The ever so enigmatic Niff Nawor seemingly came out of nowhere this past autumn with her new solo project and persona Riki, which conjured captivating new-wave, post-punk, and italo disco melodies to the delight of fans worldwide with the debut of the over-the-top video for “Napoleon”.
This love letter to the mid to late 80s tropes was brilliantly directed by audiovisual collaborators Amanda Siegel and Benjamin Turner, who in turn then quickly followed up that single with the luminous clip for “Earth Song”.
Bookended by these two lead singles was also the fantastic and transformative remix of the German language track “Bose Lügen”, a song culled from Riki’s 2017 DIY produced debut EP Hot City.
Who is Riki though? Who is Niff Nawor? Surprisingly, some of us already knew her through her ardent music fandom in the Portland, Oakland, and Los Angeles goth and deathrock scenes, further driven by her membership as synth player in the band Crimson Scarlet.
We connected with Niff this past week to find out what drives her authentic fandom of 80s synth and goth and how it influenced a record that is a beacon of iridescent optimism and sensuality that is also one of the best records released this year so far.
Can you tell me how you were introduced to deathrock?
Well. I started with like important rock bands like Christian Death, I discovered those in high school. So I was at that time hanging out with a lot of punks. There was one guy who showed me a bunch of amazing stuff. Nina Hagen, Toyah Wilcox, and darker bands like Christian Death. That kind of opened the doors to exploring on my own. And once I moved out of Oregon, which is where I grew up, I got involved in a more goth and deathrock scene, as well as punk, in Oakland.
So. Yeah. All my friends and I would do is just listen to music and talk about music, and that’s all I wanted.
Sköt is in an excellent old-school SF deathrock band, Altar De Fey, which my old band Crimson Scarlet used to play a lot with. And I mean, he’s just a great guy. So we hit it off. He recorded some stuff for Crimson Scarlet, and then I recorded the first Riki EP with him.
Tell me about Crimson Scarlet. First off, we have to poke fun a little bit at the band name, as there was a trend back in the 2000s…You were the synth player in that band?
Yes, but I didn’t start the band with everyone. As for the name, Crimson Scarlet was a bunch of punks who like goth, and Chuck the guitarist was thinking “What is the most goth name for a band”?
So definitely there is a little bit of humor there. But also it was fun to kind of take that theatrical over-the-top-ness of, you know, deathrock and just embrace that.
Before I joined, they actually asked me to play bass, so I was really excited because at that point I had only been in like two bands and they were pretty small and I just wanted to play music.
So I learned the songs on bass. And then when I got into practice, Chuck told me that they found a guy to play bass, and asked: Do you have a synth? I did happen to have one. I had a microKORG, but I hadn’t gotten into synth at that point, but I was like, of course, I’ll do that instead. And that’s where I learned to play synth really and fell in love with it.
The Hot City EP and RIKI feature members of Crimson Scarlet?
Yeah. Chelsey was the singer of Crimson Scarlet. They’re no longer active.
But she plays live with you now?
Yes, she does for some shows. It’s really fun with her because, well first off, we’re really, really close so it’s just fun to do anything with her, and we can do duets and stuff.
“Charming World”. I love that bassline. It’s reminiscent of Cinema Strange and Sex Gang Children. And the title track “Hot City” reminds me of Billy Idol.
He’s actually one of my favorites!
Mine too. “Eyes Without a Face” is one of my personal favorite songs! So, “Böse Lügen”. Did you write that in German?
Yes, I was studying German for a few years. And there was a moment for a couple of months where I was thinking and doing everything in German. It wasn’t proper German. But the song came out at that time.
The lyrics seemed very sad, dark, and bitter.
They are, and there’s a little bit of anger in there.
The song is about the disenchantment feeling where you still want closeness with something that is not, you know, benevolent.
Almost all the songs that I write are romantic love songs. And it’s in that same vein too. There’s no—I mean, there are no love songs without heartbreak songs.
You said you love Nina Hagen. What is your favorite Nina Hagen song? Do you have one?
“Hold Me”, I love that song. But I mean she’s got a lot of great ones. That one’s more, like way more, tame than a lot of her work, but that’s probably my favorite.
Are you going to see Neubauten?
The Los Angeles show sold out in like a week. I have tickets for the San Francisco show. I’ll make a trip out to see them.
Have you ever been to Germany?
I’ve been three times, okay, and I’ve never spent all that much time in Germany. Maybe. Two weeks tops. But for a while, I was thinking I should move there.
You really seem to have been able to recreate the vibe of italo disco on your debut album, for example, both the video and song for Napoleon are super italo.
I take it you are a fan of R.A.F., for example. “Self-Control”?
Yeah, for sure. I love that track. I love the Laura Branigan version too. I really like, I mean, good italo, and what I love about it is that it’s super over the top. No shying away from cheesy or sleazy. Like it’s just party music for feeling good. It’s kind of free.
Can you tell me about the song “Strohmann”?
“Strohmann” is about a scarecrow. It’s another love song and it’s about this. Maybe looking at it more vaguely, it’s about, you know, projecting ideas of love onto this image that is maybe not even real or really there, but in the song “Strohmann”, it’s is alive as a scarecrow.
How was working with Matia Simovich on this record, who recently worked with your labelmates SRSQ?
It was a challenge to work on these songs so closely with anyone really because initially, I was just doing them by myself. You know? I had never worked from the ground up with someone else before. I just did like recording, you know, a bit of engineering, not programming parts. But what we did with these songs…the sound of them is because of the both of us.
What does “Earth Song” mean to you?
“Earth Song” is definitely about like inter-connectedness, of energies. Getting a little into that zone where all things are tied together, you know, beyond what’s normally visible. But it’s yeah, it’s just a lot about feeling, and being kind of overwhelmed by an emotion of connectedness.
We already established Napoleon, both the song and video, as being stylistically heavily influenced by italo disco. But what is the song about?
It is actually based on Napoleon Bonaparte, who is my historical crush. It’s about this very bold man who, in a moment, you know, you are overwhelmed by what, like lust and just like wanting him. That’s really it. It’s pretty simple, huh?
For some reason, I’m thinking about Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure with Napoleon, but we both know he was not really a “short dead dude”, and was actually a fascinating tactician and leader in European history. Speaking of which any plans to “tour” Europe?
We’re planning a tour for late summer for Europe. We have Kalabalik På Tyrolen booked in Sweden. More to come on this!
Riki’s self-titled debut, our choice for February’s album of the month, was produced and engineered by hardware-based synthesist Matia Simovich of INHALT, and is out now via Dais Records.
Also check out the spellbinding tracks “Know” and “Monumental”, and more on surely what will be one of the best albums to come out this year.
Happy Valentine’s Day!