Teen pop sensation Nakita on working with her songwriting heroes: ‘I just wanted to pinch myself’

Kate Robertson talks to Nakita about making music with some of New Zealand’s best pop songwriters.

The name Nakita might not ring any bells just yet, but chances are you’ve heard at least one of her upbeat and youthful electronic pop songs blasting from the sound system of a hip clothing store or on the top 40 radio rotation over summer.

Born and raised in rural North Canterbury, she’s been writing tightly produced pop songs with some of New Zealand music’s most recognisable names since she was just 16, and two years later is looking set to really start hitting her stride. She’s cool, painfully cool, but in a way that could never be interpreted as anything short of effortless and will easily land in the country full of people who love their celebrities so laid back they may as well be in a pair of Stubbies.

The latest addition to the Parachute Studios, there’s a tense kind of energy surrounding Nakita – the same kind that follows young artists when they’re ready to break. She’s spent the last year drip-feeding her debut EP, and the months to come look set to push her to new heights.

Your debut EP Foolish Ones was produced by Leroy Clampitt [who has written for Justin Bieber] and co-written alongside a group of pretty well-known local musicians – Benny Tipene, Dave Baxter [Avalanche City], Ruby Frost, Ezra Vine. What was it like working with so many household names on your very first release?

I was very intimidated before I met them, I had no idea what to expect. I’d grown up listening to every single one of them, so to be sitting in a room just with that person was scary. With that being said, everyone in New Zealand is so friendly and I realised pretty quickly they’re all really down to earth people. You can’t feel intimidated when you’re around them because they’re so lovely. I feel so privileged to be working with them all over again for the next EP. It’s such a strong team to have around you.

And you recorded it at Leroy’s Pirongia studio, which is in the absolute middle of nowhere. How did you find recording in such a remote part of New Zealand?

It’s been so incredibly valuable. To get to the studio you go down this weird driveway to a little house where the owner lives with their family. There are two sheds and a ukulele workshop, then off to the side is the studio. It’s so hidden away that from the outside you wouldn’t even know it’s a studio. It’s hard sometimes because the birds and cicadas are so loud that you’ve got to pick the right times to record, but being able to record in a place like that is brilliant. You can’t get caught up in city life or going out because there’s nowhere to go. I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s a really good place to clear your mind and make the best music you can.

The video you released for ‘Addicted’ was filmed there, eh?

Yes! We really wanted to use that video to introduce my band and bring them to the studio where all the music we’ll be performing was made. It was a really fun video to film, and my brother did all the cinematography which was awesome too.

Could you explain the idea behind ‘Addicted’? Because that concept of never being satisfied and longing for past memories is fascinating.

I wrote that song with Leroy and Ruby on the very first day I met Leroy. I didn’t know who he was and I’d pictured a middle-aged man, but he wasn’t that at all!

We sat down and discussed artists I liked, made some sounds, and what came out of it was a conversation about people who constantly long for the past, for days that are now memories. Anything that stands out to me like that I enjoy writing about, so I decided to write a song about how we’re so addicted to reminiscing on the good old days and not making memories in the present. It was cool for that to be our first song.

There’s one more song to be released on Foolish Ones to complete the EP, do you already have a follow-up in the pipeline?

Yes! Leeroy flew over from LA to record the next EP and I got to return to his studio. We spent another two weeks there and have come out with six songs I’m really proud of. I feel so grateful he would want to come over again and help me out. In the time since the last EP he’s been Grammy nominated and worked on songs with Justin Bieber, so for him to come back is such a privilege. He’s incredibly humble and I really admire him for that.

It will sound really different from Foolish Ones, but it’s very on par with who I am and my style. I guess Foolish Ones was centred around growing up and discovering who I am in that weird 16-year old stage, but this next one’s more about change and leaving things that are familiar. I hope that comes across in the songs. Change has been a big theme for me recently. This next EP feels like a rebirth of myself to bring out my more mature side, a more mature version of myself. So it’s cool to move away from that and into this next one.

Was it easier co-writing the second EP, working alongside the same people again?

Definitely. I’m at Parachute Studios a lot, and everyone kind of lives and breathes there. It wasn’t weird getting back into writing because it’s like, “here’s an update on my life, let’s write about it”. The more we get to know each other the more we can write more honest songs. It’s a journey, but I felt incredibly comfortable with everyone the second time around.

Will there be any new name credits on the EP?

Yes! There’s a really cool song I’ve worked on with Jaden Parkes, which is crazy because I’m a massive Leisure fan. I’ve also worked with Matthew Young, who I’ve loved for a good few years now. To find myself sitting in a room with him, I just wanted to pinch myself.

You’re 18 now and already have two EPs under your belt, what was it that got you first wanting to write music?

I’m very much someone who processes my feelings through writing. It’s like a diary to me, you’re documenting a part of your life that had a massive impact on you and I think that’s really important. I also like to overthink, so I’ve learned to take those ideas out of my mind and put them on paper. That really helps me move forward. I’m still developing, but I think writing things down is really important for anyone.

When did you start thinking of music as an actual job you could pursue?

I started going to a lot of festivals when I was about 13, and it really inspired me to want to get on stage. I’d been performing with my brothers and our band for a while, but as a solo artist it was watching people at these festivals that really excited me.

I grew out of my shell in that respect and ended up entering a competition to perform on one of the stages at the Parachute Festival. That’s where it started. I’m naturally a very shy person so it does freak me out to think about getting on stage.

In an ideal world, who do you hope your music will really land with?

I like to think people my age will be able to relate to it, but I think the messages in my songs can relate to all people. Obviously younger generations will latch onto the electronic side of my music, but I’ve always wanted to write songs that have something in them people can takeaway. Even if it’s just a sentence or a word they can think about, I want that to come through in my music.

So what does the rest of the your year look like after Foolish Ones has wrapped?

Over the coming months we’ll be releasing the next EP and performing where I can. It’s been a long process getting the live music rolling, but we’re getting there! My management put together a band for me which was a big goal of mine. We’re still nutting out a date, but it’s looking like sometime next month will be our first performance together.

I’m also moving up to Auckland which is massive. Moving, settling in, and working on my music. I’m freaking out about it all, but that’s what my next few months look like and I’m so excited.

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