Nikka Costa--the wild-haired, funk/soul-singing white girl (and daughter of the late producer/Frank Sinatra arranger Don Costa) who can work a mike stand like a baton-twirler--won my heart with the amazing, unpredictable Everybody Got Their Something in 2001. I spoke with Costa a couple days ago, but never got around to asking her about something I'm fairly certain she's fed the hell up with by now: being compared to Janis Joplin.
Google Costa and Joplin's names together and you'll find page after page of the go-to comparison. Certainly her ferocious vocals--not to mention her flair for revisiting the innate soulfulness of blacker R&B artists of yesteryear--has made many a music writer feel the need to call her the next Janis and be done with it.
I wanted to ask if she's ready for even more comparisons to Joplin now that her latest album is called Pebble to a Pearl, which was released this week. Is the title a snarky nod to Joplin's posthumous 1971 album Pearl? Is this her way of saying she's nowhere in the same musical vicinity as Joplin, and people should just accept her as her own performer?
Shit. I should've opened with that. I'm slipping.
While Costa didn't bring up Joplin as an inspiration for her music, she did classify herself as a Stevie Wonder freak. In fact, if you listen to some of the songs on Pebble, you'll sense that she's mimicking the psychedelic-funk sound he laid throughout his early-'70s classic period. And Costa isn't afraid to cop to that.
"I'm a huge Stevie Wonder head," says the thirtysomething Costa on the phone from her L.A. home base. "I knew I wanted to tap into the records where he was still on Motown, but he had just taken control of his own production and stuff like that."
Control seems to be a priority for Costa these days, along with freedom. These were two things she didn't have at Virgin, the label that released Something and her 2005 follow-up can'tneverdidnothin'. Indeed, Costa isn't hesitant to bring up the disgust she felt as an artist there.
"I just really wanted to get away from Virgin," she says. "I didn't think they were a healthy company, and I had four presidents while I was there. And I don't know if you know anything about the changing of hands in a record label. It's laborious. And every time I would finish a record, I'd get a new president, and they'd tell me to make a new record. So it was very frustrating creatively, in a lot of different ways."
After asking to be released from Virgin, Costa went back to square one, coming up with more songs and even starting her own record label Go Funk Yourself with her husband producer Justin Stanley. And what was the first item on the agenda for their new venture? Making an album, of course.