Caturday with NIIA

Clare Gillen
Jessica Gianelli

Niia Bertino‘s sultry melodies are just the thing to set the mood. With her new album, titled ‘II: La Bella Vita,’ Niia explores creation as a form of catharsis, highlighting the paradoxical beauty that exists when we fall out of love. Niia is curious about what hurts, and following Valentine’s Day, she chats with us about the need for escape; inspiration via Italian classics, her mother, and heartbreak. For Niia, emotion is everything–and escapism sounds a lot “like a seashell on a beach.”

JG: So after hearing ‘Obsession,’ it seems you’ve got some pretty active onlookers. While they’re obsessing over you, what are you obsessing over?
N: Right now I’d say… Summer Walker, Muckbang Youtube Videos, NoToxlife LA (A Zero Waste Refill Shop in LA), sex in the middle of the night, my manager’s dog Orphie, and slippery elm drops. Oh and 90 Day Fiancé!
JG: Creation as a form of catharsis, does it mean anything to you?
N: I should probably get that as my next tattoo. Yes, it definitely does. The Collective Catharsis and the Grapevine Effect fascinate me. Being a true introvert and dealing with stage fright, the theory that we have the ability to share emotions and connect with strangers, and how we emotionally recover from events collectively is so interesting. It’s worth looking up!
JG: You mention ‘escapism’ as a tool for evading relationship issues. What types of things does music allow you to escape from? What does ‘escapism’ sound like?
N: Escapism to me is really anything that removes you from your current situation and puts you in a more mentally manageable mindset. Frequently the person I wanted to escape from was in my writing sessions, so I’d need to work by myself to literally escape. I used music to escape my parents divorce, I use it to avoid the news, feeling helpless, guilt and anger. Even when I have writer’s block I chose not to write that day and just play my piano instead. Escapism sounds like a seashell on the beach.
JG: Sultry, smooth—luxurious, and soulful are some inescapable themes that continuously show their face within your music. With a mixture of jazz, soul, and R&B textures, where does your music draw its inspiration from?
N: At its core, it comes from my mother Armida. She was named after a Puccini Opera. So drama, passion, sadness, betrayal, are all in her fucking name. She was also my first classical piano teacher and introduced me to jazz. I owe everything to her. I’m very lucky to have a parent with great taste in music and who is also a musician. I think the sultry and smooth elements come from the timbre or sound of my voice. I’m not sure about luxurious but I’ll take it! I just pull inspiration from music I love and things that catch my curiosity, whether it’s a Chopin Nocturne or a Marvin Gaye deep cut. The work of artist Alfred Kubin, old 007 movies, Italian funeral dress codes, my mother’s old glasses. You can find inspiration in everything, even my break up! You’ve been carving a space for yourself on the music scene for some years now.
JG: In a time where things oscillate and change at warp-speed, and content is perpetually regurgitated, how do you maintain your own pace? How do you skirt the pressures for for constancy—for more?
N: Thank you, I like to say I’ve been strategically carving a massive Halloween pumpkin. I believe in quality over quantity. I work at a slower pace because in many ways I’m just a slow artist. I take my time, I overthink things, I take weeks off to wonder if I should change three words. In high school I was diagnosed with a processing problem that literally forces me to slow down – so there’s also that. I don’t love sharing personal things about myself (the irony of being an artist I know), so I tend to drag things out subconsciously. Also, when you break up with your boyfriend of six years in the middle of making your album shit slows down, but it is what it is. It’s my pace, I own it, It works for me. I no longer surround myself with people that put pressure on me to go faster. My team supports my process and encourages me. Though my manager was sweating when a few days before delivering my masters I decided to rewrite all the lyrics and melody for the track La Bella Vita off my new album (ha).
JG: What role do style and image play within your practice?
N: It’s huge. For this new album, my visual identity is inspired by Italy. Italian cinema, dramas, operas, etc. I’m proud to be controlling my image 100%. I do have a signature of wearing all black and my hair in a braid a lot…it’s like a uniform that takes me back to my all-girl catholic school days, yikes.
JG: If you could imagine a dream video look, who would design it?
N: Aeon Flux, James Bond, Diana Ross, and David Chase
JG: Your music speaks much to me about love, relationships, and the embodiment of self. But overall, I get the feeling that you want to feel good! I mean, who doesn’t? How important is the expression of emotion to you, in terms of music, but also life in general?
N: It’s everything. I used to get embarrassed or downplay my emotions in my work and personal relationships. Not anymore. Sometimes it feels exhausting being so emotional and reacting to everything. It has caused me a lot of pain and struggles over the years. But there are people that don’t have the privilege to express themselves at all. They don’t have the luxury, platform, outlet, or even the right to express that makes me even more emotional. I feel so grateful to have this platform and aim to encourage people to get more in touch with their emotional health and also fight for people who have limitations.
JG: How sweet might the future taste? Where do you see 2020 taking you?
N: I’ve been called a nostalgic romantic but for the first time, I can proudly say I’ve never been more excited to look forward. I see 2020 taking me around the world, finishing another album and the three scripts I’ve already started, giving back to my community and creative arts, adopting another dog, and performing at the sex club that I’ve too afraid to write back to. Also to learn a few more vegetarian dishes to cook for my lover :).

Click to listen to
NIIA’s playlist