Nick Lutsko is a Chattanooga local whose quirky puppets and elaborate musical compositions almost don’t match up with the down to earth, friendly artist who met me for his interview at the Flying Squirrel a few weeks ago. He got an early start in his calling when he picked up a guitar in the fourth grade and started Infinite Orange with Ryan Guza (currently percussionist with Opposite Box) in high school. Right out of the gate, they had a lot of local success and were booked for events such as Riverbend, Nightfall, and Between the Bridges.
This early success gave them a taste for what their music careers could be, but Nick admitted that it also tainted his view of the music industry. “We got a lot of stuff handed to us early on. It was funny because each year we got older and better but people paid less and less attention because we became like everybody else.”
After completing a degree in Commercial Songwriting at MTSU, Nick recognized how much work he needed to do in order to channel his talents into a profitable career. His current band, the Gimmix, won the 2016 Road to Nightfall competition and continues to grow by performing often and engaging fans on social media.
What was your experience like at MTSU as you majored in Commercial Songwriting?
Nick: MTSU is so close to Nashville, the pop country machine, that it jaded my perception of songwriting. There was more of a focus on the commercial aspect of it. I wanted to learn how to be a better songwriter, and the basic gist of what they taught was, “Turn on the radio and repeat, if you want to make money.” I wasn’t good at that; I tried to do that for a while and didn’t feel good about the songs I was writing because the creative part of me wasn’t invested. I felt unfulfilled by that for a while, but in my freshman year that program was very new. It just wasn’t a great experience for me overall. Since then, I think they’ve brought in Grammy award winning songwriters to help out with the class.
I finished school and realized that my career wasn’t something that was just gonna happen. If I wanted to do music for a living, then it would have to be a full time job. I think a lot of musicians today are jaded because the music industry is said to be dying, but independent artists are making more money because they can record music themselves, distribute it online, and promote it through social media while collecting all of the profit. It just takes more work; you have to have the ability to treat it like a business.
I graduated college, moved back home with my parents, got a really cheap version of ProTools that had a 12–track limit and recorded an acoustic folk record with guitar, mandolin, and limited rhythm tracks. I spent all of college thinking, “Man I want to do a record,” but I don’t have the money to go into a recording studio. Then it was, “I just bought this recording software, but my guitar wasn’t good enough.” It was after a few more thoughts like this and a few more upgrades in tools that I realized I needed to make an album that best represented who I was at that exact moment in time. I put out this record, booked a tour that spanned from Texas to Chicago, back down to Florida, up to DC and back.
For that first leg of the tour I was gone for 20 days and only able to book 10 shows. I had 10 days on and 10 off. I mainly slept in my car or met people who let me sleep on their couch. The really cool thing about it is that during that time, I was able to book shows just by walking into coffee shops and bars and asking them if I could set up and play for tips. I was able to raise enough money to come home and upgrade my recording software, which helped me record my second album which is a better representation of my music with full band and orchestration with its psychedelic tendencies. Eventually I found a band to play with and the puppets came into play after a music video I did for Etc, my second album. At the time when I didn’t have a backing band I had hand puppets in the background and we were trying to recreate that live. Then we got the name The Gimmicks as a playful shot at those who made fun of us. I look at these puppets as an extension of my creativity. It gives you something extra to catch people’s eye. When you walk into a venue, you may be so caught–up in a conversation that you don’t notice the band that is playing. When you walk into a venue and puppets are playing, then you’ll definitely notice them and then you’ll be more likely to listen and see what they’re about.
Who would you say your music inspirations are?
Nick: I have so many. If I had to pick 5, then the Beatles would definitely be one of them. When I really started finding myself in high school, the Beatles and Bob Dylan really encapsulated that time for me. In college I started getting into Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys and everything he does just blows my mind with the production and harmonies. Tom Waits, Ween, Primus, Beck, I could keep going all day.
What does your creative process look like?
Nick: It’s always different but a lot of times I’ll be sitting down playing bass and I’ll come up with a riff that I’ll plug into my interface and just loop it. I’ll really listen to it and see what melodies I could put on top of it and what rhythms could go with it and add layers. If I loop those layers it starts to turn into a verse and then I start writing the lyrics. That’s how some of my newer stuff has come about, but it changes. I try not to do the same thing over and over again. That’s been the most fun for me. There are so many songs where I’ll write a verse and then write a chorus and shelf it for years and then I’ll come back and write the second and third verses. That’s what a lot of songs from my last record came from.
What genre is your music?
Nick: The first record I did was very Americana/folk. The second record was very much all over the place because I listened to so many different artists where every record was different. They’re writing good songs, and they don’t limit themselves to a specific genre. Mine ranges from psychedelic rock to pop. I’d say alternative rock, but when people hear alternative rock they think of 90’s rock and that’s not what we play. I’m kinda spastic in my writing styles.
Why did you become a musician?
Nick: Honestly, this may sound corny, but I’m better at music than anything else. It’s the one thing that I enjoy more than anything else and I’m lucky that there’s something in my life that is so obviously given to me as a gift. It feels like I couldn’t and shouldn’t be doing anything else. And it’s been like that for as long as I could remember. I would hope that someone would have told me I was delusional and to do something else a long time ago if this wasn’t my calling.
Photo Credit goes to Nick Lutsko's Facebook page with his permission.