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PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

When It Comes to Love: A Conversation with Lori Nuic

Alternative soul singer/songwriter Lori Nuic brings a sparkle to whatever she does.

A classic triple threat –- she writes, sings and dances with equal aplomb -– and backed by a stellar duo of well-connected producers in Adrian Eccleston and Martin ‘Doc’ McKinney (The Weeknd), Nuic seems perfectly positioned to take the pop charts by storm. She appeared on my radar last autumn when she won her second Best Pop crown at the Toronto Independent Music Awards (TIMA). Her blend of Motown-era melodies and urban-slick grooves is striking, both for its timelessness and for its contemporary sheen. Nuic’s is a classic sound, immediately comfortable, but it is pushing at the boundaries of the old form. Small wonder she won the top prize twice!

A few weeks after her triumph at the TIMAs, Nuic and I sat down for a cup of coffee and a chat.

Nuic moved to Toronto in her late teens to study dance and theatre at Ryerson University. But, when I tell her that I find it surprising, since she has such a powerful, enviable voice, that she hasn’t always thought of herself as a singer first and foremost, she demurs. “Well, dance, to me, and theatre, and music, there’re intertwined. It’s like mind, body, soul. So to jump into something like singing, it just seemed like an extension of what I was doing.”

So, what was it she was doing? Nuic grew up in Kitchener/Waterloo, a sleepy Southern Ontario community that has since emerged as a booming tech powerhouse (it’s the home of Research In Motion). What was the formative moment for her, pulling her inexorably toward pop music and performance?

“I remember being in high school,” she offers, “and watching the Grammys on TV and thinking, ‘Oh my God, I love that’. For me, that was the biggest thing. It was always such a… I couldn’t ever do anything else that night. It totally stirred my soul.”

But… the Grammys? I tell her that you don’t usually hear musicians pointing to this big bloated awards show as a signpost on their way to discovering their art. She, wisely (and gently), suggests that I am being a snob. “Well, I listen to the radio a lot,” she tells me. “When I was a kid, when we were going to guitar lessons or dance class or whatever, we’d always have the radio paying. So, I became very familiar with what was on the charts. Popular music. And I like it. I like a good catchy tune, and I’m not mad at it. [Laughing, now] I’m not mad at pop. And in dance class we’d always do our combinations to stuff that was on the radio, or on Much Music. Janet Jackson definitely sticks out. The whole Rhythm Nation, that was big. A little bit of Madonna. Well, not so much Madonna. Initially I just tried to sing along with music that I liked, and that’s where it started. In high school I did some musicals and figured I could carry a tune.”

Well, yes, she can. The unavoidable conclusion after spending an afternoon with her most recent album, 2012’s Flaws of Attraction, is that Nuic has a real command over her instrument. She can bend her notes into bluesy swoons, she can lift them up into the church rafters, she can mine heartbreak for redemption, and turn as sexy as lace and candle-light. The songs are tightly constructed, elegant in design, and the melodies are the kind that follow you around for awhile, floating on the breeze. The themes are mostly relationships gone sour, love turned bad, overcoming another failed go at forever after. As we finish up our tea, I ask her about the clever title.

Flaws of Attraction means, you keep doing the same things you keep getting the same outcomes. I’ve made a lot of… interesting choices when it comes to love and when it comes to relationships, and I’m trying to learn. Not make the same mistakes. Looking for a different outcome, hopefully.”

Check out Lori Nuic’s music here: