Whistles women: Niki Roberton
It was serendipitous that Londoner Niki Roberton ended up in LA. Her career as a music video director, signed to award-winning agency Partizan, brought her to the city. But it was a love of music – Niki had been scouting for record labels since she was a teenager – and a lack of bands that she wanted to work with, which inspired her to found her own record label, I AM SOUND.
Now almost 10 years old, the LA-based label has been home to a roster of artists that straddle both the left-field and commercial worlds, including Florence and the Machine, Banks, IO Echo, Lord Huron, Kate Boy and Charlie XCX.
We visited Niki at her West Hollywood home, where she lives with her husband and her dog Winnie. The Spanish style bungalow has an enviable outdoor space, encompassing the world’s smallest pool, a music studio and a cactus garden worthy of a botanical hot house. Over morning coffee in her sunlit garden, we chatted about the differences between London and LA, what sparked her interest in music and what it’s like to be a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
What's your favourite venue to watch live music in LA?
I love the old historic theatres in Downtown, like the Orpheum and the Ace Hotel’s theatre. They’re beautiful and they create a different music experience. Back in the ‘40s or ‘50s, Broadway in Downtown had the biggest amount of theatres per capita in the country. The Troubadour and the Echo are cool music venues but I love the old theatres, they’re epic spaces.
What sparked your interest in music?
I moved to LA because I was a music video director. Starting a record label wasn’t something I had envisioned for myself, but organically happened in the process of discovering new bands whose videos I wanted to direct. I started to find bands initially through MySpace and realized they didn’t have a label or manager. I thought, well, I could just release a single. One of the first people we released was Florence and the Machine. Which then tripped everything else - we got distribution, which helped get us funding and it snowballed from there.
As a Londoner who lives in LA, what do you think are the main differences between the two cities?
I feel like Londoners are a bit more easy-going and spontaneous. In London your day evolves as you’re living it to a certain extent. Whereas my life in LA is more structured. Londoners are more social, people are a bit flakey in LA. It’s not a personal thing, it’s just the culture here. The city is so spread out.
Describe a typical day for you.
I get up around 7.30am, answer emails from the UK and usually have a conference call around 9am. I live in West Hollywood and my office is Downtown LA, so I try to schedule meetings for around 4pm, as traffic can be a pain. At night I either see a band or go to dinner. I also try to fit in time to exercise and walk Winnie, my dog.
When you’re not working or at a gig, how do you spend your downtime?
My husband and I love eating and travelling. We’re going to Japan next year and we’ve just been to Paris. We ate the whole time – we love trying new food. Good food and good company, that’s what it’s all about.
What are your go-to Saturday night and Sunday morning albums?
At the moment I’m obsessed with A$AP Rocky, so I listen to that before going out. Sunday mornings could be anything from Chet Baker to Stevie Wonder, chill out music. Sometimes I’ll try and catch up on demos but usually I like listening to full albums on the weekend. I never really have the luxury to sit and listen to something, so it’s nice to go back and listen to classics from start to finish.
What’s your favourite spot in the house?
It has to be our bedroom - the light hits it really nicely in the morning, we can open the double doors and walk out and sit in the garden. Waking up, opening the curtains and having the view of the cactus and the sun is bliss.
What are your most treasured possessions?
I have two Chanel bags that I love. Also my records, which have travelled around with me from place to place. I was never really into jewellery but I have certain things that were my grandmothers and my mums that I carry with me. Most of the things I love are nostalgic and have memories attached to them.
Has your personal style has changed since you moving to LA?
I used to wear a lot of layers, and growing up in England, it was all about tights. Since I’ve been in LA, I’ve become more confident with my body and I wear things that maybe I wouldn’t have when I first moved here. I’m really into longer length styles at the moment. I always used to wear skirts and dresses, I was a real girly girl but with masculine jewellery or boots, but now I love wearing trousers. And I’m a big fan of black. It’s a uniform.
What do you love most about living in LA?
The weather, which is such a cliché but so true. I’ve lived here over 10 years so I’ve got really close friends and my work is here. Even though I grew up in London and there are hundreds of things that I miss, my life is here now. I love living on the West Coast.
What’s the most rewarding part of running your own record label?
For me, it’s about watching an artist grow. It’s about finding an artist that’s tiny, just making music in their bedroom and then helping them to become successful and watching other people appreciate it. It’s hard work but it’s satisfying. I love that initial stage of getting a band’s look, artwork and the record right and being able to launch it. I think that’s the most rewarding thing for me.
If you could work with anyone, who would it be?
I would love to work with an artist like FKA Twigs. She’s an artist but she’s also a performer, she’s created on her own platform. As a manager you could take that to whatever level you want. I think she’s fascinating. Tame Impala are also having a moment, they could score a Steve McQueen or a David Fincher movie. That’s the ultimate, where you’re able to work with an artist to get to that level where it’s a free reign of opportunities.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Always follow your gut, that’s something my dad taught me. If you believe in something and it feels right then it’s meant to be. When finding bands or music or anything.
Visit: I AM SOUND