Nikki Lane on Working With Lana Del Rey: 'She Wants to Lean Into Country'
Nikki Lane first toured with Lana Del Rey back in 2019, when Del Rey was on the road in support of her album Norman Fucking Rockwell! “It was really cool, because I saw that Robert Ellis went out, and Lukas Nelson went out, and Weyes Blood and Zella Day,” Lane recalls. “She was taking a lot of people in our world, and so I was really excited for my opportunity.”
But the Nashville country outlaw has known Del Rey for what she calls “a long time,” and their friendship has led them to become unlikely creative partners. While rehearsing for a show in Wichita, Kansas, the two of them unexpectedly wrote a lonesome country duet titled “Breaking Up Slowly,” which would appear over a year later on Del Rey’s latest LP, Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Since that first tour, their relationship has only strengthened — Del Rey has talked of a country project with Lane on the horizon.
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“I like our voices together. I really like someone like Skeeter Davis, and so I love hearing our harmonies kind of build upon what some of those artists historically did with their own,” Lane tells Rolling Stone. “I feel like they go together. It’s just been fun to spend time with her as a friend, and then to end up on her record.”
We talked to Lane about her ongoing work with Del Rey and what may come of it down the road.
How did you come to work with Lana Del Rey?
I think my first [show with her] was in Wichita or something. I went out to the Midwest, and I hadn’t seen her in a long time, so it was literally as simple as a catch-up. We sat down in a hotel room and talked about what had been going on in the past few months. And I had carried my guitar up to practice “Look Away,” the song of mine that we were going to do on her show. And I kind of said out loud, “Well, someone says I’m breaking up slowly.” And the thing that I now fully know about Lana is that, that’s all it takes to spark a strong melody. That’s how I write songs, too — someone says something, and it triggers an idea, but it becomes so much more prolific.
So she sings, “Breaking up slowly…” And I’m like, “Oh shit, yeah.” And so we wrote the song just hanging out before we went downstairs to get ready for the show that day. Honestly, I didn’t realize it was kind of done in its entirety at that moment. We reconnected later on in the year, and she said, “Send me your song!” I made her a demo, just so that she had something – not that she needs my help, but I thought that I would just send her a completed idea. And they used the vocals from that and built up our track, and then we were able to do the song together. I was excited when she said it would be on this record. I didn’t know where it would land.
This song is obviously very country-inspired, and the Tammy Wynette/George Jones references really stick out. How did you two come up with the idea to reference them?
If you look at the previous lines in that first verse we’re talking about, it comes to the word “regret.” And I don’t think that we knew who would be the characters we would use, or who could play out that storyline, until she said, “Wynette.” I’ve read that she carries one Tammy Wynette vinyl around — she likes to keep that energy and that thought, like muses to her. And I have a dog named after Tammy Wynette, I have a “Tammy” tattoo. You’re a fan, but you also know that heartache. It was as simple as it rhyming, and then it was like, “Oh.” You have an idea, and then things slip out.
What stands out about the album version of “Breaking Up Slowly” is that Lana gives the reins entirely over to you for the first third of the song — her voice doesn’t come in until later. It’s a similar thing that she does with Zella Day and Weyes Blood on a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.” Did you know that that was going to happen?
I knew once she had sent it back to me. And at that point, we had just started to experiment writing together. But I felt the same way — I was just mapping it out for her, I was happy to just have written a song with her. So when she sent it back, and left not only the opening chorus but the first verse, I was like, Wow. Because to me, those are subtle ways of someone showing their confidence in their work.
And also, I love “For Free” on her record — she is down to share her light, and when I think about her, that’s what I think about. She’s constantly around her peers, around her family, and sharing the experience and the opportunity. When you’re on set with her, you kind of can’t tell who’s working or who’s not. What’s hers is yours in that way.
Lana has mentioned that you two were working on a country album together. Is that still something that we can expect down the line?
I think so — you know, I obviously want her to be able to have control with the way her art plays out. But knowing that we’re working together on these projects, I was like, “What are we gonna do with that other song?” And she’s like, “Well, we’re gonna do more!” She wants to lean in. Her voice naturally works so well in that country space. And I think what you’ve seen with Lana, with her records across her career, is that she likes to lean into all of those characters, or all of those different genres, different producers that she’s worked with and sounds that she’s worked with. So I think she wants to lean into country, and I love that. We’ve been writing songs driving around in an F-150 in Texas. I think you can expect to see the fruit of that.
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