Niykee Heaton On Breaking All The Rules & New Music: Interview
Niykee Heaton didn’t so much throw away the rulebook in 2015 as set it on fire and hurl it off the roof of a very tall building. When communication broke down with her record label, the 21-year-old decided to go it alone. As in write, record and produce everything by herself and then deliver those demos directly to fans via SoundCloud. As for PR? Well, she proved to be something of a savant at that too — skillfully raising her profile with an endless stream sexy Instagram pics.
The rising star’s smartest move, however, was taking fans along for the ride. She shared every step of her journey via social media, introduced us to her manager/BFF Lauren Pisciotta and spent hours meeting NBK (supporters) after shows on her self-financed Bedroom Tour. That resulted in an unprecedented level of engagement. After patching things up with her label, Niykee dropped The Bedroom Tour Playlist with little fanfare and promptly soared into the iTunes top 5 — a staggering result for a collection of songs that had been available online for almost a year.
I recently caught up with pop’s enfant terrible to find out more about her DIY (in every sense of the word) success and uneasy return to the major-label fold. Niykee opened up about future projects — The Bedroom Tour Playlist will be released on vinyl, for starters — and new music. She also talked about her sexy image, the preconceptions that go along with it and her end-goal of conquering the music business on her own terms. Get to know the “Bad Intentions” hitmaker a little better in our Q&A below.
Were you shocked by how well The Bedroom Tour Playlist did?
Yeah. I honestly didn’t expect to chart at all. The first day or two, when I was above Adele, Justin Bieber and Rihanna… that was fucking insane.
It wasn’t even promoted.
Yeah it was pretty much just put out. They did like one ad. If it would have been promoted like a real album, imagine what it could have done. It probably could have hit number one. We were just worried that if we didn’t put the songs out right now, then we would never put them out because I had already moved on.
And then the “Bad Intentions” remix blew up.
I’m excited and grateful, it’s just that “Bad Intentions” came out three years ago and no one did anything with it then but people loved it. So now I’m just like, “Fucking finally.” Whatever gets people interested in my music.
The video is amazing.
Yeah, [the label] tried to rush us into doing a video as soon as they realized people were reacting to it. They were like, “Okay we have to shoot a video like tomorrow.” But for me, we haven’t really put out a real music video. “Lullaby” was shot on an iPhone. I didn’t want to put out a C-rate bullshit video and have people say, “Oh you’ve been around for how long and this is your first major release?” I want my first video to be groundbreaking not just slapped together last minute. I wrote the treatment myself.
More than anything, I have to maintain quality control. We’re putting a vinyl out of The Bedroom Tour Playlist. It’s going to be in Urban Outfitters, which is awesome. But they’re literally like, “Hey, can you tell us what you want your vinyl to look like? Thanks.” I’m like, “Wait. This is supposed to be a special process.” It’s a huge deal. It’s something I want to take time with and make sure it’s amazing.
I think that’s where we fucked up the first time. They were rushing us to do things and we thought we had to, so the Bad Intentions EP turned out like shit.
I’m excited about the vinyl. I’m imagining the cover.
[Laughs]. I also want to put out a cassette tape, I don’t care. I like old shit. I feel like for a summer project we should put like five songs on cassette and make custom Walkmans for it.
It sounds like you’re on much better terms with the label. How did that happen?
I went from being with a label to literally nothing. I mean not even like them ignoring us but actually nothing. It went to zero — no contact, no nothing. And it was like that for a very long time and it wasn’t until halfway during The Bedroom Tour that the EVP from Capitol, who was in New York, came to one of my shows and Lauren’s like, “Okay this is someone from Capitol.” And I was like, “Why the fuck is he here? Get him out. Fuck Capitol, fuck everything.”
And she’s like, “Just be nice. He is the EVP and he’s from the New York office.” And I was like, “All right, fine.” And he came and he was so impressed by everything, he was so impressed by the tour. He didn’t have anything to do with the problems that were previously happening that the first time around and he just wanted to fix things, so I gave him a chance and I feel like it was just a completely different situation and a completely different relationship. It just felt right giving, I guess Capitol, a second chance. No, giving Scott Greer a second chance.
The relationship was revived and brought back to life because of him and so we’re still slowly gaining, or establishing trust with the entire label and I’m not sure if it will ever get to that point where I actually trust them completely, but that’s the whole reason that we’re back in contact and everything’s happening is because we met Scott Greer.
Whose idea was it to release The Bedroom Tour Playlist?
We were going to put the songs out no matter what. After the success of the tour, the label was like, “We need to keep going with the momentum, we need to feed the fans.” They were like, “Let’s put out a project, how about you put out your first album?” I was like, “Woah, no. I don’t want my first album to be rushed. I want to tour more, do so many other things before we put out a real album.
They were anxious to put out a project. I don’t know whose idea it was, but it made sense because my fans fought with me through all the bullshit that we went through and they could never purchase all of these songs on iTunes. It was kind of like, “Hey, look what we did together, finally I’m being treated like a real artist you can buy my shit on a real platform.” I didn’t want it to be misconstrued as my first album, so I made sure to call it a playlist.
It’s just a little gift. I don’t want to put out my album until it’s a fucking masterpiece and it can be pushed the way it should be pushed and it will sit at number one for two months.
Will you work with different producers now or keep doing everything yourself?
I mean, I feel like I’ve grown to love doing everything myself. Before it was out of necessity. I had beats from no one else, so I had to produce everything by myself. But then it kind of turned into, well thank god that happened to me. Thank god I had to provide for myself because it taught me, firstly, how to do it and secondly, I realized how much I loved it. Being able to create something from scratch that is 100 percent me was not only so validating and ego-boosting, but I was finally able to give the perfect representation of what I’ve always wanted people to hear.
But I am totally open to working with producers and I feel like there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. I still love having random beats sent to me that I can fuck with, that just provides new inspiration. And I love to collaborate with other producers but because I want to, not because the label is forcing me to.
Your skill as a producer is underrated. All the songs on The Playlist are great.
Thank you and I’m continuing to get better. One of the first beats I ever made was “Woosah” and you can tell it’s so underproduced. You can tell that’s the first song I ever made. And then going from that to the shit I’m making right now… it’s like two different worlds. And I just keep getting better and better and better and it’s so exciting that I’m progressing as a producer. I’m going to keep doing it obviously. It’s really cool.
How did you choose the songs? Some fans were wondering why a song like “The Best Thing Ever” didn’t make it.
I wanted to put out all the songs I did on tour, but then we ran into problems with the songs I didn’t produce, so “Best Thing Ever” and “Ain’t No Us.” I just wanted to put it out quickly and I didn’t have time, so I just cut those because I didn’t have time to deal with the producer agreements. I was like, “Fuck it just cut them.” And so then I added, “Dream Team,” “Nexus” and “One Time” just to fill in those spots.
Was there an overwhelming sense of relief when it finally dropped?
We didn’t even realize it dropped. We didn’t celebrate. So it wasn’t even like, “Oh finally it’s out thank god.” We were already over it. I think it took a couple weeks and then we’re like, “Oh shit my music is out, that’s cool thank god we can move on and work on the next shit.” But yeah, we were under so much stress and pressure we didn’t even really get to throw ourselves a release party.
Do you feel like you had the last laugh?
I mean the little kid side of me… totally. I’m like, “Look what I did, guess you fucked up.” Because they told me that I was never going to have any sort of fan base especially not a female fan base, they said I couldn’t write my own songs, that I would never be successful. So I’m very proud to be like, “look what I did, look what we accomplished.”
But the other side of me that I think has grown up in this music industry, was almost, I almost just didn’t care, like whatever. I don’t even have to seek revenge or shove it in their faces because obviously they know and the world knows that they fucked up so I don’t even have to tell them.
How’s the new music coming?
I had stopped making music. When I was on tour, I didn’t have time to produce. But as soon as that was over, I got back to being on Logic, so I’ve been making music since January. I feel like we have a bunch of shit that I’ve started and it has a lot of potential. So honestly, if they were like, “Hey you need to have a whole project ready by the end of next month,” I would be able to. I have so much shit just because I’ve been continuously working.
How long until we hear something new?
I don’t know. Maybe we’ll put out a song or something this summer, maybe we’ll put out a small project but we’ll definitely put out a project end of summer going into fall because we plan on touring in the fall and we’d love to tour with a new project. But in between that, we definitely want to put out new music I just don’t know exactly the plan yet.
You’re so connected. Have you thought about doing a feature?
Honestly, no one has approached me and I’m never going to ask for favors. The only reason “Bad Intentions” happened is because it was facilitated outside of me and Lauren, and it just kind of happened. I’m never going to go out and seek these things, everything has to happen organically. If 2 Chainz really wants me on his song, he’ll have to make that happen but we’re not going to go out of our way to chase people down or do things like that. At the end of the day, I honestly don’t care if I ever have another feature because it’s my music and I feel like I don’t need other people to bring that out.
Have you noticed a change in the way your music is being perceived?
I’ve noticed it a little bit and that’s been cool. A few blogs have been like, “Oh wow the Instagram goddess put out a playlist of music and it’s actually not that bad.” I noticed a little bit of a change, but I feel like the general perception of me that people have had all along is going to be a stigma that’s a little bit harder to shake off. It’s going to be an ongoing struggle and that’s something that we’ve always been prepared for and always known but it’s cool being taken a little bit more seriously but it’s going to be a long fight.
I feel like even if I fucking wrote a song for Adele and it went number one and I won a Grammy or 30 Grammys, people are always going to find a way to discredit me no matter what. Even if I won a Nobel Peace Prize or ended the fucking world war they would sill find a way to be like, “Oh well, she’s just a hoe on Instagram.” So it’s like no matter what, that’s always going to be the stigma attached to me unless I fucking gain 300 pounds and start wearing a cape everywhere and then they’re like, “Oh maybe I’ll take her seriously because she’s not hot anymore.”
Do you think people have any idea how radical, in terms of breaking all the rules, your journey has been?
I’ve felt that way all along and it was just a matter of why does no one else see what we’re doing? I’ve said that for years, does no one else realize what the fuck we’re doing?
Where do you see yourself a year from now?
I mean, I would hope that my music is on a whole different level. I would hope that I would be the one with the number one single, that I would be asked to be the performer at the Grammys or something like that. For me, I don’t care about going to awards shows or being nominated or being in all these places. That’s actually the side of things that turns me off about being a musician. That doesn’t mean shit to me. I would just hope that I’m more well-known because of my music. I would hope that my music just reaches every corner of the earth by then, that’s all I really care about and that’s all I’ve ever cared about, is my music to be heard.