The New York City indie rock singer-songwriter and frontwoman for Nikki and The Human Element eloquently depicts relatable themes about everyday life on her catchy debut album, “Elemental,” which dropped in June.
“For me, it’s really writing about the daily stuff I see. I’m not writing about love and love lost because I’m not falling in love every day. I’ve got two kids, and I think people just want to hear about life and things they can relate to,” said Neretin, who’s also a physician with the Institute for Child and Family Health in New York City.
“I don’t think they want to hear about the tumultuous relationship that went awry. I’m just writing about the people that I meet, the experiences that I have and the experiences that they have.”
Through “Elemental,” Neretin has become a modern-day troubadour for women, especially mothers raising a family, dealing with aging and working to improve local communities. In a sense, it’s a deep look into the thoughts, feelings and struggles of a fiftysomething wife and mother who balances personal and professional ambitions.
“I’m looking to speak to women in that way, and there’s group that still goes out, sees music and loves rock and roll are my age if not older,” said Neretin, 54, who grew up in The Bronx and cited her opera singer-actor father as her biggest musical influence. “I’m a new rock and roller coming out at this age as opposed to somebody who started in their 20s and worked their way up. This shows that I can still do this.”
Seeing the Human Side of ‘Elemental’
Throughout her refreshing, authentic seven-track album, Neretin tackles bullying, societal prejudice, menopause, female empowerment and familial growing pains. She beautifully places those themes against a raw blues rock background akin to Janis Joplin and Brittany Howard.
One of the album’s standout rocker tracks, “Don’t Mess with My Boy,” exquisitely captures a mother’s rage after her son is bullied by a member of his baseball team. It includes hints of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin with driving guitars, thumping basslines and echoey vocals mixed with a Debbie Harry-inspired rap in the middle of the song.
“I don’t hear many songs about moms who are pissed off at people for bothering their children. I didn’t want it to be a campy thing or something so sappy,” said Neretin, who has two teens and has been married to her husband for more than 20 years. “I wanted it to be ‘rock and roll, don’t mess with my kid or I’m going to kick the shit out of you.’ We always have to be so kind, conciliatory and understanding in some way, but there are no apologies necessary here.”
Neretin also addresses the emotional and physical challenges related to menopause on “Changes.” The blues rock track opens with Neretin’s tribal-inspired wail and quickly transitions to a Doobie Brothers-ish guitar solo (think “China Grove”) and refers to “crimson tide” and “shades of grey.”
“I don’t hear people talking about menopause very often in a serious way as opposed to ‘Menopause The Musical’ and to really take it on as a badge of courage,” Neretin said.
On “Making a Man,” Neretin sings about youth in transition and gaining acceptance from their families and religious communities. The track starts with Beck-like deep synths and a Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque blues guitar solo and features Neretin’s emotional vocals singing, “Your baby girl is a big bad boy/Can’t understand why I’m still not your pride and joy.”
“I work in an LGBTQ teen shelter, and I’m helping quite a few young people transition. I hear stories time and time again where young people are either cutting out, and they’re transitioning, and then their family takes them out,” Neretin said. “These are wonderful, fantastic young people who are in the middle of college, and it just boggles my mind every time, especially as a parent.”
Being in Her Musical Element
Neretin formed Nikki and The Human Element nearly two years ago after playing in a Pretenders cover band called “Nikki and the Tattooed Love Boys” and another original rock band called “Dysorderlies.”
After years of playing in different bands, Neretin decided to write her own music and learn the guitar after age 50. For her latest project, Neretin features a rotating collective of seven to eight musicians, including Rob Taube, a singer-songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist who produced “Elemental.”
Neretin teamed up with Taube at his East Village studio, Groove Garden, to record “Elemental” during two-hour blocks each Tuesday over an 18-month-period. Their collaboration resulted in the album’s seven tracks as well as another set songs for Neretin’s follow-up release.
“We’re already on the road, and we have five or six songs that are ready for new compilation. There’s no reason to stop,” Neretin said. “We’ve worked each other into our lives, and we do what you can in those two hours a week and play out as best we can. It’s called massive action. If you keep doing something you’re interested in, then you will get somewhere.”
Advocating for Social Justice
Neretin also sees music as a revolutionary route for social activism, whether it’s for LGBTQ youth, the homeless or animal rights. She accepts sock donations for the homeless at each Otto’s Shrunken Head live performance and donates the proceeds from sales of “Elemental” to Health Save NYC.
As a vegan, Neretin recently launched Health Save NYC, which promotes serving plant-based food to people in soup kitchens, shelters, schools and hospitals. It serves as a rewarding outlet for Neretin to combine her medical expertise with an ongoing commitment to social justice and community outreach.
“It’s part of a larger save movement, and I’m an ethical vegan, so I get the benefits of the environmental impact as well as the health impact,” she said. “The save movement is related more to the ethical animal component of veganism, but Health Save combines both.”