Nikka Costa Goes Beyond Family Ties
Nikka Costa could have taken the easy route. Daughter of famed arranger/producer Don Costa, the twenty-something singer/songwriter could have easily used the family name to jumpstart her own career stNikka Costa could have taken the easy route. Daughter of famed arranger/producer Don Costa, the twenty-something singer/songwriter could have easily used the family name to jumpstart her own career stateside -- the operative word being could. Instead, Costa chose a more low-key approach for priming her U.S. debut, "Everybody Got Their Something," due out May 8 via Virgin.
Instead of going with a flashy, name-driven advertising campaign, people first became familiar with Costa's voice, and nothing else, from a Tommy Hilfiger TV campaign which featured her debut single, "Like A Feather." The song's infectious sound left a lasting impression and had industry insiders wondering who the unseen singer was.
"We are hoping that the song will be recognizable [from the commercial]," says Costa's co-manager Dominique Trenier. "In music, there is a lot of power in the visual. That's the reason she wasn't in the commercial-a lot of people thought she was black."
Costa's work with Hilfiger came through her association with DJ Mark Ronson, who served as a producer on "Everybody."
"He [Ronson] had done tracks for them before, and they asked him to do another one for a commercial he was going to be in," says Costa. "At that time we were in the middle of mixing the album, and he mentioned me."
According to Costa, she initially had her reservations about the deal. "I was kind of wary because I didn't want to be a jingle girl before my album came out," says the singer. "It's gotten a really great response. I didn't think people really listened to commercials."
"Like A Feather," with its eclectic mixture of rock, funk, and soul, is an appropriate introduction to "Everybody."
"'Like A Feather' is about surrender -- surrendering to your life," says the songstress. "The point is it's going to end up how it is. So, you can either fight it and be frustrated or you can go with it and be happier along the way."
"When a feather floats down, if you try to grab it it'll fly off, but if you just hold your hand out it will land in your hand," adds Costa, of the tune's spiritual slant. "It's just this philosophy that I have to remind myself to do."
Although "Everybody" marks Costa's U.S. debut, she is no stranger to the international music scene. In addition to recording a Christmas song with Don Ho at the age of five, Costa made her stage debut at age seven (with a full orchestra no less). "The next thing I know we recorded and released this record when I was eight and it went to No. 1 all over Europe and South America for a really long time," says Costa of her first album. "It kind of happened by accident."
According to Costa, although her father was always supportive of her burgeoning career he never pushed her.
"He didn't force it, but I was always singing around the house so he didn't want to suppress my desire either," says Costa. "With the record, it happened so fast that my family and I were all on this crazy ride, so I don't think they had a minute to think about it either way."
Costa released a follow-up album at ten. She released another album at 14 to fulfill her contractual obligations. Feeling exploited, Costa stopped recording for several years. She moved to Australia, got married, and started writing and teaching herself guitar and piano. She formed her own band, and recorded an album. Five years after moving to Australia, Costa moved back to L.A. in hopes bringing her new sound stateside. Costa was introduced to Trenier through a mutual friend who gave him a copy of Costa's last Australian effort.
"When I met her it was her voice that struck me," says Trenier, who also manages D'Angelo. "I was intrigued by her ability to perform. She's like post hip-hop Janis Joplin -- white and rebellious."
When Costa set out to record "Everybody" she had a very clear idea of where she wanted to take her music. "I wanted to evolve my sound from my last album," she says. "I wanted to do something different but that wasn't a left turn from where I naturally was. I was loving blues and rock, but at the same time I was writing soulful songs with harmonies so we tried to find a way to blend the two."
"I'm just pro-everybody-else, that's why I titled the album ["Everybody"]," says Costa. "The album isn't about me, me, me. I write for myself first, but I like to give it up to everyone else when I play. I want them to have fun and feel whatever it is I feel."
The general public got its first look at Costa when she performed on the last episode of the series run of the HBO's "The Chris Rock Show," last November.
According to Costa, Rock, a friend of Trenier, had heard several tracks from the album, and wanted them to do the show but they were still recording. "Right before his last show, we ran into him at a party and Dom introduced me to him and he told us that we had to be on his last show, which was a week away," says Costa, of the coincidental meeting. "It was retarded -- to have no record out, no single out and to be asked to do that show, especially as a little white girl."
Costa kicked off a promotional tour of seven major U.S. markets on April 17, including a stop at the massive Coachella Festival last weekend in Indio, Calif. Prior to that, she jetted off on a multi-city tour in Europe.
Costa can also be heard on the soundtrack for the Ted Demme-directed film, "Blow." "Push & Pull," which also appears on her album, is the only new song to appear on the soundtrack. In conjunction with the film, she performed at Sundance Film Festival in January.
"I had the music already, and then I met Ted and Amanda," says the Costa, of the song. "They were looking for the end song, and I saw the movie and was inspired to write the lyrics. It was one of the last songs we did for my album, so I was craving shit to write about."
"My main goal was to be proud of this album, because I have had albums out there that I wasn't proud of and they're out there forever," Costa says. "Once that was said and done, I hope people feel something from it -- whatever way that helps them express something they couldn't otherwise express. Everybody has that thing that makes them special. It's really important to find what that is and nurture it because that is what makes you unique."