EXCLUSIVE Interview with Canadian singer Nikki Yanofsky

Nikki Yanofsky talks about her debut album

It’s an exciting time for Canadian-born singer Nikki Yanofsky. She performed two headlining shows this summer at the world’s largest jazz festival in Montreal (the fifth time she has performed there), she was picked by songwriters Alan Frew and Stephan Moccio to record the CTV’s 2010 Winter Olympics broadcast theme “I Believe,” she was chosen to sing the Canadian National Anthem before millions of television viewers at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies and her debut studio album is due out this spring with songwriting help from the likes of Ron Sexsmith, Jesse Harris and Feist and production by the legendary Phil Ramone. Oh, and in a couple months she will be finishing up the 10th grade.

That’s right, Nikki Yanofsky is 15 years old. The young prodigy made her first big splash in her hometown of Montreal in 2006, playing for a crowd of more than 100,000 people at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Since that time, the versatile vocalist has appeared on the Ella Fitzgerald tribute CD We All Love Ella: Celebrating the First Lady of Song, recorded “Stompin’ at the Savoy” with Herbie Hancock and Will.I.Am, released a concert CD/DVD title Ella… Of Thee I Swing, recorded “Gotta Go My Own Way” for Disney’s “High School the Musical 2” soundtrack, and performed at such storied venues as The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and Tokyo’s Kabuki-za.

Here is Nikki covering the Norah Jones hit “I Don’t Know Why” written by Jesse Harris, who also helped write a number of the songs on Nikki’s upcoming debut CD. (He can be seen playing guitar in the video)

Everything seems to be lining up for the talented young star, and we were excited to have an opportunity to talk with Nikki shortly before she explodes onto the popular music landscape with her release later this spring.

Starcasm: Does the new album have a title yet?

Nikki: We’ve been discussing a bunch of different titles, but I think that we’re going to call it Nikki – a self-titled first album and then maybe the next one we’ll have an actual name for it.

Starcasm: Are there plans for a tour?

Nikki: Yes, we’ve been in discussion about that – either a tour in the U.S. or maybe even Europe, but nothing is set in stone until it actually happens in this business. But yes, we’re definitely in discussion about the tour.

Starcasm: So what do you like to do in the rare times you aren’t in school or working on you music career?

Nikki: Music doesn’t feel like work because that’s what I do in my spare time anyway. (laughs) So even in my spare time I’ll be either singing or playing on the guitar or piano or listening to music. I also hang out with my friends. I like making funny videos for youtube with my friend – we have a blog!

Starcasm: Are those up now?

Nikki: Yeah! I have a channel called NikkiYanofsky’s Channel and there’s a bunch of different videos I made.

* Here’s Nikki and her friend Erin swingin’ to Beyonce!

Starcasm: I heard you say in your interview with NBC’s Brian Williams that you like to try to keep your professional and school life separate. Although your abilities clearly put you in a class above just a teen pop princess, do you sometimes feel like you have two identities like Hannah Montana? Maybe Ella Montana?

Nikki: (Laughs) The difference with Hannah Montana is that the people on the show have no idea. But in school, even if I don’t say anything, they know that I sing. I don’t know if they know the whole extent of it, but they know what I’m up to because when I’m not in school I come back and they ask, “Hey Nikki, where were you?” They’re definitely interested and they’re very supportive and I never really feel like I’m balancing two lives because it all just kind of flows very naturally.

Starcasm: When your professional career takes off and starts gobbling up even more of your time year round, will leaving high school and getting your education on the road be an option?

Nikki: I’ve toured a lot actually. I’m barely ever in school, but the good thing about my school is that they are very supportive. It’s kind of an artsy school so when I’m on the road I’m able to take the work that I would do in school and do it by myself on the road. Then, when I come back, I’m all caught up and everything. I’m trying to stay in school as long as I possibly can so when I am home and can go I can sort of maintain a normal life. In Canada it goes differently, we only go to grade eleven for high school so I’ll be done next year.

Starcasm: The recent advances in technology have allowed for audiences to be exposed to a wide variety of music styles, and there seems to have been a jazz vocalist revival of sorts – not only with the older performers like Ella and Billie, but with new singers like Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot and Norah Jones. Are there any contemporary performers who have had a major influence on the making of the new album?

Nikki: I love jazz but I don’t consider myself a jazz singer because I think that I’m going to want to sing everything throughout my career – and that’s what you can hear on the album. You can definitely hear a lot of my jazz influences, but on more of the original songs its pop and R&B kind of stuff, and on some there’s more of a jivey kind of French Bistro sort of vibe. It’s very eclectic, the album has a bunch of different genres. You definitely hear my influences from the pop world and you always hear my influences from the jazz world. There’s going to be a bunch of different stuff on the album.

* Demonstrating her diverse taste and talents, here is Nikki Yanofsky performing Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” for a rain-drenched crowd during the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival:

Starcasm: Will there be any “guest stars” on the new album?

Nikki: Jesse Harris plays guitar on a lot of the tracks and he also co-wrote most of the songs with me and Ron Sexsmith. And also we got a really, really cool band! We got musicians like Larry Goldings, whose playing on the piano and the accordion actually on one of the songs.

Starcasm: Alright!

Nikki: Yeah! We got a really cool sound with the band that we chose.

Starcasm: How is it working with legendary producer Phil Ramone?

Nikki: Honestly, considering the amount that he has done in his career, you would expect him to be kind of “all-knowing,” you know? Someone who almost has the right to be egotistical. But he is SO the opposite, so down-to-earth and one of the most amazing people to work with in the studio because he makes you feel so comfortable – you really know what you’re supposed to do and he kind of gently pushes you in the direction that he wants you to go in. I’m just so glad to have him on board and be able to work with him.

Nikki Yanofsky

Starcasm: You mentioned that you co-wrote some of the songs on the album. How long have you been writing songs and what do you usually find yourself writing about?

Nikki: I’ve been writing poetry since grade five, since I was eleven. I love the concept that you can make something from nothing, which is why I love writing songs so much, because it really comes from air, you know? You just make something up. I think that’s such a cool concept that you can make a melody and make a song out of it. I’ve always been interested in writing songs and I’ve written a couple songs on my own, but I also love collaborating with different artists because they can bring things you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of on your own. That’s why I loved working with Jesse Harris and Ron Sexsmith. As far as what I write about, I find myself writing about anything that comes to mind, whether it be talking about a friend or talking about a love song. Anything that’s on my mind is something I’ll write about.

Beatles complete catalog on 16 GB USB driveStarcasm: You mentioned your diverse musical tastes earlier. So, what’s been playing on your iPod lately?

Nikki: Have you heard of that little apple that has a USB stick with all the Beatles songs in history?

Starcasm: Oh yeah!

Nikki: (laughs) Because I got that and so I’ve been listening to all these Beatles songs that I hadn’t heard before. So, definitely a lot of Beatles right now!

Starcasm: When you win the 2010 MTV Video Music Award for Best Female Video how do you plan to keep Kanye West at bay?

Nikki: (laughs) You know, I think Taylor Swift handled herself really well in that situation. She didn’t try to do too much and everything kind of fell in place. I’d probably do the same thing.

Starcasm: One final question we’re obligated to ask. Team Jacob or Team Edward?

Nikki: Team Edward all the way!

Starcasm: That’s what I thought! I think I read somewhere you even asked Robert Pattinson to the Juno Awards, is that right?

Nikki: I love him!

* As a special token of our appreciation to Nikki, we dug up this photo of Twilight star Robert Pattinson, for whom the feelings are obviously mutual! What else could “NY” stand for other than Nikki Yanofsky?!?

Robert Pattinson loves Nikki Yanofsky!

Well there you have it folks! I’d like to thank Nikki Yanofsky for taking time out of what must be an unbelievably hectic schedule right now to talk with us. We look forward to her debut release and I will update this post as soon as an official date is set! Until then, you can find out more about Nikki at these links:

Nikki’s web site: NikkiOnline.ca
Myspace: myspace.com/nikkiyanofsky
Fashion article in Women’s Wear Daily

I’ll wrap things up on a fun note. Here is Nikki and Wyclef Jean singing “Electric City” for the popular PBS children’s series The Electric Company:

Just in case I missed something, here is Nikki’s 411 from her label:

As you are making your early 2010 coverage plans, beautiful teenage Canadian vocalist Nikki Yanofsky needs to be at the top of your list. Heralded as a “young Ella Fitzgerald, with poise, polish, nuance and artistry” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), you’re certain to hear/read about Yanofsky in the coming months. Here’s why:

• Produced by Phil Ramone and Jesse Harris (of Norah Jones fame), Yanofsky’s Decca debut will be out first quarter 2010 and features the star’s songwriting collaborations with both Harris and famed Canadian songwriter Ron Sexsmith, in addition to an original song written for her by Feist. Paying homage to her jazz upbringing, the album will also spotlight unique arrangements of standards with her big band, an original song that Yanofsky wrote for Ella Fitzgerald entitled “First Lady”, and the classic Joni Mitchell song “Circle Game.”

• Yanofsky will star in a PBS concert special, which will tape on November 11th in her hometown of Montreal. The special will broadcast nationally on PBS affiliates during the March 2010 pledge drive and will also be available for purchase on DVD.

• Yanofsky has already shared the stage with multi-award composer Marvin Hamlisch, performed with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra and collaborated with Wyclef Jean.

• Yanofsky is the youngest performer ever to headline her own show in the history of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, which she did at age 12.

• Yanofsky will kick off a U.S. tour next spring. Of Yanofsky’s live performance, the Washington Post declared “Yanofsky… stunned the crowd with her vocal maturity….she’s something else, with a bright, pitch-perfect voice…”

• In 2008, Yanofsky made her Canadian debut with ‘Ella… Of Thee I Swing,’ a live CD/DVD tribute to her musical idol, Ella Fitzgerald. Certified Gold, ‘Ella…’ was nominated for two Juno Awards, and the DVD documentary “Nikki: Beginnings” won a Gemini Award – the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy. All at the age of 13, making Yanofsky the youngest nominee in Juno Awards history.

“Her gift is in channeling the voices and spirits of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and Judy Garland, among others…not even the experts can understand it.”– Montreal Gazette

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