Austin based blues and soul singer Nakia is back on the road in support of his new album, Blues Grifter. We caught up with him earlier this summer for a wide ranging conversation about making it as a musician in 2018, what he’s been wearing all summer long and of course, his new album.
So it’s your first time in Portland!
It is my first time, I am a PDX virgin.
Nice! Well, welcome. Have you been able to do anything fun while you’ve been here?
Yesterday I went to Haystack Rock which is gorgeous. I spent the afternoon on the beach, took some pictures, did a few live videos where I sang for fans taking a capella requests. I really just laid out on the beach and enjoyed it.
Portland’s got a lot of food to choose from, what else have you tried so far?
I tried Killer Burger and I had the PBPB which is the peanut butter and pickle bacon burger and it was everything everyone said it would be. Their fries may be some of the best fries I ever had and they’re unlimited, which is nice for a fat boy.
I will say that the singer in me realized about midnight that I should not have eaten that after 8 o’clock because the peanut butter sauce did not agree with my reflux.
What do you have to do to protect your voice?
I try not to eat really late when possible because all of that stuff starts coming back up when you’e laying down if its not digested. It’s also important that you don’t speak loudly in public places or during phone conversations, and to stay hydrated. Talking really does more damage to my voice than anything else.
I think it’s interesting that your voice is like an instrument and there’s so much you have to do to keep it tuned. I don’t think a lot of people would think about that.
Yeah on the way over here I was doing vocal exercises to have this interview and most people don’t even think about that sort of thing. They just go to work and start talking when they need to talk.
So you’re currently on tour.
I’m doing a little mini solo tour which is kind of a tour-vacation for me. This whole thing came out of two preexisting trips. I was so close to Portland that I figured I should get another show and come down to see my friends.
I like the mini tour vacation idea. That’s the way to do it. Can you tell us about the new album?
It’s all blues covers and there are no originals on this record. I’m doing this very intentionally to set a baseline for this particular part of my musical career as well as pay homage to the songwriters, studios, and artists that inspired me to get into the blues.
When I try to take this record to radio, they’re gonna go eh, these aren’t originals, so first of all we’re not that interested because of that, so I have to work extra hard. Second of all it’s blues, which is not popular amongst pop radio or rock radio so it’s really on me to go the extra mile.
Before I started Chubstr, a long, long time ago at the turn of the century, I worked for a small rock station in Springfield, Missouri. I came into contact with a little bit of how music got to radio but it seems like it’s changed a lot in 18-20 years.
Yeah, now if I want to put a single out to radio I would pay a digital service to deliver the music and then it would be up to me to either follow up with them directly or hire a radio promoter to then call those program directors individually.
Something that I’ve been struggling with lately is that we can listen to anything we want at any time but it’s difficult finding new music that I like. It seems like algorithms and things like that put you in a box.
Well in order for you to really break out of the algorithms those services use, you [have to] consistently utilize their user interface. There’s all of this information they have, but it only works if you’re doing the work. I would say it does require quite a bit of input from the user to make it work.
Sure, so you really have to be focused on kind of curating yourself. From what I understand, most musicians are not making their money off of streaming, like that’s not a thing.
No man, you really gotta have a big song or game the system.
Do you think this change has made musicians diversify? Are people making money from merch, are they licensing their music more often?
Well, we all want to license music and that’s another thing that’s super tough to crack. For me, the diversifying comes in really focusing my intention and putting a lot of energy into working private events.
I also use my other skill sets to cut corners. I could have paid somebody to design all of my record graphics or edit my video promo, but I did all of that myself. I love doing it, but it leaves very little time to write songs, rehearse, or just live a life.
So you’re spending a lot of time working on things that aren’t specifically the music?
Yeah. I think people probably see an instagram post of me sitting on the beach at Haystack Rock and they probably think “oh your life is so amazing'” but the truth is that all the way to Haystack Rock when I had a signal, and all the way back I’m on the phone with a booking agent or a radio promoter. When I take a break at lunch I’m scheduling shows or I’m scheduling an interview with you. All of those things have to be done and it never really stops.
There’s no real mystery to rock n roll anymore. I don’t know that were gonna see it go back the other way.
There are a lot of people on Instagram who are only showing very specific parts of their lives. I feel like over the years you’ve done a really good job of not doing that. You’re doing awesome things but that’s only part of your life. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. You’re real, which I think is even more interesting.
I do try my best to maintain a real level of authenticity on my social media. I think the love of social media and the love of reality tv have become very intertwined and there’s really nothing that’s too much. People want to see everything. There’s no real mystery to rock n roll anymore. I don’t know that were gonna see it go back the other way.
Rock n roll is generally not as popular as it was. I wonder if it’s just the way the wind is blowing right now, or if it’s a longer term thing.
It’s definitely changed. If you open up Apple Music or Spotify right now and look at the top 100, todays rock music is hip hop and today’s pop music is hip hop. Artists like Frank Ocean and Drake are really doing groundbreaking stuff in their genres.
What advice would you give to a budding musician trying to get into the business who wants to make a living doing this?
It’s important for young musicians to learn as much as they can, not just about playing music but about releasing music, booking shows, social media, and [building] websites, because these things work together.
There are still exceptions to the rule, like if you’re young, beautiful and have some modicum of talent, or connections, which probably outweighs all of those things, there is still the path that is least traveled which will get you to success way quicker but is way more rare today.
I don’t think you’re ever going to see another Rolling Stones or Led Zepplin or more of these singular stars, like I don’t know who would be the next Beyonce. I just don’t think as a culture, that people have attention spans long enough to invest in people like that anymore and labels definitely don’t.
Are labels as important today as they were 10, 20 years ago?
You know, I know the popular answer is to say no, labels don’t matter, but I think the truthful answer is that labels are probably more important right now than they’ve been in the last 10 years. If you have a real label who’s really established and has the connections to promote and market your record correctly, that outweighs so many things that you could be doing on your own and frees you up so you can really focus on yourself.
So I’ve got to ask you some of the big guy questions since this is Chubstr, where are you shopping or where have you been shopping lately?
My summer shopping was almost exclusively done at Dillards. They have the stuff I like to wear like Ralph Lauren, Daniel Premiere, and Levi’s. Right now I’m wearing pair of Ralph Lauren shorts, a Hawaiian print dad shirt and some Sanuk flip flops. The thing with the pink shorts is that they do get a little dirtier quicker, but man I love pink. Pink is so nice.
And it’s so nice now that plus size shorts are shorter and actually show some knee and some leg.
Yes these are maybe 13″ shorts and they don’t have loops for belts they have the drawstrings, I love them. And of course I’m rocking the pink toes to match and wearing the Bobs Big Boy hat that I got at the original in Hollywood. I’ve been really into dad caps and dad shirts this summer.
What is a pro tip for guys of size?
The first thing any big guy should do is go get fitted for a real comfortable walking shoe because we’re big people, we need that support. Spend the money, about 80-150 bucks get yourself a really nice pair of shoes.
The truth is that the people who really love me and enjoy me as an artist and a musician don’t care, and if they do that’s probably their shit.
Nice. So you’re an artist, musician, entertainer, and a bigger guy. You’re putting yourself out there in front of people every day – do you feel like you’re comfortable with your body?
I think over the last two years I’ve really become a lot more comfortable with my body and don’t spend a lot of time stressing out over whether I look fat in this picture or I look fat in this outfit. In fact, I’d say at the beginning of this summer when we started shopping for summer clothes that I purposely went down a size so that it was a little more snug so that it could show off more of my curves.
The truth is that the people who really love me and enjoy me as an artist and a musician don’t care, and if they do that’s probably their shit. I purposefully went through this phase of really stepping up my own body confidence to say this is who I am, I don’t care if you like it, I love it.
That’s awesome. That’s so good. So when does blues grifter come out?
Blues Grifter comes out August 17th and we’ll be on the album release cycle through at least the end of October and maybe even the end of the year. We’ll be doing album release shows, going places, trying out new venues, and really paying attention to Spotify, Pandora, and Apple music metrics.