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Livewire's One on One
Nikka Costa
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Givin' Up her Something

Livewire's Exclusive Interview
with Nikka Costa

March 5, 2002

Interview by Tony Bonyata

She may be the daughter of famed producer, arranger and composer Don Costa, but Nikka Costa is not about to stand under anyone else's shadow, not even her own Godfather's - 'The Chairman of the Board' Frank Sinatra. Despite performing and recording overseas since the tender age of 5, this Los Angeles bred gal has somehow managed to completely allude the U.S. public. That is, until now.
Bursting like a flaming meteorite on the U.S. music scene last year with her critically and commercially acclaimed debut "Everybody Got Their Something" it seems like Costa's time has finally come to roost in her own backyard. Combining the gritty blues of Janis Joplin, the soulful, sexual prowess of a young Tina Tuner and the greasy funk of Sly Stone, the embers of this 29-year old woman's talents are now burning brighter then ever.
Livewire's Tony Bonyata caught up with this up-and-coming artist to discuss her career, family and the arch of a woman's back.

Livewire: You've had quite the explosive year. Can you keep it up?

Nikka: (Laughs) It depends on what day you ask me. I'm really happy with the way things are going. It's definitely on the rise, but it's a slow kind of process. It feels really good.

Livewire: How have your audiences been reacting to your recent live shows?

Nikka: Oh great! The response has been amazing. We've had sold-out shows and great, great crowds with a really mixed group of people, which is one of the most exciting parts of the whole thing.

Livewire: You recently headlined a short tour with Miranda Lee Richards, which with her folk and your funk made for a somewhat odd pairing. How was the reaction to that package?

Nikka: Well, the crowd responded really well to her. I think audiences are pretty open to all different kinds of music, especially my audience. That's kinda like my whole point. I think she did a really great job. She got a lot of new fans who would've probably never gone to see her. We had a really good time. It was really cool.

Livewire: Does your offstage personality mirror the sexy fireball image you portray onstage?

Nikka: (Sly giggle, then long pause)

Livewire: Well, then are you as outgoing offstage as you are on?

Nikka: Yeah, I'm outgoing. But I guess it depends on how I feel on that day. I'm not a big bravura shit-cocker on an everyday basis. That would be really annoying.

Livewire: But you are onstage.

Nikka: Oh yeah (laughs). My alter ego. But it's not really that far from my real character. It's not like a character that I made up to put onstage. It's not me, but it's a side of me.

Livewire: Your father was such a huge figure in the music industry. Did growing up around so many famous people make you somewhat jaded to the concept of stardom?

Nikka: Well, I'm a fan like everybody else. Maybe I'm not takes a lot for me to get star-struck, because I've been around a lot of [famous] people. And I realize that they're just normal people that are really talented, you know? So in that way, I guess if you put me next to a girl from Omaha we'd have different reactions to it. But there are those people that I meet that I'm like, 'Oh my God!'

Livewire: Such as?

Nikka: Well, I had the opportunity to meet Madonna last year, and I couldn't because I was so rattled.

Livewire: You actually couldn't face her?

Nikka: No. I was like, 'no, no, no!' So I just watched her walk by. Stevie Wonder was the same. But I touched his hand as he walked by, so I felt like I accomplished something.

Livewire: I may be in the minority, but I think you're cooler than Madonna.

Nikka: Well she paved the way for female artists. Whether she's your thing musically or not it's neither here nor there, it's really more about her staying power.

Livewire: You've had a very successful career outside of the U.S. ever since you were a child. Yet fame in the U.S. didn't come until your most recent album. Do you think that it's helped your career here that you really weren't heard of until "Everybody Got Their Something?"

Nikka: It's kinda hard to say. I imagine so. It's kinda nice to get all the practicing you need to do somewhere else. So it's nice to come to the States with some experience. You know what I mean - get your preparation done somewhere else. I don't know what people's perceptions would be if they knew me as a kid. But it's not like it's something that we've hidden. If I thought that it would be a big problem I probably would've gone a lot further to kind of hide that end - not talk about it and not put it in my bio and things like that. It's not a bad thing, it's just that it was so long ago.

Livewire: Why weren't your earlier albums released here in the U.S.?

Nikka: There were all different reasons. When I was really young, they didn't want to sign me here until I was thirteen. I think it was because of child labor laws or whatever. It was just easier. And then after that I wasn't really interested in hotly pursuing it. I did this other record as a teen, that I was in and out of very quickly. I guess I knew that I wasn't ready yet. It really wasn't that important to me.

Livewire: Do you find it difficult to listen to your older material or is it something your proud of?

Nikka: Well, I feel happy that I did it. I'm happy that I had those experiences. I got to work with my dad and stuff like that. But I never really go back and listen to it either. It's not something that I dwell on.

Livewire: Do you perform any of your older songs in your current shows?

Nikka: No, no, no, no!

Livewire: So you're starting point for your current live shows is "Everybody Got Their Something."

Nikka: Oh, yeah!

Livewire: What happens when you perform for your European audiences, who are more familiar with your older stuff?

Nikka: They ask for it, and I tell them to move on with their lives. Change is good! (laughs) You know what, it was so long ago. Anyone holding on to that needs to learn to let go.

Livewire: Do you get a bigger charge out of performing live or writing and recording?

Nikka: It's a different charge. I mean, obviously playing live is so fun, and you get to vibe-off how ever many people are in the room. That's an energy that's really exciting and electric. But there's also something about creating something that isn't yet tangible. Music isn't a tangible thing. It just kind of exists in the air and you have to try and find it. Or manifest it. And that's kind of exciting because it's like this magical thing. You hear this song that you wrote, and you hear how it's turned out and it's so different from how you imagined it. It's a whole mysterious process. It's really exciting. The live thing has that aspect as well, because you don't know how a show is gonna go.

Livewire: Is there anybody that you could see yourself collaborating with in the future?

Nikka: I'd love to do something with Outkast. I'd love to work with Dr. Dre. I'd love to do something with Chris Robinson [of The Black Crowes] or Chris Cornell [ of Soundgarden].

Livewire: It sounds like you're all over the place - hip-hop, roots rock, grunge...

Nikka: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! I'm all over the place (laughs). I like a lot of different kinds of stuff. I have a lot of friends that do too. That's one of main points to the whole industry is that people actually like different things. I don't think you need to box yourself into some category to be understood by anyone. The industry and the radio needs to give their public the benefit of the doubt, and be totally open to different stuff.

Livewire: Are you working on new material now?

Nikka: I'm actually gearing up for it. I haven't really written in the last year but I've been collecting experiences to write about. You know, just livin' (laughs) and lovin'.

Livewire: From the sounds of the people you'd like to work with can we then assume that you may be heading in new musical directions? Maybe adding more hip-hop and even hard rock into the mix?

Nikka: I'll always try and achieve a balance between the two and find my own kind of slant on what that sounds like. But I have no idea. You really don't know how anything's going to truly turn out.

Livewire: But would you build on the soul and deep funk base from "Everybody" or do something completely different?

Nikka: Well, no. I'm not going to do a country record. I'm not going to stray that far (laughs).

Livewire: It's interesting to learn that Frank Sinatra was your Godfather. Being a child performer did you ever get a chance to work with him?

Nikka: Yeah, I did a song with him for charity when I was about ten or something. To me it really wasn't as big of a deal as [everybody makes it seem], 'cause I was a kid.

Livewire: Did you have any dealings with him in his later years.

Nikka: Not really, no. My dad passed away when I was ten and I kind of lost track with that whole scene. It was a very loose term. It wasn't like he was my Godfather and he came to my high school graduation or anything, you know? He was kind of around when I was a kid and...When I tell the press, it's such a disappointing answer. Exciting question, disappointing answer (laughs).

Livewire: I guess so. I actually pictured Sinatra sitting behind Don Corleone's desk with you on the other side asking for a record contract.

Nikka: Right (laughs).

Livewire: Are you married?

Nikka: Yeah.

Livewire: How does that work with you on the road for such long periods of time?

Nikka: Well, luckily, I'm married to my producer (laughs). So he totally gets the road and the lifestyle and you know. We're each very involved with each other's things. It works out. Distance makes the heart grow fonder. He's happy to send me off on the road, and I'm happy to go, but then we're happy when we see each other.

Livewire: Children?

Nikka: No, no, no, God no. We've got a dog, though. It's a Chihuahua / Pekinese / mutt.

Livewire: What's the sexiest thing you've ever seen?

Nikka: What were the examples you were going to give me?

Livewire: I wasn't going to give you any. I don't know what you've seen.

Nikka: Oh God. These are the kinds of questions that you wish you had a whole list of things written down.

Livewire: The only reason I ask is because of the sexual image that you project. Maybe it's not just something you've seen but rather a sound or a scent - something that arouses your senses.

Nikka: Okay, the arch of a woman's back.

Livewire: The what?

Nikka: (Laughing) The arch of woman's back. (Shy, slightly embarrassed giggle) But I'm not a lesbian.

Livewire: What's in your CD player right now?

Nikka: Well, right now is a friend of mine's demo. Before that, Nina Simone "The Blues."

Livewire: Very nice. Kind of a full circle back to your dad's era.

Nikka: (Proud tone) Yeah! Absolutely.

Livewire: Do you foresee yourself in front of an audience 10 years from now?

Nikka: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Although, I wouldn't be opposed to doing something else. But at the moment I don't know what else that would be.

More Nikka Costa
Live Review - Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL 03/15/02
Live Review - Park West, Chicago, IL 12/02/01
CD Review - Everybody Got Their Something

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