Nikka Costa comes from rock royalty. Her father was legendary producer, conductor and arranger Don Costa. He has a profound influence on her life though he suddenly passed away when Nikka was ten years old. By that point, Costa was already a successful recording artist.
Nikka’s early soul
Nikka Costa was only eight years old when she released her first album. The record included her version of the classic Out Here On My Own from the movie Fame.
Her fame would follow and then suddenly after years of success, her record company dropped her.
This was after earning the MTV Best New Artist nomination earlier in the decade. The singer, (whose name is pronounced Nee-ka) was suddenly without a record label when her first and only company, Virgin, dropped her.
Ironically, reflective of her first hit single, Nikka Costa was Out Here On My Own.
By herself, Nikka recorded Pebble to a Stone and in the process, found an awesome partner in the process – Memphis, Tennessee’s Stax Records.
The home of history including Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’s Otis Redding, and Soul Man’s men, Sam and Dave.
Solo with Stax
SheKnows: Obviously you know there’s a stellar history at Stax Records, what was it for you, as literally a daughter of popular music, to be on Stax?
Nikka Costa: I had gotten off of Virgin (Records). I had made this record on my own dime and had no intentions of giving it to any label. We were just going to release it ourselves – which is why we made Go Funk Yourself Records. Then when we were mixing, through the grapevine, Stax heard I was doing a record. They really wanted to hear it. I figured, ‘O.K.,’ we’ll send it to them. They came in and completely got it and loved it as it was. They loved the vibe of it and were really enthusiastic about it. I felt like if was going to sign over to anybody, I wanted to make sure they got who I was and what I was doing. Of course, the history of Stax, makes perfect sense for me. They were the gritty answer to Motown. And I feel that I’m the gritty answer to all that polished pop-soul that’s out.
SheKnows: Pebble to a Pearl is a project you’ve been working on for quite a while now and here it is seeing the light of day. When you get to this part, are you eager or nervous?
Nikka Costa: I just want it to to be out already (laughs). I’m really proud of it and I really want it to be out and getting its legs. I’m excited to be with a new label that hopefully will, give it some legs. It’s exciting to see what can unfold.
SheKnows: Your sound and that name – Stax Records – is just flows. It’s meant to be. What is so great about this arrangement is that you were ready to go out at it alone.
Nikka Costa: Yeah, it’s actually kind of scary to get in bed with another label. With Virgin, I had four presidents. It was hard. When you’re freed from that and kind of do what you want, it’s like wanting to get married again. But this is different feel, a different everything.
Costa is a Pearl
SheKnows: After listening to the whole record and knowing what it took to make it happen, the joy behind it – I think I already know the answer to this – but how much of Pebble to a Pearl was a labor of love and how much of it was labor?
Nikka Costa: I have to admit it was completely the least laborious record-making we’ve ever, ever experienced. I hope, hope, hope, that I get to have that kind of vibe again. It was really a special moment in time. We wrote these songs in a very small amount of time. It was hyper-focused (laughs). It was because we were doing it on our own dime. We did not have a lot of time or money, to be in the studio for ages. We did fifteen songs in five days in this studio. It was really flowing. I really believe that it was because there were no suits in anybody’s ear. Suits tend to create walls (laughs).
SheKnows: Just looking at the photos of you making the record with a stack of amplifiers and a sounding board, there are no suits!
Nikka Costa: (Laughs) It was a creative space. I think that artists should have that opportunity to be themselves. To not have limitations put on them before they’ve entered the studio.
SheKnows: Everything you’re saying now seems to have the feel that everything happens for a reason.When you moved on from Virgin, those initial feelings at the time, was that your sentiment? Or was there a bit of angst about how it ended?
Nikka Costa: At the end of being with Virgin, I felt like I was in jail. I couldn’t move either way. I was very happy to get out. Obviously, there’s a certain amount of fear with any change. I wondered how that was going to go – was anyone ever going to want to sign me. It took some time to get my head around the fact that I can do it myself. I have a fan base. It’s a ‘I’m not going to be washed up’ kind of thing. In the end, I knew that (Virgin) wasn’t the place for me to stay. I also don’t like to sit and wallow. I like to get on with it.
SheKnows: Many people, regardless of what they do for a living, come to one door that closes and another opens. That must truly resonate. Finally, there are so many lovely songs on the CD and there are many song names that would also have worked as album titles. Why did you choose Pebble to a Pearl?
Nikka Costa: I felt like Pebble to a Pearl summarized so many aspects of this whole process. The song itself, lyrically, was really about: ‘Don’t dim yourself to appease other people. Don’t worry about what other people are going to feel if you shine brighter. Don’t be a pebble, be a pearl! And be proud.’ There’s also the metaphor of Pebble to a Pearl – the evolution that I went through for this whole period. It feels like I’ve come out of some crap, internally. I like the imagery of it and it summarizes the whole thing.
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