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February 16, 2015

Blues Speak: Nikki Hill

Text by Simone Louis

“I mainly would sing gospel as a child, so that’s really the root of my music.”

Your music has a very throwback vibe. It feels like a shout-out, if you will, to the artists of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Is that what you’re going for?
“Yes! When I was growing up, my parents played a lot of their favourite music around the house so I was exposed to a lot of 60s and 70s soul and quite a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. I always enjoyed that type of music, but, of course, when you’re younger you never think your parents are really that cool! But as I grew up, no matter how much modern music I listened to, I always came back to the older music and that’s really what has inspired me with my singing and music career. I really feel like I want to pay my respects to those artists, to just say ‘thank you for creating this music’.”

You, began singing as a child…in church?
“I did, and that has also played a pretty big role in what I do today. I mainly would sing gospel as a child, so that’s really the root of my music. But what I love is that gospel music ties so many styles together — blues, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B — so it gave me a really great foundation.”

Which are the artists of that era that have really inspired and influenced you?
“One of them would most definitely be Little Richard. I think he and his music is such a cool gateway to roots music, because he covered every type of tempo and every type of groove across so many genres. I’m pretty sure that there’s not a single person who is into 50s and 60s music, who doesn’t cite Little Richard as an influence. I also enjoy Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Etta James, Tina Turner and rock ‘n’ roll artists like The Rolling Stones and AC/DC.”

There are a number of contemporary artists who are actually trying to replicate that kind of sound today. What do you think of that?
“Yeah, you’re right, it’s a very interesting time in music right now. As everything is getting older to us, we’re trying to cling on to that sound and those feelings, so it makes sense. I think blues and soul is coming full circle, at least I really hope it does, and we need to grasp whatever magic it was that they were putting into their music back then!”

Do you have a songwriting process?
“Songwriting is really different for me. Sometimes I can write a song in 10 minutes, and then sometimes I take my own time to reflect. With music, sometimes you have to dig into these really dark places, so it’s funny because I’m actually just always really happy! I have to push really hard to go into that different frame of mind and pull those shadowy emotions out.”

This is your first time in India. What are you most excited about?
“Honestly, I still can’t believe I’m here! Everything is so vibrant and warm…including the weather! I really hope I get to go out and see the city. I’m also really interested to see how the people of Mumbai respond to my kind of music and I just want everyone to have a good time.”

Also see our interview with Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado and our roundup of the Blues festival. And ‘Passing the Torch’: Buddy Guy and Guy Sullivan.

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