Passionate rocker talks to FBPO about the Smashing Pumpkins, the Cold and Lovely and lots more!
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
June 30, 2014
Originally from Ludlow, Massachusetts, Nicole Fiorentino is a bassist and vocalist, best known for her work with alternative rock band the Smashing Pumpkins. Prior to joining that group, Nicole worked with internationally renowned pop rockers Veruca Salt, as well as Spinnerette, Light FM, Twilight Sleep and Radio Vago.
Most recently, Fiorentino joined forces with Grammy-nominated writer/producer Meghan Toohey in a project called the Cold and Lovely.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
NF: I am completely self-taught. My Dad was a drummer and all of his bands used to practice in our basement. I was always going down there and fiddling with the instruments, pretending to be a rock star. It wasn’t until I was about 14 when my Dad bought me a bass for Christmas that I started taking music seriously. I fell in love with the bass and would practice along to my L7, Cure, Hole, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins CDs in my bedroom. It became all I cared about. I formed a band called Sweet 16 with my best friend and we used to practice our moves in front of the mirrors at her house. I just never stopped since then!
FBPO: Who were your influences when you first discovered the bass?
NF: Simon Gallup, Melissa Auf Der Maur, D’arcy Wretzky, John McVie, Debbie Googe, Jennifer Finch, Kim Deal, Kim Gordon and Maureen Herman (Babes in Toyland), amongst others.
FBPO: How did your career get rolling? What kinds of gigs were you doing initially?
NF: When I first moved to LA in 2000, I joined a band called Radio Vago. It was an all-girl goth/new wave/prog band. We did some touring with the Mars Volta and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez ended up producing our last record. I would say that was when my career was jump-started. That band was together for five years and shortly after it ended was when I started playing with Veruca Salt. I was with them for about three years and played on their last record, VSIV. When Louise Post had a child, she wanted to take a break from touring so, at that point, I started looking for other gigs. I did a tour with Spinnerette (Brody Dalle-Homme) in 2009 and played with a lot of local acts at that time as well. It was actually through a local LA band, Light FM, that I met Billy Corgan.
FBPO: How did the Smashing Pumpkins gig come to be?
NF: I was playing with Light FM at a benefit concert for a woman named Laura Ann Masura, who had gotten into a bad motorcycle accident. She was a Chicago girl, so a bunch of Chicago people in LA got together to raise funds for her. The Light FM guys were originally from Chicago and so is Billy Corgan. We opened for his side project at the time. He watched me play that night and we met and chatted a bit after and that was it for that night. Five months later, I got a call from his management who said his bass player Ginger Pooley, had quit because she was having a baby and that Billy wanted to audition me. He flew me out to Chicago and we basically just hung out and jammed. It wasn’t a formal audition at all, super mellow!
FBPO: That band has kept you pretty busy. How would you describe the experience?
NF: Yes, I have been extremely busy with the Pumpkins for the last four years. It’s been incredible, life-altering, really. I’ve been challenged musically in ways that I have never been before. I’ve really had to step up my game in so many ways, which has been an important process for me, not only as a musician, but personally as well. I’ve toured in over eight continents and have visited countries I would’ve never dreamed I would see. I’ve played in front of crowds of over 75,000 people and had the amazing opportunity of playing on the last record, Oceania. It’s been quite an adventure to say the least!
FBPO: You must be particularly proud of Oceania. You had some pretty prominent roles in that release.
NF: I’m incredibly proud of my work on Oceania, especially since, historically, Billy has played all the bass on the SP records. It was quite an honor to be able to create my own parts and really have a voice on that album. You can really tell that the bass is all me on that record. It’s got my weird, melodic, “wordy” parts all over it!
FBPO: Tell me about the Cold and Lovely.
NF: The Cold and Lovely is my band with Meghan Toohey, who is an amazing multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and producer. We started the band about three years ago, released a full-length record in 2012 and an EP last year. We haven’t had much of an opportunity to tour because I have been so busy, but this year we are doing a summer tour, then releasing another EP in the fall. In fact, we just launched a Pledge Music Campaign to support it. We’ve been compared to bands like Lush, Garbage, Silversun Pickups and My Bloody Valentine. If I had to slap a label on it, I’d say we are dream-pop/rock/shoegaze.
FBPO: What’s your feeling about being a female in a role that’s traditionally been dominated by men?
NF: Honestly, Carol Kaye said it best when she said, “A note doesn’t have gender. You either play it good or ya don’t.” It actually blows my mind that in this day and age that it is still male dominated. I feel like I get up there and I’m just as good, if not better than a lot of dudes and people are often really surprised that I can play. I still get the comment, “You’re an awesome female bassist.” Why can’t I just be an awesome bassist? Do guys ever get, “You’re an awesome male bassist?” I highly doubt it! It can be frustrating on that level, but that is why I volunteer at Rock & Roll Camp for Girls in LA, to teach young girls that they have a place in this industry and can be loud and confident and just as great as the boys. And better!
FBPO: What kind of equipment are you using?
NF: I have always played Fender P and Jazz, but recently I started playing Reverend Guitars as well. I have a “Decision” and a “Justice,” both of which I adore! Also, a friend of mine makes relic guitars and built me a beautiful ’60s jazz bass that I can’t put down. His company is called Bonneville Guitars.
With the Pumpkins I have two different rigs that I like to use: The Reeves 400 head with an 8×10 Mesa Boogie cab or the Mesa Big Block Titan V12 head with an 8×10 cab. With the Cold and Lovely, I use a Mesa Walkabout head and 6×10 cab.
FBPO: What lies ahead for you and your career?
NF: I think very exciting things lie ahead of me. A lot more touring and recording, of course. I’d love to get out there and play with as many different artists as I can. I have so much to learn, so I think it’s important to work with a variety of musicians and take whatever I get from each experience to my next venture!
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
NF: I love animals, yoga and good food. I think I would probably open a café or teach hot yoga. Maybe run a cat rescue. Maybe all three! I’ll have to see where life takes me.