Nicole Atkins on the way she is

Joe Shearer

Nicole Atkins discusses touring, inspiration and her increasing success in the music industry

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Tzar

Credit: Ron Soltys

Nicole Atkins

and The Sea

with The Parlor Mob at the Beachland Ballroom Tavern, Tuesday Feb. 19, 8 p.m. $8 all ages

It was about four months ago. Cleveland. Beachland Ballroom.

In a dreamy, rock and roll song that could suspend space and time, singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins delicately sang to the audience, “I know we’ll meet again / Maybe tonight / Just tell me where and when.”

However, no one could’ve predicted it’d be so soon.

Four months after its Oct. 18 opener for the Raveonettes, Nicole Atkins and the Sea is returning to Cleveland in its first headline tour. But, even after starring in her own American Express commercial and appearances on both the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” Atkins is banking on the assumption you’ve probably never heard of her.

On the off chance you have, she still isn’t taking any chances by slowing down. After numerous dates opening for other bands, Atkins is ready for her time in the spotlight.

“We’re psyched,” Atkins said. “We’re a little nervous, but we’re excited just to play a full set. None of that half-hour crap anymore. We’ll actually get to do the real thing.”

Since the October release of her debut album, Neptune City, and her climatic, film-like performance of the song, “The Way it Is” on the “Late Show with David Letterman” both happening on the same day, Atkins’ popularity is steadily increasing. Besides garnering interest from fellow New Jerseyian Bruce Springsteen and girl-group rocker Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, support is coming from all directions.

“Before we did ‘Letterman,’ most people at my label didn’t even know who I was,” Atkins said, laughing. “And then after that, everybody was like, ‘Whoa, you guys are good. What do you need to make this happen?’ Nobody knew who we were. From ‘Letterman,’ a lot of people immediately ran to their computers and got some music. So, we actually have a couple fans now.”

She was being modest, of course. After years of honing her sound and finally signing a record deal with Columbia Records in 2006, the 29-year-old doesn’t seem to get ahead of herself or take anything for granted.

After the end of this tour in March, Atkins and her band will get ready for a busy summer, playing festivals such as Bonnaroo. Atkins also said there is a possibility the band will play at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, though it’s still unconfirmed.

“We’ll probably just be touring every month until another 12 months, so by this time next year, I’ll sound like this,” she exemplified a scary old woman’s voice.

While constantly touring, Atkins continues writing songs for an eventual second album. A huge believer in the combined power of music and film, she cited the movie Pan’s Labyrinth as a recent inspiration.

“When you think of music in a visual way, it’s really helpful to get the sounds that you want,” Atkins explained. “Pretend you’re in the middle of a forest at night, searching for your horse. What does that sound like? It’s so much easier to write music like that.”

Whatever you do, don’t get the wrong idea about Atkins. She’s not the typical, mopey guitar-in-hand female musician. For one, she plays electric guitar to a full-band sound, not that jaded radio folk. For another, she can appreciate a good happy-ending story, like the one on the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal regarding two high school sweethearts getting married after 50 years.

“I love stories like that,” Atkins said. “I think I’m a romanticist to an extreme. Did you hear that one story though about those twins that got married and they didn’t know that they were twins? Oh disgusting. They totally had sex with each other.”

Yeah, she’s not quite so serious, either.

Contact all reporter Joe Shearer at [email protected].