Interview: Nia CC
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I come from an extremely musical family. I’m the youngest in a family of 5. My mom sings, my brother sings, my sister sings, and my dad is our biggest supporter, so pretty much came out the womb musical. My siblings are 8 years and 10 years older than me, so I grew up going to all of their concerts and recitals, and it doesn’t just stop at my direct family. My mom comes from a very musical family. She’s always singing with her two sisters, one of whom, Jeannette Bayardelle, is an acclaimed Broadway actress currently starring in “Girl from the North Country.” Going to family events and watching everyone sing and perform was something I’ve been doing since before I remembered, and it was always something I wanted to take part in too. In fact, it was my sister and brother who convinced my parents to not let me quit piano when I was having doubts about it in middle school. That said, my family is just as athletic as we are musical. I love sports. I watch a lot of college and professional sports from football and basketball, to baseball and lacrosse. I grew up playing basketball, lacrosse and running track. Of course I’m always rooting for the University of Virginia, my alma mater, athletic programs, and for the Lakers and the Yankees. If you follow me on Twitter you know if I’m not tweeting about music, I’m live tweeting sports games. So if I wasn’t doing music today, I guarantee you I’d be working the sports industry. Always looking for a way to get free tickets.
What do you like to do when your not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
When I’m not playing music, I love to read. I come from a family where we would take family trips to the bookstore, and all get our own books before coming together for some reading time. It was actually my love for books that made me fall in love with stories and storytelling, which in turn made me want to be a songwriter. I like to say that the characters in my books are my best friends. I laugh with them. I love with them. I cry with them. I feel very passionately with them. It’s not uncommon for me to write songs based on these emotions that may belong to fictional characters, but that I also feel deeply, especially when I was younger. I’ll never forget writing “Forget” when I was 13 years old, also the first song I ever recorded and filmed a music video for. After playing it a few times downstairs, my mom ran down and yelled “did you write that song?!” And when I told her yes, she asked me to play it again. After playing it and a beat of silence she said “who are you writing songs about and missing to intensely? You’re 13!” and laughed told her, “No one, but I read about it in a book.” That’s still something we joke about to this day, and I definitely still use books for inspiration. My new single, Monsters, is inspired by one of my favorite books series of all times “Percy Jackson and the Lightning Theif.” So books have always had and continue to have an influence on my creativity.
How long have you been going as an artist?
I’ve been write songs since I was about 8 years old, but I’ve been going as an artist since I was about 14 years old when I recorded my first song “Forget.” It’s always been a bit challenging though since I’ve also been a student. I’m the daughter of a lawyer and a doctor, my sister is a lawyer, and my brother is a doctor, so I come from a very academic background. Thus, I wasn’t an artist who could do school on the side, I was a A+, very involved student who did music on the side. I remember being about 16 years old, and I had this chance to go to Los Angeles and purées music, and my pattens said no. They wanted me to go to college first and then I could pursue my dreams. I remember being so angry at them at the time, but now I’m so grateful. I needed that time at school to learn more about myself and my goals, and now that I’ve just graduated from the University of Virginia, my parents are pushing me to chase music as full-heartedly as I can, and I can do it with more self-assurance and confidence in who I am now.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m from Manassas, Virginia, but I’ve just finished school at the University of Virginia last month, so I’ve been based out of the Charlottesville, Virginia for the past four years, but I’ve also spent many of my summers in Los Angeles, and I’m getting ready to move there this August. That said, LA and Charlottesville have both had a bit of influence on my music, mostly in terms of the other artists I’m interacting with and looking up to. I would say that living in Charlottesville and meeting other artists in the studio has give me more confidence to collaborate as that was something I’ve always been nervous about. I also learned more about music production both in Charlottesville and in LA, so that’s allowed me to have the words to articulate how I want my songs to sound to other people, giving me the opportunity to have even more of a say in my music, which is something that has always been important to me.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
I don’t know about the best show I ever played, but one of my favorite shows I played was when I was a senior in high school and sang at an event in Boston for teens. There was about 1000 people there and I only got to sing one song, but that was enough. I sang a song I wrote titled “I don’t care” about a teacher who told me I would never make any money as a songwriter. I told the story about the song to the audience before I sang, so when I got to the punchline in the song, the audience went wild. I remember a lot of people coming up to me after that performance to compliment me, and I made a lot of friends and followers that day. That said, while I loved that the performance went well, it was really that the audience was so connected with the song and story that made the show so special to me. My favorite part of songwriting and singing is telling stories and connecting with the audience over them, so I loved every part of that. As for my worst show I’ve played, as an artist, those are the ones that always stick with you the most. I’ll never forget butchering every note of “Cry” by Mandy Moore at 7 years old for summer basketball camp, or forgetting the words to my own song at an open mic in Los Angeles, but what I realize about those moments is that they only help you grow. They give you a chance to be vulnerable with audience and let them know that you’re human, and not always perfect, and as I build my brand and fanbase, it’s important to me that I’m never putting out an image of sole perfection because not only is it not realistic, it’s not authentic to who I am or who I want to be.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
I don’t know if I have a favorite venue to play at yet, but I tend to love places where I’m able to make a connection with the audience. That said, there are so many places I want to play at. The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, because so many artists that I aspire to be like have performed there. John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville because that’s where I grew up going to concerts and watching my favorite artists play, and I also love watching my favorite college basketball team, UVA, play there, so I’d love to be able to play there one day myself too. And of course, The Forum in Los Angeles. I’ve never seen a show there live, but I’ve watched many events and concerts there on television and virtually, and I love the feel of it, and would love to share the stage with many of the artists I aspire to be like.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
It is my dream to play a show with Taylor Swift. She’s an artist I grew up listening to and that I really look up to, especially because of the storytelling in her songs, so she would absolutely be on the lineup. I also think it would be really cool to be a part of a lineup that was just Women. So I’d also have to add Lianne La Havas, Tori Kelly, Little Mix, Alessia Cara and Dua Lipa to name a few. In addition to that being epic, to me at least, I think it would also be so empowering.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing music?
Music is subjective, so do what you love. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to please other people, but ultimately, music isn’t an objective thing, and that’s what makes it so special. There’s not only one right answer, there’s a million different answers for each person, and a million different wrong answer for each person, and that’s okay! Now that doesn’t mean don’t take critiques from anyone, but to say you can’t make everybody happy. So as you work with others and people begin to offer their opinions, don’t forget that it’s not just about them, it’s about refining and creating the music that you love.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I would tell myself that perfectionism can be a weakness, so don’t get caught up in it. I find that as an artist, I was always weary of putting out music because it wasn’t perfect. I would tell myself “I’m going to wait until it’s perfect for anyone to ever hear it.” The problem with that is that it scared me into not releasing music for a long time because it never sounded perfect enough. It became an excuse to not release music. One thing I’ve learned, is that sometimes it’s better to release it 95% sounding how I want it to, rather than never releasing it and working on it for a lifetime to hit 100%. As important as it is to hold on to your music until it sounds up to the par that you want it to, it’s just as important to be able to let it go. Besides, I find that the best music tends to come from the beauty of some of the imperfections hidden inside of it. That’s what makes is so authentic.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
This question is always tough for me because my answer is always changing. The songs that I’m attached to tend to be songs I’ve just written that I’m continually finding joy in because they’re something new. That said, of my released song, I would say my new sings “Monsters” probably means the most to me right now since it feels like a new beginning.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I have so many favorite songs to play, and it’s always depending on the audience. I love playing my song “Tides” and “Standards” live. Both songs have only ever been played live and neither have been recorded yet, but they both get the audience involved and I loved doing echo and response. It makes me feel like I’m singing with friends as opposed to performing for strangers, which makes the gig feel more fun. That said, the song I probably get requested the most to sing more recently is my song “Jealous.” It’s funny because the song’s chorus is pretty simple, yet it took me almost two years to get that song together, the longest it’s ever taken me to work on a song. So it’s ironic that the song people ask me to play the most is the song that gave me the most frustration and began to have little care for, but because the audience likes it, it’s begun to grow on me more too.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
For me the creative process is always changing, which is what makes it fun. I don’t have one way of writing a song, which can sometimes make things harder when I go to collaborate with people, but it keeps me on my toes. Sometimes it begins with a melody in my head for a chorus, but sometimes it begins with me saying something in real life and realizing I want to make it into a song. My friends often joke that you can’t go a day without hearing me say “it’s a song!” For example, my song “Girlfriend” came about because I was complaining to my sister that I was sick of being called a friendzoned and called “friend girl” by the guy I liked. I began yelling about jokingly it in typical Nia fashion and and exclaimed “I don’t want to be your friend girl, I wanna be your girlfriend!” And after a laughing for a few beats I screamed “that’s a song!” And ran over to my guitar to write “Girlfriend” where the lyrics to hook are “I wanna be your girlfriend.” While that’s how that song came about, again, I’m always getting new ideas for songs from different things whether it be through real life, books, or melodies that come about in my dreams. So I guess you could say that life inspires me to write my music. I like to say that my songs are like my diary. I share the stories that have an impact on me through them, whether they be mine or not and no matter how trivial they may seem.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
Songwriting is like a diary for me. It’s the outlet where I’m able to be my full authentic self and tell my story, whether it be about Disney World or heartbreak. And as someone who tends to live in this world with a lot of passion and feelings, I have a lot of stories to tell with a lot of different messages. That said, I would say the through-line in my music is not necessarily the content I’m singing about, but who I am as an artist. As a Black woman in America playing the guitar and singing genres that are often times predominantly white, my message is that of reclamation. Claiming space where many Black artists have been pushed out of, and being a voice that brings us into this more diverse and inclusive stage in the music industry. So whether I’m singing about a break up, or explicitly singing about racial inequality or sexism, it’s important to me that my audience is able to walk away more empathetic, more joyful, or even more supportive about a more inclusive society, no matter how subtle and subconscious that may be. That’s the impact and importance of storytelling and songwriting to me. Not just the story being told, but the importance of who is telling it.
Do you ever have disagreements with the people you work with, and how do you get past them?
As passionate as I am, I tend to be a pretty laid back person, so I don’t tend to have a lot of heated disagreements when it comes to music. That said, I’m not a pushover and will stand up for how I want sometime to be or sound, and because we’re all different, I don’t always have the same exact options as people that I work with or collaborate with. But to me, that’s a strength. I don’t tend to surround my myself with people who just agree to everything that I say, nor do I desire that. I’m surrounded by people and working with people who are always pushing me to better and helping me grow, which means not always 100% agreeing. I find that being able to take a step back, take critique, and really be an active listener is so important not only in music but in life. When we’re actually listening to each other with the intent of listening as opposed to listening in order to find ways to retaliate back, that’s when we get the produce the best products and make something great. Thus, I love healthy dissent and I often approach it with a feeling of excitement that whatever we’re working on is about to get even better.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
That’s always such a scary question because it feels like the future is always changing. For the immediate future, I’m moving to Los Angeles, California in a at the end of the summer. And in terms of music, my plan is to continue chasing song-writing and singing as full heartedly as I can, keep releasing new music, and start performing more sets to build a fan base. I also see a lot more recording in my future which makes me really excited, and pushes me out of my comfort zone of just singing songs with my guitar live. I have a song “Animals” coming out soon, so definitely keep your eye out for the release date for that. Nonetheless, no matter what the future holds, singing and songwriting will always be a part of my life.