Nilüfer Yanya: Consideration Amongst Chaos

Taken from upcoming EP Feeling Lucky? Nilufer Yanya continues to showcase her deliciously expressive and eclectic sound in latest single ‘Crash’. Since bursting onto the scene in 2019 with the release of her critically acclaimed album Miss Universe, the soulful indie artist has become an increasingly prolific presence amongst the music industry. Perhaps thanks to her profoundly artistic upbringing, Yanya’s music always boasts an undeniable level of aesthetic grounding, experimenting with listeners’ expectations both sonically and visually.

We meet in the gorgeously lush, autumnal setting of Kensington Gardens on a brisk October afternoon.  Surrounded by historic monuments, fountains, greenery and passers-by clutching onto coffee cups it feels just like a normal afternoon. However, whilst the sun may be shining there is an undeniable tension in the air as the UK has begun to close in on an impending second lockdown.

Sat the appropriate distance away from one another on a park bench, I sense an indescribable effortlessness about Nilufer Yanya. She is quietly composed and naturally engaging in a way that never feels forced or strained. Indeed, even in her outrageously cool Urban-outfitters catalogue-esque getup there is never a sense of falseness about her but rather ease in her own individuality.

Our chat is primarily to discuss the release of her latest single ‘Crash’ and upcoming EP ‘Feeling Lucky?’. ‘Crash,’ a bold and eclectic track full of dimension, has performed brilliantly amongst the music community gaining support from Annie Mac at BBC Radio 1 of her hottest record in the world. However, we quickly end up diverting our conversation to consider the odd reality we are all currently facing and the bizarre experience of releasing music in 2020.

Obviously, the past year has been massively chaotic for artists, how have you been coping with the pandemic?

Yeah, it’s definitely been weird! At first, I was like ‘cool, just a few months off’! I definitely wasn’t thinking of it as the whole year and I had a really good year last year; did loads of shows, lots of touring, but I was quite drained physically and emotionally. But then I was like, ‘oh, everything is cancelled even going into next year’ so it’s more of a long-term thing which is worrying. But I’ve been able to release some new music, so I have still been very lucky in that sense. Also, I released my album last year so I feel lucky about that. 

I just find it really hard to be creative at the moment. I don’t know if that’s because I’m just second guessing everything that I do, really hesitant or if everyone is just second-guessing everything.

On your Instagram you have previously described the idea of just doing livestreams as ‘purgatory’- do you miss the live side of the job?

I really do you know, I miss the energy you get from it. Even though it’s hard to do a live show – hard to pull it off and hard to do a really good one – when you do do that you feel really good about yourself. Having nothing like that to work towards and having no ups and downs in your weeks, months, years – everything has kind of flatlined. 

It’s definitely weird not playing the songs live because I think when you play a song live it takes on another meaning. I guess normally you play a song a couple of times before you decide whether or not you are going to release it and you decide which one is going to be the single by, ‘oh the audience really likes this one, this one should be a single’. So there is none of that and because everyone is a bit more withdrawn these days anyway, even though the music community is still definitely there you feel a lot more cautious about sending people ideas, I don’t know why. In a way it’s upped my anxiety in that sense but in another sense, it doesn’t really matter does it?  If you want to release something then you should. It kind of feels like the beginning again when you didn’t have any shows and just put music online which is quite cosy in a way. It doesn’t feel as real and everything has a depressing backdrop, you know?

Where did your inspiration come from for the EP? Are there any themes in particular that stand out?

I called the EP ‘Feeling Lucky?’ because I find the concept behind luck is really interesting. Sometimes I feel like a lot of what I have achieved so far is down to luck, but if you then spin it the other way you can be like ‘well actually you made these things happen’, but it’s never really going to be clear which way it is and it’s more about the way you choose to look at it.

Did the EP overlap with lockdown at all with regard to writing/recording?

I think all of them actually really suit this year in general. There is ‘Crash’, ‘Same Damn Luck’ and the other is called ‘Day 7’ and I wrote those before lockdown happened! But the meaning is definitely in there, it’s weird in a way. 

With ‘Crash’ we literally had a session on it a couple of weeks before lockdown happened. Nick [Hakim, producer] had flown over from the States so we were lucky to do that, that wouldn’t have been possible, then we finished it remotely. The other songs, the other guy who I was working with lives in London so the songs were kind of already in a good place but they weren’t finished.

Where did the inspiration for Crash come from?

I started writing it on tour at the beginning of last year, I just had the first verse or something. It took a while for it to come together as a song in my head, it came from all sorts of places really. It’s got this feeling that you are tumbling into something and that something’s not going to stop. Like pre-meditating the crashing or breaking of something.

You have spoken about anxiety before. Did that come into it at all?

Yeah definitely. I started writing it on tour so was probably quite anxious at the time because it was a new album and I hadn’t done an album tour before. I hadn’t played the songs enough so I was questioning if this was good, was it going to be good enough, pretty standard. But what I like about ‘Crash’ is that it’s very direct, it’s not really hiding. It’s pretty angry, it’s more like a feeling than being just about one thing.

With ‘Crash’ I was thinking about luck especially when we were shooting the aeroplane video. I don’t have a fear of flying but when I was doing a lot of shows last year every time I got on a plane I was a bit more cautious of every little bump or turbulence, anything could go wrong. All my songs are a bit existential in a way because they could all be about relationships but they could all not.

The song is very unique sonically. How did that sound come about and did working with Nick Hakim generate it at all?

That was so fun! I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and then happened to sign to the same label he is on so a lot easier to connect when you are on the same label. I took him the basis of the tune and most producers would be like ‘oh let’s get this recorded really nicely or perfectly’, but we did a really rough arrangement and then really, really rough guitar takes. I was thinking ‘we’re going to have to record this again’ but we didn’t. It sounded like a demo for a really long time, we just kept recording over it with loads of nice layers and it wasn’t until it was mixed that my manager was like ‘oh, this is like a single’! I wanted to keep that demo feeling in there.

It’s just quite bold I think sonically. There are a few songs that I have released that I feel like it fits with, just very direct and angry which I just really like. They are quite linear and go in one direction.

How about the music video, where did the idea for the air-hostess visual come from?

I just thought it would be fun to dress up as an air hostess! Me and my sister were trying to come up with an idea for the video and we wanted to do a performance video so it kind of lends itself to the song. I was trying to imagine myself as different characters and change during the video in a flickering way.

How do you find working with your sister?

She has directed all my videos so far, she does most of my photos. It’s really fun, it’s more like an ongoing project. I guess normally if you work with a director it’s more of a one off, you are kind of building that relationship whereas me and my sisters we have been building that relationship our entire lives so you can just say anything and go with it. There are definitely going to be down sides to that but for me, I just enjoy working that way and your sister happens to be a really good director or is a really good artist, why would you not work together and utilise that.

You come from a very artistic family, would you say that the visual side of music-making is especially important to you?

Yeah, I think so! I mean I definitely go through phases where I’m not thinking about visual things at all but when it comes to actually doing the project and tying things together I wouldn’t want to give it up to someone else. I wouldn’t leave it to somebody else to do basically, I really like to do it myself and be really involved in the vision. I guess it matters more and more these days as well.

You are quite vocal on social media in that sense and used your platform a lot around Black Lives Matter, do you find that to be an important aspect of the job?

Yeah, I do. Me and my friends are all really on the same page with that stuff so I just feel that if there is something you want to say on your platform you should say it. Obviously, I don’t have millions of followers but realistically however many followers I have is a lot more than what I had before so why would I not use that to highlight issues that I think are important and hopefully encourage people to do the same thing. Even if you feel like ‘this post isn’t going to make a difference today’, even if one person sees it and thinks differently or someone else thinks ‘I’m going to do the same’, then that’s where the impact is. It’s the impact in changing how you think.

At the moment I don’t really feel like doing a lot of promotional stuff for myself. I guess it’s my job and I shouldn’t feel bad about it but I feel quite guilty being like ‘oh, look at me’.

Would you say you are feeling Covid guilt a bit?

Yeah – why are we still pretending everything is great! Everything is just a bit weird and has gone a bit ugh, especially this year. I think a lot of people are feeling that so it would be strange to just keep going and pretending nothing’s changed.

I’m hoping to do actual shows next year which would be really nice but it’s weird because you don’t know what’s going to happen so you can’t really plan. It does feel as if everything has been flipped and you are just at the beginning again. Like this could be my first release and I wouldn’t know any different. I guess we just have to see what happens. 

What are you looking to focus on in the future?

With ‘Miss Universe’, I had got to a place with my songwriting where I was like ‘ok, this is how I write a song, this is what I like, this is what I want it to sound like’, and I was experimenting with that and playing around with it. I didn’t plan to co-write the album as much as I did because I wanted it all to be done by me so I think now I want to go back to the person before that and hone in on just writing. Not worrying what it is going to sound like but focusing on the song. This is a really small collection of songs but if I could write ten more tracks like this I would be really happy with that being the album.

Words: Hermione Kellow Photos: Willow Shields

Nilüfer Yanya’s new EP ‘Feeling Lucky?’ comes out December 11th. Watch the video for lead single ‘Crash’ below.

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