Photo By Jade Mainade
Niia has largely spent her lockdown contemplating life, reflecting on past decisions and working with sound bowls (more on that later). This period of self-reflection is clear in her new single ‘Not Up For Discussion’. Voir chatted to Niia on the day of its release…
Like all of us, Niia has struggled with parts of the past year but has ultimately taken it as a time to pause, think, and realign what’s important to her. “[In lockdown] you’re forced to take the time to educate yourself on things and to think about what’s important to you and how you want to spend your time,” she says thoughtfully. “Suddenly everything seems a bit more meaningful, I’m focussing on where I really feel I should put my energy.” In Niia’s case, as a part of the minute population of people who haven’t caved to Netflix’s Bridgerton, this means spending her time making sure her plants are watered, her workout is done, her dinner is cooked and she’s (safely) forcing herself to see friends regularly to stay balanced. “I’m not that social,” she tells me. “But that’s kind of my parameter for how I am, if my plants start to die I know I need to get it together.“
Generally, routine and reflection is what seems to have got Niia through the pandemic. “Also, just learning about whats going on [in the world] in a way that feels healthy. I do think there’s trauma fatigue with all the anxiety going on in the world and that really impacts you, stress-wise.” Niia tells me she’s also been working with sound bowls – large crystal bowls which you play almost like an instrument, that create vibrations usually used for relaxation and meditation, but also physical pain healing. I must admit, I had to ask Niia for this information as the concept of a sound bowl was new to me, “I didn’t really believe in it, I thought it was a little hippy dippy for me, but I have neck pain and it works, it’s physically proven,” she says. “People will cry when they go to a sound bath, it’s like a release of all the stuﬀ that’s blocked. I’m just doing everything I can to stay healthy and stress free.”
She’s also taken lockdown as an opportunity to branch out when it comes to her personal style. “What’s so ironic is that I don’t really love attention, and people always have the opinion that I love to dress up and all this stuﬀ,” she says. “I’ve grown into my style, coming from a jazz music background I used to do these recitals and it was was always a formal black dress. My style has kind of evolved into what I feel safe in, I’d say it’s classic with a dark twist.” She lusts over looks by everyone from Tilda Swinton (“she’s so weird, I love it”) to Monica Bellucci (“I love me some sexy stuﬀ”) and settles on “fusing this androgynous character with a sexy vixen” as the best description of her own style. Any impulsive lockdown purchases? “I have bought some very questionable things,” she tells me, laughing. “I bought this tight, neon – totally not me – tie-dye dress. I put it on and was like ‘who is she?’, but sometimes you get stuck in your comfort zone and I’m really trying to evolve.” Niia is of the opinion that despite fashion and music’s long, drawn- out relationship, styling artists has become something of a competition as to who can make headlines with the wackiest fit. “I just don’t want to look back in 20 years and be like ‘why was I wearing that?’”
Niia’s second album, II: La Bella Vita, was released last February – just a month before the world went into lockdown. “Luckily I don’t put so much weight in the ‘success’ of [my work] or what it’s going to do, it’s really just for me. I just love creating and being in a studio and working with people I trust,” she explains. “If I didn’t ever have to release music, that would be ok with me.” In fact, it’s the actual sharing of her music that Niia still struggles with at times, “Because of the state of the world in general, how congested it is.” Whilst she is lucky enough not to worry too much about the numbers when it comes to releasing music, she admits that it was a little awkward having a billboard of her album up on Sunset Boulevard whilst the world slipped slowly into a state of lockdown. “I was like, “please take the billboard down now”’ she laughs. “I’m proud of it though, and the more music I release the more people will go back to that album.”
The creation of II: La Bella Vita, took place in Italy, where Niia’s family roots are. She flew a group of musicians out there and, whilst she was worried about their productivity levels stooping after settling into an Italian lifestyle of long lunches and relaxation, she was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. “I just couldn’t be in LA any more. In Italy you wake up, have your food, you go create, have like a four hour lunch,” she laughs. “We ended up being more productive because of the calmness, and got better music out of it.” Niia tells me she feels at home in Italy, but in a diﬀerent way to her life in LA. “It feels like home in my sense of self, rather than the location. When I’m there I feel less stressed, the Italian culture caters to a better lifestyle,” she says. “I know LA is all about wellness but there’s this need to be creating and competing with everyone. In Italy, nobody cares, they’re just doing their own thing.”
Not only are her family responsible for her appreciation of the Italian culture, but for her musical passions. Her mother was a classical pianist, all her cousins sing, and everybody in the family plays some sort of instrument. “When I was younger, I just assumed every family was musical,” she tells me. “But I realised they weren’t and it was just the norm for me because my mother forced me to do piano lessons. I was an introverted kid so it was how I expressed myself.” Niia soon realised that this was something she could actually build a career out of, and yet it continued to be a therapy outlet for her too.
Niia’s previous album was very heavily influenced by her Italian roots, but is her upcoming EP similarly informed? “My music will always have an Italian influence, but in the essence of it being personal and having dramatic arrangements,” she says. “The Italian music that I grew up with was so lush, so romantic. The arrangements, the drama of it – I’ve always carried that with me.” Whilst II: La Bella Vita focused heavily on these themes, her new EP has more subtle elements. “[My heritage] is definitely a big pillar in my music – I usually just write about love or heartache because I grew up singing jazz and that’s what it’s all about,” she explains. “But this EP, by natural evolution, became more about myself and how I’m reflecting on time, on things and people that I don’t need in my life anymore. So [the Italian influence] is always there, it’s just shifting more to be about myself and my identity as a musician.”
Her new single, ‘Not Up for Discussion’, featuring Laura Lee, was released last week and is the first taste of new music from Niia. Her past two albums, I and II: La Bella Vita have documented the trials and tribulations of romantic relationships. In contrast, the new track It opens with the line “life teaches you nothing, not up for discussion” and the idyllic, self-directed video sees Niia slowly strolling through a paradisal beach house, with people lounging around in every corner. “It’s kind of about disassociation. I’m amongst all my friends, but they’re kind of ignoring me… doing their own thing.” The song itself carries a hint of irony, and Niia tells me that despite the profound opening lyric, the message is quite the opposite. “Life teaches you everything! It’s what you make it. I tried to lace that in in a way that isn’t contrived or preachy, it’s like ‘do whatever you want’ but do it for you, do what makes you happy.”
My conversation with Niia leaves me feeling calm and inspired, as if it is my time to invest in a sound bowl and get reflecting (it also makes me want to hop on a plane to Italy, ASAP). The bottom line? Be it her Italian heritage or her commitment to growth and soul-searching, Niia does not produce surface-level work. She is an artist for the sake of her art, and Voir looks forward to seeing what she produces next.
Niia’s new single, ‘Not Up For Discussion’ featuring Laura Lee is out now, watch the video now:
Words By Pippa Simmonds