“My journey was just starting ten years ago,” Nakia said.
On January 29th 2011, the Austin songwriter went to an in-person audition for ‘The Voice’ in the Texan city following a specific request from one of the show’s producers.
To say his success began then is not quite right - he was playing solo piano shows in the early 2000s, and played with B.B. King in 2008 - but his fanbase grew significantly as he made it to the semi-finals of the NBC show’s debut season.
Now Nakia wants to share his past, and future, directly with fans. This includes recordings, videos, live material and other souvenirs.
“I have hours and hours of song demos, things that I’ve started, things that are completely done and ready to be released,” Nakia said. “I want to find a way to take these creations and offer them to my core fanbase.
“Whatever level of musician or artist you are, having a real archive of all of your writings and material sorted out is so important.”
A decade on from ‘The Voice’, Nakia’s new single ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was co-written with a first-time songwriter, an 8-year-old called Charlie Cotton.
Inspired by a Facebook post from Charlie’s mum Savannah Welch, the songwriting process was different to Nakia’s usual experience because Charlie was so open about sharing ideas and feelings.
“Everything that’s in the song that came from Charlie is almost verbatim what he said in the moment,” he said. “Charlie doesn’t think about limits, not yet at least.”
They finished the song via video call, and it was recorded with producer Matt Parmenter at Ice Cream Studios, close to Nakia’s home in Austin.
The majority of the song’s Bandcamp proceeds go to the SIMS Foundation, an Austin organisation which allows the city’s musicians and their families to access to mental health care and addiction recovery services.
“Charlie and I wanted to find ways to use this song to give back and really connect with other people in the community,” Nakia said.
The success of the idea has led to plans to virtually pair up more songwriters with children to write about the song’s key ideals of empathy, teamwork and starting over.
“Absolutely listen to everything these kids have to say, they’re the future,” he said. “Musicians and songwriters can have jaded feelings about the industry. But the kids are untarnished by bitterness.”
Nakia is especially proud that ‘It’s Never Too Late’ was a feature for friends and fans on inauguration day, with the track echoing poet Amanda Gorman’s call on the day to find light in the darkness.
It was a moment he watched intently – both for the political reasons, and because of the involvement of his friends including Austin band Black Pumas and his acting teacher Betty Buckley.
As a musical theatre student, Nakia wants to reconnect with that side of him, hence the acting classes and doing more vocal work. One of his lifelong dreams is Broadway.
Until then, he’s acting in ‘Skeleton Crew’, and preparing to scale back his ‘rocking beard’ for reshoots for season five of the series.
He’s also worked with show creator Joshua Pangborn on the music. Apart from one session in New York in March 2020, all of that has been working remotely through Zoom, Google and Facebook.
“Composing music and writing songs together in that way has been really rewarding for me,” Nakia said.
Amid the pandemic, he still likes to communicate ‘face-to-face’. “I FaceTime a lot with people all over the world,” he said. “it’s really my favourite way to communicate.”
He’s also an expert with Zoom. “The most memorable Zoom call I’ve had during the pandemic was with Matthew McConaughey,” he said. “I was honoured he selected me as one of his four ‘Local Legends’.”
In a half-hour conversation, the actor thanked Nakia for his philanthropic and advocacy efforts in Austin during the pandemic. The award, in conjunction with bourbon brand Wild Turkey, also gave him and his husband an all-expenses trip to Las Vegas.
Digging into his musical archives, or restarting his acting career: it all links back to the themes in ‘It’s Never Too Late’. “Sometimes things happen later in life,” Nakia said.
Coming from ‘The Voice’, where Nakia performed songs by Cee Lo Green, Kings of Leon and others, he would love to hear a version of the track by Wilco, before adding: “Anybody that would choose to cover the song, I would be honoured.
“My top of the list to perform with, or sing something of mine, would be Elton John. Below that would be Dolly Parton.”
The new focus on his passions of acting and music has found himself writing for himself, knowing he can reach out to his fans directly.
“I write songs in the way I hear them in my head,” Nakia said. “You can’t be an authentic storyteller unless you’re really in touch with your own self.”
As part of this support, he’s found help through therapy.
Nakia said: “My therapist always tells me to ‘be bold’, ‘make yourself known’, and ‘choose connection’.”
There’s no arguing from me; he has definitely done that. Bandcamp