January 23 2020

Annie O Presents: Niia

A prodigious musician with an Italian and jazz vocalist background, Niia creates contemporary R&B music that traverses vast orchestral landscapes with an unparalleled vocal prowess. Her sound that’s earned praise from titles including The New York Times, The Guardian, Pitchfork, and LA Times, collaborations with Gallant and Jazmine Sullivan, stages shared with The xx and Jorja Smith. This Valentine’s Day, Niia will release her new album "‘II: La Bella Vita," which has already earned praise from Harpers Bazaar, Flaunt, PAPER Magazine and more. Annie O caught up with Niia before her show in The Penthouse at The Standard, East Village on January 27th.
Where are you based?
I am based in LA now, but at heart, an East Coaster. I miss walking from Uptown to the Lower East Side listening to the mixes of my demos. And, of course, my favorite New York restaurants.

You’re releasing a new album ‘II: La Bella Vita’ this Valentine’s Day. What is the meaning of the title?
"La Bella Vita" was my first impulsive tattoo when I was living alone in New York. It means the beautiful life. I had a pretty ugly couple years and I thought there was some irony and beauty in calling my album the beautiful life. Because honestly, as hard and painful life can be, if you stop and look around, life is good. It’s the struggle that defines us. It’s the hard experiences that connect us. We all just want to feel connected to ourselves or others. I also think I am drawn to darkness and pain since I was young. I’m more interested in what hurts than what feels good. Sometimes it hurts so good. I think that’s beautiful.

In a few words, how would you say this album’s sound is an evolution from your last album, ‘I’?
I think with ‘I’ I played it a bit safer. I am very proud of my first album but I think you evolve naturally, and who I was back then isn’t who I am now. I’m not as green. I went through some really hard shit with my family, my relationship, and really looking inward of what kind of person I was turning into, and if I was okay with that. I wanted to also experiment more with backup vocals and lyrics. I needed the support of other voices to carry me through this record. Sonically, I think it takes more risks with styles while keeping a timeless quality throughout. I couldn’t sugarcoat how I was feeling, and I’m proud of myself for being honest with who and where I was in my life, even if it wasn’t pretty or I come off like a bad person.
The Standard
Can you name a few moments from your life that sent you down the road to music?
My mom forced all of us to take piano lessons when we were young. I was the only one out of my siblings that stuck with it. I think that really started my relationship with music and how it could be an outlet for me. Also, when I won NFAA and won for jazz voice when I was in high-school. All the winners in the arts spent a week together learning from masters. I think it changed my life to finally feel like I could be myself and learn what being a real artist meant. I was surrounded by kids my age that were so secure in their talent and art that I realized I had a lot of catching up to do. I am still friends with some of them to this day.
 
You worked with Robin Hannibal again on this album. What is that creative collaboration like?
Robin is a true talent and knows me so well that the music was very effortless to create. I was going through a lot that felt really private -- all the melodies and lyrics were something I wanted to do alone or with new writers to challenge myself to really go there.

What artists are you inspired by right now?
Penny Slinger, Summer Walker, Francis Ford Coppola, Floria Sigismondi, Lawerence Rothman, Gordan Von Stiener, Mariah Carey, Sevdaliza, Laura Dern, and Ari Lennox.

What can we expect from your show at The Standard, East Village?
I haven’t sung any of my new songs off my record live yet so it will definitely be exciting and emotional, and at any moment anything could happen!
INTERVIEW BY
Annie O