Performing with her band, Nicole Skeltys & The Disenchanted, the singer-songwriter will have a 20-year career and 11 studio albums to cherish and relive in her first home show for six years.
Though she began her career obsessed with the strange beauty of analogue synthesisers, after their commercialisation Skeltys turned her attention to writing folk-rock with psychedelic sounds and poetic, intense lyrics.
“That genre and live performance was also better suited for me to process lot of heartache and dark stuff – death of my mother, relationship breakdowns, my breast cancer diagnosis, the Iraq war, the bleakness of the political climate moving inexorably to the right,” Skeltys says.
The release of last year’s Deal With Your Disenchantment was something of a reinvention for Skeltys. Self-proclaiming the album’s (and her own) style as Dylanesque, Skeltys says although there are thematic continuities from her previous work, it is a high concept album.
“I wanted to reimagine myself looking at the world through Bob Dylan’s eyes in the ‘60s/early ‘70s – only I’m a 21st-century woman, and the political and social issues are the ones we are dealing with now.”
There’s a particular brand of emphatic realism to Dylan’s music, something that was a big draw for Skeltys. She says the style of commentary and its honest delivery is something still necessary in music today. “Dylan is first and foremost a great artist,” she says. “Not just the wonderful ‘thin, wild mercury sounds’ of his golden period, but his lyrical genius [that] justifiably earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.
“He was very clear-eyed and honest and deeply affected by what he saw happening around him, but he elevated reality through astonishing lyrical inventiveness and poetry rhythms and imagery, woven into familiar sounding – now iconic – songs that were wholly original.”
Skeltys describes the band as “[a] band for the wise man and the fool, who have nothing to live up to”, given the gravity of some of her songs, she is in a sense trying to encourage people to live up to themselves.
“That line is from ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ which is from the Bringing It All Back Home album,” says Skeltys. “I was quoting that as my personal act of defiance, for putting out such an audacious album – really taking enormous aesthetic and personal risks. Didn’t stop Bob, so it hasn’t stopped me.
“The album could easily have met with derision – and it might still. But so far, people are ‘getting it’ – the ‘60s sound, the updated sensibility, the heavy, gold words that dangled and shone.”
At Northcote Social Club next month, Skeltys’ performance will contain material from the last 20 years, material that in many ways, has a message still applicable to today’s socio-political climate. Whether Skeltys was actively thinking of such things when she wrote most of her material is another matter.
“I’ve only ever pursued my own artistic vision out of a deep need to do so,” she says, “and used my music to escape the tune of the hive.”
Skeltys isn’t really giving much thought as to whether her visit and the reception to her show might influence any new material. Instead, she’s thinking heavily on the emotional side of a return home after such a long period, and the opportunity she has to do something she loves while she’s here.
“If people don’t turn up for such an epic event, or don’t like what they hear or see, then I’ll just have to write an 11 stanza protest song against this injustice, in the vein of Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’, and it will be a hit and then the good people of Melbourne will feel remorse,” she finishes, teasing.