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Seven Questions: Nikka Costa


7 Questions With Nikka Costa

Nikka Costa
Nikka Costa made her first recording when she was 5 and her live debut when she was 7; she sang on the White House lawn with Frank Sinatra when she was 9. Following the death of her father, legendary producer/arranger/Sinatra right-hand man Don Costa, she retired from the business. She was 10.

Wild oats sown, a dance-pop confection recorded and years of self-discovery on multiple continents completed, Costa hooked up with celebrity DJ Mark Ronson to become the flagship artist for his Cheeba Sound imprint. The result: Everybody's Got Their Something, a collection of her belted-bluesy, Sly Stone-sy, rock-sy music backed up by an R&B who's-who featuring Billy Preston, ?uestlove, James Poyser, and Pino Palladino, to name but a few.

While Greg Kaplan didn't ask Ms. Costa how that vest managed to "keep 'em covered" in the video for "Like a Feather" (a.k.a. "The Sweaty Tommy Hilfiger Commercial Song"), he did ask her about her pre-teen recording star past, how she found her voice, and why she wrote a song about her teddy bear.

MTV: What are your earliest memories of performing?

Nikka Costa: When I was 3, I would do shows for my dad's friends. I would make up songs and be on the fireplace, you know, doing stupid sh--. Then I remember being in the studio when I was like 6 or 7 with headphones that are just massive on my head, and having my dad on the other side of the console just telling me, "Sing it the way you feel it."

[Performing professionally] started with my dad doing a concert in Italy and at the last minute he was like, "Oh, I want to introduce my daughter," and I came on and sang this song, and then the whole place went mental. I was about 7, and the next thing I know I was in the studio, picking songs and recording stuff — pretty trippy. After that it was just a big blur of planes and TV sets and crowds.

I was enjoying it, definitely, but the thing is when you're a kid, whatever situation you're in, you don't have anything to compare it to — so you don't know if you're living a weird life or not. In retrospect, it was like another life. It's very surreal, but I wouldn't trade it in.

"Like A Feather"
MTV: You started writing songs then too, and one of the songs you wrote was pretty popular overseas. You wrote it with your mom?

Costa: Yeah. We wrote this song about my teddy bear. I remember being in this hotel room somewhere in Europe and she had the music and she was like, "What do you want to say about your teddy bears?" and I was like, "Well..." It was kind of funny.

When I was younger, [I performed] a lot of standards, like "Someone to Watch Over Me." A lot of Gershwin — it wasn't kiddie songs. The one song about my teddy bear was, and I think I did "Candy Man" or something like that, but this was a total different style, obviously. As you get older, you want to do other stuff. I did this record in my early teens [in 1989]. It was the '80s — bad, bad period — and I loved Exposé and dance music. I just wanted to be that. It was that kind of Euro stuff. It wasn't anything like what I was doing when I was little.

MTV: Those albums sold 8 times platinum, pretty much, around the world. You're still recognized, right? [Costa: Yeah, yeah!] What's that experience like?

Costa: Bizarre. I didn't think that anyone would recognize me still, but I think a lot of people have the sentimental love for this little girl that was [performing] with her dad. As they grew up with it, they still held it within their hearts. And I don't think I look very different from when I was little! I'm still that short. I didn't grow. [Laughs]

"Push and Pull"
MTV: It's hard to imagine comparing that stuff to what you're doing now. When did you start developing your sound?

Costa: Definitely when I was graduating high school. I was really into Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, all the old Motown stuff and Stax. I would just sit around and rewind [the tapes] and try to sing the harmonies and learn each part. I would sit in front of my stereo for hours. I wanted to get that — whatever that was. This little white girl in Beverly Hills. It took a while. But then a weird thing happened when I was 21. All of a sudden, my voice did this drop thing. I could be raspy if I wanted to be raspy, or I could belt out, and there was this certain sound. I don't know if it was just some hormonal thing or whatever, but it kind of shifted for me. I remember that day. It was actually on my birthday.

MTV: And you moved to Australia, where you developed your sound some more and things kind of started turning around for you.

Costa: Yeah, [I was] forming bands and writing, trying to figure out how to write songs and stuff like that. Living there and loving living there. It was beautiful. I was playing in Australia for about 2, 3 years. I got a deal over there, and so I did this record [Butterfly Rocket] that was a lot more rocky, more bluesy. We did a lot of gigs — screaming in smoky bars, which I love. It was a really, really good way to practice live performances, because they were really hard audiences over there, since they go to pubs all the time, see a lot of bands. You really have to work to get them into it.

MTV: You wrote all the lyrics on your album. What would you say is the theme of Everybody's Got Their Something?

Costa: Being true to your dreams; being true to yourself; when there's a lot of doubt thrown at you, to not buy into it; and love. Pretty universal themes. [The title track] is about [how] everybody does have something that's their thing that they can just run with and [use to] inspire other people. Which is cool, because everybody does have something they can offer. "Like a Feather," that's about surrender. If a feather is life, and you grab for it, the feather runs away from you. But if you just put your hand out, it will just fall to you. So if you just chill and let it come in its own time, it will.

MTV: What would your father think of your new album?

Costa: I think he was definitely instrumental in hooking us all up, watching over the project. I always think that he's my angel, and I think he would dig it.


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