Nikka Costa On How Prince Inspired Her Upcoming Album

Melodie McDaniel
Nikka Costa

Nikka Costa says her forthcoming Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between "wasn't even meant to be an album." But the success of her residency at Largo in Los Angeles, where Costa sang with a small rhythm section and, as the title suggests, some strings led to the decision to make her first full-length release in nearly a decade. 

"I guess it's been awhile, but time moves so fast for me I don't notice how long it's actually been," Costa, who premieres a video of her aching rendering of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" below, tells Billboard. "This kind of came into its own. It just plopped down and the ball just started rolling. It was really just a gig I was doing in the interim between albums and people were responding to it so well we decided we should record this. It's pretty special."

With arrangements by pianist Jeff Babko, Nikka & Strings, due out June 2, features 11 versions of Costa personal favorites including Marvin Gaye's "Ain't That Peculiar," the standard "Stormy Weather," Gerry and the Pacemakers' "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying," Bert Berns' "Cry To Me" and more. There's also an arrangement of "Come Rain Or Come Shine" that was created for Frank Sinatra by her late father, Don Costa. "Obviously it's a huge departure for me stylistically but at the same time not 'cause I've been doing it since I was little, the same kind of stuff," Costa says. "It was just a cool excuse to wrap my head around some other kinds of songs and stuff that I love but I don't usually get to do 'cause I'm gyrating and screaming over a band."

"Nothing Compares 2 U" is a particularly personal inclusion because of Costa's own friendship with Prince. "It's so succinct and so well-written and people can relate to it so well," she notes. "We started playing it before Prince passed away. I was really excited for him to hear it, but unfortunately he passed before we recorded it -- and then when recording day came, all of that emotion was attached to it, so it took it to another level."

For her arrangement of the song, meanwhile, Costa wanted "a bit of an ass-swing. It's got a wiggle but there's, like, a hmp on it -- I cant explain it any other way. We wanted to make it like, 'Ooh, that's nasty,' like good nasty. I definitely wanted to keep a groove but still have a tear and emotion being pulled out of it. So the band just jammed it and it immediately felt good in that way."

Costa, who's taken time off from recording to raise her two young children -- now 10 and three years old -- has finished the residency at Largo. But once Nikka & Strings comes out she's planning to take the show on the road. "It's really exciting and it's a really special project to my heart," she says. "I'm really excited to think about sharing what we were doing here with people around the country."