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Vintage Shopping With Nicolette Hoang In Kensington Market 

Getting to know the band leader behind Nicolette & the Nobodies through her love of classic western apparel. 

by Emma Johnston-Wheeler

Nicolette Hoang, the frontwoman of Canadian country music outfit Nicolette & The Nobodies, strolls up to Kensington Avenue wearing suede cowgirl boots, ‘80s Gitano jeans, and a silk scarf wrapped around her dark, layered locks – a southern belle in urban form. Before we stroll into Exile Vintage in search of potential stage apparel, she greets me with a warm hug and the welcoming demeanor of someone who’s always happy to make a new friend on the road. Though her band just released their debut record, The Long Way, last month, Hoang navigates western garments with the expertise of someone who has long appreciated the genre.

“Whenever I’m in any kind of project, I find the most fun part is dressing up for the shows,” she tells me as her fingers explore a rack of vintage jeans. “I started out listening to a lot of ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s country music and at the time I was very into more traditional Western wear – embellished shirts, embroidered sets, that kind of movie cowgirl style.” 

Hoang has wanted to be a musician her whole life, and grew up playing classical piano before teaching herself guitar, but as the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who came to Canada after the Vietnam War, a job in the arts was frowned upon. They worried that she wouldn’t find financial comfort or respect as a musician and preferred she pursue a career as a doctor, while appreciating music on the side. So she decided to study math in her undergrad. By the time she started university, she had decided she wasn’t good enough to be a musician anyway, so she resigned to sing only when she was alone; in the car, in the shower, but never for other people. 

I’m surprised to hear this as I recall the strength of her vocals. In the band’s debut single “Rodeo,” her singing is emotive and sassy, anything but timid as she belts “Don’t you worry about me/ I can make it on my own/ You might’ve broke my heart/ kicked it to the side of the road/ but i’ll pick myself up.”

The music video for the song is actually a nod to the band’s origins – flipping between vibrant shots of Hoang and her band performing in classic western outfits (Hoang in a white cowboy hat and matching silk shirt with a gold bolo tie) and a more humble scene of Hoang performing karaoke solo while her bandmates watch from the crowd.

It’s inspired by a real life story that took place 10 years ago, when Hoang met her partner, now husband, in Guelph and became acquainted with the music community there. She was studying to get her license as an optician at the time and on a night off, she went with her partner and a group of his friends to Golden Throats Karaoke, run by Jenny Mitchell.

“I didn’t know that I was walking into a room of musicians, I just wanted to partake in it,” she remembers. “At the time, I was listening to Tammy Wynette, Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn and Katie Wells, which are fortunately very easy to find on a karaoke list.” Hoang thinks she probably sang “Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” by Tammy Wynette, and after the song, three of her partner’s friends approached her – guitarist Ian Bain, drummer Danny Fury and bassist Emma Howarth-Withers – to ask if Hoang would play in a cover band with them.

Though she’d never been in a band before, she agreed, and they began learning country covers together. Shortly after, a friend working at a nearby brewery asked them to open for a show, and they had to decide on a band name for the poster. 

“We chose Nicolette & The Nobodies. I didn’t choose it, they chose it. I got to deal with their mothers all the time, but it stuck,” Hoang laughs. 

With the encouragement of her bandmates, she began writing her own music. “There wasn’t a major pressure to be anything because for me it was just fun,” she says. “It didn’t have to be a secret anymore. But I still didn’t think I’d make anything of it, because in my mind, you gotta be pretty darn extraordinary to succeed as an artist.”  

She’s humble, even though she has a natural star quality about her. At Exile, she tries on a pair of white polyester flare pants with a gingham embellishment that she says will match a custom vest she has at home. When she tries on the pants, they fit her so ridiculously well that two of the store employees come over to admire. “They have an Elvis vibe,” we all agree. “Well I guess I have to buy them,” she smiles. 

When I ask how she got to the place she’s in now, embarking on a North American tour with one of her favourite bands, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, she says it was pretty simple.

She just continued writing her own songs, and to her surprise Nicolette & the Nobodies kept booking more shows. In 2019 they released their first record, featuring the very first songs Hoang had ever wrote – none of which can be found online anymore (though they exist in CD form). The band took them down early last year in anticipation of releasing the new album. 

“My ability to play, perform and write music has changed so much since that record, to the point that when I play those songs with the new songs, they don’t mesh,” she explains. “I realized that I’m capable of this, that I really love this, and that I have a shot at doing what I’ve always dreamed of doing.” 

Her true debut album, The Long Way, is a reimagining of traditional country music imbued with melodramatic emotions, down to earth lyrics, and catchy choruses. It’s country, rock, pop and soul mashed into nine tracks. “There’s a lot of things that I love in there, and I don’t expect that it’s gonna fit everybody,” Hoang says. “W’ere revitalizing a different perspective with country music.” 

“I don’t think that country music should be exclusive either,” she adds. “At its roots, it’s stories about people’s experiences, people’s lives and people’s emotions, and that’s universal. I used to worry about whether I was country enough or whether I was allowed to be. Then I came to a point where I realized I just really, really, love country music and I think that’s okay.” 


Nicolette & The Nobodies are performing at the Calgary Folk Music Festival on July 27 | TICKETS & INFO

Photo: Dzesika Devic