Judge Rocker

Judge. Rocker. Liberal Arts Grad.

June 5, 2012 | by Dane Golden

A career working in law is about making sure people follow the rules. Singing in a rock 'n' roll band, on the other hand, is all about rebellion. And never the two shall meet.

Unless you’re Nicole Laurin-Walker (’90). By day she’s a judge in the Gilbert Municipal Court in Maricopa County, Arizona. But by night she goes by the stage name Nicole Laurenne, the head-turning lead singer of The Love Me Nots, based in Phoenix.

As an officer of the court, she wears a black robe, admission is free, and you’d probably rather not be involved in the main attraction. As a performer on stage, she wears black, too, except it’s a miniskirt or pleather pants matched with over-the-knee boots. And for this event, tickets are hard to come by, and you don't want the night to end.

In either case, you're going to want to stand up when she enters the room.

For Laurin-Walker, the dual roles seem perfectly natural.

“I guess the music never seemed to me like it was another activity,” she says. “It was just what I did for fun. It was my down time, and it just sort of grew into this phase of my life that became this huge thing later.”

She usually keeps her legal and musical lives separate, but sometimes worlds collide. Once, after she had just sentenced a young man to pay a fine for underage consumption of alcohol, she got an unsolicited review.

“Judge,” he said. “I was at your show last night. You rock!”

By day, Laurin-Walker is a municipal judge in Gilbert, Arizona, ruling on cases such as drunken driving, domestic violence, and shoplifting.

Laurin-Walker was hired to the bench in 1997 at age 27, after getting her law degree at the University of Arizona and after stints as an assistant town prosecutor and a deputy county attorney. In 2006, Laurin-Walker helped start The Love Me Nots as a side project. With her husband, guitarist Michael Johnny Walker, and band mates Sophie O (vocals, bass) and Jay Lien (drums), The Love Me Nots now have five albums out in the United States under their own label. An equal number have been re-released by a label in France, where the group has toured to a vibrant following. Their latest album, Let's Get Wrecked, is a dance remix compilation that includes French versions of two of their hits. They also put each album out on vinyl for their audiophile fans.

The keyboard-playing lead singer spent many hours practicing classical piano and flute as a child growing up outside of Chicago. She also loved watching Michigan football with her parents, who both did their graduate and postdoc work at U-M. When she became a Wolverine herself, Laurin-Walker majored in psychology and joined the marching band. She played at numerous football, basketball, and hockey games, and during her four years, the band traveled with the teams to three Rose Bowls and one Final Four.

Now, at age 42, she was recently named Arizona's No. 1 front person by the Arizona Republic newspaper. And while the gigs have to be scheduled around her time on the bench, she still travels for her music.

In France, The Love Me Nots have played Paris, Marseilles, and numerous other towns and festivals. Last year they were featured in a four-page cover story in that country's edition of Rolling Stone. They also played in a concert at the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race, where they opened for the New York Dolls in front of many thousands of fans.

“It was probably the highlight of my life to this point,” Laurin-Walker says.

Laurin-Walker performs alongside band mates at the Sail Inn in Tempe, Arizona. 

On stage, Laurin-Walker sings lead vocals and also plays a 1960s vintage Farfisa FAST 3 organ, similar to the one Ray Manzarek played with The Doors. She chose it because it makes “this really obnoxious sound.”

The Love Me Nots have been described as a modern take on garage rock, with comparisons to bands ranging from the White Stripes to the ’60s-era versions of the Kinks or the Rolling Stones. Laurin-Walker’s performance has been likened to Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, or Joan Jett.

“Definitely those have always been groups and acts I've always loved, so I'm sure they make their way into my sound,” she says.

Laurin-Walker has twin teenage daughters, only one of which thinks her rocker mom is cool. That daughter helps sell merchandise when the band plays all-ages shows.

The other twin—well, she's more into classical music.

“She plays upright bass in an orchestra, and I think she could not roll her eyes harder at what I do in my off time,” Laurin-Walker says.

What she calls her “off time” continues to take all of her vacation days and holidays, as well as her husband’s. Early on, The Love Me Nots decided to keep their day jobs.

“We thought, let's not just drop everything and get in a van and do it like everybody else does,” Laurin-Walker says.

And this has actually helped the band's overall success. They were able to fund their own label, which meant not only writing their own songs and doing their own artwork, but also using the judge’s legal expertise to negotiate contracts and file copyrights. Songs from The Love Me Nots have appeared on the TV shows Rescue Me, Fairly Legal, and Being Human.

Laurin-Walker has no plans to leave either music or law anytime soon. So she may be at it for a while.

“Luckily for me, both fields can be pursued even late in life,” she says. “Just look at the ages of some of the nation's federal judges—not to mention Mick Jagger.”

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