Since she first appeared on the scene three years ago, Queera Nightly has become one of Oakland’s most compelling drag performers. Her regular gigs at the Rockridge Improvement Club brought her into contact with the club’s owner—and noted record producer—Jeff Saltzman. With his help, Nightly put together a pair of outstanding EPs, The Girl Who Fell and The Girl Who Fell, Part II, on OIM Records.
The songs on The Girl Who Fell EPs may describe a difficult journey, but Nightly’s musical and lyrical approach is uplifting, with a bright retro feel, intensified by Saltzman’s studio polish. The title track blends country-flavored electric guitar chords with a buoyant disco beat. Nightly sings softly about the conflict between society’s demands and her own identity. “Bell, Book & Candle” combines a loping, twang-heavy Spaghetti Western melody with a ska-like backbeat to describe feelings of infatuation. Nightly’s vocals have an impish optimism, while the lyrics reference images taken from Christian and pagan traditions. “I like playing with Christian iconology,” Nightly said. “It was such a big part of my life. I learned to read by studying the Bible and the Book of Mormon with my parents. Scripture still informs how I think and process language. Those Christian images and beliefs are intrinsic to the way American culture views the world.”
Although the songs on The Girl Who Fell EPs, and the cover tunes Nightly posts regularly on her YouTube channel, represent her public debut, the artist has always written poems, stories and lyrics, as well as recorded music.
“I’ve been writing songs and singing since I was 10,” she said. “I recorded song ideas on my dad’s phone. I have a background in church choirs, so it felt comfortable layering harmonies on the phone. I can play guitar and piano well enough to compose songs, but not play publicly. I imagined being in a band and sang all the parts I wanted to hear into the phone. My older cousins, brothers and sister all turned me on to music. My mother played Stevie Nicks and my dad listened to Oingo Boingo. They were devout Mormons, but they were curious people, so I was exposed to a lot of stuff, so long as it was church-appropriate.”
After growing up in Georgia and Virginia, Nightly moved west to Oakland. She started performing her songs with a small band and met producer Jeff Saltzman (The Killers, Blondie) after a gig at the Rockridge Improvement Club. “When I told him I wrote songs, he said ‘Show me sometime.’ I had one on my phone and played it for him. He asked me to send him more.” Saltzman liked them and produced a trial tune called “Summoning.”
“It’s a song that describes me emerging from the darkness to become an out transwoman and drag queen,” Nightly said. “When I was young, drag queens were a foreign concept to me. Before I embraced my sexuality and queerness, drag queens represented temptation. As I aged and discovered more about myself, my identity and my sexuality, I had to come to terms with those fearful stereotypes, because I often saw myself in them.”
Saltzman liked the way “Summoning” took shape and signed Nightly to his OIM label. “We made the Girl Who Fell EPs and the covers I’ve put up on YouTube,” Nightly said. “I usually make multiple layers of music for each song, or demo. I used my computer to sample instrumental bits I can’t play, and he’d redo them. He plays guitar and drums, so he’ll change things up and I’ll write new lyrics. He liked the sound of my voice on the demos. Some of the vocals on the album are taken directly from my phone. He liked the way it compressed my voice, and said he couldn’t duplicate it in the studio.”
“The demos I sent to him had voices on top of each other, some harmonies and some little whispers in the background, representing the things I heard from other people that lingered in my mind,” Nightly added.
As the lockdown starts to ease, Nightly said she’s looking forward to playing live again. “I did a few streaming shows, but they’re a struggle. I love performing and making music. I also love Oakland. I’ve gotten so much support from the queer community and made so many wonderful friends. There’s so much creativity and diversity here. I’m inspired by it every day. It’s like heaven.”