Niko Walters' sophomore album White Flag Waves is the follow-up to his 2020 debut Escape and sees the singer-songwriter share what has been described as some of his most vulnerable material to date. After a frustrating few Covid-affected years, Walters is hitting the road in support of the album. We throw 10 questions at him to find out more.
Describe yourself as an artist in one sentence.
I am an authentic pop, soul and alternative artist that thrives off creating beautiful sound and poetry that gives people something to feel and connect with.
How have the events of the past few years affected your ability to create and perform music?
They have been a literal nightmare in creating and performing music. It's actually been really difficult as an artist you want to release your work to the best of your ability — that requires face to face connection. Also you want to perform this art you've put so much work into with your fans and that's been tough not to be able to do that. So in short it's been hard and it sucks big time.
Your new album White Flag Waves is out now. In what ways does it mirror your first record, and how does it differ?
It evolves from my first record. It reflects a completely different time and space that I was in. Escape was more "hey this is me, having fun and expressing myself". White Flag Waves is the same but it goes deeper. It captures a time where I was doing some real self-discovery work and the record comes from that internal exploration.
Tell us a little about the name and theme of the album.
White Flag Waves is a metaphor for surrendering. Throwing in the towel, handing over, accepting. These principles are things I have been exercising a lot. I realised I was fighting a battle in my head. And after some self-work I discovered the power of letting go — rather than fighting the rocks and obstacles down the river, flow with the water and let it guide you around the rocks which it naturally does.
This notion of going with the flow more and surrendering was a huge epiphany for me and one that I practice daily with meditation and journaling. It was a big part of me writing this record. Letting go of expectations and pressures and trusting my intuition to create music I love and believe in, and letting go of trying to control the outcome (which is impossible). All you can do is your best. And what happens after that is out of our hands and will be what it will be So White Flag Waves is a metaphor for all of that.
Which is your favourite of your own songs and why?
Soooo hard. I love them all and it's like picking a favourite child. Vicious Love is probably my favourite as a music fan. I love listening to it and could on repeat. Drop In The Ocean is a special one that I'm proud of. It was written in one take as a freestyle. Like a pure stream of consciousness that just came out of me — and it's deep, personal and real. So it's special for me on a personal level. Also Stay the Same I just looove the vibe of it — I can't help but dance to my own sh*t when that plays hahahaha.
What advice would you give a young songwriter looking for inspiration?
Dig deep in to what you're feeling and thinking. Write that down and go from there. Sometimes those can be your lyrics. KEEP IT SIMPLE — don't overthink it — sometimes less is more. Work with other people. I journal everyday which helps. Listen to A LOT of music — all types. Read poetry. Write, write, write and write quite literally — then look at it and think "how can I make this more interesting for people?" I could go on and on but hopefully there's some help in there.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Being at the top of my game. Potentially living in the states with a family. Continuing to do what I love and make music and be up there with the top artists in the world.
What's the best thing about the New Zealand music industry? And the one thing you'd change/fix?
It's a small and friendly industry. Not a lot of big egos here which is cool — everyone's so keen to work together and support each other. One thing I'd change is the classic tall poppy syndrome. People are there when you start and support the hell out of you, but once you get some success, people tend to pull you back down.
We don't really like our people being successful for some reason which is sad — I think it's a cultural thing. Stay a humble Kiwi and don't try too hard because it's not modest and you look like a try hard". People in other countries (USA for example) are the opposite — they hustle, "trying hard is admired"and they back themselves and it's encouraged by people.
What one great song by another artist do you wish you'd written and why?
I get this feeling a lot. I wish I had written "Landslide"by Stevie Nicks covered by the Dixie Chicks. It's such a beautiful song lyrical and composition wise. It's a fam favourite and I just think it's pure genius.
You're curating a post-pandemic festival — who's on the bill, alive or dead?
OK! SO we start opening up with some chill vibe neo soul — Lauren Hill and D'Angelo are playing their old stuff to loosen up the crowd. The Beatles and Prince are coming in for old times. Then ASAP Rocky and the mob, Frank Ocean and Kanye West bring the energy. I am kinda frothing right now as I'm writing this while imagining that show. Sh*t.
• Niko Walters' tour kicks off in Christchurch on May 5, before hitting Wellington on May 6 and Auckland on May 7. Tickets from Moshtix.