A veteran of the industry, Denver based singer/songwriter/performer Fia Nyxx grew up dancing competitively and singing in her church choir. Born Rachel Applehans, her creativity was cultivated from an early age and she realized she loved the spotlight and performing for people, deciding as she got older that she wanted a career in the entertainment industry. At the age of 19 she launched her dance career when she appeared on season 9 of ‘So You think You Can Dance’. As a result, she was signed to BLOC talent agency and was moved out to LA, where she embarked on a successful career as a back up dancer. About a year into her move, with growing ambitions for herself and her career, she auditioned for and was selected to be a member of the girl group ‘SHE’. This experience lead her to realize that performing music and singing was what she was meant to do. Touring the world gave her valuable experience as an artist, as well as quickly compelled her to learn the business side of the industry. With different goals and visions for their music careers, the group disbanded soon after tour and Rachel was on her own. With no idea what she wanted to do next, but with the ambition and passion to completely reinvent herself, Fia Nyxx was born, allowing her to grow and develop into the kind of artist she wanted to be.
A pop artist that blends the sounds of Motown era, Fia is a true performer with a love for storytelling. In 2018, she released her first solo album, Everything Girl EP, at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. The EP was recorded under the musical direction of Will McFarlane (Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Bobby “Blue” Bland), Emmy-winning producer Lance Bendiksen, multi-platinum producer and mixer Brian Malouf (Michael Jackson, Queen, Madonna) and features players from the iconic Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, ‘The Swampers.’ The EP release was celebrated with a sold out show at The Mint in LA and in June of 2018, her music video for “Maybe Just Love Me”, which won a Telly Award, was released. The video was also considered for the Cannes Short Film Festival as well as the Hollywood Music in Media Awards. In August, after about a 2 year hiatus, Fia released her single “Still Love You”, the first single from her upcoming album Red Umbrella, due out in early 2022. Most recently, she released the second single, “Don’t Shame Me”, from the new album, along with an accompanying music video. “”Don’t Shame Me” is an “F*** you” to any and everything that makes us feel insecure, insignificant, or just simply doesn’t serve us any more.” With plans to release more music, music videos, and hit the road for some tour dates, Fia Nyxx is preparing to take the world by storm with her fresh, fun, and unapologetic message of confidence, perseverance and confidence! You can connect with Fia Nyxx via the following links. Photo credit: Shaun Vadella.
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You were born and raised in Denver, CO and grew up a competitive dancer and choir/church singer. What can you tell me about your childhood and when your love for singing and dancing began? Were you raised in a musical/creative family?
I was raised in a family where we were always playing. My mom stayed home with my brother and I for 10 years, and every day we danced around the living room to our favorite Tom Petty songs. We sang and made up our own lyrics and laughed about never knowing the right words. My brother and I would put on plays, concerts and dance shows in our living room with two free VIP tickets for mom and dad. We were always encouraged to create and experiment and try new things. I knew from a very young age that I loved the spotlight. I loved being able to be heard and have the full attention of those I loved so that I could share my heart and tell my story. Music has just always ignited my soul. I turn to music at my happiest times, and when I’m at my lowest lows.
My parents’ support in my creative journey continued as I grew older and realized that I wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Although my dad is a retired civil engineer, he is also a connoisseur of great music, mostly R&B and anything from the disco era. My mom is an artist as well; she has her own clothing line, shows her paintings in a renouned gallery in Denver, illustrates children’s books and happens to be my manager. I’m extremely close with my parents and grateful for the way that they raised us and submerged us in love and art.
You launched your dance career at the age of 19 after appearing on season 9 of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and moved to LA soon after where you were a successful back up dancer. What can you tell me about those years as a dancer?
It was always a dream of mine to be on SYTYCD and also to move to LA at a young age and pursue a dance career. Those were some incredible years for me, and something I am so grateful to have experienced. The friends I made on the show are still my friends to this day, and some of us even work together! Being on the show launched my dance career, so at 19 years old, I moved out to LA, got signed with a top agent and immediately started auditioning and booking. Dance has taken me around the world! I’ve performed at award shows, festivals, in music videos, for major artists like Pitbull and international artists like Métal. It was an incredible experience but it never fulfilled me the way that music does. I always wanted to be my own artist, executing my own vision, telling my own story. As a professinal dancer, it’s your job to be in the background and support the artist. I wanted more. I have to much to say.
About a year into your dancing venture, you auditioned for and were selected as a member of the girl group ‘SHE’, with which you toured internationally for a few years. What was that experience like for you and what did you learn about yourself and the kind of artist you wanted to be, the ins and outs of the music industry, and being a recording artist? What led you to want to branch out and birth your current musical project, Fia Nyxx?
I’ll never forget the first time I stepped foot into a sound booth. I had never recorded anything professionally before and I was extremely intimidated because the other girls in the group were seasoned pros. I closed my eyes and fell into the silence of the sound proof booth. I started singing and suddenly everything melted away. I was completely lost in the music. That was the exact moment that I thought to myself, THIS is what I am meant to do.
Touring around the world was absolutely incredible. I was doing at least two, 30 min shows a night, almost every night for over 4 months. In that time frame we performed over 122 shows and got to see the world. My favorite venue was an incredible nightclub in Harbin, China. With crazy LED screens, an arena sized stage and lighting, and the ability to fly in on wings, from 50ft above the stage, I was living my pop-star dream. That tour was a learning experience for me as an artist but also as a business woman, because our manager wasn’t touring with us, so I was acting as manager and negotiating, and dealing my way through completely foreign territories. That would be scary for a newbie in the United States, but I was in China where no one spoke English and it was crucial for my career, and my safety that I learn really quickly how to conduct myself and handle my business. Sometimes I think back and I’m shocked that a young 22 year old me did that!! Ha.
Because we all had a different goal and vision for our music careers, “SHE” ended up terminating shortly after the tour and we all went our separate ways. I was completely on my own at that time and frankly had no idea what to do next. I knew I wanted to keep pursuing music, but without my team of professionals I felt like a fish out of water. I think in pivotal moments like that, where everything seemingly “ends” or shifts in a way that is so unpredictable, we truly discover who we are and what we’re capable of. I had gotten a taste of what I now knew was my calling and that was enough for me to hit the ground running. I started from scratch. I reached out to a few connections I still had in the industry. I started writing and studying, I enrolled in vocal lessons, and most importantly I started living like I was already there… a successful, full-time touring/recording artist. And wouldn’t you know, it started to manifest.
As Fia NyXX, you combine pop music with soulful, Motown sounds. What can you tell me about your sonic vision as an artist and the role that storytelling and the culture of the south play in your music?
Once I got out on my own, I could finally make music that was authentic to me. I was raised on Motown and jazz and love anything with a soul. Etta James, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder… these are some of my all-time favorite idols and are always at the forefront of my musical mind. As things started to fall into place for me, I connected with a Grammy-Nominated producer at Sony who comprised a writing team around me, and we began writing my first album. I was in control of the music for the first time, or at least more than I had been previously. We got invited down to Muscle Shoals Alabama, and recorded the entire album at FAME Studios with the iconic ‘Swampers,’ under the musical direction of Will Mcfarlane. You can’t get any more authentic to the era than that.
My career has been a constant journey of discovering my sound, and what makes it unique. We are all a product of everything we’ve ever seen or heard, loved or despised, created or even just thought about, and collectively it makes up our reality, which combined with our own take on it, our own perspective, creates something entirely new. We are a cluster of moments, garnished with our own unique field of view. That allows people to see or hear things they know and love (like iconic music from the Motown era) in a whole new way, through my eyes (or ears). As an artist I am always trying to blend all of that into one cutting-edge, ground breaking sound.
You released the ‘Everything Girl’ EP, your first solo album, in 2018. What was the inspiration for and message behind the songs and what was your experience like recording at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, AL? What can you tell me about the team of producers/mixers/engineers you worked with, as well as the experience of working with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, ‘The Swampers’?
‘Everything Girl’ was my debut album to really show the world who I was. It was a snapshot into my life at the time and highlighted all the intricate parts of myself as a woman and as an artist. I have always prided myself on being down to earth amidst the glitz and glam of the industry, and strive to be someone that is relatable and genuine. ‘Everything Girl’ was a tribute to every woman (and man) out there navigating this crazy life, discovering themselves and what they’re capable of, and celebrating who they are. I’m all about the beauty of self-discovery and acceptance. The album was also meant to feel good, to touch your soul and move your body. I wanted it to be groovy, relatable, to have a timeless quality, to be influenced by the greats of Motown and of soul music, but also to incorporate a modern take on something classic.
Recording at FAME Studios and working specifically with ‘The Swampers’ was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done in my entire life. An experience unlike any other, these guys were beyond talented; they literally spoke their own language, producing charts that no band of mine to this day can decipher. The magic they brought to each track was absolutely transformative and makes me emotional still today. This experience will stick with me forever. I am so grateful for their talent but also their kindness, the way that they embraced this big moment in my life and music career, and for how humble they all were. ‘The Swampers’ are legends, and there we were sitting in a little diner, eating 6 dollar meals down the street in between sessions, ‘shooting the shit’ and reminiscing about Etta James sitting on David Hood’s lap, always pinching his cheeks and being flirty and embarrassing him, or Will Mcfarlane having a crazy conversation with Bonnie Rait. It was very surreal.
Your debut music video for “Maybe Just Love Me” was released on June 1st, 2018 and won a Telly Award and was considered for the Cannes Short Film Festival and Hollywood Music in Media Awards. What can you tell me about those experiences and about the music video and the inspiration behind it?
7 years before ‘Maybe Just Love Me” became a physical manifestation, it was a dream I had had one night, vivid as any dream can be, that awoke me from my sleep and instantly I knew it was a vision I had to bring to life. The story line was so intricate and the vision so grande, I knew it would likely take a lot of time, energy, money and resources. It was all very overwhelming at the time, so I set it aside and didn’t think of it again until my team and I were at the listening party for the album and the ballad came on. I was hearing it for the first time, completely mixed and mastered, and as I closed my eyes and enjoyed it, the visions of my dream, from so many years ago, came racing back to my mind. Oddly enough, the lyrics fit perfectly for the scenes I had once pictured, and matched up – lyric for image, identically.
“Maybe Just Love Me” is a tragically beautiful reminder that nothing is guaranteed, and the only constant is change itself. We must love, and love big, while we can, truly embracing the moment, because life can change in an instant. I wanted to tell this story through dance, and planned to execute a concept I had never seen attempted before; I choreographed a contemporary duet to be danced on two opposing escalators. The escalators represent your life path. The dancers start off their journey heading towards each other. They cross paths for a duration of time, embracing the beautiful intersection of their lives, and then they are pulled apart… such is life. The dancers move against the grain, swimming upstream if you will, but inevitably life has other plans, and eventually they drift past the point of no return. The music video portrays a story we know all too well… it is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.
Through several mini-miracles, lots of time and talent donated by people who believed in the vision, and the grace of God and the Universe aligning, we pulled of a video that several industry professionals deemed “impossible” and quoted us over $100,000 minimum to execute, for a fraction of the price, that over exceeded all of our wildest dreams. The video went on to win a Telly Award and was nominated, as you mentioned, in those major film festivals! The entire journey was nothing short of Divine intervention. Where there’s a will (and a strong belief in a very important message) there’s a way!
You have said that you are here as a testimony that failure breeds perseverance and strength. What has your journey been like in turning all of the negativity and harsh words you faced early on into positivity and truly believing in yourself? In what ways do you hope to inspire and be a role model for other women and young girls to feel empowered and confident in their own journeys?
My entire career has been a series of rejections, some people doubting me, others trying to mold me into something or someone I’m not. It’s not uncommon, in fact, this is an all too common journey for every artist. We all face trials and tribulations along a path to greatness. The more daring the path, the more turbulence you can expect. With big risk comes big rewards, but what it also comes with, that we don’t talk about, are big fails. I have “won” hard, and I have “lost” hard too. People always tell you to pick yourself back up, and eventually you will, but I think that every time you fail is a chance to grow. Feel that pain, look it in the face and become comfortable with it, to the point where it isn’t as painful or as unbearable any more.. really allow yourself to feel it, and in doing so you’ll then realize that failure is just something that happened to you and sparked an emotional response, but it isn’t a part of you, and it certainly isn’t someone you’ve suddenly become. You are not failure, you failed, and it hurt, and you now know what that feels like, so when it happens again (because it will if you’re risking it all to be a better you) you’re prepared. You’re stronger and smarter, you’ve learned, and now you can also be proud because you triumphed and you’re past it. Keep getting up, keep learning from your mistakes, give yourself grace and love and keep it real. Don’t get lost in the falsehoods that the media feeds us. Everyone goes through these moments, they just don’t publicize them. But I do, and I promise I always will. You’re not alone.
I realized that life is entirely constructed around your mindset, so if I am feeling empowered and unstoppable, then I am empowered and unstoppable. Your thoughts and emotions create your reality. A while back I decided I wanted to be happy, and wildly successful, and I’ve been playing make believe ever sense. I’ve always had that kid-like mentality that anything is possible, and now it is. I encourage all little girls and younger fans to just keep playing. Keep daydreaming. Keep talking about those wild thoughts and ideas, write those dreams down, laugh and cry and share your stories. The more we play, the more we create and the more we get to know ourselves. I promise you, if you truly just play and continue to give yourself grace along the way, you will learn to love yourself and cherish who you are. That is where true, unwavering confidence is born.
Having such an extensive and successful dancing background, what can you tell me about incorporating dancing and back up dancers into your live performances, as well as having costume changes? Who are some of your fashion inspirations, whether in music or outside of it?
I thrive on stage! It’s one of my favorite parts of being an artist. I love the art of performing, the confidence and freedom that being on stage brings me, and the ability it allows for me to tap into this higher version of myself and who I truly am in my most confident, most aligned moments. Because of my extensive dance background, I love putting on big scale productions with full choreography for myself and 8-10 dancers! At our biggest scale, we have an 8-10 piece band, props, video visuals, and incorporate anything that enhances the show and creates an unforgettable experience. My right hand man, choreographer and best friend, Michael De Angelo is an incredible creative in the industry and has creative directed/choreographed my recent tours and bigger productions. Together we create some larger-than-life experiences, and revel in the grandeur of an incredibly entertaining show. Our audience and fans seem to enjoy it just as much!
As an artist I have tapped into many different characters and higher versions of myself, and naturally they all need a look. Fashion is an incredible way to express yourself and discover your uniqueness. I am lucky enough to have an incredible stylist, Jamie Love. With all the knowledge of what is current, the bravery to set new trends, and an honest essence and influential spirit that truly empowers me, Love is everything I need in my life to be fashion forward, to be the best version of me.
You had a bit of a hiatus between the release of your ‘Everything Girl’ EP and recent single “Still Love You”, the first single from your forthcoming album ‘Red Umbrella’, due out early next year. What were you up to during that time and what is the message behind the single?
During that hiatus I was honing in on my craft, and not just from a musical standpoint, but I was doing work on myself. I was asking myself the hard questions about my intentions, what I wanted out of life, what makes me happy, and where I was trying to go. What messages do I most want to share with the world? What is my intention behind my music? As I answered these questions, I began to gain new life experiences which gave me new perspective and new inspiration. That is where I write my music from, experience and real life emotions. It’s my way to cope, my way to process. It was interesting to watch my music develop and take flight as I matured and became more comfortable in my skin.
‘Still Love You’ was my comeback into the scene as far as music releases go. It was a slight nod to ‘still loving’ my fans despite the time away, but had a deeper meaning in that true love is risky, but the best risk you’ll ever take.
You have said that ‘Red Umbrella’ was written from a much greater sense of self than previous material. How would you describe the new album and the message behind the songs, as well as knocking down all of the walks and parameters that you felt had boxed you in in the past and experimenting with sounds and genres? What can listeners expect from the album?
I never set out to write a second album when I started creating the songs that now make up ‘Red Umbrella.’ We had just entered the pandemic and the corresponding lock down, and unfortunately, a promising year of tour dates got cancelled, one by one. There was a lot going on in the world, and having so much time alone forced me to look into some dark corners of myself and uncover some past traumas. I lived on my piano in those coming months, passing the time, and using music as my outlet. Because there was no pressure to create an album, or to hit a certain deadline, or even any constraints on what type of music I could make, I felt free to just create and experiment. The more I got outside of my usual box, the more I enjoyed it, and the more I realized what I was capable of. ‘Red Umbrella’ tells my life story; it’s a journey through my mind, down a path of enlightenment. It’s fun, crazy, sensual, off-the-cuff and experimental. It’s vulnerable and honest. It’s spiritual, embracing my belief in God and the beauty of spirituality. It’s daring and risky. It’s rock ‘n roll. This album is my masterpiece, my dream manifested into reality, tiny thoughts lying dormant in my head, finally ready to come rearing out.
Whereas my last album was called ‘Everything Girl,’ this album IS the “Everything Girl.”
How would you describe your latest single “Don’t Shame Me”, which you have described as your declaration of power?
“Don’t Shame Me” is an “F*** you” to any and everything that makes us feel insecure, insignificant, or just simply doesn’t serve us any more. Self-love starts deep within, and I want to celebrate the idea of reveling in your own self-proclaimed “bad-ass-ary.” So often we’re almost shamed for being too confident, or self-indulgent, and it’s time to take the power back. While this track is wild and liberating, it’s also campy and light-hearted. I wanted to just have fun and step into that character, that empowered, unapologetic woman. Life is too short to not gas yourself up once in a while. It’s ok, no it’s great, to be your own superhero.
What’s next for you?
As I prepare for my album to drop in early 2022, I am releasing another single from ‘Red Umbrella’ in October, with a corresponding music video, as well as one in January! I have several tour dates before the end of the year, including a show on Halloween Night, Oct. 31st in Denver Co. and a NYE bash… details coming soon! It feels so good to be creating music again, and getting back up on stage. I am just grateful to be reconnected with my fans and doing what I love.