Seattle. New York. Manchester. The Lake District. Niko may have exchanged the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life for the countryside that surrounds her new home, but there was no evidence of this newly discovered laid back living within All My Favourite Music, a single for Grand Central that rattled the rafters with explosive fretwork and thumping breaks.
Niko – real name Nicole Vergel De Dios – first became involved in Mark Rae’s centre for sulphuric soul through a collaboration with Only Child on his Solitaire album. From there she contributed to Mark’s own Rae Road and Mr Scruff’s Trouser Jazz, and worked with Riton on her first solo single. “I really liked the music that these artists were coming up with and was lucky to meet so many talented people,“ says Niko sleepily down the telephone, just back from a red eye flight from the states. “To be honest, with everyone knowing everyone else at the label, it was hard not to get some collaborations going! I had installed myself in a semi-permanent writing station on Mark Rae’s ironing board, and Riton came round and got loopy on the Korg. We’re all dancing around, bouncing ideas back and forth, and with Mr Scruff continually servicing everyone with cups of tea – we were wired! After that I worked with Aim, who produced a number of tracks, and Mark and I also wrote a song together. Each producer that I worked with had their own distinct style, and would use different methods to get a song down and the result is a cornucopia of vibes throughout the album. Many of the people that worked with shared my love for squelchy bass lines, fat drums, chunky harmonies and soulful deliveries but whether it comes from the writing, my playing, or my voice, each track it’s distinctly me.”
During this frenzied period of recording both for her own album, and numerous collaborations with Grand Central’s friends and family, Niko hit the road with Aim’s Andy Turner. “I was a big fan of Andy’s music to begin with, and was thrilled when he asked me to be part of his band. It was pretty funny at the start because I was recreating all of these weird samples with my voice, and it took a while for me to master all of the squeaks and toots.”
Her album, Life On Earth, certainly echoes both this eclectic writing process, in addition to Niko’s own range of influences. “This album is really a reflection of who I am, and all the different kinds of music that I’ve been listening to my whole life,” she says. “I could sit here all day and rattle off music and artists that I love and have inspired me. Sarah Vaughn. Betty Carter. Ella Fitzgerald. Carmen McCrae. Gangstarr. Wayne Shorter. Miles Davis. Fela Kuti. Joni Mitchell. The Grateful Dead. Art Blakey. Freddie Hubbard. Jill Scott. I suppose my history and background is completely different from everyone else on the label, but mixing people together from different walks of life and musical history is almost sure to produce nothing if not fresh ideas, and if the label is striving to put that kind of music out – which Grand Central undoubtedly is – then I guess I fit right in.”
When asked how the rainy city compares to the city that never sleeps, Niko remains diplomatic. “There are funky people in both Brooklyn and Manchester. Both places have communities of like-minded people who are into good music and digging that little bit deeper to create a unique scene. I’ve got to admit though…I love Brooklyn! My place was in Fort Greene and it has a nice neighbourhood vibe. Street BBQs, kids running around, the faint sound of the gospel choir on Sundays. It’s full of characters and funkiness, but you can find that warm laid back feeling anywhere – it comes from the people.”