It's a warm afternoon in Los Angeles. White clouds nearly completely cover the normally blue sky, and Nilüfer Yanya and I meet sitting next to a funeral chapel, unusually surrounded by peacocks. A few short hours after our conversation, Nilüfer went on to perform a stellar set at LA's iconic Masonic Lodge which sits just above the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The evening felt like a private event; as though falling into an invite-only crystal ball, which predicts the worlds next great pop star. However, before the events of the evening transpired, it was in stark contrast, just Nilüfer, myself, and a handful of fairly outgoing rainbow-feathered birds.
As we sat on marble (or possibly granite?) stools, seated around a tiny marble/granite table by the cemetery. We spoke about her upcoming album, plans to possibly introduce piano into her music and of course, Harry Potter. All the important things in life and music. One on one, Nilüfer is calm, relaxed and incredibly friendly. She's soft-spoken, but also quick to make jokes and laugh. Whether we were talking about the downsides of living with our respective parents, or her favourite artists at the moment, she exudes a cool and confident aura. In short, speaking with her felt as though we'd been friends for ages, and the interview was more of a catch up than anything else.
But though her demeanour is mellow, her music is fierce. Every song in her catalog hits home with universal truths, and she delivers them with a genuine style that is all her own. With a consistent catalogue of incredible songs out, and an highly anticipated album on the horizon, she's without a doubt the next big thing in music. And like her, we're just being honest. We caught up with Nilüfer to catch more of the infectious hype around the new artist.
EARMILK: So you just played a show in New York, and tonight you're playing one here, in LA. How was the New York show?
Nilüfer Yanya: It was really cool. It felt weird because the room was really quiet and it was just me and my bandmate Jazzi Bobbi. So it was quite, like, intense. It kind of felt like an exam [laughs] and I realised that if they don't like it, it's just me out there [laughs]. We won't be back here anytime soon. But yeah, everyone said they liked it, and it was dead quiet. So I guess it's a good thing.
EM: How are you feeling about tonight?
NY: Excited. I feel so chilled here because I'm on holiday. I don't feel like I'm doing a show.
EM: One of the things that drew me to you as an artist is that you have a super unique sound. Your voice is as much an instrument as your guitar. Can you tell me a little bit about how you found your style and how all of that came about?
NY: I guess I haven't found it. When I first started singing, I just sang what felt most natural, and I haven't really thought about it too much. I don't have any proper vocal techniques or training. To me, it just sounds like my voice, and I'm not doing anything interesting.
EM: I read that you still live with your parents. Respect, so do I. How has your music career, affected your relationship with your family?
NY: I guess it's like any job. You just start to see less of people, and you're at home a lot less. It's kind of nice because when you do hang out, it feels a bit more like quality time, instead of always seeing them. The only thing that is not great is that [laughs] my mom will always be like "So tell me about the show," and I'm like "it was good." [laughs] and she'll be like "is that all you've got to say?!" Half the time you don't want to talk about it. I'm sure I seem a bit elusive to them, but I'm not trying to be. [laughs]
EM: Parents can be annoying [laughs] I feel you on that one. Let me ask you this. As an artist, do you feel any pressure to set a good example for your listeners? I know in "Small Crimes" you have a line "I was supposed to set an example, but I am a vandal,” and I know you've said "Small Crimes" is more about highlighting inequalities in the justice system, but it struck me as interesting. Does that ever cross your mind that people are listening and you want to set a strong example?
NY: Um, it hasn't crossed my mind before. I think it's more like music and songs. It's kind of like a book or poetry. It's more of an idea or feeling that people can hopefully empathize with. It's like, you're more in touch with that part of you that's inside of everyone. I like the way the words sit on the page and then the music on top of it. I like the way it juxtaposes against the music. I think we all feel like a vandal sometimes.
EM: What artists are you listening to right now? Is there anyone big or small that you're really into?
NY: I've been listening to a lot of Tori Amos. Someone played me one of her performances, "Mother," I think. She has a live version on YouTube, she's just really interesting to me. I listen to Angel Olsen; I really like Frank Ocean's new album. Lots of stuff, it’s all quite random. I used to only listen to "guitar music, " but now it's like the less guitar music, probably the better. Well, not the less, but it's tough to find guitar music that doesn't sound like guitar music. Like cool stuff. I listen to a lot of Bud Powell; He's a 1940's pianist, super American, like New York vibes.
EM: Now that you mention piano, I saw that that was your first instrument. Most of your songs are guitar-based, are you ever going to do something with a piano in the future?
NY: Hopefully, yeah. I need to get back in touch with piano [laughs], but yeah, I'd love to. I'd love to be more experimental with other instruments. Piano's great, but I've always found it kind of hard to find a sound I like with songwriting. I've always felt like, "oh that's too cheesy" or "oh I didn't like the way that sounded." But I'm sure I can, it's so easy to manipulate, well not "easy" but you can make it sound like anything now. So I don't have an excuse.
EM: I feel like that's fair though. It's hard for me to say because I've never written a song, but I imagine you gravitate towards things that sound like whatever you have in your mind. So if piano doesn't, that would make sense.
NY: Yeah, and I think because I did it first and I learned about it properly, I'm aware of everything. Whereas guitar I just started playing and then I got lessons from people. So it felt more natural to write songs with guitar. The piano is more structured; I know what it's going to sound like or not going to sound like.
EM: So going off of that, and speaking a bit about the future. I noticed you've released 2 EPs and a bunch of singles, any plans to release an album? And if so, any general date?
NY: I've started writing again and I'm working towards that now. Hopefully, if I finish it in 2018, and it will be out in 2019. That seems like a long way away, which is annoying, but it's harder to get things out sooner than that because I want things to be really good [laughs]. And I don't want it to be small either; I want it to be like maybe 9 or 10 songs. I'll probably release stuff before that as well. It would be nice to put stuff out next year while I'm working on the album. But, I haven't written the album yet, and I don't want it to be like stuff I've already released.
EM: Totally. As a fan, I appreciate that.
NY: Yay [laughs] I don't think my manager wants me to say that [laughs]
EM: Does that stress you out ever? Obviously, music is such a creative thing, but you've got a manager who is trying to keep you on track and get stuff out so you can grow as an artist. Does that push and pull ever stress you out?
NY: Maybe a bit, sometimes, but generally, no. It would be more stressful if you didn't have someone there trying to help you do that. I wouldn't be able to do it. There's a lot of things they help with.
EM: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
NY: I Hope I'm back here in the States soon to play another show, and thank you for listening to my music!