Announcing her new album today, the soul singer gets candid on her creativity in lockdown, welcoming her first child and how music is not longer her whole identity.
With summer in full effect, we’ve been busy selecting the perfect tunes to blast through our Bluetooth speakers in the park and enjoy the blazing hot weather. But in order to make the perfect playlist, it has to have some requirements: a Drake hit from 2016, that old-school throwback anthem from your childhood and a cosy sweet-toned NAO hit. Whether it be her dulcet harmonies, or the ability to decorate R&B-tinged productions with funk-flecked sounds, the British avant-soul singer knows how to create a vibe for the summer, and her latest single “Messy Love” is no different.
Gently taking us by the hand, the singer brings us into a soothing guitar-led soundscape where we’re introduced to a 90s-ready bassline and romantic violin-decorated melodies. Commanding our attention with ease, the singer carefully puts her tentatively crafted niche of soul on full display, before diving into deep husky tones and soaring into a soft bubblegum falsetto.
“I think it is definitely one of my favourite songs from the album,” the singer muses over our early morning Zoom. “It has a whole different vibe to it, I remember playing it to my friends and them being like, ‘this is it, this is the one.”
Having spent the past three years releasing an array of genre-bending singles and features, the Saturn singer is back and ready to take her sounds to new heights with her new upcoming album. But as we settle in for our mid-morning chat, NAO assures me the journey hasn’t been easy. Talking becoming a first-time mom and her growth other the years, the singer gets candid on her new album and how music is not longer her whole identity.
Check out the interview below now…
So you’re just in the studio working on the new album?
Oh yeah. Just finishing up the new album basically.
How’s it going?
I’m just mixing it and making sure it sounds good. I’m really proud of this project. It sounds great. It’s three years in the making since my last, and I’m ready to come back now.
Three years in the making. That’s quite a long time. How come you kind of took quite a while of this one?
You know, I was touring around for a while and then I had a baby!
Congratulations! What was that like?
Thank you. Yeah, it was wild. She was born in lockdown and I was so happy she came out healthy!
Do you think when you became a mom, your creativity was affected?
Before I became a mother, music wasn’t just my hobby, it was my whole identity. I would get so stressed out with music and how I was coming across. I’m a mom now, and I feel like it’s not my whole identity anymore, I go home and just leave it at the door. I think it’s all a part of growing up.
Your musical journey has been incredible as well! How would you describe it?
I knew I loved music, I just didn’t know that you could have a job in it. I kept following and developing my voice over the years. When I went to uni, I got into this incredible music conservatoire which is really difficult to get into. I knew for sure from there that this is something I want to do as a career.
So how would you describe your growth as an artist over the years?
When I first started, I was in my early 20s or something like that, so I live in a different place. I just wanted to be cool, like ‘How cool could I be?’ But over the years, you just get more comfortable in your won skin and with what you want to make. You stop thinking so much about what other people want. I love music so much and I just gave myself permission to explore over the years. I relaxed a lot more and just had fun with my creativity.
You can definitely hear the growth in your music, especially in your new single. Talk me through it, what was it like creating it?
I wrote the song in Los Angeles and I was in a messy situation, whereby I saw the red flags but ignored them. But ultimately, I end up choosing my self-esteem and dignity. No one wants a messy kinda love.
Why did you choose this single as your first from the album?
I think it is definitely one of my favourite songs from the album. I played it to my friends and they were like ‘yeah this is the one’. It just has a different vibe to it.
Does it set the tone for the album?
I don’t think so. The album doesn’t sit in one genre. Its range of different sounds and emotions. There are songs you can chill with, songs you play when you’re in your bedroom – it’s just a very mixed bag, but it’s all connected because it all comes from me.
I think we’re all excited to hear it, it’s been a long time coming…
I think you’ll get it this year.
You’re sound is very distinctive as well. As soon as I hear one of your songs, I know it’s you. How does this make you feel?
I do this thing whereby I create nuggets (beats) They’re just like really basic ideas. I’ll bring them into session and we’ll build around that. Like I’ll tell the producer this is what I want to say. I’m not the best producer, and they can start off a bit shit, but I think that is what makes my songs a bit different. But I know now my voice is distinctive.
How did you find that out?
A lot of people don’t know what I look like, it’s only when I start speaking to them, they’re like “oh wait your NAO!
You created this album during a period of lockdown as well. Did you kind of have to face some, like, creative humps in the process,
Yeah, at some stage I did feel sort of hopeless because I was so heavily pregnant. I was constantly tired and I had no creativity. I wasn’t in the best place even after having my baby. It was only when I got in the studio and recorded “Woman” with Lianne La Havas with my daughter strapped to me, did I get back into it. I was really depressed and eating really shit and just tired, but that moment there sparked something again. It just felt so good to feel like me again.
Having a child is so life-changing…
Yeah! The whole idea of someone being created by me is mind-blowing!
You’ve had such an incredible journey. It’s amazing to see that you’re still so grounded and humble. Even speaking to you, your personality matches your music – it just goes hand in hand!
[laughs] Honestly, you say that but then there are plaques everywhere in my studio. I just can’t wait for you guys to hear the album, I think everyone is going to be surprised!