To know Nikka Costa is to understand that she comes by her deep love of music naturally.
Her father Don Costa was a legendary producer, conductor and arranger. Growing up, Nikka's bedroom was a shortcut on the way to a 24-track studio. Back then her mother was "this freewheeling hippie who didn't even know what my dad did for a long time. Hey, it was the Seventies. Then they snuck into an Elvis Presley show. When Elvis came out all excited to see my dad, my mom was like, "Who are you?"
At an early age, Nikka met up with legends and future heroes, but she wasn't always thrilled with the situation.
"I was five and I went into the living room and there was this guy playing piano," she recalls. "I remember it so well because he was wearing red Spandex pants and a white Mickey Mouse t-shirt and he had a big old Afro. He woke me up and I was so [upset]. That would happen all the time because musicians were always in the house. Apparently I yelled out, "Be quiet," and asked my mom who the weirdo at the piano was. I was being a little brat. Little did I know that is was Sly Stone. My mom still says, "Remember the time you kicked Sly Stone out of the house?"
Just a few years later, an eight year-old Nikka fell into a record-making career of her own. "I had an early, early career sounding like a chipmunk singing torch songs with my father and an orchestra," Costa says. At eight, she recorded a version of "Out Here On My Own" from Fame and ended up with a surprise European smash. Suddenly she was in the family business, once even opening for the Police in front of a few hundred thousand fans in a Chile stadium. "I remember it well," she says with a grin. "I remember being scared".
"Then later when I became an early teenager, I wanted to be more poppy as teenagers do," Costa recalls. "I sang [terrible] songs, but I didn't have my sense of self. I didn't know what kind of artist I wanted to be. In the end, it wasn't a great experience and the minute that ended, I graduated high school and started writing and delving into what kind of artist I wanted to be."
Everybody Got Their Something unveiled that artist in 2001, and songs like "Like a Feather" and "Push and Pull" evoked comparisons to greats like Prince and Tina Turner. Now Costa's artistry is on full display all over can'tneverdidnothin' nowhere more than in her moving tribute to her dad. "Fatherless Child." Though Don Costa did suddenly when Nikka was only ten, he nonetheless has had a profound influence on his daughter's life. On what's Costa's most powerful song yet, she pays her respects in the most fitting way musically.
"I had this really haunting melody swimming around in my head for weeks so I knew it had to be something special," she explains. "It just so happens that my dad's been passed away for 20 years and I'd never written about it. I'm not too fond of super-literal storylines. I like to leave more to the listener. But this time I wanted to push myself to expose something personal. At first, I thought maybe I won't record it, I'll just write it. Then I played it for Justin and he said, 'Just do it now, just hit record.' It's very raw and real. It's scary because you think why do I need to open up to everyone who ever hears my record? But then you realize there are records I used to listen to when I wanted to cry. Not everyone can express their feelings and artists help in that way. But it is a little like standing naked in front of people."
Growing up, soul music brought an important solace to Nikka's life. "My mom was really into soul music and I always loved it," Costa remembers. "Then I had my sort of tragic-ish childhood not that I'm wallowing in it, mind you. Somehow listening to those singers who'd had lives much more tormented than mine resonated with me. Everyone has some [issues], and as a kid I had some [issues]. That music was the only thing that made me feel better that release. Joy and pain all meet in soul music. Even in the happy songs, they're crying. That's just what gets my insides moving."
If something on can'tneverdidnothin' doesn't move you, contact a physician immediately. Highpoints and there are many include the first single "Till I Get To You," one of the first tracks she cut for the album. "Our friend Craig Ross came in and we jammed and came up with this groove. The lyrics are like a musical puzzle. I thought wouldn't it be cool to run through the alphabet and have every letter stand for a lover and have the song end once I got to the letter U." Less playful but equally memorable is "I Gotta Know," a stately, piano based love song that builds to a grand orchestrated request, soul mate to soul mate, to put one's heart on the line.
Then there's "can'tneverdidnothin" the album's rocking yet ultra-funky title track. "That one came halfway through getting the record done," Costa says. "We started out thinking we were going to make a rock record and we kept writing these funk tunes. I figured I need that one song that's going to let me get my balls out. That side of me is so integral to my live show. My stuff always gets harder live. And my mom always said that phrase when I was growing up. I thought "can'tneverdidnothin" was such a cool way to say 'You can do it.' It's kind of like saying, what the [heck] are you complaining for? That song just flew out and I love its energy.
Now that the record's done, Nikka Costa can hardly wait to get out on the road and [perform] live. "I'm so excited," she says. "That's my favorite part. That's where you get to bring it alive and connect. When I perform, I try to let myself to as much as possible. It's not staged or choreographed. I've found the more I let go, the more I get our of it. Performing is the ultimate. It's a sexual experience because it's sweaty and screamy all those great things."
Listen to can'tneverdidnothin' because it's all those great things. It's sweaty and screamy and as soulful as the woman herself.