Huge fans of the sultry voice and steamy videos of the singer, pianist, and song writer Niia, we were thrilled at the prospect of working with her on our summer campaign. With an understated and refreshingly distinct personal style and striking, unusual beauty, Niia became our muse for the season, becoming ranch hand, athlete, drifter, and warrior in the Arizona desert with chameleon-like ease. Once she was back in LA, we took some time to get to know the captivating performer and spoke to her about where it all started, how she gets up in front of thousands of people when she's really an introvert, and why she's been sleeping with onions in her socks.
As an artist and a public figure, your style is such a large part of your personal brand – how would you describe yours and how has it evolved?
I’d like to call it classic with a dark twist. These days I’m more open to taking risks or customizing my own clothes.
You have such a distinct personal style. Who have been your greatest fashion inspirations?
Thank you. When I attended New School for the Jazz program I was placed in the Parsons dorms so all my friends were fashion majors – I owe all my style knowledge to them. My best friend Gigi Burris is one of my first fashion inspirations. I also love me some Jonny Cash, Tilda Swinton, Monica Belluci.
You talk about yourself as a fairly introverted person, yet you get up on stage and perform in front of huge audiences of strangers. Your lyrics are also quite emotional and, we would think, revealing about you. How do you handle that more extroverted side of your life and where does the strength to put yourself out there like that come from?
It's been a long struggle understanding what performance means to me. I was introduced to performing as either recitals or jazz gigs and for both of those it's more about the skill and execution. Musicianship over showmanship. As I shifted towards the music industry I learned how performing has many other meanings that I wasn’t very comfortable or even that good at. I don’t enjoy attention or the power you are given commanding an audience, but I loved to sing so I kept at it. I tried to push through the fear – I focused on embracing my audience as a connection I could have with them. I began to feel so lucky to be able to connect with strangers through my music. Now performing feels special and meaningful rather than intimidating and power-driven. It’s still a very personal experience and I’m still an introvert on stage but I rely on my music, the lyrics, my vocal delivery, and my ability to allow a connection to play the extrovert on stage.
You began your career playing keyboard and singing backup vocals for Wyclef Jean and then it sounds like he groomed you for a pop career. Your music seems to have evolved in a more soulful direction though. Was there ever a moment that you considered going the pop route?
There were a lot of different directions I explored back then and still do these days... I feel that an artist's sound is always evolving. But, I realized I had to start from a place that I love. Jazz, Soul, Classical. What inspired me. You also have to learn what works with your voice too...
We read that you’re obsessed with Kate Bush – we’re HUGE fans (Alice has had a secret fansite for years called Katemas, in honor of her birthday and work). What about her music and practice inspires you? Where else do you draw influence?
Kate Bush is incredible. I’m truly in awe of her. I bought one of her piano books a while back and struggled to learn all of the songs. Her music is so difficult and still so accessible. It’s one of the hardest things to do in my opinion – to make music that is difficult on a musicianship level but also is accessible and relatable. She’s just a pure real artist. She isn’t afraid to take risks, wear, say whatever. I look to her as a inspiration to be braver as a female artist. Also what a voice! You know it’s her from the first note. I draw influence from everything really.. Right now it’s Italian films, disco, and the color yellow!
When we last spoke, you were talking about ending a touring phase and beginning a writing phase – can you tell us a bit about your process and what you’re up to on the daily now?
It feels very Woody Allen. I’m all over the place, half filled notebooks, poems everywhere, mood boards.. I feel very insane and even lost sometimes when I start my process again because once inspiration hits – it happens really fast and I dive deep and then go way too deep and loose control. I eventually have to find my way back up for air and then make sense of it all.
We found spending time with you on the shoot that you’re a kindred spirit when it comes to an eco-focused lifestyle. Can you tell us a bit about when that became important for you and how you work that into your daily life?
I think it’s always been in my life without really knowing it. Growing up with an Italian mother she chose a more natural, homemade approach to everything. She definitely taught me some weird witch beauty secrets I still use today. As I grew up things that mattered to me – animals, the ocean, our world… etc.. I tried to make changes and educate myself on ways I can live a better eco focused life.
As you know, we’re great lovers of clever recycling ideas. Tell us about your tour merchandise.
I really wanted to do something special for my own merchandise and found a designer I trusted to help think creatively. Each shirt is printed on hand picked vintage shirts that range from 5 to over 20 years old and are flipped inside out, printed with my graphic and then washed. They all have different graphics on the inside of each shirt a lot have the band KORN on them lol. I wanted to invest in a something that was smart but also comfortable and personal.
What’s next for you after writing? Anything coming up that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I’m excited to do some new music videos. I started taking stunt lessons which is a lot harder than I thought.
We always wrap up asking for beauty secrets (who knows what goes on behind closed doors) and are particularly interested in yours being on the road so much. Anything out of the ordinary you do to keep sane and healthy and looking good when you’re busiest?
I put egg whites and flaxseeds on my face. Mayonnaise in my hair, and sometimes take baths with whole milk.. I just tried sleeping with onions in my socks to supposedly pull out toxins.. Still on the fence about that one.. Also I am obsessed with Lypo-Spheric Glutathione packets. Glutathione is antioxidant that does too many things to list but mainly it helps clean your liver, keep your skin clear and actually coats your vocal chords to keep them healthy. They taste just as bad as the onion socks sadly…