Interview: US singer on Rihanna success and preparation for solo stardom
michael baggs
15:12 18th January 2013

Mikky Ekko is set for a hugely successful year, kicking off 2013 with a Top Ten hit alongside Rihanna on their huge single, 'Stay'. Things don't get much bigger than that.

But there's much more to this US singer-songwriter than penning hits for pop superstars, as his own single 'Pull Me Down' proves. The mellow, r&b-fused pop track is making UK playlists a more beautiful place the nation over.

As Mikky Ekko gears up for solo stardom, we caught up with the hotly tipped star to discuss his Rihanna duet, working with Adele's producer and putting the final touches on his debut album...

Were you prepared for how big the collaboration with Rihanna was going to be?
If there's one thing that I know, it's not to question things too much anymore, but to just be as present as I can be so that I am ready when stuff like that happens. I was ready, but I don't think anything mentally prepares someone for that. I was still relatively obscure, still working out my processes and then BOOM.

You couldn't have gone any bigger...
It is a real privilege for me and in so many ways has pushed me to be a better artist, to be an effective decision maker for my team, to let them know where we're headed, where I wanna go and where we can find potentially in the future, people like Rihanna or other strong artists to collaborate with and find a way to merge those worlds. It was a really fun challenge.

Is 'Stay' reflective of your sound, and what people will hear on your album?
If you're really listening to the backing track I think there are some interesting nuances that are small representations of that, but it wouldn't be the first track to represent me. I wanted to bridge that gap with her, I wanted a really simple piano track that was in place that people hadn't been before. I could always hear Rihanna singing that song in my head, and I hope people can hear some of those small things in my record when it comes out.

When are we likely to hear your album?
The timescale is as soon as possible. It depends. It could be as early as two months, but with this kind of process, I can find some of these guys and we catch a wild break and start knocking out tracks, but with some of these guys I've got to be a little more careful, where things will be about 70% right where neither of us know how to get that last 30%, so we go treasure hunting to finish the piece.

Watch Mikky Ekko's 'Pull Me Down' video below

You're working with a variety of big name producers on your album (such as Paul Epworth and Dave Sitek). Is your album going to have a hugely varied sound with such different producers?
Because I'm such a big part of the whole process, and I'm involved in all the sounds and from person to person recording. I know that it is so important to have a sound which is mine, and that's my goal, to be really present in that process. In some ways, the spectrum will be well represented, but it won't feel disjointed. Fingers crossed. We're all excited about doing something interesting and unique. The way I approach any of the producers is to say 'this is what I do. I'd love to see how we make art together' and then just learning to communicate with those people to get those ideas across.

How do you feel being named alongside new acts such as Angel Haze, AlunaGeorge, Tom Odell and Haim as one of the big names of 2013?
I'm wildly excited. I was watching AlunaGeorge's 'Your Drums, Your Love' video a couple of nights ago and it is so good. So good. The tune, it does such a nice balancing act of riding that line between an art-producer piece and then having a really strong lyric, and a chorus that is so undercutting. I don't even know how to describe it. It's got such a unique presence and i'm really honoured to be coming up with such amazing artists. I am so glad to have all that as my competition. That's exciting to me. It's a little overwhelming actually, everywhere I turn there is amazing music. It is a really amazing time in music where we can do things we could never do before.

What's so beautiful with the new wave of r&b is that classic r&b was so personal and so intimate, and it's an intimacy that's not been present in the US in the pop charts, where there are now some really interesting songs being written from some really interesting places where it is cool to see people exploring.

Watch 'We Must Be Killers' by Mikky Ekko below

Was 'Stay' a beautiful studio collaboration, or did Rihanna just sing over one of your songs?
Initially she championed the whole charge with her team, just letting us know very clearly that she wanted the track. The track had become so special to me as well, and knowing what the track means to me and what I think it means to her too, it really worked. It speaks to such an intimate side of her that is so rare and so far removed from what people think of her. I took the track away to work on it, and I met up with some of her people in LA. She came out, we met, we hugged and talked for a minute about the song, she said 'oh, just so you know I've cut the vocal' and I was like 'WHOAH!' and of course I said 'that's no problem' - even though I was a little freaking out.

So I wind up going back, building out the track and it all happened so fast. We decided to move forward with it, everyone decided what they wanted to do with it a month before the record came out - their pace is insane. They had the studios we were working in booked out for three months, on a cycle. There were people constantly coming in and out, in and out, and it was so crazy to be in that room and that headspace. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. It had put a drive in me to really push myself to work harder. I want to work harder than everyone else.

There is a buddy of mine who is in the military and one of his commanding officers told him that you always act the job of the person ahead of you, so that if it is ever given to you, nobody ever questions it. I wanted to work harder than everyone, for things to do well and for no one to question how hard I'm working. It was cool to see that - and see what it really looks like when people are busting their asses off. It's amazing to see.

Mikky Ekko has already tasted success with his Rihanna duet, 'Stay'

How do you feel about getting a lot of knocks on the door from other artists wanting you to write tracks for them?
It was a really unique situation. What was so special about 'Stay', is that it was such a wild idea. I was working in total obscurity, I wanted to take it slowly, work on the launch, and then boom. That knock on the door, it's such an interesting story. If you were to paint it as a picture, it would be two kids from totally different backgrounds to come together on a song like that.

In so many ways it was a testament to what people really want. They want something fresh, that would challenge them a little bit. They get their club songs too, but it's not just all that. You can't dance all the time. You spend enough time in a club you end up wanting to hear a song like 'Stay'.

Thank you very much, Mikky Ekko. 'Pull Me Down' is out now.

Below: Mikky Ekko and more artists you need to know in 2013