Violinist, vocalist and visual artist… Erica Nockalls is so much more than the Wonder Stuff’s fiddle player, says Shelley Carter
Classically trained at Birmingham Conservatoire, Erica Nockalls graduated in 2006 and has since forged a successful and varied career that encompasses visual art as well as music. In addition to joining the Wonder Stuff 12 years ago, Erica has collaborated with an eclectic list of artists ranging from Shane Embury of Napalm Death fame to the Proclaimers and beyond.
She’s released two critically acclaimed solo art rock albums, plus there’s a classical score in the pipeline too. As one half of duo Miles & Erica – the other half is the Wonder Stuff’s frontman Miles Hunt (aka Mr Nockalls) – an album release is set for this month. For a woman who says she’d like to ‘create something, however small, every day for the rest of my life,’ we reckon she’s nailing it.
Millions of children across the land pick up an instrument and put it down again pretty swiftly. Then there are the few like Erica for whom learning music is far from a chore and more a way of life. Erica explained: “After a fair bit of parent pestering on my part, I was gifted a violin on my seventh birthday by my mum and dad. I suppose they held out because my dad, being a classical guitarist and teacher himself, knew all too well of the ‘pick it up, put it down’ fickleness of childish whims.”
When I wonder at what point the violin became more than just a hobby, Erica explained it was never that in the first place. She recalled: “You asking me this question is genuinely the first time I’ve put the two words together in one sentence. As a kid, music was the one thing I found that I had a natural aptitude for. I learned quickly and it felt good to be good at something. I’m lucky to have found out what I have a passion for at such an early age. I’ve dedicated my life to music and it wasn’t even a conscious decision to do so.”
A place at Birmingham Conservatoire followed aged 19, but why Brum? The answer’s simple: “Because out of the three music schools I auditioned for, the Conservatoire was the only one who offered me money in the form of an entrance scholarship! The fact Birmingham seemed to want me to attend enough that they’d actually pay me was rather flattering to a 19-year-old like me.” Erica was pleased with her choice for a number of reasons not least the city’s rock scene. She said: “I cut my teeth on the Birmingham rock scene, studied under the amazing violin virtuoso Ken Aiso, and I joined a professional touring band in the form of the Wonder Stuff.”
When Erica’s entrance scholarship ran out and part time work didn’t appeal, she started to busk in affluent areas around the Midlands including Stratford-upon-Avon. The Wonder Stuff’s producer lived in the town at the time and when he strolled past Erica playing one day he was impressed enough to seek her out. “At the time, I was starting to get about a bit on the Birmingham music scene playing in a progressive metal band. There weren’t that many 21-year-old classical trained metal electric violinists around back then, so it was pretty easy for the producer to track me down.”
SPEAKING HER MIND
A phone call from Miles later and Erica received a CD of tracks in the post so she could learn parts that the previous violinist had recorded. An audition was to follow. “Miles has since informed me that he knew I’d got the job within the first song we played together, a track called Circlesquare. It was just the two of us running through the songs acoustically.” Miles also told Erica she got the gig because she liked to speak her mind. “There was a track on the CD of songs for me to learn called Cartoon Boyfriend. I told him that I didn’t bother to learn that one because I didn’t really like it.”
Of the massive changes at the Conservatoire under the watchful eye of Julian Lloyd Webber Erica thinks it can only be a good thing. “Having a name professional musician with sack-loads of experience in the music industry can’t hurt. It certainly might offer students another outlook for a career in music away from the usual ‘join an orchestra if you’re good enough, or teach’ sort of music school mentality.”
Erica has released two art rock solo albums, Imminent Room and EN2 which have shown her what she’s capable of. “I understand more about myself and my limitations, more about what I want to say and achieve, more about recording processes, more about the music industry, and more about life in general really.” In a great position to collaborate with people who’ve been on her wish list for a while, Erica would love to write with Marilyn Manson and Devin Townsend Project and at some point provide real strings for Iron Maiden. She says: “I don’t know why they think synth strings are acceptable.”
Living what sounds like an idyllic life on a farm in Shropshire, Miles and Erica have been busy writing the third Miles & Erica studio album titled We Came Here To Work which is released this month. “It’s as if by now we know what we’re doing! It all came together incredibly quickly, which in my mind is a totally positive thing when making music. We hope we have made an understated acoustic album of real, quality songs.”
Erica has provided far more layered backing vocals on this album as she says ‘she’s found her voice as a vocalist in her own right.’ She also played cello on a few tracks, an instrument Erica took up just last year. This month Miles and Erica take to the road for a couple of months promoting the album and naturally they’ll be stopping off in Brum. “I love playing gigs in Birmingham,” said Erica. “It always feels like a hometown gig, even if I am only an honorary Brummie!”