by Najma Sharif
Ness Nite meets me in the East Village, in front of a cafe on a street with packed cafes, so we opted for sitting in Union Square. Her hair is up and she wears red earrings, a ribbed beige turtleneck and leather pants. As I caught my breath, and talked really fast to make up for the time lost from my lateness, Ness is as cool as her outfit. I met Ness Nite for the first time to do this interview, even though I’ve known about her and her music peripherally through my friends for two years. The night ‘Nite Time’ was released––Ness’s debut project, all of my friends shared it. Ness’s sound can’t be confined to genre, but that is because genre in in of itself is limiting and can barely account for the range of sounds we experience today.
She has been described as untethered, but Ness Nite is tethered to her purpose. She takes deliberate pauses after what she says, not to weigh how it might be misinterpreted but because of her keen sense of self-awareness - she wants to let you know everything she is thinking and wants to leave you with a careful, complete thought. Ness Nite is a Sagittarius sun, has her moon in Scorpio and is an Aries rising: self-determined, creative and direct.
Ness Nite’s debut album ‘Dream Girl’ is emotive but jaunty. Her voice floats over “Tightrope”a song about depression and maintaining balance, singing “I spend my whole life walkin' on a tightrope / Won't drop the ball, oh oh oh oh /'Cause I wonder where it might go.”I was curious to know where she finds her home, what it means to be braless ––a term Ness has used to describe the genre of music she creates.
As society contends with existing in new ways and forming new realities, embracing and listening to Ness Nite’s music is embracing the future. Being placed and named means being bound to arbitrary things that make up our identity ––things that are evidently out of our control. Fluidity is futuristic and Ness Nite is the future.
You were born in Chicago, grew up in Milwaukee, and when I first started following you, you lived in Minnesota - do you consider any one place home?
When people ask me where I’m from here, I always say Minneapolis. Just cause, I feel like I don’t feel as connected to Chicago or Milwaukee, even though I spent more time there ––I just feel like I spent more time there not being myself. So when I moved to Minneapolis that was the first time I was exposed to people being openly queer. There was a community of that, and queer Black people, and people I could relate to. The fucking reason I was so depressed this entire time, I didn’t feel like I saw anyone that reflected what I looked like.
As someone that moved around a lot I have to ask: where do you feel most stable? Most comfortable?
I feel comfortable there [Saint Paul] and I feel comfortable here too, just cause I’m an adult now and I feel secure in who I am.
Beyond that, where can you be yourself?
Anywhere at this point, I like being around young queer people.
You said that "Dream Girl” is not “I’m the girl of your dreams.” It’s the concept of having the ability, space, and opportunity to achieve our dreams.” What does it mean for you to have the space to dream?
I never felt limited, and I know that’s a privilege. I’m not ignorant to what I look like or anything either and that’s important. And I know that I come from people who didn’t have that opportunity. I think it’s important for people who do feel naturally comfortable exploring and expressing who they are to do that in order to encourage people to do the same thing.
Everything about you seems rootless ––your music doesn’t fit a box, your gender and sexuality is also fluid, you’re nomadic. Do you find yourself explaining yourself a lot because of that?
I’m at the point where I don’t bother explaining myself, unless I get a direct question. Especially with being someone that is mixed, I feel like a lot of mixed people overtly talk about that a lot. If you want to ask me something go ahead.
Even the way you describe your music as braless is interesting, are you relinquishing control by refusing to be boxed in or would you consider that inherent to who you are?
I go back and forth with this, but the bra is like expectations in general, and ‘braless’ is like ‘that’s not there’ and it is tied into my femininity. I consider myself gender fluid but I don’t reject my femininity at all. My music and my sound has feminine tones to it, obviously my album is called ‘Dream Girl’. Even so, I identify less and less with the title of the album, I came up with it a year and a half ago. I’ve definitely developed and evolved since within my identity. I do think ‘braless’ has to do with my rootlessness, just not being tethered to anything.
What drew you to music?
I’ve always loved music. I was in an orchestra for ten years. I’m not even that good. [laughs]
What instrument did you play?
The violin, I couldn’t read music so I played by ear. I really liked music but I didn’t relate to it in the traditional sense. I didn’t have the desire or attention span to learn traditional things like music theory. I kind of feel it, and I also wrote poetry. It kind of came together in high school. My high school randomly had this music production class, we did beat battles every week and eventually I started getting good at it and adding words to the things I was making. Now I’m where I’m at because of a few random events.
What kind of mark, if any, do you hope to make with your art?
I haven’t thought about it specifically with just my music, but just my existence in the music world. I definitely want to create space for Black women, Black queer people, people of color. Just in whatever ways that I can. My manager is Black –– she’s amazing and it’s really cool to see her work in a space that is not typically a space that Black women exist in. Everyone I know has a white dude manager, or a dude manager. It’s awesome to see her kick ass. All of the people we’ve worked with so far ––we’re working with a graphic designer, she’s a Black woman and we’re putting all these shows together with Black women DJs and artist. It’s just about creating space ––not to say I did this but it’s just about making it a point to do that. That’s who I want to surround myself with, that is who I care about, and through that I think it will translate into other things too.
Najma is a writer living in NYC with writing in Nylon, Paper Magazine, Teen Vogue, Vice, Highsnobiety, Lenny Letter and others.