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Meeting with Nilüfer Yanya, between jazz infusion and grunge guitar

The young Londoner has just released “Painless”, a second disc which moves away from the jazzy incantations of “Miss Universe”, her first long format published in 2019, to frequent alternative rock more.

Vastly underrated, the ambitious Miss Universe, Nilüfer Yanya’s first album released in 2019, already showed a certain taste for the combination of jazz profusion and post-punk distortions. At the start of 2022, the young Englishwoman returns with Painlesssecond effort of a dozen titles always adept at wide gaps.

From a bitter health crisis affecting creative abilities to highly claimed grunge influences, through our relationship to ambient melancholy and urban depression, the pangs of the music industry and a declaration of independence, not forgetting the years iPod and the quest for its various origins, Nilüfer Yanya, who now plans to take his time, leads us through the corridors of Painless and a career started in 2016 and already well supplied. Meeting in Paris.

You just left Painless, your second album. How do you feel ?
Nilüfer Yanya – Very well ! I’m happy to be able to release an album and go on tour. These two years of health crisis taught me that anything could happen. The music industry has been completely devastated so I feel lucky to still be here.

You wrote and composed Painless during this complex time. What state of mind were you in?
The first year, between the Covid-19 and the successive confinements, I was really not inspired. I couldn’t write anymore. When this desire finally resurfaced, it had become a necessity. I needed to release something. But everything was bland. I was a little desperate. So I spent almost a year writing and, no matter what I wrote, I was happy to have found a taste for writing again.

Were you under the dreaded pressure of the second album?
Because of the pandemic, I didn’t think too much about it. I didn’t even know what was going to happen, if I was going to be able to release this album or go on tour. But I put pressure on myself because I wanted to keep making music. I absolutely wanted to release a second disc.

Painless literally revolves around this idea of ​​erasing all suffering. What does this mean for you?
There are many ways to perceive Painless. On the one hand, for me, music is not something that is made in suffering. It’s supposed to be nice. Moreover, this album was produced in the light and without torture. That’s what I love about the musical process. On the other hand, I have the impression that we are always trying to free our existence from pain. But the more you get rid of the pain, the less you feel it. It’s dangerous because it takes you away from other people’s pain. You can no longer relate to people. I understood that from my first songs.

On your first album, Miss Universefigure the song Monsters Under Your Bed in which you sing: “They all say I’m not okay / Such a shame, never felt so good / They all think I’m someone else / Not myself / But the feeling’s good.” Were you already looking for that feeling of well-being?
Oh, it’s an old song! I wrote it when I was 15. But yes, I see Painless as a continuity. Certain moments in your life seem like insurmountable trials. You are not comfortable with yourself. Anyway, at some point, you find an ounce of clarity and you realize that you are very much alive. Do not take these dark moments as things right in front of you. We must accept them and stop thinking that they are bad things.

You talk about being comfortable with your own feelings, even if it’s melancholy or doubt. How do you manage to write on it?
For my second album, I wrote more instinctively. I wrote constantly, I was so happy to have found this desire. As I didn’t stop, I didn’t dwell on my ideas, I let them come out naturally. I didn’t try to make things more complex than they are.

Painless does not evoke any sense of urgency. Is it important for you to take your time?
Completely. I take my time more and more. Before, I wrote at full speed. Today, I still write as much but over a longer period of time. Slowing down allows me to appreciate more. It’s a way to take the pressure off and make the moment you’re living more lasting. When you make a record, the best step is creating it.

Nowadays, music is consumed more single by single. Did it change your way of composing?
Not really. I’ve always been used to singles since I grew up in the streaming era. When I was younger, I had an iPod and rarely bought CDs. So I’m not sure that the new means of listening affect my way of creating. Besides, I love small formats like singles or EPs. It avoids the pressure of the album and breaks the pattern on which the record companies are based. But I think people will still appreciate the album format.

Speaking of the music industry, a few years ago, why did you turn down Louis Tomlinson’s (One Direction) proposal to join a girl band?
In fact, I did not refuse. I never answered! I did not want. From the beginning, it smelled like a bad idea since the only goal of this girls band was success. I was never really told who was behind this project, I was just told that I could write. When you’re promised so much, it’s usually unreliable. Ultimately, the project failed. I felt like they tried to cheat the artists. Dishonesty is the most repugnant part of the music industry.

On the British scene, you evolve alongside independent artists such as Arlo Parks or King Krule, who also sampled your voice on Airport Antenatal Airplane. Is it important for you to be independent?
Totally. I don’t like when there are too many people around my project and when it becomes too difficult to maneuver because you are under the yoke of a major. These days it’s hard to be independent but you have more freedom when you are. It’s in your interests to keep control of your career for as long as possible. Nobody can blind you, nor do it to you upside down.

As a woman, do you feel like you belong in the music industry?
Male dominance remains evident in this environment. It’s intimidating. You feel it male gauze wherever you go in the music industry. But that is slowly changing. Slowly but surely !

On Painlesssome songs like Trouble Where Stabilizes leave the jazz influences of your first album aside in favor of a post-punk or alternative rock side.
It came when I started taking my time. I was no longer trying to pile up everything I love. I wanted to focus on one thing and push it all the way. Before, I hesitated to go for it. I was afraid of putting too much of this or too much of that. This time, I wanted the album to sound as good as possible. It doesn’t matter what gender. But I’ve been navigating between rock, post-punk and grunge for a long time.

Do you like grunge?
Downright. It’s a genre that I naturally went to. The Pixies are one of my favorite bands. At one point, I was also doing a cover of PJ Harvey on stage. I love Elliott Smith. And Nirvana, of course. I’m a particular fan of MTV Unplugged.

The last time you came to Radio Nova, you did a cover of Hey pixies.
Yes ! It’s one of my favorite songs. I think Pixies still influence a lot of artists today.

Which current bands inspire you?
I love Big Thief. And I had a big crush on SAULT, a project led by Inflo with Little Simz, Michael Kiwanuka and many others. I would say it’s soul with R&B but they have a load of influences of all kinds. The production is very interesting! Otherwise, at the moment, I really like Alex G.

on the song L/R, you play the saz, a Turkish lute-like instrument. Did you need to reconnect with your origins?
My father is Turkish and he gave me his old saz. Currently, I am on the path that leads me little by little towards my different cultures and identities. I have only just realized how necessary it is to know all my origins. If people perceive this trajectory in my music, it’s cool, but it’s still very personal.

When you came out Inside Outlast year, was it necessary for you to collect all your first songs on a record?
I mainly did it to raise funds for Artists In Transit, an NGO that I founded with my sister in 2015. We organize artistic workshops with refugees. Art is a way to connect people with each other. I sold all the copies of Inside Out so it was a good idea!

You are a fan of albums between albums. Your latest EP to date is Feeling Lucky?, published in 2020.
When you have finished something, it is always very nice to show it to others. There are only three songs on Feeling Lucky? but I love this “in-between albums” aspect. EPs let you ride without worrying about touring or pressure. I feel a persistent need to release music.

How did you start music?
I always sang for myself. When I discovered the guitar, I immediately loved the sounds it produced, whether it was distorted, squealing or funky tones. I always try to link these two types of sounds. I also like the emotion that comes from the practice of music and singing. Basically, I just wanted to be in a band and write and make music. It was my secret plan!

To implement this plan, you went through the Pimlico School in London, a prestigious school with a music section. What did this training bring you?
It convinced me that I could make a living from music. At the time, this school brewed different music, methods and creations. I felt like I was in a time capsule. But the school has changed a lot since then. I also had very good teachers, which I sometimes realized late. When you’re young, sometimes you take too many things for granted.

It is certainly difficult to teach creation.
Completely, because there are no rules. Look, in music, there are so many things to learn. You cannot confine yourself to transmitting your own personality. This school gave me above all a technical basis in musical practice.

You were born in London, you studied there and you still live there. As you sing in Stabilizesdoes this city inspire you?
Not really. The city seems flat and insipid to me. Since confinement, I have realized that all cities damage the health of their inhabitants. Finally, their goal is to go to the countryside or on vacation, to connect with nature, to escape from a circle. I’ve always been aware of that. Recently, I even realized that I didn’t want to be a city dweller all my life. I need other experiences and sun! The city is a bit of brainwashing. You are caught up in the fact of working constantly and consuming continuously. Of course, you don’t have to fit into this pattern, but it’s very difficult to escape it. Stabilizes is a song about this exhaustion caused by the city.

Your new album ends with anotherlife. What life are you talking about?
From a parallel life. You may feel lost and sad. But not everything is immutable. You can always dream and yearn for another life.

Interview by Juliette Poulain

Painless (ATO Records/PIAS). Released March 4. Concert on March 20 in Paris (Trabendo).

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