Kelly Nicole was a talented and devoted hard rock musician. She lost her life in 2015 after a strong fight against metastatic ovarian cancer.
Now, her wife, Theresa Holl, has made it her life’s mission to honor Kelly Nicole’s music in a powerful way. The Kelly Nicole Foundation sells the late Kelly Nicole’s music and donates the money annual to advance the mission of supporting trauma survivors and those with eating disorders. Holl kindly chatted with us about the foundation and all of incredible things she is accomplishing through her efforts.
Find out more about the Kelly Nicole Foundation’s missions and how to contribute below.
How did you initially meet Kelly Nicole and what were your first impressions of her?
We met at Guitar Center in 2012. She worked in Pro Audio and I needed a vocal mic so I had to sing acapella in front of her right there on the spot. I was horrified because I was instantly taken by her. My first impression was that she was highly intelligent, cared more about helping musicians than scoring a big commission and knew music gear like the back of her hand. She was gorgeous and confident, used words like “impedance” and strutted around barely over 5′ 2″…totally irresistible. Fittingly, I also sang to her as she passed, 3 years later, so music filled the first and last moments of our lives together.
During her life, she overcame numerous life-threatening health challenges before she was diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer.
What was it like to be by her side through these challenges and what advice can you give to anyone else that may be in a similar situation?
Watching someone you love hurt is the worst pain. Eating was a constant battle between her disorder and the knowledge that she couldn’t accomplish anything in life without food, like a two-headed beast fighting inside her mind. Not having an eating disorder myself, I tried hard to sympathize and support without being disappointed on the days when she just couldn’t force it down. Those days for me were a mix of fear for our future and respect for her grit – that she was still trying to get a few more bites in at all hours of the night. There were so many 4am waffles, the two of us on the couch with my hand on her back as she stared down the plate in frustration and determination. Her body needed food and her mind hated it. Can you imagine that torment on top of all the traumatic memories? I always remembered what she once said during group therapy: “what I need most from family support is loving accountability.” That’s the balance I’d encourage anyone to seek: hold your loved one accountable for ending the self-destruction, but do it from a place of love, not disappointment or judgment.
Six months before she passed and six months after our honeymoon, we got the stage 4 cancer diagnosis and I’ll never know if I handled that right. Before then, we always prioritized calories because her eating disorder was so restrictive, but then suddenly we had to embrace radical nutrition on top of the eating disorder plus aggressive chemo. She was an absolute gladiator – impossibly brave and impossibly strong. I was the weaker one, feeling helpless to protect her and totally defiant of any bad news. It wasn’t until after she passed that I realized it wasn’t my job to keep bad things from happening to her. It was my job to be there no matter what happened. That is a true family bond and nothing can take it from us, not predators and not tumors. It’s ours forever. I’d encourage anyone who asked me for my perspective to spend time thinking about what lasts and what is temporary. That’s how I deal with things now. What I know for sure is that she was treated with value. I put the best food on the face of the planet on her plate those last 6 months and she knew it came from love. Everyone of us will go, some too fast and some too slow. I just hope everyone is treated like they matter before they’re gone.
Can you tell us more about the foundations and goals of the Kelly Nicole Foundation?
The Kelly Nicole Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit inspired by Kelly Nicole’s life and music that exists to support trauma survivors and people with eating disorders. It was founded by her family and friends in the wake of her passing as she had been on the cusp of releasing her debut album, Hate Becoming, a feat that was delayed repeatedly due to the long term health effects of her childhood trauma. The resulting eating disorder and related PTSD were at the heart of that health adversity, so it was instantly critical to us that the world hear her work and we do something to help people suffering like that. The Foundation is her record label and all album and merchandise sales benefit the Foundation. In addition to selling her music and band merch, we have our own events with guest artists and educational workshops. I’m looking forward to continuing to celebrate her talent in a way that drives our mission. Trauma has long term affects on people’s health and we can’t be embarrassed to talk about it because the science is there. Early childhood trauma affects the immune system, even how the body interacts with its own DNA. There’s a bridge from biography to biology and it needs more attention. Kel’s music drives that conversation with strength, beauty and artistic excellence, even grace. You listen to a song like “Infected” or “The Blood” and you know the pain is genuine. It doesn’t disappear because people are told to keep quiet. That pressure to be silent is why our tag line is “The Courage Inside: Amplified.”
Her album, Hate Becoming, is at the forefront of the foundation. What was Kelly’s album process like and what do you think she would want people to know about it today?
Well that question is so important, we made a documentary about it called I Want You to Hear Me: The Kelly Nicole Story, which is available on our Kelly Nicole Foundation YouTube channel. Her process was relentless perfectionism. Nothing was good enough and she had the best ears. She’d line up 10 high hats at Guitar Center after hours and go “that one’s good. Love those two, I don’t like those 4…”etc… She was an engineer as well so she understood how every piece of gear affected the final sound, down to the pick, the cables, every bit of foam on the wall, angling the mic just right on her guitar cab. Sound is an ocean and Kelly Nicole understood each drop. Don’t be afraid to be a perfectionist you know? Great art is immortal. She’d also want people to respect that, despite her young death, this is a survivor’s album because she lived as a trauma survivor for decades. That’s what she called it when someone once noticed the lyrics to “The Blood” and asked if it was about sexual assault. She was very open about it and wanted her expression, her talent to help others. She felt that if she didn’t get all this off her chest, the PTSD would kill her. I know there are people out there who need an outlet too and I hope this album gets bought, added to Spotify/iTunes and shared with those who need it. Mental illness is so lonely. Kelly Nicole was a universal voice for trauma survivors and a complete music fanatic. You gotta respect that.
The Kelly Nicole Foundation is an incredible non-profit. How can people support its values?
We have 2 main impact streams, financial and cultural. We want to donate to existing nonprofits in harmony with our mission and get Kelly Nicole’s music heard so people are inspired to care about PTSD and eating disorders. With that said, people can donate at kellynicole.com, have donation drives at work or school, buy the album and a few t shirts for friends, add Kelly Nicole on Spotify/iTunes, ask their local DJ to play Hate Becoming, follow us on social media, play the album as loud as you can and know that you’ve made a difference, etc…We also have an amazing guest artist program and love collaborating on events/PSAs. I think prominent artists hearing about us and contacting me to collaborate will be great for the mission. Kel’s chances to tour were all stolen by those predators but living artists can still help us ease other people’s suffering. To truly understand our values, just listen to the album. “I’ll lick my wounds/and I’ll take my pills/but I’ll never be the same again.” We hope that people start to understand that everyone you encounter could be fighting a battle you know nothing about.
What have been some of your biggest accomplishes with the Kelly Nicole Foundation thus far?
6 months after our launch event, which included the album release, we donated $816 to the Center for Victims of Torture, an amazing nonprofit here in Minnesota that helps people after incidents of trauma in some of the most vulnerable situations on earth, even refugee camps. Totally free mental health care! To stand in their lobby with a check in one hand and Kel’s album in the other was one of the most profound moments of my life and a milestone for us as an organization.
On the cultural front, we’ve already received messages privately and on Instagram from fans who are blown away by the music and deeply affected by the lyrics. My favorite letter so far said “These lyrics go straight to my heart. I’m so grateful I found this album and Foundation. Please keep raising awareness.” That says it all. Another person saw some of our signage at a music festival and instantly ran up and hugged me saying “Thank you so much for trying to help people like my Dad!!!” Complete strangers but totally connected by loving people who suffer from mental illness. He also loved the album and bought it right on the spot, so the vision is really coming true. I have been heartened by how many people quickly get the connection between the music and the mission. Often times people will hand me twice what the cd costs and say “keep the change. This work is so important.” That’s awesome and a humbling responsibility.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to add that, despite the helplessness she must have felt in her worst moments, with this album and the movement it drives, Kel gets the last word. For all the people out there feeling voiceless, intimidated, silenced: sing your song. You and all your predators will pass, but art lives on.
Where can people go to learn more about the Foundation?
Kellynicole.com is the place to start but folks can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and watch our videos on YouTube. I’m always posting something new and hope it gets shared. Thanks so much for spreading the word. Enjoy the music!