Posted On 02 Jun 2017
This collection finds the acclaimed soul, funk, and blues singer dipping her toes into a refreshing collection of songs backed by a luscious string quartet. Costa is back in full swing with this selection of heartfelt songs which gives the listener more intimate and personal insight into her unique musical style than ever before.
Recorded in a single day with minimal overdubbing, the 11 song effort is an emotional and poignant collection performed with vulnerability, passion, and honesty. Nikka & Strings is Costa’s return to recording after an extended break where she focused her attentions on raising her two children with her husband, producer Justin Stanley.
Earlier this spring, Nikka released her song, “Come Rain or Come Shine” which was inspired by a long-lost original arrangement her father (Don Costa) composed for Frank Sinatra (her godfather) in the early 1960s. She’s also released a video for the lead track “Nothing Compares 2 U”, a stunning rendition of her former mentor, Prince’s classic hit.
View the video here:
Learn more about Nikka Costa in the following All Access interview:
How is 2017 treating you so far?
You know, it’s good. I mean … it’s good. It’s just the juggle between two kids and normal life, and then now releasing a record. It’s a juggle, it’s a juggle but it’s good.
Did you approach this year with all of that in mind, like, “Okay, I’m going to release a record, and I’m going to balance being a mom. I’m going to do it all this year”?
No. God, no. I can’t plan … I always have plans for album releases but then things happen. I never plan anymore ever. I’d rather not pressure myself. I think I know myself by now, like this is going to happen when it happens.
That makes sense. Growing up, you were surrounded by music and the entertainment industry to an extent. Did you always think that this was something that you would pursue?
Yeah, I mean I’ve consistently been pursuing it since I was a kid, so it was never really a conscious decision or something. I just was always doing it, and then I ended up making records really young, so it was already happening before you’re making those life decisions. Along the way, I made decisions to keep doing it, but it’s always been … I don’t know … I made my first single when I was five. This has always been there, it’s like my evil twin.
All right, let’s talk about your new album that’s coming out, “Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between.” Where did the idea to put this collection together and use a string quartet? Had you always thought about that?
I grew up, obviously, surrounded by big orchestras, with my dad being an arranger. So it was kind of like the backdrop to my childhood. My first two records were very string-heavy as a child, and it’s always been like a love that I’ve had with that kind of instrumentation. Then recently, I was in between records and I was like, “What kind of record am I going to make?”, and I was trying to figure it out, and I had done a charity event with friends of mine, Jeff Babko, who’s a piano player and arranger, his wife is a violinist. Her name is Songa, and I was like, “Hey, do you guys want to get a little quartet together and we can do this charity event? It could be fun.”
We did it and it was great, and then we said, “Oh gosh, we should do gigs like this, it’s so great.” Two years later, I rang him up and I was like, “Hey, would you guys want to do a gig, just for fun?” They were like, “Yeah,” so we just went through my songs, figured out what songs would be cool to rearrange in that format, and then took some covers, and we just started doing this gig at Largo which turned into a residency, and then it just started getting its own legs. People started coming back and bringing their kids and their grandmas, and then we were loving it, so we were like, “We should record this,” and then it just snowballed into … now here we are.
It was not a plan, but it’s great. It’s like a lovely gift from the universe.
What was it like getting back in the studio? Was it like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve missed this. This is amazing, this is awesome”?
Yeah, totally. But this record was made in 10 days, so it wasn’t like, “Ooh, we’re going into a studio for a couple of months. We’re going to really hack it out.” It was literally like this crazy balls to the wall day that was not well thought out. If we had really thought about it, we probably would have said, “Hell no, that’s crazy. You can’t do 15 songs in one day.” We would have scared ourselves out of it. We just went for it. It was what it was. We had one day. We were given the date to be in the studio, because I did the Pledge campaign. We really only had funds to go in for one day, so we had to just get it done. It was this hazy thing where you go into this tunnel and you just don’t come out till it’s done, and then we were like, “Holy shit, what did we just do?”
Wow. Now I’ve read that despite that it was just one day of recording, it was a pretty emotional album to make. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Yeah. Through the gigging process, we had been doing “Nothing Compares to You” at the gigs, before Prince passed away. Then over the course of the months that we were doing this residency, he unfortunately passed away, so that song kind of became this whole other emotional ride for me, but also for the audience, because everyone was really feeling his passing in such an intense way, and everyone had their own kind of relationship with him in their way. So that became kind of heavy. Then one day, I found one of my dad’s arrangements under a desk. I was cleaning out my office, and was like, “What is this?” It said Rain or Shine, Frank Sinatra and it had and my old address from when I was little. I called Jeff over. I was like, “Jeff, what is this? You’ve got to look at this.” So we figured out after listening to Come Rain or Come Shine that it was the actual arrangement for a 60-piece orchestra and it was sitting in my house.
So I said, “Jeff, can you squash this down to a quartet, and how awesome would it be if we could play it?” He did, and he did an amazing job, so we played that at the gig, so that’s super-special because obviously I’m singing with my dad’s arrangement and it’s such a beautiful song, and the arrangement itself is really special. It always leaves people kind of breathless. Anyhow, so there was that, and then I also sadly lost another dear friend during this time, close to the recording. So then, our cover of “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” by Jeff Buckley really took on it’s own other life emotionally because of that passing.
Anyhow, it was just a crazy ride of sadness but also such a nice way to relieve it and kind of get through it.
What’s kind of nice is now you’ll always have this album, this collection of songs, to look back on these memories. You’ll always have these.
Yeah, yeah. I think people can feel it and they can hear it, and I think also because we did it in a day, you can hear the jingle of my necklace. There are things that maybe you would have changed or fixed, but it’s alive. There’s no major invasion of post-production or anything. We really just took the moment and got it down onto the tape.
I can only imagine what it’s like performing that live now, since his passing.
Yeah, it’s such a great song anyway, and everyone can attach themselves and their world to it somehow. It was one of my favorite songs always anyway, so we were so excited when we felt like we came up with a version that was different. A bunch of people have covered that song obviously, but I think I put my own little slant on it, and Jeff did an amazing string job. It went over really well, it shows. Yeah, I feel like it’s a really nice, respectful kind of tribute to him, and I think he would have really loved it. I think if he did it, he would have sabotaged the tape somehow, from wherever he was.
Do you have plans to tour with these songs more, all around the US and overseas?
Yes, I really only make records so I can tour, because I just love it. We’re mapping it out now, and we’re going to do some theaters and stuff. It’s a very kind of instant show, and I tell a lot of stories and stuff, so it’s very different from what I’ve done before. It’s not like rocking out and kind of gyrating all over the stage, but it’s really cool and I know people really dig it, so I do want to take it out.
Great. Good to hear that. Just a couple of more questions. You’ve been able to play with so many incredible artists throughout your career, so I’m curious if there’s anyone else that you would still love a chance to work with if schedules and time weren’t an issue?
Yeah, I’ve been so lucky. My bucket list from when I was 16 was kind of been totally satisfied, and some. But Stevie Wonder is still a huge, huge, huge influence on me. I just am such a huge fan. I have met him, but I really haven’t had a chance to work with him, so that would be kind of amazing. I’m a huge Thom Yorke fan too. I think he’s ridiculous. I’m completely all over the place, I’m always harping on about how I want to work with Jack White and I love Frank Ocean and I love Childish Gambino. I love Kendrick Lamar. It would be great to work on some jazz with him. I think that could be really amazing.
Who stands out as the most memorable experience with another musician that you’ve had so far?
The relationship obviously that I had with Prince was pretty outstanding. I couldn’t have imagined it as it turned out, so there’s no one I think that will be like that ever again, in my life. So I feel like that was like the top thrill.
My final question is that I think that music has taken on a whole new importance these days, with all of the violence and sadness that we have going on in the world, music has become even more important to people for release and therapy. So what do you hope that your fans continue to take away from your songs each and every day?
Yes, music does play a huge part in healing us all in different circumstances. I feel like the music that mainly comes out is not as in tune as maybe it was in the ’60s and ’70s. The artists of the day aren’t really addressing what’s happening. So I think there’s a lot of art that needs to be injected back into music, but I also get the escapism that I think the music business has been riding on for quite a while. For me, I just hope that … I just like the idea of putting something beautiful into the world to counter-balance the strain and the tragedy that’s around us all the time. I’m not a hugely political kind of … I’m not like a Bob Dylan where I’m just going to write political songs, but I like to put something beautiful into the world. So this particular record, it was very cathartic to me and I believe it will be cathartic to other people for sure.
You can listen to the full interview on Soundcloud here: