Making it in the music biz is never easy, but throw in a worldwide pandemic and it's an even more daunting task. However, for budding musicians Nikki Barber (The Minks), Matthew Paige (Dee Oh Gee) and Luke Schneider (Margo Price, Orville Peck, etc.), they were able to put their creative energy to use in other ways when they got sidelined from touring and had to turn elsewhere for their income.
Rather than picking up jobs waiting tables, bartending or working in retail to pay the bills, these artists have instead turned to making custom embroidery and outfits, old school hats and even incense, candles and other home goods.
Continue reading to learn about how all three musicians were drawn to their respective side hustles, where they draw inspiration from, the biggest challenges they face with it and more.
Nikki Barber's Nikki Stitch
For The Minks frontwoman Nikki Barber, she's been working on and creating her own outfits since she was a ninth grader in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After relocating to Nashville she began taking on alteration work for others under her business name Nikki Stitch before going all in on the side hustle once the pandemic hit. According to Barber, she briefly studied fashion before moving to the Music City but quickly realized upon her arrival how much music and fashion are tied together.
"People want to wear an outfit they feel good in while on stage," Barber tells Wide Open Country. "For the longest time it was just me I was making outfits for before I pivoted to doing alterations on the side and fully committing to Nikki Stitch during the pandemic when I desperately needed something else to do."
Due to all of her clients commissioning her for custom work her influences vary from project to project. However, Barber says that she's particularly fond of 60's and 70's fashion, nudie suits and cross stitched items when it comes to her own wardrobe and tries to sprinkle that same flavor into her clients' work when she's able. In just a couple years time she's done everything from craft a jumpsuit for Liza Anne, a nudie suit and other outfits used by Riley Downing and cast in the music video for "Start It Over," and a pair of overalls for Dr. Dog drummer Eric Slick.
"I grew up listening to Dr. Dog so it was a fun, full circle moment getting to work with Eric," says Barber.
She's also worked with the likes of Elizabeth Cook and Todd Snider. During those jobs she had the pleasure of exploring each artist's vast wardrobes, something she described as one of the biggest joys of her job.
"When I worked with Elizabeth and Todd, it was so fun exploring their wardrobes and all of their favorite outfits," says Barber. "My favorite part of doing alterations is getting to know people through their clothing. So many clothes tell a story and are a great source of inspiration for me when it comes to other projects."
While the fulfillment times for each job vary, she typically sources her materials from one of three places—Jo-Ann fabrics and craft store, online and from Turnip Green Creative Reuse, a used art supply store in Nashville's Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. It can sometimes be a very time consuming endeavor, albeit worthwhile. Barber says that while she enjoys both sewing and making music, balancing the two can occasionally be stressful. That being said, she wouldn't trade either to go back to bartending until the wee hours of the morning as a side gig like she used to.
"Music is my top priority and will always come first, but I really enjoy sewing as well," says Barber. "It lights up my brain and my crafty side in a way that music doesn't. At the same time, when I get too busy with one or the other it can be easy to feel like you're not giving it the time and attention it deserves. I try to remind myself that I'm lucky to be able to use my hands in any way for something, so the fact that I'm creating in any way is good. It's a constant learning experience figuring out how many clients I can take on in a month and keeping manageable deadlines, but I wouldn't trade it for anything."
Matthew Paige's Matt Hatter
Another Nashvillian who makes custom clothing—hats to be specific—and also sources material from Turnip Green, among other places, is Matthew Paige of Dee Oh Gee. The rock'n roll frontman began making hats for himself a handful of years ago from leftover leather scraps from bags he was making at the time. Much like Barber, he opened himself up to commissions at the start of the pandemic to keep money coming in and has stayed busy with work ever since under his business name, Matt Hatter. Paige says that there's just something that stands out about the old fabrics he finds at Turnip Green that don't exist in most new garments.
"I enjoy going to [Turnip Green] because I'm literally saving whatever I bring home from there from going to the dump," says Paige. "I'm a big fan of upcycling and limiting my waste as much as possible. Plus new fabrics are kind of boring. Old stuff is more well traveled, has a better story to tell and more funk to them."
As for the hats themselves, Paige specializes in one specific style, "the newsboy." Also referred to as "the cabbie," "the eight panel" and "the Big Apple," the hat has a long and storied history dating back the peasant days of Irish and English farmers to 1970's New York and the early 1900s in Imperial Russia as portrayed in films like Fiddler On The Roof.
"It's one of those hats that doesn't belong to one particular group, but instead has been adapted through time to fit the needs of whoever was wearing it that moment," says Paige. "There's the Irish folk who wore the high and tight ones, the super fly musicians wearing the big and floppy ones, and everywhere in between."
Paige says that hats of this style are hard to come by in good condition at vintage shops and through other secondhand means, leading him to fill a void by making them while also building community with others doing the same. That kinship has led to the group promoting each other's work and sharing advice for how to make their hats better.
As a result, it now takes Paige no more than three hours to start and finish one of his hats. With prices ranging from $75-99 per hat, Paige says that he loves the alternative way that hat making provides to him as a creative outlet and the finality that comes with it compared to his music.
"It's so satisfying to be able to finish something because in my other life with music it feels like nothing is ever finished," says Paige. "The song is never finished, the tour is never finished... It's a constant journey that often has no end in sight. As much as I do enjoy it, there's also something very satisfying about the permanence of making a hat and delivering it to its new owner."
Luke Schneider's forestdale
In 2019 Luke Schneider, a veteran pedal steel player who's toured with everyone from Margo Price to Teddy & The Rough Riders, Orville Peck, Lilly Hiatt and others, began work on a signature scent to burn during his solo, new age style shows. After some experimentation he came up with an incense on his own made from 100% essential oils.
"I wanted to craft a scent to burn during my shows that would help to burn the memory of it into the listener's minds," says Schneider.
Attendees at his shows immediately raved about the scent and bought up what he had for sale at his merch table and places around Nashville like Grimey's faster than he could make them.
"It took off faster than I expected and I couldn't keep up at first," says Schneider. "I was caught between two worlds, because while things were taking off with the incense I was also still on the road a lot with Teddy & The Rough Riders and Orville Peck. Once quarantine hit and I was off the road I had a lot more time to devote to making incense and expanding my line of products."
Now, in addition to incense Schneider also crafts beeswax candles, muscle warming salves, soaps and more under the name forestdale. As he's expanded his offerings one thing he's been reluctant to expand is the varieties of incense he offers. Aside from his signature scent he's also crafted a custom scent for friend and fellow Nashville artist Erin Rae available only at her merch table.
Aside from at the merch table and Grimey's, forestdale products are available at nearly 30 shops in Nashville from Vinyl Tap to Third Man Records in addition to nearly a dozen out of town locations from Vermont to California. According to Schneider, one of his biggest fans has been none other than Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead.
"Whenever [Bob] is in Nashville he stops at Third Man Records and buys up their entire supply of incense," says Schneider. "I got to meet and talk with him years ago when I was still in Margo's band, but it was before I started making incense. It's crazy to think about how something I originally made to burn at my own shows is being burned by Bob Weir."