Jazz is the epitome of escapism. In an era when a safe haven from reality is needed the most, artists like Niia are the perfect new addition to your playlist. Her sultry vocals and whisky tone are reminiscent of a bygone golden era in music. Thankfully, Jazz-inspired R&B is a genre that’s having a glorious comeback and Niia is in great company. She’s not only performed with the likes of Jorja Smith, The xx and Jazmin Sullivan, but Niia’s latest EP If I Should Die features Khruangbin bassist Laura Lee. Niia’s musical appeal lies in her rich ability to connect nostalgia and raw emotion. Her new EP is a patiently alluring project that serves as an enticing entry point to the sonic universe of Niia. The New York Italian star chats to Schön! about the roots of her creativity and the story behind her latest single Ace Hotel.
How has creating during a pandemic been for you?
In some ways it was how I usually work. Alone at my piano at home or locked in friend’s studio just working away. I am an introvert when it comes to my work but the emotional impact was the biggest and most challenging difference when it came to creating. The industry had been moving so fast, I think it was a wake up call for everyone for a lot of reasons. You become incredibly grateful for basic human needs and what truly feeds your soul. That’s where I was reminded how powerful music really is. I felt a shift to feel more connected.
In the face of all these restrictions, have there been any positives for you?
Yes, I had so much time to listen and discover music. I also spent a lot of time working on a script which has become my new obsession.
How do you think your current environment is influencing the kind of music you’re making?
I think about this a lot, actually. I’ve really seen a shift in my songwriting and process since moving to LA. I used to glamorize being a masochist tortured artist back in NYC. Now, my physical and mental health is thriving. I am not hungover as much trying to come up with lyrics! I take my time and really focus on the craftsmanship. I also try to stay out of sessions that I know just wont serve me. You can really find your creative safe space and people if you work hard, set boundaries, and stay aware of what works and what doesn’t. However, I am a water sign and a hopeless romantic so I do love to get inspiration from other places when I need a spark. My first album, I moved to LA to create. I started the second in Italy. My next one who knows.
What sounds from your childhood have shaped the kind of music you’re making now?
I think there will always be classical and jazz elements in all my music. My mother was a classical pianist and that was my introduction to music. I had to take piano and then I fell in love with jazz. I grew up studying classical piano, competing in jazz bands as the vocalist, and listening to basically Leon Ware and Annie Lennox. I’m hoping only the best sounds from my childhood have become the backbone to my own music.
What are your first memories of falling in love with music?
My earliest memory would be listening to my mother give classical piano lessons out of our living room when I was very young. The second memory was seeing Jennifer Holiday in a small church in Provincetown. I quit singing for 4 months after seeing her. She was life changing.
Which artists have made the biggest impact on you as a musician?
Chopin, Debussy, Sarah Vaughn, Sade, Mariah Carey, Marvin Gaye, Fiona Apple, Annie Lennox. I could keep going.
look. Maroske Peech c/o Doza Shop
top. Di Petsa c/o Doza Shop
skirt. Philip Lim
Can you tell us what themes you explore in your EP?
Growing pains really felt like the main theme, wanting to move forward unafraid, confidence, and realising that I still had some healing, untethering and growing to do.
Where do you tend to pull your songwriting inspiration from?
Notes on my iPhone. I recently have been working on an ambient album and I have been getting my scuba license which became the entire metaphor for it.
Is there a track on the EP that is the most sentimental to you?
Ace Hotel. I wrote Ace Hotel about how I couldn’t stop seeing someone who was wrong for me. I started to get frustrated with myself for not being able to walk away. He was too damn handsome! I recently sent him the song and we shared a few texts. We haven’t spoken since. Ace hotel really just felt like an obstacle I had to get over for myself. I still can’t go to the Ace.
Is there a collaboration on the EP that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m grateful for anyone who wants to work with me! But, I’d say it was really cool to have Laura lee as a featured instrumentalist. It was also her first time doing a feature for another artist so I felt special. She’s amazing!
Lastly, what are your hopes for the final half of 2021?
That I finish my script and the concept for my third album hits me soon.