Nikki Lane has played a whopping eight Twin Cities shows in four years, an impressive number for an artist who has racked up nearly 300 other gigs per year while also running her own Western wear boutique on the side in Nashville.
Despite her many local visits, the 34-year-old, raven-haired twang-rocker hasn’t yet visited the famed Walker Art Center, where she performs Saturday as part of Rock the Garden. And she has a pretty good excuse as to why not.
“You have some of the best antique and vintage stores around up there,” Lane enthused, name-dropping one of her fellow musical pals from Minnesota.
“Usually when I’m there I head out to Frankie Lee’s mom’s place [in Stillwater], and we hit all the stores. That’s how I’ve spent most of my time there.”
She’ll finally get her fill of modern art by lending her vintage country sound to Saturday’s eclectic lineup, which ironically comes while Lane is on a respite from touring. The Minneapolis date is a “fly-in” gig. She is otherwise taking much of the summer off to “focus on living a life off the road for a change,” she said.
Calling from Nashville on Tuesday, Lane talked excitedly about being home in Nashville to spend some time working in her store, High Class Hillbilly, featuring retro shirts, hats, boots and other cool country gear she finds while on tour.
She didn’t exactly brag about being back on the job, though.
“They’ve gotten so used to me being on the road, the store actually runs better when I’m gone,” she quipped.
A native of Greenville, S.C., Lane wound up in Nashville around 2010 after stints in both New York and Los Angeles, the latter of which broke her into the retail world via the Fred Segal store. She didn’t take to singing and songwriting until her mid-20s. Once she did, though, she was all in.
Each of Lane’s first two albums, 2011’s “Walk of Shame” and 2014’s “All or Nothin’,” earned critical accolades and a strong buzz in Americana circles thanks in part to the involvement of name-brand producers. Nashville guru Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson) helmed the former, while Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame steered the latter.
“When I worked with Dave and Dan, I really didn’t have any kind of vocabulary for working in the studio at all,” she said. “I definitely needed them at the time. They were like my translators as I tried to figure out what I wanted.”
When it came time to record her aptly named 2017 album “Highway Queen,” however, Lane was ready to take on more of a lead role.
She initially started working on the LP with yet another well-known producer. She put a halt to those sessions, though, and opted to coproduce the record herself with her Texan boyfriend/band member Jonathan Tyler.
“Even with someone who was very good on the job, the songs just weren’t sounding right, weren’t what was going on in my head,” she said. “It was Jonathan who said, ‘Why don’t we just try to record some of it ourselves, and see how it goes?’ ”
“It was a hard decision. It was going to cost a lot more money to do it ourselves. But in the end, I realized I didn’t need a translator anymore.”
“Highway Queen” strikes the right balance between Lane’s classic-sounding, Loretta Lynn-like warbling voice and a breezy California rock sound. The lovelorn single “Jackpot” landed in steady rotation at 89.3 the Current and many other outlets. Other songs have become centerpieces of her live shows, including “Big Mouth” and the rowdy ode to her native Greenville, “700,000 Rednecks.”
Surprisingly, even with the album’s success, Lane said she’s “not at all opposed” to working with another high-level producer for her next record. In fact, she even mentioned pop-rock wizard Butch Walker (Weezer, Taylor Swift, Pink) as a possible collaborator.
“I’m not ashamed to admit I’d love to work with someone who can bring more earworm quality to my songs,” she said. “But the difference is, I’m not just going to be a yes person. I know how to express my opinions now.”
One other thing that will definitely be different with her next album: The songwriting won’t be so heavily centered around life on the road.
“Touring obviously influenced the writing on ‘Highway Queen,’ maybe too much, because it’s all I had been doing and it was all I had to write about,” she said. “My poor sister even had to plan her own wedding around my tour schedule, that’s how crazy it had gotten.
“That’s why I’m trying to take some time off. I need to live a little just to have something else to write about.”
It’s not as if she’s going to scale back on touring long-term, though, a point made clear when she name-dropped another well-known Twin Cities music figure, First Avenue’s head talent buyer Sonia Grover.
“All the shows we’ve played there in Minneapolis and St. Paul have been through Sonia, working toward the ultimate goal to headline the First Avenue main room on our own,” Lane said. “This Rock the Garden gig will put us in front of a lot of new people, I think. So hopefully this will get us there.”