The setup for Nico Vega is simple: singer Aja Volkman, guitarist Rich Koehler and drummer Dan Epand. But just like the White Stripes, with whom they’ve been compared, the lack of a bassist doesn’t diminish the power of the bluesy rock trio.
The band’s performances draw descriptions like “blistering” and “relentless” from critics and have earned the Los Angeles-based group legions of loyal followers, some of whom take that loyalty to great lengths.
“We have fans that will travel and plan their work vacation around us,” Volkman told Pollstar. “There are people that have flown across the country to see us in coffee shops, which is super odd. You think, ‘Wait, I could have found you a better show.’ But they don’t care.
“On the last tour, we had this really awesome couple that followed us for like five or six shows. They got the set lists and pictures at every show.”
While it’s certainly flattering to have fans that are so devoted, it also seems like there might be a point where that gets just a bit creepy. Not so, says Volkman.
“No way. Never. Honestly, I just don’t see people as being weird,” she explained. “And I know that some people would say, ‘Be careful,’ because I’ve been told that before. But the truth is I see these people as just like me. When I’m passionate about something, I’m glued to it, whatever it is. I don’t think it’s any different for them. They find a connection.”
The M.O.B. Agency’s Joy Collingbourne has worked with Nico Vega for about a year and is also passionate about the trio, particularly when it’s on stage.
“I came across them because we were looking to put them on a package I was putting together,” Collingbourne told Pollstar. “I completely fell in love.
“It’s the live show that gets you, because they really connect with their audience. It’s such a tight-knit group on stage. The chemistry between all three members is amazing. Nobody walks away without being a fan. Everybody walks away not believing what they’ve just seen.”
Volkman first found that chemistry with Koehler and original Nico Vega drummer Mike Pena in 2005, when she decided to trade “acoustic, ethereal, melodic stuff” for something “a little more serious” and relocated from Eugene, Ore., to L.A.
“We played together and fell in love pretty immediately,” the singer said. “It was really simple and easy.”
Epand replaced Pena in 2007 and the band locked in its signature sound, which Volkman attributes to Koehler’s guitar.
“A lot of it starts with the guitar,” she explained. “What he’ll do is come up with a piece that he really enjoys playing. And because there are only drums, guitar and voice, that piece needs to embody everything, in a way. Then I fill in the blanks with the vocals and the drums come later.
“It allows him to be a little more creative than I think some guitar players get to be. It gives us a lot more freedom to play off of each other.”
Volkman said the closeness the band members feel for each other extends to Collingbourne.
“We really bonded with her,” she said. “She works really hard for us. She’s coming up in the industry and I think she’s going to make a name for herself because her passion is so intense. I believe in working with people like that.”
The relationships in Nico Vega were put to the test last fall. After releasing a self-titled major label debut in early 2009, the band steadily built momentum and was poised for a big break as the opener for Placebo. But frontman Brian Molko picked up a virus that forced a last-minute tour cancellation. Rather than lament what might have been, the trio rolled up their sleeves and got busy.
“Things sometimes happen like that for a reason,” Volkman said. “We went on to do our own U.S. tours. As a small band, I think that’s the smartest idea. Most people don’t think so, but for us it really allowed our fans to see us at a reasonable price and made us more accessible to them. Our fan base grew immensely over the past year and I think it’s because we did our own headlining thing.”
Collingbourne says that attitude is standard for the band.
“When anything has happened, like the Placebo tour falling apart, nobody gets discouraged,” she explained. “They just look at it like, “All right, it’s a little obstacle. How can we make it better?’
“So we put them out by themselves. They probably had to work a little harder to get people’s attention, but it completely worked because they’ve built this solid foundation.”
With their career back on track, the members of Nico Vega are ready to win over new fans. They’ll get a head start when they hit the road soon with Metric. After that, plans include North American headlining shows and a possible foray into Europe, where there’s a rapidly growing fan base despite the fact the band has never toured there. A new album is also planned in early 2011.
Whatever fate deals Nico Vega, one thing is certain: The trio will continue to tap into their passion for the music for the benefit of their fans.
“We always want to create something new – a better live show. We always want it to be different every time a fan comes.”
You can see for yourself what Nico Vega's fans already know right here in the video for the band's latest single "Gravity." The clip is a collaboration between the trio and director Marcus Dunston.