It isn't every artist who sings on the White House lawn with Frank Sinatra at the age of 9. But Nikka Costa is known more for her "Like a Feather" hit of a couple years ago than her childhood escapades (her dad was famed producer/arranger Don Costa, a frequent Sinatra collaborator). Lately she's been touring with another superstar, Lenny Kravitz. On the release of her new can'tneverdidnothin' (Virgin), she talked about the ups and downs of life on the road. Evidently it's a world of split pants, bad toilets, and Hot Tamales.
How was your tour with Lenny Kravitz?
Awesome. I've always wanted to play with Lenny because he's the perfect match -- he does funk and rock. It's always really made sense, but we've never had the right timing. But this time it worked out and funnily enough we've become friends; he played on a few songs on my album.
What were the audiences like?
Very open and very supportive. Lenny hasn't played in theaters in like 10 years. So people are freaked out to see him in such small places. For fans it's like the ultimate dream to be so up close. A lot of the venues have been really cool, like old churches. There are no more than 5000 people [in the room]. It's always more work when you're supporting someone else's tour because it's not your fans, but we fit so well musically that it's been great. Lenny is so down to earth, he doesn't have airs. He's a cool dude - and not an eyesore!
What is your before-gig ritual?
I stretch and all that kind of stuff. Then my band and I say this funny kind of prayer. I have a Sikh in my band and he's Punjabi, so there's a prayer that they'd say back in the day before they went to war, so he says all these things in Punjabi and we all say it at the top of our lungs. It's cool. Makes us ready for the fight.
What's the craziest thing that's ever happened to you on stage?
I've split my pants before, which was pretty full on and hard to disguise. So I couldn't turn around for the whole rest of the gig. I thought no one saw but then of course someone came up to me after the gig and was like, "You split your pants, ha ha."
What items do you always have on your rider?
Vitamin C and the candies Hot Tamales. Sh*t to keep you going.
What's the best live show that you've ever seen?
Well Prince is right on up there. Also, I saw Frank Sinatra in Sydney in a huge venue. It was insane to see the kind of showmanship and the whole old-school thing that no one does anymore. It's such a skill and it's so engrossing because he did it so well and there was so much storytelling. Also, U2 are great. D'Angelo was badass too.
By the time a tour is over, is there something you're utterly tired of?
I guess it would be putting on full-on makeup and high heels every night, cause I'm pretty casual.
Is there one thing that comes with you on every tour you go on?
My cell phone, and now my computer and Ipod. Last time, those weren't around.
Describe the sleaziest venue you've ever played in?
Sometimes you get to a venue where you don't want to go into the bathroom at all - ever. If you'd rather pee on the bus then that bathroom's bad. There was a venue on the West Coast where they were such bastards they wouldn't give us even water, let alone what was on our rider. I was headlining, the place was sold out, people were crammed in there; at the end I made the entire venue scream out the manager's name, "F*ck you Bob!" We never played there again; Bob's out of a job.
What do you miss most about home?
My husband and my dogs! It kills me not to be with my little stinkers.
What's the most fanatic thing a fan's ever done to you?
Well I've signed quite a few t*ts and asses. There's this one girl who gives me huge bags of embroidered towels with my website on it, and huge chocolate bars with new wrappers that have my photos on them. Just insane stuff, like a huge vat of fortune cookies and on the inside of each cookie it says www.nikkacosta.com. She's actually quite clever, great marketing ideas. When we perform "Like a Feather" we get everyone to clap, so she got a huge box of these toys for kids that rattle and sound like clapping. She put a photo on each one and said to me "these are for the clappers." She's always at the west coast shows. You wonder how someone has the time and money!