Two Hundred Percent with Ni/Co
This Nashville-based pop duo is challenging others to feel something more.
When most people think of live music in Nashville, they picture country music played at the crowded honky tonks of Broadway. In contrast, what I automatically picture is the growing pop music scene.
At shows such as those put on by Housequake, the people who show up are usually there to support one person. Instead of struggling against drunken tourists for a spot by the stage or at a table, the crowd shifts easily between sets as the next artist’s friends move to the foot of the stage. Frequently, people hang back and talk or surf on their phones while artists they don’t know are on the stage. But when Ni/Co took the stage for their set on Monday the 22nd at The High Watt, they quickly grabbed and held the attention of everyone in the venue.
Clearly having a blast while still hitting every note like pros, Ni/Co’s presence was a crowd pleaser. They brought the energy of the room to a crescendo with their cover of Rockstar 101, and as they left the stage, I heard a guy in the crowd behind me yell “That was BADASS!” to his friends, who enthusiastically agreed.
Earlier in the night, I stood with Dani Brillhart and Colton Jones in the lobby, discussing how Ni/Co came to be. As Colton told the story of how they met as students at Belmont University, I quickly began to wish I were recording on a camera instead of a voice recorder, just to capture his hilarious storytelling emphases.
“One day, we were at a party and she was talking about some songs she had written, and I was like ‘oh you write music? What kind of music?’ and she was like ‘R&B’ — and I was like ‘lit lit lit’-” here he emphasizes his point by moving his head and shoulders in time to his words, then continues, “so we wrote together. It wasn’t until two years after that that we decided to be a duo. We wrote a couple songs after [the party] and we both wrote the same way and clicked really well…”
“And we took the leap!” Dani finishes.
When asked about deciding on their name, Dani jokes that they “went down a very dark path” before settling on Ni/Co. “We went through a lot of really weird names. One was Zenith. That was almost our name.”
“Why might you have gone with Zenith?”
“It got to the point where we were just Googling names or words for things, phrases that we liked. I think Zenith is the ultimate pinnacle of something — do I have that right?” Dani looks to Colton, and he nods.
“It’s the pinnacle. And when we first started the duo, we wanted it to be to where we’re not just 50% and 50%, we wanted to be two one hundred percents coming together. So if Zenith is the pinnacle, so it’s like 100 and 100.”
“We both want to bring 100% of ourselves so that when we’re together we’re at 200%. Being together, we don’t want to let the other person down, so we push our hardest and tap into something within ourself that allows us to keep pushing and take risks that get us to where we want to be.”
Spending time with these two, it’s obvious that they provide balance to each other and the work that they are doing. I ask them what they want others to get from their music, and they answer in unison that they want people to feel something — anything.
Dani elaborates further. “We want them to leave the show and be listening to our album and feel something, think, be challenged a little bit. We’re going to make a lot of people uncomfortable with the way we look, the things we say, and the songs that we sing… but we want it to be a good challenge. We want to make people uncomfortable, but we want to make them think outside of where they usually think.”
“Whether it’s good or bad, we want them to go through a range of emotions. We don’t want to be shallow.” Colton says.
And while their goals are big, they’re also reasonable, and it seems they don’t mind taking their time. “Ultimately we’d like our music to be more generally accessible, selling out arenas… we haven’t released anything yet, but in a year or so we’d like to have several songs out, have something people can experience with us.”
Expanding on that, Dani says, “My one year goal is to be on a tour as the opening act by the end of the year — like a tour that we know and love and are super proud to be a part of, and see the world that way, as an opening act.”
Ni/Co hasn’t released anything other than covers on YouTube yet, but they are very excited about an upcoming Instagram promotion they have been hard at work on. Starting in February, they will be releasing 6 one-minute videos that intertwine into one story, all featuring original music.
“Our aesthetic, looking at the two of us, we are challenging… but we want it to be a good challenge.”
Out of the music you listen to, who are your influences when you’re writing your music?”
“Beyonce, definitely!” Dani replies instantly, “But she’s more of an influence just for the Goddess I want to be. For writing, JoJo has to be my biggest one. I think we both like JoJo. Our writing lines up a lot with hers.”
“Yeah, I love the female vocals. I’ll write entire choruses for Dani that I could never have done myself.”
“But side note — he can sing higher than me.”
Colton continues, “Our sound that we love, at the core it’s pop music, but it leans urban. It has an R&B lean to it. Like she said, Jojo’s latest album, Kehlani’s record, even Justin Bieber. Early Chris Brown, early Rihanna…”
“We love our good throwback music.” Dani explains. “You know the song that comes on in the club and everyone’s freaking out — ‘this was my jam in middle school!’ — we’d love to have a song that makes people feel like that.”
“We build on each other. Where I’m weak, she’s strong, and vice versa. We’re very yin yang.”
If you had to sum up your experience working together so far in one word, what would you say?”
“Liberating.” Colton’s response is instantaneous. After a moment, Dani says, “Strength.”
“If you two weren’t musicians, what would you be doing career-wise?”
Both Dani and Colton are stumped by this. “Just… sad.”
“Whatever it was, it’d have to be creative.”
“Well, then, is there an art form that you admire and might be interested in learning at some point?”
“True painting and drawing — visual art.” Dani says, “That is something that blows my mind, when I look at paintings. I don’t know how they do it! I’d love to spend some time in Italy or France, taking an art class. I think that would be super out of my comfort zone, but I have so much respect for that kind of art.”
“If I could get myself to not burn out on focusing, I would definitely do some sort of creative writing or poetry.” This sparks a discussion on how funny it is that most people see poetry and lyrics as similar, but many poets frequently feel daunted by the thought of adding music to their words, while songwriters feel daunted by the idea of leaving music out of their words.
It’s all about personal perspective — and Dani and Colton are already living up to their goal of challenging others to think outside their boxes.
A good challenge, indeed.
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