous about how it would be received by the world? “Actually, not as much as you could imagine. So much had been happening before the release, such as our last-minute re-mixing of the album and rehearsing for our album launch show, that I barely had time to think about how it would be received. It was exciting, obviously, but I always kind of imagined that if I dig the album, other people will probably also like it.”

The album’s out and you’re doing some gigs in the US. What’s next for Nightstage? “We’ve already started working on a new album which we’re aiming to release later this year. Apart from that, we’re planning a US tour and some shows abroad toward the end of the year or early next year.”

Nightstage’s debut album “Sunset Industry” is out now.