Nella Cole on Letting Loose with Her Girl Gang & How Dance Prepared Her For the 'Wild, Wild West' That is the Music Industry (Exclusive Q&A)

Feminine, powerful, salty and sweet, singer Nella Cole is someone you don’t want to miss. With music that you can’t help but get up and dance to (plus acting and dancing skills to boot), this triple threat is nothing short of energetic and unapologetically herself. You may have seen her dancing backup for Madonna and Nicki Minaj, or appearing on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. She released her first single, “All Out,” last year and is releasing her first EP in 2019, centered around the idea of inspiring everyone to embrace their inner power. The music video for “All Out” featured Nella and her friends on a night out in Brooklyn—and we dare you not to see you and your friends in their shoes.

Her Campus had the opportunity to sit down with Nella to talk about everything from why Natalie Portman is the “sweetest human” she’s ever met, to girl gangs, women’s empowerment, and being as real as possible on social media. She even revealed the title of her upcoming single.

Here’s what she had to say:

Her Campus: Was music something you always knew you wanted to pursue? Do you remember when you first fell in love with it?

Nella Cole: I was an only child, so I’d just be singing along in the backseat of the car to whatever my parents were playing. That’s how I would entertain myself because it was just me. I was always really into it, and I would be like, “I’m gonna be famous. I’m gonna be an actress. I’m gonna be a singer.” I didn’t even really know why. But then my parents put me into dance lessons as an after school activity. At first I was really bad, and really shy, but then I guess I came out of my shell a little bit and just kind of fell in love with it.

HC: Can you talk a little bit about your dance background? You’ve had a lot of experience as a backup dancer on shows like SNL and The Tonight Show, and for huge stars like Madonna and Nicki Minaj. What made you decide to pursue dancing and what were those experiences like?

NC: Those were some of the best experiences I’ve had. I was able to learn so much about the entertainment industry. Working with some of the biggest recording artists is really incredible because you’re getting an education about what it looks like, what it takes, and what goes on behind the scenes, so I always loved doing those jobs.

You know, a lot of artists who are struggling are doing things here and there, but they’re also waitressing or working a 9-to-5 job. I feel really lucky because I don’t really have to do that since I dance and do other things. It’s kind of what I consider my job while I’m pursuing my passion and my dream, which is music.

HC: It’s awesome that you love dancing, and that way your side hustle can be something that you love. You don't have to do something that you don’t enjoy just to support yourself.

NC: Right, and I love dancing. Like I said, I’ve always learned so much from working with different choreographers. The people are just able to pull a lot out of you, and I’m always like, “Oh, wow, I didn’t even think of it this way. I could try moving like this, and I could try singing like this, or I could try incorporating something else.” It’s really really cool. I love it.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

did not wake up like this. #lols #gmornin 🌸☕️☀️

A post shared by Nella Cole (@thatgurlnella) on

HC: And I’m sure all that you’ve learned translates really well to singing—especially having that previous experience performing on stage.

NC: Exactly. I feel super comfortable on stage—it’s like being at home. I always say that the worst part is waiting. I always get nervous waiting to go on, but as soon as I step on the stage it just completely dissipates and I’m super comfortable. A lot of it just has to do with experience.

HC: Dance requires so much discipline and unrelenting dedication. Do you think that helped prepare you to enter the notoriously tough music industry?

NC: Definitely, especially because you’re going to auditions and getting told “no” so many times. It just builds your stamina physically and mentally. I was a competitive dancer growing up, and it’s really rigorous—you’re training all the time, you’re competing, you have to learn that work ethic and good sportsmanship, and I feel like that definitely helped prepare me.

The music industry is kind of like the wild wild west. Anything goes, and there’s not as much of a roadmap as there is with dancing and acting. You have to really focus, you have to be dedicated and have a strong work ethic, and dancing has definitely helped me with that.

HC: You released your debut single “All Out” last year. Can you talk a little bit about the process of creating and releasing the single?

NC: I had this music probably about a year beforehand, but it was all just getting ready and rebranding and working on the content, and making sure that it was totally ready for release. By the time we released it, I was so beyond excited and ready for everyone to hear it. Honestly, the reception was amazing. People were sending me videos of them playing it, and that just brings me the most joy to know that the people that I love, and the people that I want to listen to it, are loving it.

Releasing the single was super fun and something I’ve been waiting to do for a while.

I’m independent, so I did everything on my own. Like I said, it’s a lot of preparing, and there’s a lot of things on the business side of it as well—all kind of boring stuff, but it’s important to know. We had to get all of that in place, but then, of course, also the fun stuff, like shooting to the content and getting the artwork done. I got to work with Hana Haley, who’s an incredible photographer and videographer, who we shot the video with as well.

I worked with a female production duo called LYRE out in LA. That was the first time I really worked with other women, and I felt like that was where the magic happened. They knew exactly what I was trying to do, and it just came together really well.

HC: You released the music video in December, which focuses on having fun and going out with your “girl gang.” That’s something that the Her Campus Girl Gang can definitely relate to. What inspired the idea for the video?

NC: The song itself is definitely an anthem, and an ode to going out and being with your friends. For me, I just love to have fun and let loose, and that could mean that we’re at a dive bar or we’re at one of the coolest parties in the city—it doesn’t matter. It’s just about being with the people that you love and having fun. I really wanted to showcase that for the video, and I was telling Hana [Haley] about some of my crazy stories, and we were like, “Okay. Let’s just make this as real-life as possible.”

So I had my girls come over for the video, and we all brought our own clothes and were like, “Let’s go out in the city and just fool around and see what happens.” We wanted it to feel really fun and really spontaneous because that’s what the song is all about, and I feel like Hana captured it so well. She’s so incredible, and working with a woman who completely understood what I wanted to do—that’s just the best, as an artist. You have a vision and you really want to see it come to life, but sometimes people just take it their own way. But I feel like Hana completely knew what I wanted to do, and I was really happy with the product.

HC: In your music, you spread the message of women’s empowerment, equality and advocate for the freedom to us to be unapologetically ourselves. How to do hope to see the music industry, the entertainment industry, evolve and change to be more reflective of this idea?

NC: I think just writing songs about what’s going on in the world—that’s kind of what I want to do. I have all of these thoughts and ideas in my head, and things that I want to convey to other people, and I think being able to write about all all of these issues and letting people hear it is so important. Especially writing about it in a positive way, people will be like, “Oh, I can get on board with this change.” There’s a lot going on in the world, and I feel like music is a great way to bring people together. I want to use that to convey different messages that I have, and hopefully bring people together instead of trying to tear them apart.

HC: Social media gets a lot of hate for being “fake,” or too curated. How do you stay authentic and, to use your words, “unapologetically you” on a platform that’s often the opposite of genuine?

NC: It’s interesting because it’s kind of hard to do that. Usually what I’m posting on my Instagram is about my music, so that is really curated content. But I do think it’s important to be real, too, because you have young girls on the platform that are comparing themselves to other people, and comparing themselves to a photo that’s been edited 100 times. And I don’t like that—I think that’s really not healthy for anyone.

In the future, I hope to show more of my real life on my Instagram. I just want to show people that this is what I do for fun, this is my world, and my music and performing. Instagram itself is kind of a performance—everybody on there is performing. I definitely want to use it as more of a way to connect to people and let them know that everybody’s human. So, I think to answer your question, I could probably do even more of that, to be honest. I hope to do more of that in the future because it does get really crazy on there sometimes, and it can have a negative effect.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

me doing what i do best; eat pizza.

A post shared by Nella Cole (@thatgurlnella) on

HC: Of course you’ve shown your dedication to pursuing music, but you haven’t left dance behind. You recently played one of Natalie Portman’s backup dancer in the movie Vox Lux. What was that like?

NC: That was incredible. I’ve done a lot of dance gigs, but for some reason I think all the dancers that were hired, the whole team, and Natalie and the choreographers were just so joyful on that set. There was no stress, everybody was having fun, and everybody (if they weren’t already friends) became friends. To just have that moment when you’re doing something that’s really iconic and really checks off a spot on your bucket list, but to also have so much fun, was really, really special for me. It’s kind of rare that you have the experience that we had on that set.

It was a really cool experience, especially working with Natalie. She is literally the sweetest human I’ve ever met. She treated everyone with so much respect—and honestly, that was a lesson to me. It was just a reminder to always treat everyone with respect and to always be humble. I learned a lot from that experience.

But seeing it—going to the theater and seeing myself on screen—that was definitely a moment. It was very surreal. I was kind of just hysterically laughing, which is an odd response, because it’s a pretty dark movie.

HC: If you could go back and tell your younger self one thing, what would you say?

NC: I think I would go back and tell my younger self to find out who you are, and then just be that. Don’t try to fit it. Don’t try to be somebody else. I always remember people saying, “Be yourself! Be yourself!” And I was like, “What does that mean? How am I not myself?” But really, you can spend your whole life not knowing yourself. But I didn’t know that back then.

I would tell myself, “Go find out who you are. Find out what you like, pay attention to that stuff, and then just be that. Don’t try anyone or anything else.” I really learned that being yourself is absolutely the best thing you can do in life. And you really can’t go wrong when you’re just yourself. I think little Nella didn’t really know that.

HC: What’s next for Nella?

I have another single coming out in February. I haven’t released the name yet, but maybe I should release it now. It’s a little risque—it’s called "Sex in the Room," and it’s about the tension between two people.

You can find Nella on Instagram @thatgurlnella and look for her new single out in February.

Follow Makena on Instagram @makenagera.