With her solo debut “Phantom Caller,” singer-songwriter Nikki Speake is returning to her roots. Listeners may recognize her honeyed voice from her work in local groups Midnight Larks and Shantih Shantih, but her new cut shows her embracing the country sounds she grew up with in Dadeville, Alabama. “While it’s not always the most popular choice musically, it’s who I am at the end of the day,” she confesses over email.
As one of the primary voices in Midnight Larks, Speake started her solo project out of the need to share songs that felt too quiet and vulnerable for the trio’s rowdy garage-psych sound. “Phantom Caller” was written several years ago after the death of a loved one, but apart from some scattered live performances in the now defunct country rock group Sioux City Sue, the song didn’t exist outside of her living room. That is, until fellow musician and friend Lynn Bridges encouraged her to record it with him at Communicating Vessels studios in Birmingham, AL. After completing work on the single, he made Speake promise that she would do something unique with the track.
The video that we are premiering today is her way of honoring his wish. She created the video herself, shooting much of the footage and editing the final cut. Much like the track, the end result is quirky, intimate, and upbeat — a seemingly odd combination for a song about death and dreams. But Speake makes it work. “Ghost don’t you sweep down to my dreams tonight / I know you want to pinch my cheeks for old times,” she pleads on the song’s opening lines accompanied by jaunty guitars and whimsical hand claps. Think too long on it and it might dawn on you just how eerie that visual is, but the song’s sweeping forward momentum doesn’t allow you to linger.
In addition to serving as her formal solo debut, “Phantom Caller” is also Speake’s opportunity to announce her accompanying band, the Phantom Callers, a group that consists of Aaron Mason on guitar, Anna Kramer on bass, and Russell Owens on drums.
“I feel lucky to have some Atlanta staples help me out with the Phantom Callers,” says Speake. “They’ve all played in bands together in the past, so everyone has a really good chemistry. Even though they don’t play on the single, we will perform the song as a band. I’m hoping the release will give people an idea of my songwriting style, and a curiosity to see how we interpret the song together.”
Nikki and the Phantom Callers will make their live debut on Fri., March 24 at the Nophest Music and Arts Festival at Little Tree Studios in Avondale Estates. Half-priced weekend passes are currently on sale. Doors open at 7 p.m. All ages.