INTERVIEW: NIKI on her first full-length album ‘MOONCHILD’

We caught up with Indonesian singer NIKI for a follow-up interview after the release of her highly-anticipated concept album MOONCHILD.

Nicole Zefanya, better known as NIKI, has finally released her ambitious debut album MOONCHILD and it is unlike anything else the Indonesian singer has crafted so far.

Out via 88rising, MOONCHILD is a ten-song introspective album that details NIKI’s own journey of self-discovery as an artist. Whereas her previous albums were about love, MOONCHILD is about the self, and explores themes of youth, empowerment and identity.

Also read: NIKI releases her ambitious debut album ‘MOONCHILD’

Two years in the making, the record is described as a ‘sonic allegory’, and is divided into three parts, or lunar phases: crescent moon (innocence, curiosity, embarking), half-moon/eclipse (loss of hope, disillusionment) and full moon (self-discovery, strength).

Speaking of MOONCHILD, NIKI explains:

“The word “Moonchild” came to me when I was going through a phase of staying up at ungodly hours of the night strictly to write music. I realized how much more energized and stimulated I felt at night compared to the day, and I referred to myself as a “child of the moon” because of it. I began imagining an entire, fictional universe in my head. Bringing those stories to life was a rollercoaster! I let go of any and all preconceived notions, rules and limitations I felt bound to and let my creativity take the wheel in any direction. You wouldn’t believe the mental gymnastics I put myself through to get this album to where it is now.” 

The album features collaborators such as producer/writer Jacob Ray, the producer collective Bekon & the Donuts (Kendrick Lamar, SZA), and Montreal producer Pomo (Anderson .Paak, Mac Miller).

We first interviewed NIKI back in April after the release of her music video for the album’s first single ‘Switchblade’. In that interview, she explained the idea behind the concept as well as the visual elements presented throughout ‘Switchblade’ and what can expect from the project.

The song, which was a part of Phase One of the album, was then followed by the smooth jazz tune ‘Selene’ in July and the emotional piano ballad ‘Lose’ last month. The latter is a part of Phase Two of the album, and the music video has garnered over six million views on YouTube at the time of writing.

Fast forward to September. The album is finally released and fans have finally got to experience the story the singer had longed to tell. We catch up with NIKI for a second interview after the release of MOONCHILD.

AL365: Hi NIKI, this is Nicky from AsiaLive365. This is actually our second interview together, I interviewed you back in April after the release of your first single for the album, ‘Switchblade’.

NIKI: Oh really? Oh yes! Okay, I know what we’re talking about! That’s awesome.

AL365: Okay great, that was in April, and now here we are in September. Congratulations! The album’s finally out! So how do you feel now that your “storybook” album is released, in what is perhaps known as your most ambitious project so far?

NIKI: Thank you! It still feels surreal. I have toiled over it for two years. I’m still processing every moment as it passes but I’m very, very grateful and super humbled by the reactions and reception. It was just so great to see that a lot of people resonate with it and love it. I’m really, really happy.

Also read: 88rising’s NIKI discusses new single ‘Switchblade’

AL365: It was a very long wait in my opinion. This whole year we’ve gone through a lot of events such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Did those affect the production schedule of the album in any way?

NIKI: Yes and no. Again, the album’s been in progress for two years. Yes, in terms of everything we had to do this year, obviously things happened and we were like “Oh okay. (laughs).” But my short and sweet answer would be yes and no.

AL365: Was there more you could have done in terms of content with the album?

NIKI: Yes, but I could say that for every project. I think there is just boundless creativity and boundless opportunities all the time. With this album, I felt in my bones that it was done because I felt the narrative was complete. There absolutely was more that I could have done but I’m happy with the result as it is. I wouldn’t add or change anything honestly.

AL365: You said the album is a sonic allegory. I went through the album a couple of times and there definitely is a story structure to it from beginning to end. You can tell the tone changes throughout the album’s three lunar phases.

The second phase, which features the tracks ‘Tide’, ‘Pandemonium’, and ‘Lose’, is my favorite part as I feel there is a lot of intensity in emotion and vulnerability. Was it emotionally taxing for you? How was the experience like?

NIKI: Yes, you’re right phase two of the album was the darkest and most intense part of the album. But all three phases were emotionally taxing just because you invest a lot in yourself equally. Every song was an emotional experience for me, and writing the songs was very cathartic.

AL365: In MOONCHILD, at least in the beginning, the first phase symbolizes your move to the US as a person from Indonesia. I think that resonates with a lot of people who’s gone through the same sort of experience. They’re known as third culture kids, those who are finding their identity in a place that isn’t their home. Do you feel that it’s important that your music serves as a platform to represent Asia?

NIKI: Yes! I think not just my music, but myself. The reason that I’m so outspoken about where I’m from and my experiences is because I never really saw myself on screen when I was young. It’s important for me that other Asian girls and boys out there can see me, and I hope that what I am to them is what I wish I had growing up. This album describes what I went through in a metaphorical manner. Me being Indonesian is super important to me, and that is the core of what I represent.

AL365: The main focus of phase two would have to be ‘Lose’. It’s where the album reaches this climax in terms of emotion. The music video for the song shows you dancing with your shadow. It represents the self, and in the story, your guardian The Moon.

Some fans seem to think the song is more about heartbreak, but I remember you’ve mentioned that the Moon also represents your homeland and heritage. Do you think you could elaborate on that?

NIKI: The Moon is there to symbolize whatever you want it to symbolize (laughs). It’s kind of a big answer but the whole point with this album was for it to be super open-ended. Those are the kind of works that I’m personally drawn to. The works that make you think a little bit, make you dig deeper versus reading lyrics that are rooted in reality and are very conversational which a lot of my past works have been by the way.

With this project, I wanted it to be super figurative where people are like “What and who is this about?” and they figure it out on their own. Sure, for some fans it’s about somebody. For others, it’s about a ballad or lament to themselves.

For some people, the Moon means God. For others, it’s about family, your mom, dad, whoever. I think that’s what’s so awesome about this album. One of the things I’m so proud of, it’s just so open. Ilove reading everyone’s analyses of the album. It’s super fun, and it’s honestly one of my favorite pastimes recently (laughs).

AL365: Could you tell us what has been the most interesting analysis a fan has said about the album?

NIKI: I don’t wanna out my fans but I’ve read some interesting ones, and some really dark ones that just went over my head like “OH MY GOSH, I don’t know about that!” (laughs). I love my fans because they are some of the most awesome, smart, quick-on-their-feet people that I’ve ever met. All these little Easter eggs that they find that make them go “Oh, what does she mean by that?” or “Oh did you guys see this?” I love it! They’re super analytical and super smart, and sometimes I feel like they outsmart me when I read something like “Oh my god, YOU should write the album!” (laughs). It’s been dope.

AL365: You’ve said that genres don’t really matter to you anymore, considering you’ve started out as an R&B artist, but the album takes a lot of influences from various music genres. What were some of your influences you’ve looked up to outside of your comfort zone?

NIKI: This is the album where I let my creativity take charge. It’s really interesting to see people, just right off the bat, draw comparisons between other projects and songs that they know. I think that’s a great reflection of how humans love to label things because humans love structure and order. When something doesn’t make sense or when something is a little different, it automatically reminds them of something they know.

For this album, I genuinely didn’t listen to anything or anybody. I’ve never said like “Hey, let’s try to do a song like this person or let’s do this kind of genre.” I was figuring out things like “What do I wanna say? How do I wanna say it? What does this song need to be there for?” And that’s just how I ran with it. Thankfully, I’ve worked with collaborators that had the musical juices to fill up the whole galaxy and helped me make that happen. I honestly didn’t really draw from any other musical inspirations this time around, I just went with the flow every time I was in the studio.

AL365: Let’s go back to the music video for ‘Lose’ which serves as a sequel to the music video for ‘Switchblade’. How was the creative process like?

NIKI: So for the video, it’s a bit different because it’s not my forte to come up with visual art. Thankfully, my collaborators for this project was the backbone of it all. I worked with a director called Tom Teller. With ‘Lose’, I told him “Look, this song to me is about the internal dialogue that happens between me, myself and I. How do we portray that visually?” And we also thought, “Where does Moonchild go after ‘Switchblade’ after when she falls?” There was all this discussion, and then we arrived to the idea of intimate dancing alone in a black box and just singing your heart out because I felt like that’s what the song demanded. We could have gone for an elaborate setup but we chose to do that because that’s what embodies the song and what I prioritize behind the meaning of it.

In terms of the shadow, I drew inspiration from Peter Pan because it was one of my favorite Disney movies. One of my favorite scenes was when he was trying to catch his shadow. Ever since I was little, it just really stuck with me. As you grow up, you realize it could be a symbol for wrestling with yourself.

AL365: You’ve also held a Duet challenge for the song on TikTok, where fans could singalong to ‘Lose’ with you. Let’s talk about Rich Brian actually crying to the song on TikTok! What was that all about?

NIKI: (Laughs). I honestly wish I could tell you, that was not at all planned. I literally just woke up to that (laughs) so he probably must have decided to do that on his own accord. I thought it was freaking hilarious. I texted him privately “Dude are you good, bro?” and he was like “Nah, it was all jokes.” It’s so funny how some of the people in the comments were like “Is he okay, somebody give him a hug!” Somebody thought it was for real. I honestly wish I could tell you but literally I don’t know (laughs).

AL365: What’s in store for you in the future?

NIKI: What’s in store for me? You know, raising my dog. Continuing to promote MOONCHILD. Hopefully a tour at some point where the whole world heals up a little bit.

AL365: Thank you NIKI for taking the time to answer my questions!

NIKI: Thank you! I appreciate it. Bye!

Prior to publishing the interview, NIKI has released the music video for ‘Plot Twist’, the song that opens up Phase Three of the cohesive concept album, and rounds out the entirety of the project. We’re happy to say that what NIKI has produced with the project shows her versatility as an artist, and can’t wait to see what else in store for the talented singer!

Listen to MOONCHILD on Spotify below.

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