Mikky Ekko is a Nashville-based recording artist and producer who, at the age of 30, gained notoriety by appearing on Rihanna’s emotionally charged track, “Stay.” Ekko also has an impressive work ethic, writing 250 songs for his most recent record, Time. Somehow, this friendly, soft-spoken pop singer/songwriter, originally hailing from Louisiana, whittled his massive collection of ideas down to a compact, highly listenable album. From collaborating with underground producers like Clams Casino and Dave Sitek of TV on The Radio to writing hit songs for Rihanna, Ekko has a musical reach that is as wide and as fluidly natural as the Mississippi. With Rock in Rio quickly approaching, we sat down with Ekko to get the low down on his music, what he’s listening to, and how he strives to make a love connection with his audience.
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Slurpee: Can you tell us a little about how you got your start?
Mikky Ekko: My dad’s a pastor, so I grew up singing in church and have been around music my entire life. I moved around a bunch as a kid in the Deep South. I felt like the next move I needed to make was to Nashville—it was the closest big city to home and the musicianship, artistry, and songwriting there is really awesome.
So, I moved to Nashville and I was making a bunch of demos—a capella vocals and stomp-claps—to get my songs out. I worked with producers there and put out a couple of EPs. Then, I left Nashville for a little while and I wound up writing [the song] “Stay” and [making] my debut, performing “Stay” with Rihanna at the Grammys. Now the album is out. It’s called Time. It came out on January 20 and…here we go!
Slurpee: It seemed like co-writing “Stay” was a pretty big moment. Did that change your perspective on writing music?
ME: Absolutely. I mean that song and everything surrounding that song changed my perspective on my life, honestly. It was insane because I never had a bird’s eye view of the way a song could impact people. For so long I kept myself in a very safe bubble where I didn’t have to be vulnerable and I could just make music for me and wear my heart on my sleeve. When I heard that Rihanna wanted that song, I realized how important it was. When you’re doing what you love and you’re putting it all out there, there are times when everything aligns and that’s what you gotta be ready for.
Slurpee: We heard it took a little time to get your album as perfect as you wanted it to be. Can you tell me a bit about that process? Was there pressure trying to get it finished?
ME: Definitely. Everybody wanted me to put it out as soon as “Stay” blew up, you know? ‘Cause for a lot of people that would’ve been the ideal thing. If the album would’ve been ready, I would’ve done it. The problem was, I wasn’t ready, more importantly. I just needed a little more time to make sure I said what I needed to say. I wrote like 250 songs for the album! It was crazy because I scheduled the release for fall of 2013, and just before we put the album out I told my label, ‘You know, I think there’s one more song I really need to finish.’ Between January and March of 2014, I wound up writing five songs that were on the album. Four of them were singles along with the album title, so that’s how I justify that! [Laughs]
Slurpee: Awesome. Are there any artists that you’ve been really into lately or people who have been influencing the music you’re making nowadays?
ME: The new Kendrick Lamar album is friggin’ insane! And I’ve been listening to a pretty good bit of Wildbirds & Peacedrums. I really like the new Daniel Lanois record. That’s what’s really inspiring me right now.
Slurpee: Have you ever played the Rock in Rio USA festival before?
ME: No, but I’m really excited. This is the first one in the U.S. right? I’ve never played the one in Rio, but I’m really, really amped to be a part of ushering this festival into the States this year.
Slurpee: What should fans expect from your set at the festival?
ME: One thing fans can expect from me live is a connection. What I love about playing live is you get to create a bond with fans you can’t get sitting in your living room. No matter how much you love an album, it doesn’t replace hearing it performed [live] and having that energy on the stage where anything can happen. I’m all about creating that energy and really, we just bring it live!
Slurpee: Are there any particular parts of the performance fans should be especially excited about?
ME: The collection of songs is so diverse—I go through a lot of different emotions when I play. I get pretty rage-y at times, and then I get really intimate and sensual when I’m singing other songs. For me, though, it’s probably on songs like “Pull Me Down” and “U” where I feel like I really make a love connection with the audience. That’s the most important to me.
All Access Chill from Slurpee will continue to interview your favorite musical artists throughout the festival season, so stay tuned for more exclusives all summer long!