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INTERVIEW / Nilüfer Yanya Creates a Dazzling and Personal World of Her Own Through PAINLESS

Updated: Mar 13, 2022

Nilüfer Yanya has an innate talent of creating subversive worlds through her music. With her eclectic references, operatic vocals, and the amount of guitar numbers she has up her sleeve, Nilüfer is constantly pushing the boundaries of what it means to be creative in every sense of the word. She has carefully laid out a dystopian concept for Miss Universe while embellishing each track with lyrics that ironized the eerily serene atmosphere of the record.

Beating the "sophomore-curse" is always difficult for artists who have managed to take the music world by storm with their debuts. Trying to have a reformative edge while keeping your defining sound intact is overwhelming, for lack of a better word. However, this all-encompassing fear that most artists face doesn't look as though it's holding Nilüfer back. With her sophomore album PAINLESS, Yanya returns with a perfect album as she seems to be more comfortable in her own craft than ever.

PAINLESS opens up with the dealer, a confident track that hooks you in within the first second with the all-in-your-ears sturdy drums. In L/R Nilüfer experiments with saz, a traditional Turkish folk string instrument that makes my Turkish self, oh so very proud. Then comes shameless, a defining moment in the album. "If that is a sign / If this is enough / Then why do I lie here/ Left leaving your touch? / Under it all I'm shameless / Until you fall it's painless." she sings. Yanya's watery and echoey vocals adds a wistful potency to one of her best-written lines so far. This record seems to be a more personal one for Nilüfer as the lyrics are way more raw with bittersweet layers of hurt, grief and heartache. stabilise has to be my favorite song off the record. The In Rainbows reference is stirred with post-punk riffs that gets your feet moving during the entirety of the song. It's filled with so much power and pushed-down-stubbornness that pushes this song to a feral perfection. midnight sun is one of the singles that was pushed forward before the release of the album. It portrays the quiet-going yet powerful essence of the album quite well.

"I really like the imagery of ‘midnight sun’ as a lyric as it insinuates a light guiding you through darkness. The wings carry their own symbolism – freedom, lightness, flight, fantasy… If I could pick what people saw and heard it would be: seeing the beauty of confrontation and the necessity of rebellion." - Nilüfer Yany

Overall, PAINLESS is an album that exudes self-assurance. Nilüfer goes for a more relaxed yet confident way of creating an album and it glimmers with vibrant imageries and refined sounds. I've got the chance to interview Nilüfer Yanya in Paris before the release of her new album to talk about her previous works and the influences behind PAINLESS.

Janset: Most musicians convey imagery through lyrics but you seem to make instruments talk too. How do you find the sweet spot between the both to tell a story cohesively?

Nilüfer: With this record I was trying the "less is more" approach. I would have one idea and spread it out or pull it out as long as I could. Normally the guitar comes first in my music making process but this time I was doing a bit of co-writing. I was working with my friend Will Archer and he was playing a lot of the guitars so this time around he would already be playing it and I would come up with the melody.

Your style is very eclectic with various reference points. Do you think that your Turkish, Irish and Barbadian heritage inspires you to not stick to a specific sound and explore music from different scenes?

Yeah, definitely! I'm interested in drawing parallels and I feel comfortable in being in between things instead of just being one thing because I'm not just one thing! Sticking to one sound doesn't represent me because music is my way of relating to world.

As soon as you release a song it belongs to everybody and people interpret them based on their own experiences. Are you mostly okay with that or do you feel like you're not understood when that's the case?

Even me, I don't always know what the song is about. There are so many different meanings within each song. When I'm writing, I write about a lot of different concepts most times because I feel like a song is never about one thing. However, if someone interprets them differently that wouldn't mean that it's wrong because it could be that thing too. Each time I perform my songs I feel like they mean something else because music has that power to change and adapt to different situations. I don't mind people interpreting them differently, that's the beauty of being an artist.

Does writing something and going "Wow, I had no idea that these lyrics would turn out this way." a common reaction for you in that case?

Yeah! All the time. Sometimes I think I know what I'm writing about but it turns out to be something completely different. Sometimes it's almost playing a predicting game with what's going to happen.

Do you think that one of your previous singles Crash embodies some angst that came with COVID and found it's way into your song? What inspired you to write a song with a different sonic direction?

It was kind of an experiment actually, I started writing it before the pandemic. I was working with Nick Hakim who is an amazing musician. We've had one or two days in New York together and then he came to London for two days. We started writing the guitar part and I was playing it in a trashy way and he offered to make it sound very distorted. I was a bit hesitant and I was thinking of playing it a bit more safe but it really worked.

So you don't mind experimenting with sounds that are outside your comfort zone?

No! Especially if you're working with someone whose music you admire, you are more open to trying new things out.

Miss Universe was an amazing debut album whether it'd be with its lyrics, instrumentals and its self-help concept and the lyrics that ironized that concept through evoking paranoia and worry. Does your new album discover new areas of story-telling? How does it differ from your first album?

With this album I didn't want to have a concept and wanted to keep it open. Also, I've already done it before so why do it again? I don't want to be the person who does the same thing over and over, it's boring. This album was a very chill way of reinventing.

In terms of lyrics, do you think that your song-writing is more personal on this record?

I think they are coming from the same place but I digged a bit deeper and tried to find new ways of saying what I've said before. I didn't cover up what I was saying. I've just written down different ideas and said "Yeah, this works." I was a bit more instinctive this time around with my writing.

And before you were more self-blocking?

I would write it and rewrite is and kept changing the lyrics. With stabilise's chorus, I wanted to find another line because it felt repetitive and I was like "Ugh, it's a bit depressing." but I couldn't find anything else and I just said "Okay, cool."

One of the singles you've released for your upcoming album was stabilise and it made me think of Weird Fishes / Arpeggi by Radiohead. Which artists or themes were prominent for you while recording PAINLESS?

I was listening to a lot of Big Thief, Elliott smith and their music kind of interconnects and it inspired me so much. Their songwriting is telling a story but it's not obvious. We did mention Nirvana a couple of times. I don't listen to them a lot but the grunge sound came up a couple of times. That "guitar-band sound" is something that I love.

You've said that you've found collaboration difficult a while ago yet you've worked with great artists like Nick Hakim and Andrew Sarlo. How did working with them change your perspective on your own work?

You begin to like your work in another way. Sometimes what you think is rubbish is an amazing idea to someone else. You feel less precious over your work but you feel more pressure at the same time. You can make anything into a song and nothing should be thrown away. Especially with this record, I really needed collaboration and co-writing because when I was alone I was getting really in my head. The lockdown, concert being cancelled... There was no distractions for me. I tried to write but I couldn't make myself do it. When you're working with people they inspire you and it comes together in a more enjoyable way.

Yeah, it shouldn't be a suffering contest.

Ha! A suffering contest, exactly. That's why I called it PAINLESS in the beginning. Once I got part the writing thing, it was painless. Music and art doesn't have to be about pain and suffering, you can just enjoy it. Making your self suffer the same way isn't always going to help, it's going to make you more miserable.

I found your previous collaboration comment interesting because you grew up with sisters and you've shared a lot of things together. How come you were more closed off to collaboration when it came to music?

Music to me was a very personal thing. One of my sisters directs all my videos and my other sister does a lot of singing with me and painting but in the beginning I thought that music was my own thing. I felt that I could say what I wanted to say and nobody would judge me. In different phases in your life you need more input from different people and I think I'm there now.

Were there a specific song or one moment in the recording of PAINLESS that made you go "Wow I'm excited to get this album out." ?

Yeah! I was very excited for trouble and stabilise. I was always very excited but I didn't have the rest of the album yet so I wasn't even sure if it would be an album. I also loved chase me. I'm so excited to play it.

In between your first and your second album, what have you learnt as an artists that you haven't known while you were recording Miss Universe?

I think I didn't know that it doesn't really matter? It sounds silly but none of it is really important. You can always take more time than you think and for the next album that's really what I want to do. You almost internalize the pressure when you're recording. There is no point of rushing. You think so much about the end result and maybe not so much the process of it. With me, I was a bit confused because even if I like performing, I really like making music. If you can find a way to extend that section you'll have more fun.

Stream PAINLESS here:


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