The songwriter paving the way for the next generation.
Sitting down with Naaz in a studio in Amsterdam earlier this year, I am immediately struck by the professionalism of the 19 year old. Celebrating her birthday only days before we meet, the Holland-based songwriter’s work ethic clearly comes from her experience growing up. “I feel like because I wasn’t always allowed to chase my dreams, I’ve always had to work really, really hard to get things done for myself because I was simply just not allowed to get out of the house to do these things,” she tells me. “So, I feel like those things kind of make you grow up a little earlier than a normal 18 or 19 year old.”
Raised in a conservative Kurdish household, Naaz refused to be confined to the path that she was supposed to follow, attributing her entry into the music world to a mentor who convinced her parents to let her give the “whole music thing” a go. Talking about that moment, a smile spreads across her face so wide it looks like it’s about to burst at the seams: “It’s so great to have someone that changes your life, that frees you from everything that you thought you were ever allowed to do and makes sure that you can be everything that you wanna be.”
However, Naaz’s success is not based just on other people, as her brilliant debut “Words” shows. Written and produced by herself, and performed in her bedroom, she begins bashing a spoon against the coffee table we’re sitting around to show me how she sampled sounds from around her room because she wanted it to be clear the song was made there. “I sent it to loads of mixers and they were like, ‘This sounds like it was made in a bedroom’ and I was like, ‘Exactly!'” she laughs.
A flawlessly crafted pop song, “Words” is a delicate masterpiece, with Naaz’s incredible vocals highlighted over a warm synth backdrop and the kind of melodies that stay with you for days afterwards. An exciting glimpse into her debut EP, “Bits of Naaz”, the rising star is destined for greatness and her self-described “quirkpop” is certain to get you hooked. What makes Naaz all the more endearing, aside from her captivating pop songs, is her determination to continue to work hard in the often harsh world of music. “A lot of people try to sugar coat [what the music industry is like] for you when they love you, but I’m always like ‘Just give me the real deal.’ I don’t wanna sugarcoat it, I just want the truth and I can handle it, you know?”
Well, here’s the truth – Naaz is taking over the music world, one “quirkpop” song at a time, and we’re all for it.
What artists did you listen to when you were growing up?
When I was growing up, I actually listened to a lot of rock music, which was really weird. I listened to a lot of Oasis. My brothers never told me that Oasis broke up so one day I found out through the internet and I was so upset! That’s when you grow up too early, when you find out your favourite band has broken up… But I loved Oasis, I still love them. I listened to a lot of Linkin Park as well but I think I listened to them because my brothers were listening to them. Then when I entered my teen years I started listening to a lot more pop music, not bubblegum pop, more like Tove Lo and Lorde. Artists like that who are really unique and don’t really listen to what you’re supposed to be within the guidelines of being the perfect pop star.
And do you see influences from those artists in your own music?
Yeah. When it comes to songwriting, I love Kehlani a lot and when I wrote “Words” I was really listening to her. My music isn’t really R&B but the placement of my words is, so I think I got that from her. Then not caring about the music being too deep and writing whatever you’re feeling, I think I got that from Lorde. I think structure wise, I listen to a lot of Tove Lo. I think it’s just a combination of them all. But it’s like 90% Naaz and 10% influences.
You started by doing YouTube covers, right?
Yeah, I did like two or three covers but then I realised that I don’t love singing songs I haven’t written because the only reason I sing is to express my feelings. I personally don’t feel the same connection when I sing other people’s songs as to when I sing my own words. Sometimes a song feels very personal to me so when I sing a cover it does feel very special, but I just realised that I have to make my own songs, I can’t do covers, this is not who I am, I’m not someone who sings other people’s songs. So my fourth or fifth video on YouTube, that was my own original song.
“I want to show that you don’t need other people or a studio to make music. You can do everything even if you don’t have anything.”
How have you grown as an artist from when you first started making music up to now?
It’s something I thought about the other day. My songs at first were very, very sad, and they were very dark. They were always very emotional, because I was feeling very sad because I wasn’t able to have the life that I wanted to have and I was told to have a life that I really didn’t want to have. It was really hard. But looking at my songs through the years, now I hardly write sad songs and that feels like such a big thing for me. At first, I didn’t think I could write happy songs, but now I only write happy songs! “Words” is one of the first happy songs that I’ve written and it started with me thinking that if I kept making sad songs I would turn into a sad song and I don’t wanna be a sad song. I realised I should pick the chords that make me feel like everything is going to be alright.
You mentioned “Words”. What was the inspiration behind its creation?
Whenever I hear my friends and family and my mentor speak, I feel butterflies. When someone talks you can actually judge how they see the world and you can really take a look into their perspective of life. It makes me feel really inspired because it proves just how individual everyone is. Everyone is always talking about how everyone is a sheep and how everyone’s just doing the same thing, but at the same time everyone just has such a special way of experiencing things and everyone has a different way of feeling feelings. The words that people use to explain everyday things, to just talk about how they feel and how they see people, just says a lot about them and expands your horizons if you’re open to listening to them.
The song comes from your debut EP “Bits of Naaz”. What can you tell me about that?
I made the EP in my bedroom. That’s actually where the artwork’s from! It’s a picture my brother took of me when I was making “Words”. It’s really funny because I actually look kind of annoyed, because I was working. All the songs on the EP are just kind of like tributes to things around me and people around me. “Words” is a tribute to everyone that’s ever inspired me, whether it’s a line in a TV show or my best friend telling me something. Then there’s also this other song, called “Can’t”, which is dedicated to everything that I was not allowed to have and how much it hurt me and the frustration at not being allowed to be who you actually are. All the songs are just very minimalistic and my vocals are the leading thing in general. I wanted to make the songs sound like they were being recorded from my bedroom so I didn’t want to go into a studio. That’s the point, I want to show that you don’t need other people or a studio to make music. You can do everything even if you don’t have anything. You can create something out of thin air. I wanted everything to sound like just a girl alone in her room and nothing can stop her.
Is that one of the messages that you want people to take away from the EP?
Definitely, definitely. The thing is, the reason why a lot of things that most teenage girls do I don’t do, like dating or going out or doing a lot of “teen” things, the reason why I don’t do those is because it’s just not accepted in my culture. But music is also not accepted and I wanted to show people that you can do music and stay exactly who you are, so hopefully the next generation will be able to do music and have boyfriends and do all those “teen” things. So by doing those things and making my songs sound very doable, I wanna make sure that a lot of other Kurdish girls – or anyone! – feel like they can do it as well.