NIKKA COSTA INTERVIEWED (2001): Take care, she's connected

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NIKKA COSTA INTERVIEWED (2001): Take care, she's connected

Here's a pretty cool career high: opening for the Police and playing to an audience of around 300,000 in Chile. 

Here's another: hanging out with Quincy Jones, Sly Stone, Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack pals. 

And another: singing with the full Don Costa Orchestra, the same guys who backed Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan and other greats.

For the woman who can claim these highs, they all happened before she was in her teens.

She sang with that orchestra at 7, knew the Rat Pack as friends of her Dad's who hung around the house, and opened for the Police when she was 8.

Nikka Costa - yes, she's the daughter of famed arranger, producer and composer Don - has had the kind of musical upbringing many would envy. 
And her godfather was that made man Frank Sinatra, which must have been a pretty useful association to call when dealing with uncharitable critics.

Costa is now a flame-haired, slightly funky rock'n'soul singer whose new album Everybody Got Their Something finds her barely dressed on the cover. Its amalgam of slightly retro manoeuvres was adeptly described in a review in these pages: "the term 'the female Lenny Kravitz' becomes the appropriate faint praise".

It's an album perhaps more interesting in the telling and, although it hasn't damaged the US top-100, Costa's music has been getting plenty of profile.

51_TFS3viELOne track, Like a Feather, was used in a Tommy Hilfiger ad. Another, Push and Pull, was picked up for the soundtrack to Blow, and a phone call from the States finds her and band sound-checking for a party in her home town of LA to launch the Gap's new campaign for denim. 

She is also opening on the road around the States for Erykah Badu and headlines her own tour later in the year.
It's all up and up for a woman who was pretty connected in the first place. In 1981 she sang on the East Lawn of the White House with Sinatra for Nancy Reagan's To Love A Child Foundation.

Having Rat Packers round the Hollywood home or watching Barbra Streisand in the studio must have been cool, but at one point it must have occurred to her that this was no ordinary childhood.

"It wasn't like it clicked," says the chirpy, teenage-sounding 29-year-old. "It was so natural. I was always with my Dad and he was always recording and it was just what he did for a job. I know that seems weird, but when you're a kid your parents do what they do and you just go along with it.

"I didn't even know who I was hanging out with because I was little and they were just my Dad's friends. As I got older I realised some of them were famous, but it was a bit watered down because I'd spent so much time with them in such a nonchalant way. So it wasn't, 'Oh wow'!"

Costa was reincarnated in Australia as an adult rock'n'roll singer in the late-90s. The first part of her career began at age 5 when she sang with famed Hawaiian singer Don Ho for a Christmas album her father was recording.

By 10 she'd released two albums that were good sellers in Europe, Israel and Central and South America, and lead to that appearance opening for the Police.
Needless to say Costa doesn't suffer from stage fright.

NikkaCosta1981"I get nervous with anticipation but never frightened. Sometimes I feel most comfortable on stage. The thing in Chile was strange, I guess, but kids don't really question what they're doing. It wasn't like I thought, 'this is a great career move'. It was just, 'Okay, this is what I have to do right now'."

Costa's early career effectively ended when her father died when she was 10. She took a break for four years, had an album for a small German label at 14 ("a contractual album, I wasn't particularly proud of that") and in her late-teens sang in bands around LA.

"Then I met an Australian and fell in love and we decided to move to Australia. My bio says something like I went there to find myself, but it wasn't like that. I went there not to find myself but in fact did find myself. It was right after high school and they were formative years.

"I found my art and started writing songs, learned guitar and then formed my own band and went touring. I put up my own posters and drove the bus. That's where I took control of my own career and decided to do it, as an adult.

"I think it was a great learning experience, kind of like my college years, and Australia is such a hard-core, live place you have to really work your arse off. So it was great practice.

"A lot of people performing in America can get away with being less of a performer and a bit lazier. Australia doesn't have time for that. It makes you break [out in] a sweat."

Costa certainly impressed our cousins across the water. Signed to Mushroom, she recorded the hard-hitting Butterfly Rocket album which earned her a nomination as best new artist at the Australian Recording Industry Awards.

"But then I came back to America and wanted to start doing music over here. I felt like it was time and, through a mutual friend, I met Dominique Trenier. He ended up signing me to his Cheeba Sound label, which is D'Angelo's label too, which is cool.

600full-nikka-costa_1"I'd done a few gigs and had played South by South West [the annual music showcase in Austin] and there was some interest from other record companies.

"But I think a lot of what I do went over their heads and, while Dominique wasn't the obvious choice, he seemed to get it from the beginning and helped develop my music even further.
"He also left me to my own devices and let me make the record I wanted to make. You very rarely get a record company that lets you do what you want."

The album, her first Stateside release, is a showcase for her various styles of funk, ballsy ballads and soulful rock. It's a bit, well, all over the place actually.

"Yeah, I guess. But I wanted to make a record that was multi-dimensional because everyone I know listens to a bunch of music, myself included. I feel like radio and the industry don't think the audience can understand more than one thing. But I give people that benefit of the doubt - and I get bored with an album where the first four songs are all the same.

"We all have different moods and personalities, so I didn't want to just pick one. Although now I'm continuously answering the question, 'Who are you?' or 'What are you?' or 'Which one are you'?"

The answer is simple. She's Nikka Costa and very much her own woman now. And her godfather is Frank. Pay some respect, capiche?

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