Nilufer Yanya: Virtual Session

Nilüfer Yanya joins Sean McPherson to play a few songs from her latest EP release, Feeling Lucky? (MPR)
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Nilufer Yanya joins Sean McPherson to play songs from her new EP, Feeling Lucky? which was released earlier this month. They'll be discussing the freedoms of releasing EPs over albums, why she loves writing angry songs, and recalibrating to a year without live shows.

Interview Transcript


[SEAN MCPHERSON] You're with The Current and I'm talking with Nilufer Yanya, and I'm really excited that she's able to join us today and play a couple of songs off of her new EP Feeling Lucky. Nilufer, congratulations on the new EP.

[NILUFER YANYA] Thank you, thanks. I'm glad you like itn.

Well I really do and I think although I havennothing but time on my hands it feels like in 2020 something about a 10-minute piece of work that is really satisfying I don't know it was it was one of the most enjoyable 10 minutes of my life the first time I listened to the album it's just- it's a really good piece of work.

Thank you, thanks.

On The Current we've been spinning the tune "Crash" a whole bunch and it's it's a really nice tune so I'm hoping we could start today with your guitar performancenof "Crash".

Sure, this is "Crash".

[music: "Crash" by Nilufer Yanya]

That was Nilufer Yanya doing "Crash," and Nilufer, the tune as you played it on guitar is so much faster than the arrangement with the whole band that we've been playing on on The Current. Did you bring the tune in to start working with a producer in kind of the way you played it today or did- are you starting to play it faster nowadays?

I mean I kind of brought it in when it was a bit more like bare bones. It probably would have been that fast, I think as well. And I guess when you start to like add things it gets a bit like too chaotic. So I mean it's always nicer to record things a bit slower, I think. But when I perform I tend to like want to play it because it's kind of like all this like energy. And you're by yourself as well so that you want to feed that somehow.

Completelynunderstood and if you're by yourself there's no click track you got to stay loyal to. And I think the energy of the guitar performance was really really cool. Can you walk me through starting off in that setting and then getting to the level where it's more produced and you got a lot of things happening on the track besides for just your vocal on the guitar, how did that all come about for the tune "Crash"?

When I brought it to the producer I was working with Nick Hakim. It was very like, kind of like, the bare bones. I had the verse idea, and I had a kind of rough idea of how the chorus should go but I hadn't built up any instrumentation or anything. So we really just did that, all of that building in the studio and Nick just like kept adding things and everything just kind of worked. Everything just kind of sounded good so we just kept- kept going for it.

Well it certainly does sound really good and the stuff that I've heard - Nick Hakim, we play some of his music on PurplenCurrent and he's a really soulful R&B - that's the side of of his music that I've heard, and it seems like a really good fit because you have some of that in your music but I would say your delivery is a lot more raw and like um 'emotions on your sleeve' with especially with the tune "Crash". It just it sounds to me, am I right in saying that's an angry song? Is that kind of, a lot of the emotion that's coming out?

Yeah it's definitely an angry song.

There's a huge shortage in this world of angry songs. We have plenty of happy songs. We have a surplus of sad songs. How'd you come to be writing an angry song?

I think they're my favorite kind of songs to write because it's a kind of- I think also perform as well because as you perform it you kind of you get more angry you're like, "Oh yeah that's what I was thinking about! Oh yeah that's the other thing," and yeah I'm just so angry about things. I think that's a good, like you said, sometimes you need more of that in the world. And also I think when you're performing, it's like, you feel like sometimes - I used to feel like a lot when I was younger, I had a lot to prove to the people standing in the crowd because you know nobody knows your music and you kind of build up this kind of like, this angry kind of energy inside of you. So, yeah.

Well you know the 'having stuff to prove' might feel a little bit different on this EP given that you got such a warm reception for your first full-length album and you've been really celebrated and critically acclaimed. I tried for an hour to find something negative about you on the internet and I failed. All I found was people saying, "This is awesome." Now you seem to have like cut your teeth doing EPs you have a lot more EPs than you have full length albums. After you made the full-length album, what was it like to come back to this format that seems near and dear to you?

It was so nice, to be honest. Like you said, near and dear. And I missed it and it's so much - it feels a lot more natural I guess because I've done so many more of them. You know you don't have to like over contextualize it over talk about it you just get to do the songs pick the ones you want to do on the EP and put it out and it's just very like fresh and new. I think with an album because it's kind of a bigger - it's a bigger task and it's a bigger body of work, so by the time you get to releasing it some of those songs are like so old. So yeah.

But we have an appetite for immediacy nowadays and sometimes something like an EP can really address that immediacy. With Covid it's a little harder to be available as an artist to get out new music and to you know collaborate with people as easily how have you been navigating answering the need for immediacy, while also navigating trying to keep yourself and your band and your production team safe?

I haven't really seen much of my band at all. So most of the thingsnI've done this year have just been solo. Like the ones I've just, I'm doing for you guys today,nand yeah that's kind of the way it's been. And when I go into the studio it's me and maybe two other people, not too many people. And we haven't been on tour, we haven't played any shows. So it's kind of boring.

Are you exclusively missing the getting out on the road and being with people? Is there anything you're enjoying about sort of this enforced solitary period?

I was definitely very happy to take a step back at the beginning of the year. I was like cool I can just, you know, have some time and write and reflect. And I think- just no one expected it to last this long. So I didn't realize also a lot of my validation in life comes from being able to do the thing I do. So when you don't do that you find yourself just questioning things, and you're like oh I'm not doing this so I didn't achieve any of those things I thought I was gonna do this year. Like you know, we didn't get to play that gig or we didn't we didn't go on tour there or so, yeah. It just puts things, for me, it puts things back in this perspective like I've been really like lucky with the last couple years like where I've toured and where I've been, you know, those things I've been able to do, so I can't complain too much, basically.

Well I'm sure there's no doubt some minor element of luck involved in it but to be honest, you've earned it. Like, you you put on great shows, you release great records, and I actually wondered about that as a comparatively young artist who hasn't been doing it for a super long timen- it's like, if you've been doing this for 20 years, right? And then suddenly somebody goes, "You're getting a year off." You go," Well I'm a musician and now I have to take a year off, but I know what I am." And I was actually, in preparing to ask you some questions today, I was thinking like for somebody at Nilufer's phase, I just want to be a voice of going you are a musician I don't care if this thing takes 22 months and I don't care what side careers you line up to do it, you're a musician. And you you're splendid on guitar, a great writer and it's just- I don't know, I feel like if somebody at age 24, 25 told me like, "You're about to not do what you're used to doing for a year." It would throw into a lot of question for me what am I doing? What am I supposed to do? And as at my sage age of 39 years old and my world experience I just want to tell you I am very convinced that you're doing the right thing and I want to I want you to keep on doing it because you're killing it.

Thank you.

Let's actually get into a little bit more music. This is song number two off of the three song EP, so let's check out "Same Damn Luck".

[music: "Same Damn Luck" by Nilufer Yanya]

[music: "The Unordained" by Nilufer Yanya]

You're with The Current and that was "The Unordained" from Nilufer Yanya. Tthat's the one track, Nilufer, that you chose to play today that doesn't come off of your new EP and pretty much as I followed around your in-studio sessions with KEXP or the Tiny Desk that you did actually on-site in Washington D.C. that looks like a song you pretty frequently play live. Is that is that one that's kind of at the center of your catalog for you?

It really grew to be one of those songs for me I think it was just, I mean, I think you're allowed her favorites and at the beginning of the um the album kind of, I guess touring and the release like it was kind of like a forgotten song. We didn't play it live, nobody really talked about it too much. And then I just realized I really liked it and it felt really good when I played it by myself. So it's like why don't we do this as a full band arrangement? And I think by the end of the year it was like everyone's- we just love playing it. So for me it's like a little homage to that.

Do experiences like that ever give you the desire to be able to like tour an album for a year before you release it so you can find out the inner guts of a song and reprioritize the the release?

Yeah but then you'd have to tour the same thing for like another year so-

And that could probably get to be a little torturous

Yeah I think, I mean yeah ideally like you'd have a couple months playing these songs before you do the big shows because you want that you want to do really good by that point. And that's just like a timing thing you know sometimes you'll get it sometimes you won't.

Now as I've been watching you play these tunes I see that you're sitting next to a Christmas tree and I imagine that this Christmas is going to be pretty different than the majority of Christmases in your life. Is there anything you're looking forward to about the rest of the holiday season or about new year's or any of that stuff?

Yeah maybe I've got to enjoy it different way like you might not be able to do all the other things that- I mean I won't be seeing as much family and you know, hanging out with friends. So it's just a shame because that's kind of kind of what Christmas is about.

Right.

And it's kind of what having the holidays about and I think, I would say it's nice to just chill but I guess I feel like I've done that. It's been Christmas all year in that sense.

Well it you know hopefully more good things in 2021. I actually had, some of the vaccines are getting out in both of our countries and that's that's a good sign. I can't wait to get to see you under much less technologically challenging formats. Just catching you playing, you know, at First Avenue rocking the crowd like you've done before. And I just, I appreciate you spending some time with us while we have to be socially distanced, and I'm very thankful that you brought some new music into the world in 2020 because it was definitely needed.

Thank you. It was lovely to catch up.

SONGS PLAYED

00:55 Crash
11:50 Same Damn Luck
14:43 The Unordained

Credits

Host - Sean McPherson
Technical Director - Peter Ecklund
Broadcast Producer - Derrick Stevens
Digital Producer - Jesse Wiza

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