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WAMI singer-songwriter of the year Nora Collins gains momentum with solo career

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Singer-Songwriter Nora Collins has been carving her own musical path for over five years now and is increasingly making her mark on the Milwaukee country music scene and beyond. The independent and down-to-earth singer-songwriter released her third CD last year entitled, "Only The Beginning," and with it declared her place and sound in country music with a collection of well crafted songs that define her as an artist.

The Wisconsin Area Music Industry, an organization whose purpose is to educate and recognize the achievements and accomplishments of individuals in the Wisconsin music industry, has taken notice of Nora's efforts and has awarded her three notable awards over the last three years. In 2012 and 2013 Nora was the WAMI "Rising Star" award winner. In 2014 Nora earned the WAMI for "Singer-Songwriter of the Year." Nora also won the Shepherd Express 2013 Best of Milwaukee Female Vocalist & Acoustic Musician Award.

I sat down and spoke with Nora during and after her Summerfest performances and I asked the rising country music sensation about the current state of her solo career, songwriting and vinyl records among other topics.

John Schulze: This is your third year performing at Summerfest. How's it going this year so far?

Nora Collins: It’s going great! I really enjoy playing Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival. It’s a great opportunity to be heard by people from all over the country. I play a lot at the Tiki Hut Stage. It’s an awesome feeling to see how when I first start there may be only a few people but by the time I’m done the crowd has grown and the support is overwhelming. I also had the opportunity to play at a big stage this year, the Uline Warehouse. It was a lot of fun to be up on the big stage and play for a large crowd.

JS: You've performed a few new songs at Summerfest this year. "I'll Be Gone" is one that stands out in particular. Can you tell me a bit about that song?

NC: "I’ll be Gone" is a song I wrote with my friend Jeff Barellman. It’s a song about leaving a relationship and small town behind in search for a new beginning.

JS: Vinyl records are making a comeback in a big way. Do you have any records in your collection and would you ever consider pressing a vinyl in the future?

NC: I personally do not have any records in my collection but I know my Dad has at least 200. He’s played some for me and they look and sound great. I grew up with CD’s so I’ve got a nice collection of those. I think vinyl is very cool and is something I would definitely consider doing in the future, possibly for a limited edition single release.

JS: You play an impressive number of gigs every year. Have you been able to catch some of the concerts at Summerfest and around town this year and who has impressed you most with their live show?

NC: Since I play over 200 shows a year, I don’t have too much time to catch concerts. I’m a big Bruno Mars fan and I got to see him at the Marcus Amphitheater. He puts on an incredible show and his voice is so smooth! I also had the opportunity to watch David Nail’s show at Summerfest at the U-line Warehouse from on the side of the stage. I’m a huge fan of his so getting to watch him perform from only a couple feet away was unbelievable! He is so talented. He sounds even better live than he does on the radio.

JS: You recently won the 2014 WAMI for singer-songwriter of the year. Obviously that is a huge honor, can you try to describe what it feels like to have the musical community bestow that award upon you?

NC: It all starts with a song. So to be recognized for my performing and songwriting by the musical community is a great honor. As a young artist, it is very humbling and encouraging to be acknowledged.

JS: How do you personally determine when a new song is finished? Do you find yourself going back to older songs and reworking them every so often?

NC: I think a song is finished when I feel every line/lyric is strong. Then, as I perform the song out more and more, different ideas may come to me to sing the song a different way or adjust the lyrics. I have gone back to older songs and decided to rework them to make them better.

JS: What comes to you first most often when songwriting, the lyrics or the melody?

NC: For me, I get an idea for a song and the lyrics and melody come together at the same time.

JS: How do you prepare for your performances, do you have a routine that you like to follow?

NC: To prepare for my performances, I do have a routine I like to follow. I love to drink Throat Coat Tea with honey and chew Dentyne Ice gum. It’s also important for me to do some vocal warm-ups.

JS: You have an amazing tone to your voice and you have a great sense of inflection when you sing, but do you sometimes find yourself thinking about random things besides the song you are singing? With so many performances a year what is your trick to staying focused?

NC: When I’m performing there’s often a lot of different thoughts running through my mind from trying to remember the next lyric and chord progression to random thoughts. What keeps me focused while performing is staying in the moment. Music is very emotional and has the power to move people. It means a lot to me to share a connection with others through my songs and performing. In order to do that, I have to stay in the moment and focus on the song I’m singing and connecting with those watching.

JS: Your last CD, "Only The Beginning," was an acoustic release that stripped down your sound and elements to the core of who you are as a singer-songwriter and enabled you to really grow as an artist from your previous CD. I know it's perhaps too early to ask about the fine details of your next CD, but can you tell me what you hope to accomplish in general when the time comes to record the follow up to "Only The Beginning," and do you think it will also be an acoustic release or do you hope to record with a backing band?

NC: I’m very excited to get started on a new CD. I have a few songs written. With every song I hope to create something that people can really connect to and enjoy listening to. I’m thinking it will be a mix of full band with maybe one or two acoustic songs.

JS: Your career has picked up quite a bit of momentum the last few years and the opening gigs are getting a bit bigger each year for you. For instance, coming up in September you're opening up for Country Music Hall of Fame member Ronnie Milsap at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. Is this your first time performing at The Pabst Theater and is it safe to say this might be the biggest gig of your career so far?

NC: I’m thrilled to be opening for new Country Music Hall of Fame member Ronnie Milsap at the historic Pabst Theatre on September 11th! It will be my first time performing at the historic Pabst Theatre. It is safe to say this show might just be the biggest gig of my career so far. I’m really looking forward to it!

JS: Can you tell me about some of your upcoming performances and where people can see you this summer?

NC: After my 14 shows at Summerfest, I have a busy summer with solo shows. I have gigs at State Fair and I’m also playing at Bastille Days and the Waukesha County Fair. I’m very excited to be opening for Josh Thompson at Port Fish Day on July 19 and I’m honored to be opening for Country Music Hall of Fame member Ronnie Milsap at the Historic Pabst Theater on September 11.

Check out NoraCollins.com for a full schedule and be sure to catch Nora on Sunday, July 13 downtown Milwaukee at Bastille Days. Nora plays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. CST at the Kilbourn East Stage.

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