NIIKA is the musical project of singer-songwriter Nika Nemirovsky. Born in Uzbekistan before she and her parents moved to the US when she was one year old, Nika was a exposed to wide range of influences at an early age, which comes through in her uniquely eclectic approach to songwriting. Her recently released debut album, Close But Not Too Close, is a mesmerising whirlwind of jazz, rock, and folk music that sits somewhere between the classic songwriting of Kate Bush and the modern aesthetic of progressive R&B, all funnelled through her beautifully entrancing and dynamic voice. Nika’s delivery has an elastic, almost serpentine quality to it, delicately unfurling atop the minimalist, slow-burning instrumentals of tracks like ‘For the Key’ and ‘Blue Smoke’. But it can also reach the highest of frequencies, like on the utterly hypnotic crescendo of ‘The Cage’, which hints at the emotional tension boiling underneath the album’s smooth veneer. It’s nothing short of transcendent – an ethereal, wondrous musical journey you’ll want to lose yourself in again and again.
We caught up with Nika for this edition of our Artist Spotlight series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk a bit about their music.
What inspired you to start making music?
I began to experiment with writing my own music when I was studying abroad in Australia. I happened to become immersed in a group of seasoned professional musicians, and was deeply inspired by the energy embodied in that community. I remember writing my first song, and feeling so elated- it was like learning to ride a bicycle- the freedom in creating an immediate thing of beauty with your own voice and hands was something that I missed in my visual arts practice (I was studying visual art and art education at the time). I’m a highly social person, and the social and communal aspects of making music really drew me in and propelled me forward continuously. I found deep joy in performance, and in the collaborative aspects of making music- something that I really missed in my visual practice.
What are some of your influences?
My influences are super broad and far reaching. I grew up in a household where a really eclectic mix of music was on rotation. Ironically, American and western-canon pop music was very under-represented (other than the Beatles- they were around a lot!). Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of Russian rock and folk music, ambient and experimental music, classical Indian, Middle Eastern music, West African music, American and English prog-rock, Brazilian jazz, and a whole melange of other stuff, including outliers like Bjork and Kate Bush. I went through my punk and emo middle school phase, followed by a pendulum swing over to pop and top 40 hip hop in high school. Around the time that I began to write my own music, I really got into soul, R&B, and some of the legendary jazz singers of the US. Vocally, the Black culture creators in music have been a huge well of inspiration to me- the freedom, sensitivity, and inventiveness that exists in Black voices is something that has inspired creators of every genre of music. While I am considerate and careful to avoid appropriating Black culture in the music I make, I am cognizant of soul music as a beacon of authenticity and beauty that has continually inspired me to keep creating.
What were some of the ideas that went into the making of Close But Not Too Close?
When we began recording this album, I said that I wanted it to lay squarely between The Beatles’ The White Album and Solange’s A Seat At the Table. I think my songwriting is pretty similar to The Beatles in how eclectic and variable it is, but I really wanted the record to embody the tasteful minimalism and super-refined production that albums like A Seat at the Table highlight. The process began very much like a rock record- bass, drums, and guitars first; but as we progressed, the process became both subtractive and additive- taking out an instrument here or there, replacing it with percussion or synths… it was a little bit like a puzzle – just trying to find the most natural home for each song.
How would you describe your writing process?
Since I don’t have much theoretical musical knowledge, especially when it comes to guitar, I often start with writing the music. I’ve found that if I write poetry first, it becomes pretty constraining for me to then stay truly free and creative within putting music to it. Approaching the guitar and melodic center first allows me to experiment really freely with chord movement, time signatures, etc, and then begin to build words and poetry around that skeleton. Of course, it’s often a back and forth process- as I begin to write words, I’ll change aspects of the chords, and vice versa. I also love the fact that the emotion contained within the musical information serves to inform the emotional landscape of the lyrical content. I find it creates complexity and nuance without seeming contrived.
Do you have any favourites from the album?
My favorite song off the album is probably ‘Witness’. It’s one of my favorite songs to perform and sing, and it has stayed timeless in its relevance for me. I love that it embodies a certain darkness and melancholy, without feeling heavy or melodramatic. This song really represents balance to me: it’s sparse but rich, simple but intriguing, classic (6/8 feel) but modern, observant but introspective. Balance is something that I seek in all aspects of my life and creativity, so this song speaks deeply to me.
What are your future plans?
My main goal right now is to begin touring consistently. Obviously, the coming of coronavirus has put a huge question mark at the front of all artists’ minds for the moment- what will playing shows look like in our new world, and when will we be able to return to a semblance of a “normal” music career? But I remain hopeful that this album will help build a bridge for me to be able to reach more people- I believe in this music, and I believe that there is so much value in bringing strong, inventive, feminine voices to the indie music world. Beyond touring, I just want to keep creating albums that speak to people, and that represent my most honest and integral self.