CHICAGO — Chicago trumpeter and artist Nico Segal — formerly known as Donnie Trumpet — has created music for more than a decade with some of the biggest names: touring with Frank Ocean, collaborating with Chance the Rapper and producing for artists like J. Cole.
But he’s never done a solo album — until now.
Segal’s debut solo album, “Tell The Ghosts Welcome Home,” comes out Friday. To celebrate its release, Segal will perform three intimate concerts at Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N. Halsted St. The shows are 8 p.m. May 18 and 7 and 9 p.m. May 19. Tickets are $40 and come with gift bags. You can buy them online.
“In the theater, you feel every detail, you feel every color change, you feel every entrance and exit, you see every prop,” said Segal. “You experience the music in a different way.”
A Chicago native, Segal fell in love with music while growing up in Rogers Park, he said.
“Both of my parents are very musical. There was always music playing around the house and in car rides,” Segal, 29, said. “Music was always a part of our scenery.”
Segal’s dad taught an after-school Latin jazz band at his elementary school, which is where Segal learned to play percussion instruments like the congas and timbales. He went on to master the trumpet, the instrument that inspired his former stage name, Donnie Trumpet.
Segal played in bands and gigs around Chicago until 2009, when he helped found hip hop band Kids These Days. After the group disbanded in 2013, Segal toured with Ocean.
In 2015, Segal released “Surf” with the Social Experiment, a hip hop, neo-soul band with Chance the Rapper, Nate Fox and others. Segal later formed a duo with Fox called Intellexual, and the two collaborated on a 2019 self-titled album.
More recently, Segal has been creating music with some of his childhood friends, tapping into his love of jazz, instrumental music and improv. They call themselves The JuJu Exchange.
Over the past year, Segal has also started to explore music in a way he hasn’t before: solo.
“All these sort of checkpoints are marked by other people,” Segal said. “I was kind of prompted by the question of, ‘What would it sound like if I really just focused on my own sound?'”
“Tell The Ghosts Welcome Home” is an album born from Segal’s most difficult and joyous moments.
Leading up to the album’s creation, Segal was going through a tough time in his life, he said. He reckoned with questions about life and death, community and legacy. But he also went on a vacation with friends, where he felt carefree and was “bit by the bug of inspiration,” he said.
Segal said he learned to accept that sadness and happiness often co-exist, and experiencing those emotional waves helped him from feeling “numb and in the middle.”
“That time in my life created a sort of perfect storm effect to write with a lot of intention and with a lot of clarity and a lot of focus,” Segal said. “Because I was very in tune with how I was feeling on very opposite sides of the spectrum.”
When Segal got back to Chicago after his “friend-cation,” he immediately started working on the music that would become this album.
“This album has been the fastest album I ever made, and it’s just because of how much time it took and [how much] emotional labor went into building the foundation,” he said. “It took a long time to just get to a place of being excited by words.”
Segal was also “really intentional” with his words, despite the album’s quick creation time. He found inspiration in singer-songwriter icons Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone and Ocean.
Throughout the album, Segal explores his emotional highs and lows by playing around with juxtaposed elements such as darkness and light.
In the album’s second track, “I’ll Be the Flood,” Segal sings, “I’ll be the flood for you, when the well runs dry” and “I’ll be the mud for you, if the sand’s too fast.”
“When you think of a flood, you don’t think necessarily of this positive connotation around it,” Segal said. “You think of being drowned, or you think of buildings crashing, you think of destruction. But if you were at the bottom of a well, you would welcome a flood.”
In the same sense, mud would be a positive thing for someone slipping through quicksand, he said.
“You would welcome the mud as something to grab onto, something to help you in that moment,” he said.
For Segal, welcoming the mud and the ghosts meant re-inviting creativity into his life and sitting with his sadness and fears rather than pushing them away.
“It’s about acknowledging this fearsome aspect of your life,” Segal said. “Using that fear, using them as guidelines, as wisdom from your ancestors or other versions of yourself, using them as connective pieces between you and relationships you’ve had in your life.”
“Tell The Ghosts Welcome Home” is an album about self-acceptance, Segal said: It speaks to going at your own pace and having grace for yourself.
“Instead of being afraid of change and sort of the scary elements of change, really leaning into it and learning from it and accepting it and finding a home for it within your soul,” he said.
“It’s also thinking you know what you need and not always knowing what you need, and that being OK and also scary,” Segal said.
Segal has released three songs from the album: “Like A Trap,” “Runway [Ticket]” and “Crystal Ball Room.” You can listen to them on streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music.
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