If you listen to the radio with any regularity, you’ve probably heard the song ‘Not My Neighbour’ by Niko Walters. An upbeat yet relatively spare melody with strumming guitar and a lazy percussiveness, Walters’ voice slips from honeyed falsetto to textured mid-range with the effortlessness of somebody born with natural talent.
Having released his debut album Escape in November 2020, the singer-songwriter is quickly gaining momentum and recognition from the masses — ‘Not My Neighbour’ has gone Gold in New Zealand, sitting comfortably within the top five on the local Spotify chart and peaking at 32,000 streams a day.
Needless to say, Walters is pleased with how his music has been received. “The response has been more than I anticipated,” he says. “I’m pretty ecstatic to hear everybody playing it and receiving amazing messages from people saying how much they like the songs.”
Music has always been an important part of Walters’ life. He grew up loving it, playing instruments and singing for the sheer enjoyment of it, and his older brother Matiu Walters is the lead singer of ultra-successful New Zealand band Six60. While the younger of the two siblings had never considered a career in music as an option, now he’s off to a successful start he’s excited to continue on this trajectory.
“I genuinely love the whole process of creating music, and I always have,” he says. “Even if people didn’t like it, and it wasn’t financially feasible, I’d be making music for fun.”
Walters describes his sound as “contemporary soul”, combining elements of RnB, Hip Hop and Pop to create music that is smooth and catchy, yet still alive with unexpected moments of interest. His mother exposed him to a lot of poetry growing up, he remembers, and he used to write his own. When it comes to crafting songs, a fragment of poetic prose or even just a word will often be the starting point, and from there he’ll work with a studio team to expand on a sound or a mood. “That’s the fun part, not knowing [where it’s going to go].”
While ‘Not My Neighbour’ is playful and narratory, the rest of the songs on Escape vary in tone, often drawing on both personal and challenging aspects of Walters’ life. It’s an intimate approach to songwriting that moves listeners to reflect and feel seen.
Currently, Walters is back in the studio recording new tracks — and on the cards later this year is a tour around the country, with dates still to be announced. His journey so far has already imparted some important lessons that he’ll be taking with him as he continues on his way. “One is dropping your inhibition a little bit, and being brave. It takes courage to release music, and also to create music — you’ve gotta back yourself.”
The other, he says, is not taking strategic and business decisions too personally. “Just leaving ego at the door, considering everyone’s perspectives and doing what’s best for the ultimate goal — which is just to create beautiful music, and get it heard.”