Nakia on his Austin Residency, Big Guys in Pop Culture, & The Voice

Nakia - Photo by George Hsu
Photo by George Hsu

You might remember Nakia from the first season of NBC’s The Voice. He was the big guy with the long hair, big beard and soulful voice who lit up the stage every time he was on it. We caught up with Nakia last week and discussed music, style, his recent residency at The Belmont in Austin, and where you can catch him next.

How did the residency at The Belmont come about?
The Belmont is being booked by the folks at ACL Live, and they’ve wanted to do something different with it for a long time. My agent reached out to them and they hashed something together. It’s not something they’d ever done there, but it was something they believe in and wanted to try. It’s me and the piano, just playing my songs and the songs from a few people I like. It’s a way for me to reconnect with the storyteller part of myself.

Nakia at The Belmont
Photo by George Hsu

You’ve played a lot of places – do you have any favorites that you like to get back to?
Well, for several years, I’ve kind of made my home at Saxon Pub here in Austin. It’s one of my favorite rooms. The ACL Moody Theater is probably the best room in Austin to play – it’s the largest place with the best sound.

Out of every place I’ve ever played – from here to New York, or California, I’d have to say that I like the smaller places the best. They’re just more intimate.

We’ve got to ask about your sense of style. We’ve seen you on TV and in photos, and you’re well put together. Have you always had a good feel for how to put together your look, or is that something that took time to figure out?
I didn’t always have a good sense of style. If you look at enough of my Throwback Thursday photos, you’ll probably see evidence of that. [laughs] Honestly, I’m usually most comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, but I put a little bit more effort into thinking about what I’m wearing before I walk out the door – especially if I’m performing or making an appearance somewhere.

I don’t know – I just think that it feels good to look good. I feel better about myself when I take the time to dress up. I really enjoy layering things and playing with different types of looks. I’ve got clothes that I’ve had since the 90’s that are pretty spot on that still work. I mean, it goes in cycles, but I wouldn’t get rid of some of that stuff to save the world.

If you keep that stuff long enough, it’ll be back in style!
That’s what happens! It is. I opened my closet to pick out a jacket for a trip to New York in two weeks, and I found one I hadn’t worn in forever. It looks like it would have been pulled off the costume rack for Inside Llewyn Davis, but it’ll be cold there, and the jacket is heavy, and it’s gonna be perfectly in style there.

As a bigger guy out there making music, is it more difficult to make it in the entertainment business? Do you think your size matters so much when it comes to trying to break out and get exposure?
When you look at modern day advertising and modern day television, the “big guy” has become such an archetype of those formats, and are frequently celebrated, even when they’re not necessarily celebrated in the best light. I’ve seen the trend grow over the past few years, and having been on reality TV, I’ve definitely seen that. I think most Americans know that the average size is not a size 32, so when they see themselves or their husbands, friends, or boyfriends on television and in film, they identify with them because they seem more lovable in a sense.

As far as music is concerned, I don’t think it’s ever truly mattered at its core, until you look at pop music. Then, you’ve got a handful of bigger guy musicians, but not very many that have broken sale records or whatever. For what I do, I’m a soul and blues / R&B singer first and foremost, and it’s definitely [being a certain size] not considered taboo or anything. I feel pretty comfortable with my body and with who I am, and I joke about it a lot on stage. I don’t think it matters, and I think my fans love me at the size I am.


Did being part of The Voice change the way you look at creating music, or how you look at the industry in general?

Oh yeah. I saw how quickly hit music can be made and manufactured. I did very well on the iTunes charts while I was on The Voice, and many of my fellow artists did even better, and the songs were almost always recorded in a day, and sometimes back to back with a couple of other songs. In some cases, 16 songs, or 32 songs in a couple of days. It really opened my eyes to the fact that given the right amount of machinery, and the right amount of money, you can churn out a lot of high quality music really quickly. I certainly appreciated the amount of work and energy that goes into that kind of machine.

I got to work with the type of songwriters that I certainly wouldn’t have had access to before, and that part of it was very of eye-opening to me, because once you get a glimpse behind the curtain at how a song is made, it changes the way you think about it. It made me put away all of my fears that what I’m creating might sound silly or stupid. I just don’t think about things like that anymore. I found that some of my most outrageous ideas are some of the best things I can do.

Nakia and CeeLo Green
Photo by Amy Price

What’s coming up next for you?
I’ll be in New York on February 7th at the Bowery Electric, in their map room. I’ll be in New York for a week – writing and freezing to death. I’m actually really excited about being up there while it’s still really cold and possibly snowing. The last couple days I was kind of dreading it, but then I thought to myself, I live in Texas – I don’t get much access to snow, so I’m just going to go and enjoy it. Then I’m gonna come home and play a fundraiser for an organization that I’m very committed to called the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health services to Austin musicians.

Then, I’m gonna celebrate my birthday. It’s on February 20th, but since it’s during the week, we’ll do a show the following weekend on February 22nd. I traditionally do my show with my full band, but I think this year, I might do it with my electronic band – XBRMNT. It’s an electronic/dance side project I’ve been working on for a while now. It’ll probably be XBRMNT, and a couple pop punk bands, and this really cool electronic band called Sampler & Son. I’ll probably pick one more band, and there’s a slight chance that I’ll perform with my full band, but I may just want to invite a bunch of my friends to perform.
After that, SXSW begins, and it’s just crazy time here.

Nakia goes for lobster rolls

Catch Nakia at the Bowery Electric in NYC on February 7th, and find out when you can catch him near you at Nakia.net.

 

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