Written by Killian O’Neil
Everyone has a story to tell in multiple ways; some through acting, others through writing, and my favorite, the stories that are told through music.
Philadelphia musician, NIA, is no different from spinning her craft of telling a story with her lyrics. NIA is a smooth R&B artist that reminds me of something that would be playing in the late nineties. She was raised in Queens, New York, with her Trinidadian parents, but now resides in the City of Brotherly love, Philadelphia. She began to actively write songs for her brother and quickly fell in love with all facets of music, and by her junior year of high school, she was producing and singing.
Shortly after she got accepted to Shippensburg University, that is where she broke free of the cocoon and stepped into her truth of music. Sooner than later, NIA evolved into a Badass Openly Queer woman who was shaking things out of the status quo. Eventually, she started to play locally and embrace collaborations with other artists, while she was at school and even started her own label during her senior year of college called Chilled Room Records.
I was lucky enough to speak with her and ask her a few questions.
“When you started writing at 5, did you know that music was what you wanted to do?” I asked.
“Definitely,” NIA began. “I don’t remember a day where I didn’t know that music was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It has always been a part of me.” Another thing about NIA is that she is Queer, so I asked her if it was challenging for her to come out.
“Was it challenging for you to come out as a queer artist? Were you afraid that it would be more difficult as an artist?” I wondered.
“Not really, only because I was already out when I started to take music seriously. Interestingly enough though, it was very hard when I first began writing music. I wrote songs for my older brother because I didn’t think it would make sense for me to be singing songs about girls. This is something that I grew out of eventually, but in the beginning, it was a challenge. I was never afraid because life has always been harder for me. I was up for the challenge because I feel that it is important to represent people like me who often are not given a platform. When you’re born into a world that doesn’t expect you or really want you to become an influential human being, everything else is light-work in comparison; you build resilience.“
NIA has a bunch of influences such as Calypso, Sade, and Soca Music when it comes to her sound. She is pretty straightforward with the tunes that are in her earbuds.
“I know you have specific artists that are influences but are there any genres that have really impacted your sound?”
“Neo-Soul has been a huge influence for me since I was young. I always looked at Alternative R&B artists as the “children of neo-soul. I love Jazz too, it makes my soul feel calm and it motivates me to either move throughout the day or be still. Soca is another big influence for me. Other than ‘Games,’ there’s not really much of that influence within my past releases. Some of the newer tracks that I am preparing for release will have more of that though.”
After everything that has been learned thus far made me curious about what her routine is like. Every creative has an outlet and a way to express themselves and for NIA it’s songwriting to name just one. So I asked her what it looked like to a fly on the wall during her writing process.
“What is your writing process like? When I write, I’m not in a good place a lot of the time. This is why a lot of my music reflects on my emotional state or different situations that have led me to a dark place. I’ve been forcing myself to not fall into the ‘depression music’ trend too much though because my creativity is very fluid and that includes my writing. I remember how much I loved Luther Vandross as a kid but sometimes I would just feel stuck in a cycle with consistent love songs. At the end of the day though, that was what he wanted to represent and I appreciate his artistry so much more as an adult. Still yet, I don’t want anyone to feel that way with my music. A lot of it is also me just wanting to be in a place where I’m happy regardless of the circumstances that I’m faced with. I don’t want to be complacent in that mindset, and I don’t want my music to be either.”
Inclusive of going into a studio there is also another special craft of writing a new song, and what happens during those moments.
“What do you like to draw from when writing a song?”
“Honestly, anything I”m feeling. Either what I’m feeling or just whatever is heavy on my mind,” she says.
Unlike most artists, she has been breaking her back to lock in with music for years, even within her own family by writing for her brother. Shippensburg was next on the list of reasons how she was going about her career with music. It puzzled me because Ship isn’t known for their music program at all.
“What made you go to Shippensburg versus staying in Queens and focusing on music?”
“By the time I graduated high school, I had already been living in PA for years. I originally was going to go to the Art Institute of Philadelphia, but that ended up being too expensive and unreliable. I had to change course last minute and I really wanted to get out of my house so I just applied to Ship. My best friend Darlene was already enrolled there so it made it more comfortable to imagine being there. At the end of the day, the experience was needed and what I gained from the support of the English department is something that I will continue to be extremely grateful for.”
Being from Trinidad originally seeing if her storytelling magic had anything to do with her roots.
“Do you incorporate your roots from Trinidad into your music?” I asked.
“Sound-wise, not as much as I would like to. That’s really due to the fact that I am constantly working on upgrading my sound and technology. I don’t even wanna touch Soca until I know that I can do it the justice it deserves, though I do listen to it a lot and cannot wait until I have something ready for Carnival season.”
Being a musician is hard for many different reasons, especially in this day and age. Not only do you have to worry about your own sound getting out there, but you have to make sure you’re doing it in the right manner and platform. Being a musician can mean you have a shelf life, so I figured i would ask where she thought her career would be in 5 years.
“In five years, where would you like to see your career going?” I ask curiously.
“In five years, I would like to be so established that I can comfortably start a family. I would like to see the fruits of my labor working in the favor of my loved ones and my band.” NIA‘s response was what I think every artist should be these days as we live in an almost post-COVID world. It has affected every single artist and musician under the sun which has ultimately propelled them forward.
“Has the pandemic affected your creativity in more of a negative or positive way? Have you been able to write more and focus mainly on your music?”
“Definitely more positive than negative, which I feel fortunate to say. I moved to Philly in the midst of it and met some great people. I met my amazing business partner, Tito Orjih, my bandmates (Veronica Hudson, Joshua Solomon, Dre Hooper, Julius Philp, & Clayton Carothers), the folks over at Oscar’s Greenhouse (OJ Mountain & Kuya Daniel), and my current roommate, Lamont Speller, who is also my very good friend. I’ve met a lot of great people which helped me to build my network and, for the most part, feel a part of a community. I just feel fortunate to have gained more than I lost, I know not everyone can say that. I was able to focus more on my sound and brand and learn more about business. Looking back on it, the Universe was really guiding me.”
Although NIA now resides in Philadelphia, she is still working every day on new music inside of the studio. I wanted to find out when I’d be able to catch her for a show so I could witness this genius of songwriting for my own which lead me to my final question.
“Do you plan on touring at all or staying local? When can we expect to see you in the Philadelphia area?
“I definitely plan on touring, I am local right now, but as soon as the opportunity presents itself, we are hitting the road.”
If you get a chance to check out NIA, Do it. She is a perfect mixture of an R&B reboot that we all have been searching for since the early nineties.
Connect with NIA