Nikka Costa is no stranger to the music industry; it’s literally in her blood. Being the daughter of famed composer/producer/conductor Don Costa, Nikka has lived and breathed music. At the age of five, she recorded a single with Hawaiian singer Don Ho, which caught the attention of many international producers. Their idea of producing an album with her singing as her father played acoustic guitar catapulted her into a child star in Europe. One of her most noted performances as a child was singing with Frank Sinatra on the White House lawn at nine years old. Before graduating high school, Costa had already released three albums and toured the world.
As she grew up, so did her music. Moving from pop to blues, Costa found her comfort zone.
2001’s “Everybody Got Their Something” and “Like a Feather” were radio hits, helping launch her U.S. music career. Her tough, gravely, soul/funk sound is uniquely her own. Her newest album, Nikka and Strings mixes her voice with a quartet of strings and a single piano. Recorded in just one day, the album shows that when you have the talent and drive, magic can happen very quickly.
The mother of two hopes her music will always have an audience and that her ability to genre hop will keep her music fresh. Costa’s love for music and the industry is woven into her DNA. She was born to do what she does.
It could be said that music is in your blood. By being surrounded by music and musicians all your life, do you remember just knowing that’s the path you would take?
I was always doing it. As a kid, I did it just because I wanted to do shows for my parents and their friends. Mostly for attention, but it started to snowball. I just kept doing it and my parents realized I actually could sing. I ended up accidentally doing a show with my dad in Italy, and that show caused people to want me to do a record. So I did, and all before I was 10. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just kind of happened. And being in a musical family, it was just natural.
It must have been overwhelming to be so young and have such an adult career already. You had released a few records before even graduating high school.
Well, when I was little, with the first couple records, it was the travel that was the most overwhelming. And the success of those albums was off the charts. The workload was a lot, and when you’re a kid it’s hard. Back then they didn’t regulate it like they do now, especially in Europe; they weren’t doing any catering to a child’s schedule. You’re a kid in an adult world with an adult work pace. So that was overwhelming. There were definitely times when I didn’t want to do it, but I was happy singing. Kids can be very resilient as well.
Your music changed direction as you got older, from pop to a more funk/soul vibe. What caused you to make that shift?
I think as a teenager, you try to branch out and find your own footing. So I was finding myself in life and musically. I would steal my brother’s records or dig through collections and listen to artists like Stevie Wonder. I went on this whole journey and found myself really loving blues and soul.
Did you find that your voice felt more natural in that sound?
My voice definitely changed through the years. I remember on my 21st birthday, suddenly there was a change. I could go more gravely and dig in a little more. I don’t know if it was some hormone shift or the universe saying “You clearly want to sing soul music, so here you go!”
Who has influenced you musically?
I’ve had a lot of male singers that I look up to. Obviously, there’s Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Chaka Khan, but I also love Robert Plant, Stevie Wonder, and Prince. I guess it’s the ballsy-ness of the male voice that I always gravitated to.
When did songwriting start to be a passion for you?
I had just graduated high school and moved to Australia. I was forming my own band for the first time. I was driving the bus, and putting up my own posters, but I needed songs for this band. I was trying to find my own sound, but I was so into Stevie Wonder, Prince, Led Zeppelin, and Lenny Kravitz. Those were my go-to artist. There wasn’t that sound from a woman then. I was in my early twenties and I had shit to say. So I just started stringing chords together, which came kind of natural. It’s still hard at times; it’s the most tedious part of the process.
Read Nikka’s full-length feature in our Fall issue, available now at all Barnes & Noble locations, or for purchase on our website.