Singer-Producer Nikitaa Talks Femininity and Power on Debut Album ‘High Priestess’
The artist released a slew of singles before compiling 12 pop, R&B and hip-hop leaning tracks
At the center of pop artist Nikitaa’s debut full-length album High Priestess is a “powerful energy” of comfort, joy, abundance as well as the catharsis that came with letting go of the “shame and pain” in her life.
Although it was released in a piecemeal fashion—the sultry yet commanding tune “Clutch” produced by Mukund Komanduri came out in May 2020, followed by a slew of singles like “Goddess,” “Universe,” “Wolf” and “Boomerang” featuring hip-hop duo Flyana Boss—the concept tied High Priestess Together.
The artist had moved back from Los Angeles to Mumbai and was dealing with emotional turmoil of all kinds. “I was grieving a lot: moving, heartbreak, growing up, rediscovering community, etc. And then the pandemic hit,” she says. Losing contact with friends and now being away in India, away from her friends in the U.S., Nikitaa also lost her paternal grandmother last year. “All the while I longed to return to Los Angeles and the sense of belonging and community I discovered there, and was trying to come back to my inner joy. All of this is what the album is about, really,” she adds.
She eked out her journey to joy, confidence and more on High Priestess, which also features experiments in sampling, like on “Bluebeard,” a meditative track that includes the cry of a koyal. Nikitaa adds that the song is inspired by the book Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. It delves on archetypes, folk tales and ancient wisdom, all of which tied into the ideas of High Priestess, including the title track as well as regal pop cuts like “Goddess” and “Empress.”
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Nikitaa speaks about the themes that informed the record, and what she has lined up for 2022. Excerpts:
What was it like completing this album during the pandemic? Would you have done things differently if you were, say, performing shows?
Honestly, it was very freeing to create this body of work during the pandemic, simply because there was no one around that I was bouncing ideas off of. I was put in the unique position of creating and critiquing everything by myself, which was an exercise in trust.
Given that all of this music was born out of turning circumstance into opportunity, I do think I would have done things very differently outside of the pandemic, or if I was doing shows or was just living life the way it was back then… my inspirations would’ve probably been at least a little different, my approach would be different, and there would probably be outside influences. And none of those things are bad or good; it just would’ve been a different project altogether!
Can you tell me a bit about the concept and how it came to fruition? It feels like it peaks with the songs “Goddess,” “Empress” and the title track.
You hit the nail right on the head. This album definitely peaks at “Goddess,” “Empress,” “High Priestess” (and also “Queen of Coins” and “Voodoo Man” for me). All of these high points were a calling in of powerful energy for me—of feeling comfortable and unabashedly welcoming my joy, sensuality, money, abundance and partnership. The darker aspects of this project are letting go of the pain, shame, and outside restrictions and influences that have held me back at some point or other.
It’s not lost on me that for the titular track I turned to an archetypal figure that I was raised with, really that I was handed at a very young age as a path to follow. A High Priestess is the ultimate stewardess of the Goddess. A High Priestess upholds the ideals of the Goddess—acceptance of the whole, of the feminine flow which can often seem chaotic or messy, acceptance of your own light and dark, and so acceptance of the healthy masculine as well. A High Priestess initiates deep healing and true understanding of the Self, and so the Divine.
My spirituality has been such a big part of my life and my music, and so in that way this project is a continuation of that. I feel like this album is my process of grief as well as my return to joy— something I think I truly thought I had lost. The album starts with themes of defiance, heartbreak, reclamation. And it concludes in confidence, sensuality, and joy.
There are a lot of moods on this album, but, predominantly, it is uplifting. What’s the earliest written song on this album, and how did you feel it fit in with the rest of the record?
Some of the songs on this album I had written a few years prior, between 2017 and 2018 (“Farewell,” “Clutch,” “Goddess,” “Voodoo Man”). When I was choosing what of my current discography belonged on this project, I picked “Goddess” and “Clutch” because they felt like sisters in some way. Sonically, yes, but also the tone and the message. From the very beginning of my career I had wanted to do a project that showcased the journey of the High Priestess, a microcosm of the journey of the Goddess. Every Goddess figure in ancient history has inherently been through their own initiation, and risen to divinity through the act of trials, self-acceptance, understanding, compassion, reclamation etc. and made no apologies from being such expansive beings. “Goddess” and “Clutch” are key pieces of that journey.
How did “Bluebeard” and the bird sample come about?
I find “Bluebeard” always puts me in a meditative state, which makes sense because that is how I felt while recording it.
The bird samples on “BlueBeard” are split in two. The koyal you hear is an actual koyal that I managed to record while quarantining with Covid at my aunt’s in April this year, shortly after my grandmother died. It’s a sound I always associate with my childhood, summer sunsets and happy memories in the sweltering Bombay heat. The rest of the birds and the rain came from a sample pack I found on Splice by Amani Friend who captured the sound of these birds in Costa Rica in the rain. I love the rains, always have. They invoke so much joyful peace in me, and so I wanted to incorporate that into the song.
In the book Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Bluebeard is a grim story about an evil magician’s new bride who is tasked with the caretaking of their vast home while he is away. She is instructed never to open the door that requires the smallest of the house keys, but does so anyway only to find the bodies of his ex-wives in the small room. The tale speaks to the idea that sometimes our curious nature that wants to ask too many questions and go looking for answers is as dangerous as it is savior: rescuing us from the ‘evil magician’— or rather wounded masculine—that is the character of Bluebeard. This wounded masculine can exist both within us and outside—in the form of a lover, friend, or family member.
The melody and the lyrics came to me all at once on a rainy day in my home studio. I had been thinking about the story, and how much of the growth I had experienced as a person stemmed from asking “too many” questions that had revealed devastating but necessary truths. I had also been thinking about how so often the things and people that hurt us seem least likely to do so at first glance.
You’re often a visual storyteller in that the singles have music videos—is the plan to release a music video for each of the rest of the songs of High Priestess?
This is honestly my dream, as I am definitely a visual storyteller! But I also would like for each video to be executed to perfection! Since I have put out several visuals this year, I would rather take the care and time to fully execute more in 2022. It would mean everything to me if I could give each and every song its own visual, but let’s see how it all works out. This would be a huge undertaking in every single way.
Are you venturing out into any promo gigs or a launch tour to support the album, or is it more about putting out more material at this point for you? What’s coming up through the coming months?
Right now I’m focusing on the material, but I’m hoping that I can take this album live in a few months. However, I am notoriously picky when it comes to how I’d like to see it executed. For example, I had shared a minute-long version of what I’d envisioned for “Boomerang” if I ever performed it live on my social media, and it was filled with a horn arrangement as well as some of the studio programming… So I think you can expect a proper tour from me only in 2022! I want to let the album live and give listeners a chance to soak it all in until then.
Listen to ‘High Priestess’ below.