An artist's success often hinges on having the right connections and well-timed song releases. For American singer-songwriter Mikky Ekko, though, quality trumps everything else.
"If I can't stand behind an album and defend it, it's worth nothing to me," the good-natured 30-year-old tells Young Post. "I don't care what people think. The pressure doesn't bother me."
He's referring to three years ago, when a song he co-wrote with Justin Parker was chosen as the second single of Rihanna's 2012 Unapologetic album. Stay peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in April 2013, and Ekko performed alongside Rihanna at the Grammy Awards that year. His label wanted him to capitalise on that momentum and tour with Rihanna, but Ekko knew he wasn't ready yet.
"The wolf you feed is the wolf you breed. In that respect it's been more about feeding the wolf in me that I want to survive, and it was always singing first," he says.
Reflecting on what made Stay a hit, Ekko says it's the song's conviction. "It's the same kind of conviction heard in Adele's Someone Like You, or Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. It just feels like a confession - it's got to be said."
His first album was due to debut in November 2013, but Ekko felt the songs were too heavy - he needed more emotional variety. So he plucked up his courage and asked his label for more time. They agreed, and between January and March last year he wrote five more songs. Three of them became singles, including the fatalistic Smile, one of album's best songs.
Ekko released the aptly named Time on January 16. It features an array of talented producers who gave Ekko plenty of room to experiment creatively, including Stay collaborator Elof Loelv, and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder.
For Ekko, the most challenging song was the title track. Working with Fraser T. Smith, who wrote Set Fire to the Rain with Adele, the song was originally going to be in the big-drums style of British band Florence and the Machine. Two days before he was due to submit the song, Ekko felt it just wasn't right. He was at home in Nashville - something of a music genius hub - so he phoned some friends to go to the studio to record and re-cut everything the next day. The song was done in five hours.
"I spent weeks and weeks on these other versions, and the irony was that it was just waiting on me to come home," says Ekko. "And that was probably why I called the album Time!"