Born-on-the-island artist Tanya Nolan is in control of her musical career
Tanya Nolan likes to think of her music as a gumbo.
“Everybody’s gumbo is a little bit different,” she said. “It tastes a little bit different. It’s all about the different spices that you put in it — in the music world, it’s all about the different instruments that you add to it.”
Nolan’s recipe for a successful song: the smoother, the better.
“You want it to glide,” she said. “You don’t want it to be too overcrowded. You want it to be just right, and so sometimes you have to be there and say, ‘Let’s just take this out, and let’s just keep that there.’”
The Galveston-born musician and entrepreneur recently began watching years of playing nightclubs four or five nights a week pay off after a dance remix of her forthright 2019 single “No Pressure” was picked up by Top 40 radio stations in Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Tulsa and several other cities. The airplay was enough to push the song into the Top 100 chart published by Mediabase, the reporting service that monitors more than 2,500 stations across the country.
A deliberate, hyper-emotional ballad in the tradition of Jennifer Holliday’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” “No Pressure” sprang from a former member of Nolan’s circle who told her she sounded like Sade and Janet Jackson. Nolan saw that as a challenge — she wanted this person to know her true range, that she could belt as well as croon.
“I was trying to prove a point to myself,” she said. “It was easier to me to just blow other people’s material away. Just like, ‘boom!’ But I wanted to be as effective when it came to my own original material.”
Nolan grew up around 35th Street and Avenue L. She began her musical career at age 15, after finding a newspaper ad placed by a local band in need of a backup singer. Figuring it had to be better than peeling shrimp at a local restaurant, she headed into the bathroom — better acoustics — and sang a Whitney Houston song over the phone. She got the gig.
Nolan was with that band, Down to Earth, off an on for about 10 years. In between, she headed to Grambling State University in Louisiana, where she studied music and criminal justice and played snare drum in the marching band. (Nolan said she can play any percussion instrument and cello, which she picked up in high school.)
Eventually, Nolan started her own band and played a litany of clubs on the island — including Yaga’s, Club 21, Selena’s Blue Room and B. Jiggers Lounge — and as far away as casinos in Louisiana. Sometimes, she sat in at her band members’ other gigs, singing original songs she had burned onto CDs.
“These were handmade CDs I was selling for like $10,” Nolan said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is enough to pay my electric bill!’”
Around 2017, Nolan started her own label, ArtsessionZ. The way she sees it, that makes it easier for her to stand up to “grimy” radio promoters and other shady music-business characters.
“I needed to be in control,” she said. “From doing my research and hearing about some of these other artists that just got done wrong when it comes to publishing, not owning their rights to their material, et cetera, I didn’t want that to happen to me.”
Now that “No Pressure” has pushed her to the next level — besides the radio play, the song put her one step away from an NAACP Image Award nomination two years in a row — Nolan isn’t one to rest on her laurels. She released another single, “Smile on My Face,” in February.
In early April, Nolan landed on Billboard’s Top 5 most added songs with “Smile On My Face.”
“The goal for the rest of 2021 is to have a No. 1 hit,” Nolan said. “That is what we’re focusing on.”