November 29, 2016

ness nite

For some people, sundown brings a renewed sense of self. Albert Camus believed, “there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.” For Minneapolis-based vocalist and producer Ness Nite, getting to know the nighttime has proven to be a vital survival skill.

Nite is a torchbearer in the small but strong wave of young, multi-dimensional female artists rising from Minnesota in the last few years (a few names include Lizzo, Lexi Alijay and Dizzy Fae). After moving from Chicago to the Twin Cities for college, Nite quickly realized her passion was in music, and dropped out of school last year. Although she has only lived in Minneapolis for two years, she has managed to teach herself how to rap, sing, produce, and has begun turning heads in the process. Her debut EP, Nite Time, is a telling collection of songs she began recording alone in her bedroom, late at night.

Nite Time accomplishes a lot of orientation in only 6 tracks, but leaves plenty to be desired. “Yes” featuring Nick Jordan might be the strongest representation of where Nite’s sound is headed. With clean, bouncy beats, the EP’s tracklist is fit for Minnesota’s young Electronic R&B sound, which began burgeoning before the void that has been left since Prince’s death.

“I kind of taught myself everything simultaneously,” she tells me, across a wooden table at Caffetto in Uptown, Minneapolis. In spite of Nite’s transplant status, Nite Time has been warmly received around the Twin Cities. Since January, Nite’s been building opportunities off the momentum of her music. She held her album release party at First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry, and recently headlined First Avenue’s Halloween Party & Costume Contest in the historic mainroom (although she wasn’t in costume, as she likes to “dress weird anyway”).

When Ness speaks, there are hints of trepidation; you can sense the years of wandering. Sometimes, she bends her head very low, seemingly waiting for the last moment to fill the air with words. She doesn’t seem shy, rather, she seems focused, and weary of wasted breath. —Evan Gabriel

What does it mean for music to be braless?

Ness Nite: To me it means there’s no formula. At least, when I make it I don’t have anything specific in mind, it’s just like a release. It’s like the feeling of taking off your bra [laughs].

From what I’ve read, you moved around a lot while you were growing up. You’ve lived in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Did you enjoy moving around or did you find it to be pretty tough?

Ness Nite: I get bored really easily so I think for the most part I liked it. But I feel like some of the circumstances made it less enjoyable. It wasn’t just like, ‘oh, we’re moving.’ It was kind of shitty things that caused it. I think I always took it in stride, just like, ‘cool let’s try to make the best of the situation.’

Was creativity and expression a big part of your childhood?

Ness Nite: Yeah, and I feel like I didn’t even realize that until recently, because I would always just write stuff or make stuff, or I’d make videos of something. But it didn’t really occur to me that I was doing creative stuff. And in middle school and high school I just started getting more into sports, and basketball—I played point and shooting guard—kind of took over most of my time so I wasn’t really creating anything as much. So then I quit basketball and started making stuff again.

Where did you go to high school?

Ness Nite: I started in Milwaukee and ended in Chicago.

Would you say that your upbringing has given you some adaptability within the music world?

Ness Nite: I’m an observant person, so I’m definitely aware and tuned into people’s projections and what their plans are. I’m really determined to get to the things I want to get to so I definitely align myself with people who have add and don’t subtract from that.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in terms of getting to the things you want to get to?

Ness Nite: I think just being patient, honestly. I make music everyday, so I’m like getting better I guess…I don’t know. I think it’s weird to classify music as better than something else, but I feel liked my process gets smoother. I guess there are a lot of skills that go into making a song.

You attended the Institute of Production and Recording in Minneapolis, correct?

Ness Nite: I was going to. I went to Saint Thomas [University] for a year and a half and then I was going to switch schools just to make my parents and other people happy, but then I was like, I can’t.

College just didn’t make sense?

Ness Nite: No. So I’ve been working a part-time job and making music.

My brother actually went to St. Thomas. But it just wasn’t the move for you then?

Ness Nite: In reality it was because I met a lot of people who gave me the confidence to actually turn to music. Like Nick Jordan, who’s a student there who’s on “Yes.” And another friend. I just met a lot of people there who were also trying to do art. If I hadn’t gone there it would be different.

What has kept you in the Twin Cities despite dropping out of school?

Ness Nite: I’d say just trying to work on my sound. It’s progressed an incredible amount since January when I put out “Yes,” in my personal opinion. I think working with Mike [Frey] has taught me a lot too. “Yes” and “Sigh” and “Lilith,” I just made completely on my own, in my bedroom. Then I started working with Mike and he was like, ‘let’s go back over some of these songs and I’ll show you how to do them a little cleaner.’ It’s been cool. We’ve definitely developed our own way that we work together, which is really fun.

I know that you got dared to do an open mic, but was there any desire to make music before there?

Ness Nite: I honestly always wanted to do something grand, if that makes sense. And then something inside of me was like, ‘just do it.’ Nothing makes me feel the way music makes me feel. And I want to create that. I want to make something that makes me feel like whatever this song I’m listening to makes me feel. I feel like I definitely just recently got to that place. I made this song “Party,” I sent it to Jeff. “Yes” was the first song I was really, really proud of making. And then “Party” is like, this is the feeling I’ve been going for this whole time.

What age did you decide on doing something grand?

Ness Nite: Pretty early on. This is super embarrassing but in middle school I was super into the Twilight books, and I just ended up writing another one because I wanted it to continue [laughs]. I would just do like random stuff like that; make music videos, shitty quality on whatever I had, a computer.

Do you remember what songs you were making videos to?

Ness Nite: No, I just have vague memories of that. I just kind of invented my own world my whole life. I spent a lot of time just outside playing with friends, or not. Just like wandering around.

Do you have any siblings?

Ness Nite: Yeah, I have a brother who’s sixteen and another brother who’s eight and a sister who’s six.

What’s the role of the oldest sibling like?

Ness Nite: It’s interesting, because me and my brother are kinda close in age. My other two siblings live with my Mom in Milwaukie, and then my Dad and me and my oldest brother lived in Chicago. I feel like we were just far enough apart where it was weird, because I was like awkwardly older than him and doing different things, but I feel like since I moved away it’s been cooler to see him every time. I feel like I have a trailblazing quality about me that I just get excited to share with my siblings. I want to help them do whatever they want.

Do they like your music?

Ness Nite: Yeah, most of my family has never seen me even do music because I’m fairly new, and I started doing it here, out of state. But they came to my release show at the 7th Street Entry and my brother was freaking out. It was really cute. He was like, ‘you’re so good! I didn’t even know.’ And it’s like, I didn’t know this was going to be a thing either. It was just a special moment.

How did that show go?

Ness Nite: It was awesome. That was my first experience hearing people sing words with me and that was…I don’t think I was ready for that. It was just really cool.

That’s a pretty intimate venue, too.

Ness Nite: Yeah, it was packed. They said it was about 20 people from selling out. It was tight. I feel super supported by Minneapolis. Like, not being from here I’ve made a lot of friends, and people that actually support me. I feel super grateful to be here now.

What’s one of the toughest experiences you’ve gone through as an artist?

Ness Nite: I’ve really been wanting to get into the Greenroom [Magazine] shows. I’m friends with Jake, and Dizzy Fae is like one of my closest friends, it’s just been interesting, trying to read people. There’s only so many female artists that are performing at a certain level. I think one of the hardest things for me is I want to play shows all the time but I also don’t want to play shows all the time here. I just feel like my sound is pretty well received so I feel like if it gets further I can play shows elsewhere and have people care.

Well, you’re about to start that at POW Presents on Dec 13th at The Echo!

Ness Nite: I know. That’s what I’m saying; patience has been the biggest struggle. I have all these ideas and plans and I want to do them.

Tell me about the recording process of Nite Time. You worked with your co producer Mike Frey. How long did this project take to come together?

Ness Nite: “Sigh” Lilith” and “Yes” were all complete songs that I’d recorded in my bedroom. “Yes” and “Sigh” has some of the original recordings still in them. But the other ones we re-recorded because Mike has better quality equipment. And then the other one, we made “Feelin” “Reverse,” and “Divine.” Actually, the first time he ever sent me beats, I just wanted to hear what he sounded like, he sent me like six and I picked that one and he was like, ‘oh that’s the one I specifically made hoping you would like it. I made that song in like an hour, I was so excited about it. We worked on the beats together, every one except I didn’t help with “Divine.”

Would you say that you’ve been able to make this business your pleasure? That seems like a huge balancing act.

Ness Nite: Definitely. I just think working with people that are invested in the whole thing is super important. I’m very particular about collaborating because I don’t actually enjoy it that much, because it’s hard for me to like…I wouldn’t say I’m controlling but I have a vision in what I want something to be like so sometimes I feel like it’s hard for me to fit in on somebody else is doing. I’m just really picky about…like if it sounds like something that already exists right now I don’t really want to. I want a lot of things to blow my mind. I’m just into people being really tight.

Why is creating music alone better than among other people?

Ness Nite: I have to be in a different mindset to work on something for someone else. Because a lot of my songs are so focused. There’s a lot of songs out there that are fun, but writing wise, they aren’t very focused. And I feel like with mine, I’m definitely trying to say something with it. It just really has to be the right people. I worked with Drelli, we’ve worked on a couple songs together lately and that was really fun. Sophia Eris and I are working on some stuff, and then other than Nick being on “Yes,” those are the only people I’ve really worked with lately. It very much depends on what being in a room with someone is like. I don’t like the trading over the internet, ‘here’s my verse.’If everyone’s in the same room it’s easier for me to work.

Who were your earliest musical influences?

Ness Nite: I think Kid Cudi for sure because his sound was so different and talking about things I cared about. Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was really into them. I thought Anthony Kiedis’ style was interesting, he kind of rapped.

He did, definitely.

Ness Nite: Yeah, so I really liked his writing style. I read his autobiography. My dad listened to such a variety of music in the car while I was little, like Outkast, Foreigner, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Fugees, Old Akon. I look back on it and it’s cool just to know I can relate to all these different sounds.

Are you a Prince fan?

Ness Nite: Since I’m not from here, it’s not like my family brought me up on Prince, but man, when he died it was one of the weirdest experiences for me, just to see a whole city grieving for this person. I didn’t want to claim any sadness about it, but it was just crazy to see how one person affected so many people. I respect that, and I respect his artistry, his innovation.

Will POW Presents be your first show on the west coast?

Ness Nite: Yeah, it will be my first show outside of Minneapolis. I haven’t even played at home or anything yet.

If you could choose one festival to headline, which would it be?

Ness Nite: Good question. I feel like Lollapalooza, but the Brazil one would be tight. There’s one in South America every year. I mean Chicago is cool, but I feel like going to South America would be real tight.

You’ve talked about making music from a place of wanting to hear something that doesn’t yet exist. What are some traits you feel like are absent in music right now? Or is it less about a message and more about specific sounds?

Ness Nite: I wouldn’t say that anything is absent and I’m like bringing it out of thin air, but I definitely just want women to feel super confident. And I don’t make songs that are like, ‘women, be confident!’ But through what I say I want to exude confidence and even if it’s a sad song, there’s still a sense of, I don’t really know how to describe it sometimes. People tell me, my friends, granted, that when they listen to my music, they feel empowered in a certain way.

I feel like it’s a mixture of bravery and vulnerability, especially given the “Yes” visual.

Ness Nite: I guess, I just want everyone to feel okay with themselves and what is happening around them. If there’s anything that I’ve been learning in my life it’s that circumstance can be so draining and discouraging. But if you’re okay with you, then you can make things not be so shitty around you. There’s always something you can do. It’s a mindset. I struggle with anxiety and depression too, so it’s a lot of…mind exercises.

[Co-Producer/Engineer Mike Frey enters]

Can you take me through one of your average nights?

Ness Nite: It can vary. I could be in bed at 9 pm, or I could be out until 5. The concept that Nite Time was based off of isn’t really my current night time experience. It was more from high school when I wouldn’t sleep very much and I’d go on walks at night. I would just be up at night, thinking about the things I want to say. Night time was like a state of being for me, like, ‘oh now it’s night time, so I’m going to think about all this shit.’ That’s kind of what Nite Time was, like who I am when I’m alone, the things that I want to say, but I don’t.

Have you ever had insomnia?

Ness Nite: Yeah, as like side effects of other stuff. I don’t have it anymore.

Who are some other local artists you’ve been listening to/supporting?

Ness Nite: I’m a fan of Allan Kingdom, I like Drelli, and Sophia Eris. And the stuff Lizzo is doing. I’m the # 1 Dizzy Fae fan.

What’s your favorite spot to eat at in Minneapolis?

Ness Nite: It depends on my mood. Ilike Sea Salt, a seafood restaurant by Minnehaha falls, their fried shrimp po’ boy is so good. I like World Street Kitchen a lot, Pimento.

Mike Frey: Los Ocampo on Lake St. and Chicago.

What’s your goal for this time, next year?

Ness Nite: I want to tour, I want to have my next project out, have some more videos out, be playing festivals.

I’m assuming you’re working on new music right now. Is there a project on the horizon?

Ness Nite: Yeah, we have a ton of stuff.

Mike Frey: I think we have 5 or 6 songs done. It’s timeline driven more than anything. Just looking at like, if we put it out at this time, how can we get to touring and festivals and capitalize on opportunities, instead of being too focused on the artistic side of it. Trying to be more strategic with the moves.

As a tri-racial musician, do you feel a responsibility for being a voice of that other than a white person?

Ness Nite: I always do want to stress that I’m not a white girl. Unless it has something to do with the artistic point, I’ll pretty much always have be working with people of color in my videos and music. I’m a rider for women, but especially women of color. As someone who’s white passing, I feel what others are going through, but don’t necessarily have to go through it. So I feel some kind of responsibility to speak out and stand up proud.

Mike Frey: Especially up here too, because the majority of your audience is white and I think without knowing your background, they identify with you as a fellow white person. Having that perspective, you feel responsible to show people that’s not always the case.

Ness Nite: For me it’s more about the authenticity, like I don’t want people to look at me and think, ‘oh there’s a white girl.’ I’m a mixed being.

Mike Frey: Everytime we play a show there’s someone that assumes she’s a white girl rapping, really. I think it’s cool because it actually creates an engagement between you and your audience. You’re not just a random thing, you’re human. You’ve humanized yourself as an artist very well, where a lot of people try to go the opposite direction.

Ness Nite: The only reason I get worked up about it is because I just want to be represented as what I am. I just want what is true to be out there. You can’t always control it.

Mike Frey: I think it might also just be a factor of where you’re at. It seems like everyone in Minnesota, the more popular artists, especially in hip hop, tend to be more of the white artists. It just seems like Minnesota, in general not related to music, loves their identity, and I feel like it’s a very white state, and they identify mainly with white people, and want that to be representative of their narrative. I don’t know exactly. I’m not from here, so I look at like an outsider too. I’m from Iowa, so I’m from a much less diverse place, but that was part of the reason I wanted to leave.

Ness Nite: I always do want to stress that I’m not a white girl. Unless it has something to do with the artistic point, I’ll pretty much always have be working with people of color in my videos and music. I’m a rider for women, but especially women of color. As someone who’s white passing, I feel what others are going through, but don’t necessarily have to go through it. So I feel some kind of responsibility to speak out and stand up proud.

Mike Frey: Especially up here too, because the majority of your audience is white and I think without knowing your background, they identify with you as a fellow white person. Having that perspective, you feel responsible to show people that’s not always the case.

Ness Nite: Right now there’s a scene here for sure, but I just feel like so much could be done here. I think there could be more industry here, and there should be because there’s so much talent. And not just in music. There’s definitely enough creative energy and talent to support an ecosystem of this.

Mike Frey: I look at it in terms of Chicago. Ten years ago had Twsita, Kanye, and Common. That was pretty much it. Do Or Die. But there was no industry out of there. Now how many rappers can you name? You could name 25 legitimate ones—

Ness Nite: And the kids coming out of Chicago now are awesome.

Mike Frey: They’ve built it up and now they see they don’t have to be local or regional rappers. There’s been people here for a while that could actually have careers, but for personal reasons it never worked out. But if there was some industry here I think it could have worked out. But I think it also stifles peoples’ creativity because they see Rhymesayers as like the ceiling. I’ve worked with a lot of people who that was their main goal. And to that point they start making music that will get them signed to Rhymesayers. It seems like a reverse engineered way of making music. In the 10 years that I’ve lived here they’ve signed, maybe 5 artists? It could be done here, I just feel like there’s something stopping it.

Ness Nite: It’s been cool though.

Mike Frey: Yeah in terms of acceptance it’s been a very welcoming place, a lot of people like us who aren’t from here.

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