A Race Against Herself: An Interview with Niia
By Ami Scherson
Friday, November 3, 2023
“Don’t even try to out race me
Don’t even try to shame me ‘cause
I’m my own daddy
The father and the son”
-Alfa Romeo, Niia (2023)
Los Angeles-based Niia is a powerhouse musician with over a decade of songwriting and composition expertise. Her songs are honest and nostalgic, invoking both hopeful yet melancholic feelings that are perfect for a crisp New York fall day. Though her pieces were formerly rooted in jazz and pop, this new record expands upon Niia’s musicality and experimentation as an artist. Each song threads together while needling through genres like shoegaze, ambient, and house.
This October, Niia returned to New York to showcase her recent album, Bobby Deerfield, and in the advent of her show, we explore her artistic vision, challenges, and growth.
Ami: Your most recent album, Bobby Deerfield, is named after the 1977 film of the same name, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Al Pacino. How did this movie inspire you?
Niia: Honestly, when I first saw the movie it didn’t blow me out of the water nor did I even think about it in regards to being an inspiration for my new album. But, as weeks passed, it was all I could think about. I became more obsessed with Formula 1, I started learning how to drive stick, and just couldn’t get Bobby Deerfield off my mind. I think what inspired me about the movie on the surface level was the cars, the style, Al Pacino… but the character of Bobby truly resonated with my sense of self and legacy deep down. I felt a lot like Bobby. Egotistical, relentlessly determined, and in some ways longing for change. Bobby was a mirror and revealed so many things about my past, my father, my present, and my future. Where am I going? The race isn’t over, Niia!
I also think it’s important to find inspiration in places you wouldn’t expect. Not every muse is a giant star for a famous film. We can be inspired by anything, even an Al Pacino flop.
Ami: How have you changed, adapted, or grown as an artist since your last album from 2021, If I Should Die?
Niia: I’ve grown so much since my last album in 2021. I believe when an artist feels they know everything they stop growing and become redundant. It was time to work with new people, double down on my own skills, and not be afraid to improve and fail.
Making my ambient record MOUTHFUL OF SALT really helped me believe that I can try music in all genres, styles, etc. I’m far braver, and embracing working with other people from a grateful space versus fear.
I’ve adapted by just trying to keep up with some of the incredible players and producers I get to work with. Honestly, I've never worked harder, and regardless of how my career goes… I know I’m growing as an artist and I’m so lucky for that.
I’ve also been focusing on how to de-glamorize being a masochistic tortured artist. It has been really important in my self-care or mental health journey, too. Being clear-headed and healthy makes for more openness to create and express. Ego, if you look at it in a healthy way, can be about confidence and creating from that place is special. I think I just have more clarity on my goals, and sense of self…
Ami: “Targa,” one of your songs off of Bobby Deerfield, is a beautiful rendition and homage to sultry and elusive house tracks and beats. What inspired you to make a house song on this album?
Niia: Well, I knew I wanted a song on my album called Targa and I just knew it had to be a sexy house track! This was one of the harder songs for me to write melodically and lyrically. I also have so many friends that love house music and I wanted to try to make something that I could feel was me but also have my friends dig. It had tons of versions and I’m happy to report I think I nailed it!
The test was driving at night!
“When things are personal, they also wind up being universal. Because, as human beings, we have so much in common. And if you’re dealing with something in a very direct way, and present it as art, [your audience] may project their own experience onto it. I don’t call that narcissism, it’s generosity.”
Ami: I know you spent your early career in the city; do you ever miss New York?
Niia: I am so excited to be back! I miss New York terribly. Whenever I’m back I always extend my stay! I miss walking around listening to music and bumping into friends (when in the mood)... All of my favorite restaurants are in New York, the jazz scene, just absolutely everything. I miss the plays!! Ugh I can go on and on. I miss eating at a bar alone perhaps the most. Maybe I’ll move back someday…I dropped out of my conservatory and lived by myself freshman year and New York really shaped me. New York was my favorite teacher. You never forget your favorite.
Ami: In your short film “Are You Mad at Me?” you said that explaining your work can be challenging, and hope to inspire people to share their own creative practices. What advice do you have for people who have a hard time sharing their art or creative practice?
Niia: Honestly, what I'd say is… it doesn’t always get easier… the more you do it I mean… For some, maybe. But, realizing you can help, connect, and inspire others by sharing your work is what it’s all about. Sometimes when you take yourself out of it, it can be easier. Initially, I got into music for myself. It was my secret. Music was my only friend at times. I never got into it to perform or share. It all felt too personal to share or just as an introvert I didn’t want to put myself out there! Then, I realized people actually liked my music and it was helping them so I had to decide how to handle that and move through it. Someone really wise told me that “when things are personal, they also wind up being universal. Because, as human beings, we have so much in common. And if you’re dealing with something in a very direct way, and present it as art, [your audience] may project their own experience onto it. I don’t call that narcissism, it’s generosity.” Work on your craft and continue to grow, you will find how rewarding it can be to share…
Ami: What is keeping you inspired or engaged with music these days?
Niia: Lately, lots of Ennio Morricone music, Foreign films, uni pasta, talking to my sister and brother. Going for walks and spending time alone. The simple things.
About Ami Scherson
Ami Scherson is an arts administrator, musician, and translator based in Queens, NY. She loves talking to people and getting to know their stories, which is probably why she is also the Membership and Individual Giving Manager at National Sawdust.