Localized: Nicole McMahan
SLUG’s October Localized features three outstanding artists from Utah’s vibrant—and underrated—pop/R&B scene. Featuring co-headliners Detzany and Nicole McMahan along with opener Kimi K., the show will bring these artists’ emotive, sonically explorative music to SLC’s famous all-ages stage. SLUG Localized will take place at Kilby Court on Thursday, Oct. 20 (doors at 7 p.m., music at 8 p.m.) and is sponsored by Riso-Geist.
From the massive sonics of her ’90s-inflected songs to her live productions (with often as many as 10 musicians on stage), Nicole McMahan’s music flaunts its bombast, reveling in the glorious too much–ness of pop music. Creating alongside her husband and producer, Gavin McMahan, Nicole creates pop music that builds off the tried-and-true formulas of her musical inspirations while always outlining a style and persona firmly “her.”
“I would love to be able to tell stories to reach more people, too, and explore different ideas that I wouldn’t really experience with my viewpoints.”
After growing up as a self-professed “choir and theater nerd” in Denver, Nicole cut her teeth in the independent Utah County scene while she attended BYU’s music program. Her earliest solo music outings found the artist performing acoustic, singer/songwriter material at Velour open mic nights and similar venues before she broke her elbow in a biking accident and could no longer play guitar. “It just kind of clicked,” she says of the transition toward synthesizer-heavy pop music. “I had kind of always written in that [pop] style and didn’t really know it; I was superimposing it onto guitar. It opened up a whole world with me.”
As Nicole worked her way into this—at first—unfamiliar world, Gavin’s long history with music performance and production helped usher Nicole into her sound as the duo bonded over a mutual love for classic artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Michael Jackson, as well as contemporary legends—Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande are among the names that come up frequently during our conversation. “Vocally, it’s been a journey as far as tone and timbre,” Nicole says about the switch in genres. She had to shift techniques from her formal chorus training into a fuller, more expansive belt, a skill she showcases in her outstanding singles, from the mesmerizing melismas and whistle tones of “Touch Me” to the hip–hop–inflected jaunt of the recently released “Sunshine.”
“I had kind of always written in that [pop] style and didn’t really know it; I was superimposing it onto guitar. It opened up a whole world with me.”
As a lyricist, Nicole works within themes familiar to the artists she admires—love, sex, seduction and the ilk. “I’ve been through a lot of personal changes in the last four or five years that have been really impactful for me; it’s been really nice to work through that in music and stuff,” she says of her thus far autobiographical approach to writing. Moving forward, the artist aims to look toward a more storytelling-based approach. “I think as an artist you can only write about your own life and your own circumstances for so long,” she says. “I would love to be able to tell stories to reach more people, too, and explore different ideas that I wouldn’t really experience with my viewpoints.” Nicole speaks of her music at large in these egalitarian terms, outlining a firm belief that “once you put a song out, it’s the audience’s. The storytelling and album artwork has to make sense to them.”
While building up her own artistic voice, Nicole has found herself increasingly at odds with the community she came up in (and still possesses love for). Provo fosters a thriving scene, though one centered almost entirely around indie rock and folk music. And, outside of the sonic discrepancies between her big-room pop sound and the more intimate genres that haunt Velour, Nicole has also found her lyrical content and artistic persona at odds with the LDS-heavy community in the county. She laments “being a female front person who wants to wear what they want and sing their songs,” upfront about her own sexuality and pleasure in a way that people have told her “Provo just isn’t ready for yet.”
For those of us who welcome her electrifying production and lyricism, find Nicole’s music on all streaming platforms and follow the artist on Instagram @nicolemcmahanmusic for updates on shows and new singles, including an upcoming Halloween-themed bop, of which the artist laments that there are simply not enough of in existence.