This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following article, written by Andrea Li and Emma Hogarth, two interns from the Journalism program.
Most of the time, bass players are relegated to the sidelines, calmly keeping a rhythm while vocalists, guitarists – and even sometimes drummers – bask in the spotlight. Not so with Nik West, an iconic female bassist and vocalist who has made a name for herself through her exuberant stage presence and her incredible bass skills. In fact, she has even played bass for pop icon Prince, which just adds to her already lengthy resume. Just a few months ago, she released her sophomore album, Moody, which is full of groovy bass lines and funk influence. Some features on her album include bass legend Larry Graham and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana.
While the world is on pause due to quarantine, we had the chance to catch up with her and ask about her recent release, how her creative process differed from her previous album, and what influenced her spunky persona and funky music. We also had the chance to ask her about things going on in her personal life, like how she’s been dealing with quarantine, and how it felt to release an album that was so close to her heart.
GRSB: I loved your single “Bottom of the Bottle.” The track is so fun and you’re an impressive talent as a vocalist and incredible on the bass. What were your influences on this single?
NW: Thank you! That’s one of my favorites as well. I wrote that with a friend from the Netherlands. It was fun – basically, the song is about forgetting about your worries and just having fun and living in the moment instead of stressing about what you can’t change. The music video also shows the playfulness of this song. I was influenced by Katy Perry and her bright colors and characters for this song.
GRSB: Your latest album, Moody, focuses closely on your personality and your experiences in life. How would you describe the feeling of being vulnerable and exposing your inner thoughts through music?
NW: For me, it was hard. I am such a strong person who sees the best in literally everything and everyone, so when I started writing some of this music, I decided to really let go and let people see who I am inside. I’m strong, yet fragile at the same time. The “fragile” part is the part that has always been hidden, but I brought it to the front on “Tears” and I led with that.
GRSB: Did you learn anything while producing your first album, Just in the Nik of Time? If so, how did you apply that to the writing and production of Moody?
NW: Yes! I learned so much! To be brief, when I did my first album, I had never really recorded bass. I had never been a session player and I realized quickly that it is very different from playing live. You have to be alive yet robotic at the same time so that you really lock into the groove. When playing live, there is a little more room to just be free and not so stuck on perfection.
GRSB: How was your recording and writing process for Moody different from your previous releases?
NW: This time, I wanted to take the reins of the entire creative process. This is my second album so putting all of my ideas and thoughts into it was important. It took me over two years to record it since I was on tour so much. But I’m super proud of it.
GRSB: Throughout your album there are many songs with a heavy funk influence, so much so that you have even been referred to as the future of funk. What does that mean to you?
NW: Well, funk music came from the concept of making something out of nothing. When you take all of the major pieces away that you hear with pop music (vocals, piano, guitar, etc), you’re left with the bare bones: the bass and the beat. That’s what funk is built on. That’s why funk is so heavy with groove. The bass and drums drive the song and those are generally the instruments that make people dance on the dance floor, whether people know it or not. The bass line is in front and it carries the song and it’s what people feel most when they dance.
GRSB: Prince is quoted as saying, “She inspires me. Great visual, great stage presence” about you. Coming from a music icon, what does that mean to you? As a huge fan of Prince myself, I also would like to know how was your experience recording at the famed Paisley Park?
NW: That’s huge! Especially coming from one of the kings of stage presence and inspiration. There will never be another like him. I peed on myself when he first called me (just a little bit). He flew me out the next day to come and jam with him… but apparently, it was really an audition. I was SUPER nervous but he made me feel comfortable and even made me laugh so I got through it. He walked me to his office and told me that if I wanted the job, it was mine. Anyway, that’s the short version, but he was unlike any other person I’d ever met.
GRSB: How would your younger self feel about working with bass legend Larry Graham on the single “Thumpahlenah”? Did you ever expect to work with him on anything?
NW: My younger self wasn’t even into music much! I wanted to draw and paint. I was into fashion and math. Music never even crossed my mind. But I always knew that whatever I did, I’d rise to the top because I’ve always been a hard worker. I wanted to be the top in my class. So I knew I’d get a lot of opportunity by working hard, but Larry Graham and Prince? I never would have imagined that! That was something that you say out loud and then laugh about it because you know it’s so far fetched.
GRSB: What are some ways you’ve been coping with self-isolation during this worldwide pandemic?
NW: I’m so used to touring and never being home (which I love so much) that I never get to follow through with projects that I want to start. So I took the time during self isolation to follow through with some things. I just created an online bass course for beginners. I recorded about 100 video lessons for all of the people that have been asking me to teach them how to play. I’ve also gotten stronger physically. I’ve been working out consistently and I have definitely seen the results. I’ve spent more time with my family as well. So when it is time to go back on tour, I will be happy in knowing I’ve got my projects completed… finally!
GRSB: Many people mention your riveting stage presence – how would you compare your on-stage persona to your everyday self?
NW: My everyday self is crazy. I dream big, I smile big, I go hard, I’m full of energy, and I love fashion and being characters! When I had more time, I did a lot of TV commercials so jumping into character is something I’ve always loved. And being onstage is just definitely just an extension of my natural self.
GRSB: In many other interviews, you’ve mentioned that you’ve had self-doubt throughout your career. How did you overcome this doubt as you grew more popular?
NW: I don’t think the doubt ever leaves, at least for me, but, I just don’t focus on it so much. I still get nervous with certain people. Stanley Clarke wanted to interview me last month, I got nervous. Flea dm’d me and said he wanted to work with me, I got nervous. But I jump anyway. Anytime I’d ever been super nervous and jumped anyway, it’s been a life changer.
GRSB: Can you share your experience as a woman in the music industry? What challenges have you faced?
NW: Being a woman in the music industry has its perks. I have heard horror stories of women facing discrimination and sexism, but I’ve just flown past a lot of it because I have dealt with discrimination my whole life so it was almost as if nothing changed anyway. I walk into a room knowing that I’m the only one that can do what I do… and do it the way I do it. No one else can do me like I can do me. I think that kind of confidence is attractive to everyone. Know your worth and negotiate accordingly. Of course you’re gonna get those guys that just want to try to take advantage of women, but that’s in every industry and it was clear that I wasn’t playing those games. Either they wanted to work with me or not. If it was a no, I was fine with that too. When people sense that you’re fine with or without them, that’s when they want to give you everything.
GRSB: Who are your top three female musical inspirations, and what aspects of their music have influenced you?
NW: I love Rhonda Smith. She was the bass player for Prince for so long. I love how she plays and I love how she performed with Prince. She is so tiny, but she packs a mean groove. I also love Orianthi, she was one of my first friends when I moved to LA. I house sat for her while she was on tour and watched her dogs for months at a time. She is an amazing guitarist and has always been a cool friend. Cindy Blackman-Santana who played drums with Lenny Kravitz for so many years has also been such an inspiration. There’s a sax player named Grace Kelly that I’ve collaborated with that is so dope to me. She gets into character with bright clothes and hair like me, so she’s my Asian sister!
GRSB: What are some goals that you’re hoping to accomplish before the end of 2020, and how has quarantine affected these goals?
NW: Ha! My album was released. We planned a whole campaign and tour around it. I tour in Europe a lot and when you have a new release, it’s a game changer. So we had all of these plans and all of these shows surrounding the album and then I was going to take a break, record some bass lessons, and hang out some more with my family but all of the shows got moved to next summer, so next summer it is! Everything worked out okay.
Follow Nik West on Facebook for ongoing updates.