Nisa Talks Debut Album: “It feels so great. It was such a catharsis to release it!” (5/12 at MilkBoy)

We first met Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Nisa – who described her sounds as, “genre-less music, leaning on pop, but not being tied to a genre.” – last February, while she...

We first met Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Nisa – who described her sounds as, “genre-less music, leaning on pop, but not being tied to a genre.” – last February, while she was on her first-ever tour, which included a stop at MilkBoy.  Although at the time Nisa only had EPs and singles under her belt, she told us that she was starting to incorporate songs from a forthcoming LP into her live sets.  That debut LP, Shapeshifting, dropped last Friday, courtesy of Tender Loving Empire, something that she tells me during a recent phone chat marked an important step in her career: “It feels so great.  It was such a catharsis to release it!  It’s really exciting to be talking about it and getting ready to share it live in like a week.”

Nisa is gearing up to kick off a four-date album release jaunt, which starts on May 7th at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn and concludes when she returns to MilkBoy on Sunday, May 12th, where she’ll be sharing headlining duties with local dream poppers Glitterspitter, with one of our phavorite Philthy singer/songwriters, Sophie Coran, handling opening duties.  “The setlist is gonna be a mix of album songs, older EP songs, and a secret cover song, which will make sense when you hear it,” she tells me of her live show on these upcoming dates.

Her debut full-length is Nisa’s first release for Portland-based label Tender Loving Empire, who she met when she was on the West Coast for some tour dates, but she tells me she’s already loving being part of that family: “Family is the right way to describe it!  They’re all wonderful individuals who have such a shared vision.”  She also says that she’s really grateful that the label gets what she’s trying to do with her music: “It can be difficult with music like this, because it’s weird, but we’re choosing to be weird.  It’s kind of weird to offer to a label a debut that’s not all singles [laughs].”

As far as how she reached the sounds found on Shapeshifting, Nisa explains that it was a bit different from previous releases, but she feels like it’s done a lot for her understanding of making music: “In terms of the recording process, it was the most out there for us.  With a lot of the EPs, we went in with some idea of how we wanted to do it, but for this one, we were kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall, with sound…  I learned so much in the process though and found new ways to bring out the songs.”

Shapeshifting has already gotten some noteworthy critical acclaim, with FLOOD Magazine saying, “The NYC-based artist’s debut is a shimmering pop record that takes on multiple forms.  Partly channeling the alt-rock energy of some of pop’s most forward-thinking artists… her commitment to building a sound that feels as though it singularly reflects Nisa’s world makes it an engrossing listen.”  Nisa tells me she was especially excited to see the blurb NPR’s Bob Boilen wrote about “Vertigo”: “I grew up listening to Tiny Desk!”  However, she says she may be most grateful for the reactions from fans themselves: “It’s great hearing fans talk to me in person and tell me about how they like a song, and that they didn’t expect to hear a certain type of song, based on the last single.”

“Dance Alone” is the most recent single off of Shapeshifting, which dropped just a few days before the album itself.  Nisa tells me that the song came about when she was listening to a lot of Niki & The Dove and creating a batch of dancier tracks, about half of which can be found on the album.  “It’s a song about loving to witness someone who feels totally free of self-consciousness, and not being jealous, but just admiring it,” she explains of the narrative.  She also tells me that the song’s origins have a particularly amusing story: “I remember I was in Boston, and I had been stuck for two weeks because of the snow, and I was in my sister’s boyfriend’s parents’ house [laughs].”

The last time Nisa and I spoke, we fell into a fairly deep discussion of cinema.  I found out that she spent some time in college studying cinema, both the art of making moving images (which explains having a number of amazing music videos even before having a full-length album) and of appreciating important works of cinema (At the time she had just gotten a Criterion subscription for her birthday and was currently doing a deep dive into Varda, Rohmer, and Kieslowski.)

Even prior to the release of Shapeshifting, Nisa had dropped a number of official visualizers for album tracks, in addition to official music videos for “Smokescreen” and “Dreamspeak.”  “Those two songs kind of felt like they flowed into one and other,” she tells me, going on to explain, “I was working with a good friend of mine, Rhianna Hajduch, who has a really deep connection to nature and the built world…  I love how she interprets the world through film,” before adding, “There were a lot of people involved, who had different visions that all came together in a really wonderful way…  It all felt very Kate Bush, which I love.”  I also ask Nisa if she’s seen any especially inspiring films recently and she tells me that she has, and they’re a mix of “classics” and things currently showing in a theatre near you.

“Something that I saw for the first time, which was very disturbing, but in a positive way, is Oldboy.  Although nobody told me about watching it at 10pm and then getting on the subway at like 2, after watching the ending [laughs].  And I also just saw In The Mood for Love, and I was so drawn to the colors and music…  And I just saw Challengers a few days ago, and it was really good!  I would recommend checking it out!  I also just went to see Civil War right before that, because I’m a huge Alex Garland fan, and it was so weird seeing that right before Challengers, because they’re so different, but both really great!”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.