New Noise: NAKAYA

We meet Nakaya, the New York based singer-songwriter blending folk, soul, R&B and electronica.

Nakaya is well on her way to being one of 2016’s break-through artists. Her track “Lose It Too” is already a Wonderland fave – we featured it on our ‘tracks of the week’ list back in June, but now the accompanying video is here! The song itself has only been out for three weeks and has already amassed nearly 40,000 plays on Spotify. Very impressive for someone so new on the scene! The track, produced by Isak Swing, has an eerie, trip-hop, R&B infused electronica kind of vibe. This sounds a bit of over the top, we know, but take a listen and you’ll see exactly what we mean. The video is a pure visual delight. Shot in Brooklyn, the video depicts a poignant story of queer romance, heartbreak, friendship and lust. Trust us, you’ll want to watch it on repeat all weekend.

Nakaya first popped up on our musical radar after releasing her folksy debut EP “Out of Breath” last year. Fast-forward to this year, and the LA-born artist has some how found time to do another release, whilst simultaneously juggling her studies at the prestigious Clive Davis Institute. She’s played a few festivals as well as a couple of US venues, but we think it’s “Lose It Too” that’s going to make Nakaya a real global star. We caught up with her to talk success, Sade, studying and song writing.

You grew up in LA, arguably the world’s ultimate creative hub, where fame is everything. How would you say the city has influenced you?

Growing up in LA was a great but also strange experience. Like any metropolis, you interact with people from all walks of like and it opens up your perspective on how people live, but I was never always a big fan of LA in particular. It’s a spread out city, and people like to stay in their neighborhoods, so although there are so many cultures and exciting things happening throughout the city, there’s less melding of communities like there is in New York. In all honesty, I’m not sure I am particularly influenced by the city, but rather my experiences and the incredible people I’ve met here.

You’re still studying at Clive Davis but you’ve managed to release music professionally both this year and last. Has it been difficult to juggle the two? Or have your studies actually enhanced your career and pushed you to make those first steps?

Sometimes it can feel so difficult to balance! Last year, I interned, worked a part time retail job, was a full time student and tried to also create my own work when I had the down time. It never stops being a grind, but what fulfilling experience isn’t? Being at Clive has honestly changed my life, my first EP, “Out Of Breath” was recorded in the studios there and I’ve learned so much in and outside the classroom. Seeing your classmates release great music day after day inspires me to work hard because seeing it firsthand, I know their success is attainable. That place is my home, it’s crazy to know I’ll be leaving so soon.

Let’s talk a little bit about the video. We love it! It feels incredibly intimate and at the same time deals with typically human themes such as friendship and unrequited love, which we can all relate to. I saw you crowd funded the project, which is also pretty impressive! How did it all come about?

Thank you so much! That video was all blood, sweat and tears from both myself and my crew. It started with wanting to work with cinematographer Peter Pascucci over the past year because I’m (arguably) his number one fan and think he has a great eye. We tried to collaborate on several occasions and the timing never felt right, but when this video came around it was a godsend that it might finally work out. He brought Josh Davy on board as director, and I would say that the three of us really were the head of the operation. It wasn’t the easiest project to get done, but I feel so grateful and honored that these guys and everyone who sacrificed their time trusted us enough to make our vision a reality.

The crowdfunding aspect of the process was new for me. I had seen people do it in the past – I felt apprehensive about asking and also nervous that people wouldn’t want to fund my project, but I needed to just put my ego aside and do what we needed to so we could make the video the absolute best it could be. Beyond my expectations, the page was fully funded in two days. I couldn’t believe it, and I realized the creation of the video exemplified the whole notion of “it takes a village.” Any success that may exist through my own name only exists because of the large group of people that have supported me and allowed me to stand on their shoulders.

We love that, instead of bowing to boring and outdated industry norms, you were true to your own identity and made a same sex relationship the focus of your video. Was this something that was always extremely important to you?

When we discussed it, there really was no other choice. It became the focus only because those were the two characters portrayed in the video, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t about the sexuality, I wanted to depict an overarching human experience. I am who I am, and it would have been inauthentic to choose otherwise.

The “Out of Breath” EP sounds a lot more ‘folksy’ than “Lose It Too”. I know you worked with a different producer this time around, but would you say that your sound has developed over the last year? I’d venture as far as to say that “Lose It Too” is that bit more commercial…

Yes! At the core, I really am a folk writer. “Lose It Too” was in fact a folk song before Isak Swing came in and worked his magic on the track. I want to figure out how to make alternative music more accessible, folk is my home but I am also influenced by so many genres outside folk that it wouldn’t feel true to myself to not explore those other styles that mean so much to me.

You’re a fantastic lyricist! What’s the writing process like for you, and how heavily do you draw upon your own personal experiences?

Aw, thank you. I take that compliment very seriously – songwriting can be such a weighty task, but when it’s right it works so well. Real talk, my writing process makes no sense and honestly, I’m sure most songwriters would say the same. I will say that I always start the same way – I try out different licks on my guitar until I find something that really sticks to me and then try to work melodies around that. The process isn’t a straight arrow though, some days I’ll knock out an entire song in 15 minutes and other days I’ll have to work at it for hours upon hours, writing and rewriting.

It’s scary sometimes, all of my songs are so deeply personal and all pull from my own life. It’s the best way to write honestly and connect with others about an experience because even if I have dealt with a specific circumstance, the hope is that someone takes away the larger overall human emotion and resonate with it.

Who or what are your biggest creative inspirations?

Musically I’m inspired all over the place. From Stevie Wonder to Nina Simone to Joni Mitchell, my sonic taste exists on such a wide plane and thank god for that because even though sometimes it can feel quite spastic, growing up in a household that exposed me to all sorts of music has made me a better musician. Because I’ve been lucky enough to understand so much about different types of music, I have inspiration I can pull form everywhere and it helps to define who I am as an artist.

You’re working with numerous producers at the moment. Who would your dream collaborator be?

I’ve dreamt about working with Justin Vernon so many times that that’s the most obvious answer for me, but other than him I would love to work with Stuart Matthewman (who is Sade’s producer) because I think he understands the importance of “less is more.” A lot of my work is centered around understanding that you don’t need the most elaborate and complex tools to make a great song. There are no rules to art, it’s about how it makes you feel and Matthewman’s work is timeless because he conveys the core meaning of the song beautifully without frills.

If you could wish for one thing for people to take away from your music, what would it be?

I think the most common theme around my work in particular is quite dark, and I’ve garnered a “sad girl” nickname for myself but I don’t think I’m sad at all. I think, if anything I’m strong because life has thrown me so many curveballs and although I don’t think I have any answers, my blind maneuverings have helped me mature as an individual. I thoroughly believe that life only gives you what you’re able to handle, and there’s an innate power in knowing that you have the capability to overcome whatever your circumstance may be. I want people to understand that my work is dark because it’s turning those dark experiences into light, into art.

Tell us a bit about your plans for the future. What’s on the horizon for you atm?

Making more music!! I will be in the studio a lot this year, working towards some new releases. I’ve been writing like a madwoman these past few months so I’m excited to start fleshing out songs and watch them come to life (it’s my favorite part of the process). I’m hoping to really hone in my sound on this new material and find the lane that melds all my influences but feels right for me. Life feels really exciting and inspiring right now, I’m super excited to get new stuff out there and also to perform as much as I can.

Kathleen Johnston
New Noise: NAKAYA

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