The musician talks us through her musical beginnings, tells us about her love for sci-fi and explains why she's DIY 'til the day she dies.
With a distinctively malleable, expressive voice and abstract lyrics, Nilüfer Yanya has been one of the standouts in London’s music scene. First getting her start uploading her music to Soundcloud (how very 2014) she started generating hype off of the sad, sparse Small Crimes EP in 2016. Originally building songs with just her voice and off-kilter guitar riffs, she gradually built up her sound with 2017 EP Plant Feed and a smattering of singles. With the release of debut album Miss Universe earlier this year, music critics from Pitchfork to the Guardian were positioning her as a much-needed innovator in indie rock — a genre all too often associated with the stale and repetitive all-male line-ups of the ‘00s.
Miss Universe is a concept album skewering the wellness industry and our endless pursuit of self-improvement by way of fictional company WWAY Health. In five satirical, spoken word skits Yanya inhabits the persona of a WWAY Health telephone operator (“Don’t forget to leave a comment in the comment section on the WWAY Health website!”) but the album’s substance comes from the textured tracks built around these interludes, onto which Yanya projects her most intimate emotional struggles.
To celebrate her latest video for H34T Rises, the unique talent talks us through her musical beginnings, tells us about her love for sci-fi and explains why she’s DIY ’til the day she dies.
What musical artists are you loving at the moment?
I’ve only been listening to Big Thief and Aldous Harding this past week.
Who gives you career envy?
Anyone who doesn’t have to tour all the time and spends most of their time in the studio or writing.
You started out uploading your tracks on Soundcloud in 2014; how would you say that the platform has changed music for young artists?
It’s different now because of platforms like Instagram and I don’t feel like a lot of young artists come up the same way now through Soundcloud. For me, Soundcloud was about getting used to the idea of a release and observing the way other artists’ tracks could explode on there or the way artists would interact with each other. There was also the impermanence of it. I guess anything can be removed off digital streaming, too, but the simplicity of uploading and deleting a track with Soundcloud is what made it different.
Given that the Internet is constantly shifting and changing, if you were starting out now how would you try to get your music out there?
I still feel like I’m starting out! But if I hadn’t released anything I’d probably go about self-releasing. I think that if you feel ready nothing should stop you from putting something out. Labels just love it when they find something new that hasn’t been released yet, because they can’t wait to control the way it comes out. I think that just takes more power away from the artist. Building stories around the artists isn’t music; it’s just press. It gets in the way of the music, both for the artist and the audience.
You’ve been classed as being part of a resurgent wave of indie rock — whilst there’s a lot of variety within this genre it’s sometimes critiqued as quite formulaic. Was it important for you to re-inject some experimentalism into the genre?
I wish there was a different name for it , the term itself isn’t doing anyone any favours. To be honest, I just like to experiment anyway so I don’t get bored of the way I approach writing.
Your album Miss Universe took aim at the wellness industry. What are your thoughts on the concept of “wellness’’ and the products and advertising that have sprung up around it?
It’s just really interesting; this concept of selling things that you can’t really sell. We’re basically buying into nothing all the time. Which makes you question what we’re doing with our time.
There’s a sci-fi-like quality to Miss Universe, are you a fan of the genre?
I love sci-fi because it makes me think about what’s possible and it tries to offer an explanation, but it’s not bound by the same science in our world that we know is either true or false.
You’re known for your distinctive vocal style — did you receive any vocal training? How do you look after your voice?
I had some lessons, nothing that was ever too regular though, I would probably benefit from some more. And I’m not great at looking after my voice I forget a lot that I need to look after it at all.
In what musical direction are you going next?
You can check out Nilüfer’s latest video, for “H34T RISES” below.
19 December 2019