Kiwi artist Niko Walters first hit the scene as one of our Ones To Watch just over a year ago and now he’s back with brand new single ‘Not My Neighbour’. We caught up with him to chat all about his music-making process and gearing up to release his first full body of work later this year.
When did you know you wanted to pursue music and at what age did you write your first song?
I wrote my first song on the guitar when I was about 8 years old called ‘Butterfly’. It was actually a low key banger I might bring it back haha. Then at high school, I got a ripped-off version of Fruity Loops and made beats after school. So I’ve always written songs. I decided I would pursue and release music when I was living in London and had some time on my hands and felt inspired. I made a mixtape in a week and released it, which picked up a bit of a buzz.
Was growing up with your older brother Matiu full of constant jam sessions? Any cheeky sibling rivalry?
Yeah we had a lot of jam sessions. Our holidays were full of music. We would listen to songs of all genres and dissect them line by line, note by note in amazement.
I wouldn’t say we ever had a rivalry but we fought a fair bit as youngsters – just your typical kid stuff. The odd time escalating to a dust-up. I once got mad and threw his guitar down the staircase and things got heated after that. Our sister was the tough one though.
How does your music-making process work?
It’s never the same. Either I have an idea of a lyric concept and write around that, or something comes out naturally when playing with chords. When I’m going into a session to write a song, I have an idea of the sort of feeling I want to go for and a key concept or lyric, and go in and build around that.
How would you describe your sound?
I always struggle with this. I think it’s soulful – I always like to apply deep meaning to songs. I find it hard not to. But it’s modern. I like to make it sound organic and simple with electronic sounds in the mix to keep it interesting and fresh.
A lot of your songs so far tackle the heartache one feels when finding it difficult to move on after a breakup. Has songwriting been a coping mechanism for you?
It’s not a coping mechanism, but it’s something I like writing about. I’ve always liked sad songs – it hits hard when you can feel pain coming through in songs. Heartache is relatable. It’s inevitable and unavoidable. Every relationship you have with someone is unique and no one else could ever fully understand it. And every relationship ends in some way. I find it fascinating when a song explains a relationship – it’s the intricate details that capture the dynamic that makes you think…
What was the inspiration behind your new song ‘Escape’?
It’s about a relationship that pushes and pulls. Trying too hard vs not trying enough. Being completely emotionally open vs completely closed off. How those opposing extremes can be separated by such a fine line. Capturing that confusion and turmoil.
How do you come up with the ideas for your music videos treatments, and what was it like filming the music video for ‘Escape’?
We worked with a local director called Harry Burt on the treatments so I can’t take much praise for it. We were basically trying to convey the themes of each song in a less obvious way – take the themes and flip them a bit.
You first popped up on our Ones To Watch list last year. Which artists would make it onto your list?
I’m not listening to a heap of reeaally new artists. Enjoying the music from Paige here in NZ. Otherwise, there’s Parker Louis, Moses Sumney, SG Lewis all overseas who I’m feeling.
You shared on Instagram during lockdown that you’ve been focussing on what’s important to you. Can you tell us what those things are?
Just getting my body and mind right. Prioritising what matters in life and building routine around that.
What’s on your ultimate bucket list?
Nothing – I’m where I want to be.
You were snapped back at the start of the year hanging out with Nico and Vinz here in NZ. Anything more to the story there?
They’re under the same management as Six60. They came over in Feb to hang with the boys and Malay, and stayed at my place in Mangawhai. A lot of jamming, beach hangs, and eating. They’re such nice guys, obviously hella talented – it was a really nice time and they looove NZ.
Now that NZ is (mostly) business as usual again, what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Releasing an album for one. Hopefully playing some shows later in the year. More work, more play, continuing to stay focussed and be there for my fam.
Is there anything you can reveal about your upcoming album?
It’s a ride. There’s some crazy diverse stuff in the mix. It’s a short project though and reflects a lot of different vibes and experiences I’ve been through recently. Some elating and some depressing.
What do you hope for people to take away from listening to your music?
I want them to feel something strongly. Whatever that feeling is. It’s not background music – it’s created to be personal and evoke emotions.