The Tab chats with a bluesy SOAS girl preparing for a big 2013.
Nia isn’t your average girl from Llandudno in (very) North Wales: she’s got bright eyes, a beautifully dark new EP soon to be released, and thinks rugby is a strange, illogical sport…
Your brand of folk blues is very authentic, where did this sound come from?
The recording process gave it that ‘crackle’: the producer had a proper old-school approach so we mainly used tape. As for the music, I don’t owe my parents much – Mum loves the ‘80s and Dad’s big into his northern soul and reggae, although he does love a bit of 60s and 70s rock and roll. Once I’d escaped my metal phase at around 14 or 15 I got into guys like Dylan, Elliot Smith and Bright Eyes and they were my inspiration.
You describe yourself as a storyteller, but whose stories do you tell?
Mine! Well, mainly my own stories – ‘Why Do You No Longer Put Flowers On My Grave’ obviously isn’t about me. Sometimes I like to write about the common experiences humans share as well.
I’m gonna be honest, you don’t seem as melancholic as I’d expected. So where does this dark material come from?
You should talk to my friends – they know how moody and grumpy I get! I can be like that if you’d prefer…
*tries to stir cappuccino gloomily*
That wasn’t very convincing.
Sorry. Well I started playing guitar when I was 9, I learnt to sing Bright Eyes songs to begin with and then began to write my own material. To be honest, the blues lifestyle à la Seasick Steve doesn’t appeal – I’m no couchsurfer.
Has studying at SOAS had an impact upon your music?
Well Robin Timmis’ sitar on ‘Doctor Doctor’ is proof of that! Our halls were built around a circular courtyard which created a sort of echo chamber, so when I’d be jamming other musicians in other parts of the building could hear us and would set out to find us – that’s how I met my trumpeter Will James and saxophonist Jim Hickson. Everyone there is interesting, even the hardworking lawyers are a laugh, and there’s a lot of political activism and plenty of inspiring and experienced academics. I love it.
You’re obviously up for experimenting then, what’s your next step?
I’d like to work with a pianist, possibly try a few songs with just a piano accompaniment to my voice or something like that. I really like Middle-Eastern instruments and brass – all the brass solos on my EP are completely natural and I think that’s what makes them so great. When working with other musicians, even if it’s my track, I like to keep a relaxed approach. In terms of recording, I think WU LYF’s idea of recording in a cathedral was really cool, that might not necessarily suit my style but it’d be interesting to see what happens.
What’s it like to receive plaudits from Stephen Fry?
Haha, yeah that was great for me! Suddenly plenty of Welsh and even a couple of national British newspapers started taking an interest in me because of his tweet. My friend used to chat to Stephen over Twitter about sci-fi films or something so I cheekily asked if we could get him to check out my music. Stephen said he’d only say he liked it if he really did, and he did.
Now you’ve gotten on the bill of the Secret Garden Party festival this year, they haven’t officially announced the line-up yet so who would be your dream set of acts to chill out backstage with?
All my old idols: Dylan, Van Morrison, Cat Power and, of course, Bright Eyes.
And what does the future hold?
Well I’ve got the rest of my politics degree, I’ve got the album launch soon and then it’s onwards from there. I’ve been committed to a musical career since I was 15 or 16 and that’s why I was drawn to London. This city is in its own league – the universities, the opportunities and the chance to make it…
Check out Nia at theniamusic.co.uk, find her on Facebook at facebook.com/niamusicpage or spot her busking around Camden. The EP ‘Doctor Doctor’ will be launched at the Old Queen’s Head in Islington on the 29th April.