Today we speak to singer-songwriter Nia CC who tells us how her music creations are like storytelling and how she likes to tell stories about race, sexism, heartbreak and much more.
Artist’s Name: Nia CC
Genre: Alt Pop/R&B
Founded: May 2020
Originated From: Manassas, Virginia, USA
Discography: All Things Nia CC (EP) & Monsters (Single) & Girlfriend (Single)
How would you describe your music?
I like to describe my music as a diary that fell into my guitar and started telling stories. I consider myself an American alt pop singer songwriter, although I also like to dabble a bit in R&B.
As a black woman, this was always a bit scary and even a bit of a sore spot for me, because I’m an artist who constantly sings with my guitar, and there weren’t many black mainstream pop artists doing that as I grew up.
I always felt like people were pressuring me to switch genres or didn’t take me as seriously when I first started out playing the guitar and writing country songs. Since then, I’ve gained more confidence in the music I write and the genres I typically sing in, and I’m happy to see that black woman singing with guitars is a space that’s only growing, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
Nonetheless, I like to say that my music is always authentic, and it’s like a cloud, sometimes dreary, sometimes rainy and sometimes cheerful, but always moving.
What is your musical creative process like?
For me the creative process is always changing, which is what makes it fun. I don’t have one way of writing a song, which can sometimes make things harder when I go to collaborate with people, but it keeps me on my toes.
Sometimes it begins with a melody in my head for a chorus, but sometimes it begins with me saying something in real life and realising I want to make it into a song. My friends often joke that you can’t go a day without hearing me say “it’s a song!”.
For example, my song Girlfriend came about because I was complaining to my sister that I was sick of being in the friend zone and being called “friend girl” by the guy I liked. I began yelling about jokingly it in typical Nia fashion and exclaimed “I don’t want to be your friend girl. I want to be your girlfriend!” And after laughing for a few beats, I screamed “that’s a song!” And ran over to my guitar to write Girlfriend where the lyrics to hook are “I wanna be your girlfriend.”
While that’s how that song came about, again, I’m always getting new ideas for songs from different things whether it be through real life, books, or melodies that come about in my dreams.
So, I guess you could say that life inspires me to write my music. I like to say that my songs that are like my diary. I share the stories that have an impact on me through them, whether they be mine or not and no matter how trivial they may seem.
How did you start out as a musician?
I began taking piano lessons at the age of four, and wrote my first song, about Disney World, when I was eight years old realising early on that song writing was something I wanted to do.
I grew up listening to artists like Corinne Bailey and Taylor Swift, and I loved how they were always able to play live with their guitar on hand, something that was harder to do with an immobile piano.
So, at age 12, I decided to teach myself how to play both the guitar and the ukulele so I could carry them with me to open mics and to school. Throughout school I was very active in the performing arts from show choir, and to dance classes ranging from ballet to jazz and hip hop.
As a student at the University of Virginia, where I just graduated from in June 2021, I was the music director for the all-female award winning A Capella group, the Virginia Sil’hooettes, and a writer and performer for the student run show The Black Monologues.
With a degree in music and African American studies, I recently released my self-written and self-produced undergraduate thesis album titled On Trial that explores the history and dynamics of blackness at UVA through a collection of songs.
That said, song writing is like a diary for me. It’s the outlet where I’m able to be my full authentic self and tell my story, whether it be about Disney World or heartbreak. And as someone who tends to live in this world with a lot of passion and feelings, I have a lot of stories to tell. Currently, I have a catalogue of 500+ songs to my name and I can’t wait to continue writing more.
How did you come up with your stage name?
It’s funny because my real, legal, full name is actually “Nia C. C. Williams” so Nia C. C. is my artist name, but it’s also just literally my name, which was something that a lot of school teachers thought I was lying about growing up. But my parents really wanted to name my middle name after my grandmothers whose names both start with C, Claudie and Constance, but they didn’t want there to be arguments over whose name was first.
So, to make things fair, they just put two C’s there in honour of them, and of course we always change the order of whose name comes first depending on which house we’re at.
So that’s what the C. C. stands for. Or, as I told a lot of my classmates when I was younger, “The C. C. stands for my favourite food, cotton candy,” which of course was only believed for so long, but that’s something I still like to joke about to this day.
Who influenced you within the music industry?
I grew up the youngest of three and really close to my siblings: my sister Kiara who is 10 years older and my brother Sanford who is eight years older. Both of them love music and I thought they were the coolest people in the world, so I listened to a lot of what they listened to growing up: Ciara, Usher, Alicia Keys, TLC and so many more.
I’ve also been a pretty big Taylor Swift fan since I was about seven years old, so she really had influence on my journey as an artist and a songwriter. She was someone who inspired me to not just play the piano, but to pick up the guitar too.
That said, growing up in Northern Virginia I listened to a mix of music from Imagine Dragons, one of my favourite bands, to Drake, to Carrie Underwood, to Ed Sheeran, to Corinne Bailey.
For a while, I even struggled with a bit of a genre crises because every song I wrote was so different. Was I a country artist, an R&B artist or did I want to get into rock or maybe pop music?
It was something I was so insecure about for a while until I ultimately decided to see my diversity in sound as a strength, and find the through line in the stories I tell with my music and who I am as an artist.
Have you performed live much and what was your favourite gig to play at?
One of my favourite shows I played was when I was a senior in high school and sang at an event in Boston for teens. There was about 1000 people there and I only got to sing one song, but that was enough. I sang a song I wrote titled I don’t care about a teacher who told me I would never make any money as a songwriter.
I told the story about the song to the audience before I sang, so when I got to the punchline in the song, the audience went wild. I remember a lot of people coming up to me after that performance to compliment me, and I made a lot of friends and followers that day.
That said, while I loved that the performance went well, it was really that the audience was so connected with the song and story that made the show so special to me. My favourite part of song writing and singing is telling stories and connecting with the audience over them, so I loved every part of that.
What is the best thing about being a musician?
I think the best part about being an artist and a musician is being a storyteller. Song writing is like a diary for me. It’s the outlet where I’m able to be my full authentic self and tell my story, whether it be about Disney World or heartbreak. And as someone who tends to live in this world with a lot of passion and feelings, I have a lot of stories to tell with a lot of different messages.
That said, I would say the through-line in my music is not necessarily the content I’m singing about, but who I am as an artist. As a black woman in America playing the guitar and singing genres that are oftentimes predominantly white, my message is that of reclamation. Claiming space where many black artists have been pushed out of and being a voice that brings us into this more diverse and inclusive stage in the music industry.
So whether I’m singing about a break up, or explicitly singing about racial inequality or sexism, it’s important to me that my audience is able to walk away more empathetic, more joyful, or even more supportive about a more inclusive society, no matter how subtle and subconscious that may be.
That’s the impact and importance of storytelling and song writing to me. Not just the story being told, but the importance of who is telling it. That’s really what I love.
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far as a musician(s)?
If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I would tell myself that perfectionism can be a weakness, so don’t get caught up in it. I find that as an artist, I was always wary of putting out music because it wasn’t perfect.
I would tell myself “I’m going to wait until it’s perfect for anyone to ever hear it.” The problem with that is that it scared me into not releasing music for a long time because it never sounded perfect enough. It became an excuse to not release music.
One thing I’ve learnt is that sometimes it’s better to release it 95% sounding how I want it to, rather than never releasing it and working on it for a lifetime to hit 100%.
As important as it is to hold on to your music until it sounds up to the par that you want it to, it’s just as important to be able to let it go. Besides, I find that the best music tends to come from the beauty of some of the imperfections hidden inside of it.
That’s what makes it so authentic and that’s really one of the biggest problems I’ve had to overcome as an artist thus far – being authentic. And now, it’s my strength.
What plans have you got coming up this year?
I have a lot of goals for 2021 that I’m really excited about. I’m moving to Los Angeles soon so that will be a really fun transition, and I’m excited to dive into the music industry there.
I’m also planning on releasing a lot of new music whether it be recorded singles, or just acoustic videos. I always say that writing is like a diary for me and I have so many songs that I’ve written that people haven’t even heard yet so I’m excited to catch people up to speed.
I’m also really excited to begin performing live again, that’s something I really missed over the pandemic. I’m excited to be back on the stage with my guitar and in front of a live audience and rocking together.
Lastly, like most artists and songwriters, I’m just excited to keep writing and singing music in general and building a following and making more connections with people, doing what I love. That’s really what it’s all about.
What is your ultimate dream as a musician?
My ultimate dream as a musician is to be able to monetise my dream in a way that I can make it my sole career. I’d love to spend my career writing stories and sharing them with the world to help make it a better and more empathetic place. That’s my dream as an artist, and to an extent, I’ve already started living it.
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