Nilüfer Yanya

KRCL Presents
with Tasha and Ada Lea
Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Doors 7 | Show 8
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It does not take long listening to West London-based singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya’s music to realise that playing by the rules has never been her forte. First discovered at 20 years old after uploading her sparse, acoustic demos to Soundcloud, Yanya quickly made a name for herself following the release of her first three EPs. Starting with Small Crimes in 2016, her early releases set the stage for Yanya’s artistry as a lo-fi bedroom pop artist who could spin deftly weaved guitars and honeyed vocals into earworm melodies. Her brand of heartfelt indie pop led to support slots playing alongside likeminded artists such as Mitski, The xx, and Sharon Van Etten, along with receiving a litany of accolades including being longlisted for BBC Sound of 2018.

As the daughter of two visual artists (her Irish-Barbadian mother is a textile designer and her Turkish-born father’s work is exhibited at the British Museum) creativity was always destined for Yanya’s future. First picking up the guitar at 12, she credits her love for music to her parents’ music collection and her school, which offered subsidised music classes. “It was life changing for me,” Yanya says of her school days as we sit outside a Ladbroke Grove café, “having that community in school was really good for everyone else as well, even if they're not doing music.”

By the time her debut album Miss Universe landed in 2019, Yanya fully established herself as a singular artist with a distinctive voice that needed to be heard. The critically acclaimed debut is an 18-track concept record that takes a tongue in cheek swipe at the most self-involved corners of the health and wellness industry. The album allowed Yanya to further open up her eclectic world, bringing in jazz-inflected guitar licks, and grunge indebted songs that were backed up by limber drum beats and noughties leaning synth lines.

Follow up release, the three song EP Feeling Lucky?, further explored Yanya’s fascination with ‘90s alt-rock melodies, drawing on themes of resentment, her fear of flying, and the concept of luck. She also re-released her early EPs on vinyl for the first time this year on the record Inside Out. The release is a fundraiser for Artists in Transit, an arts collaborative group Yanya founded with her sister Molly that delivers art workshops to communities in times of hardship.

Now as she enters the next stage of her creative journey, Yanya is running head first into the depths of emotional vulnerability on her sophomore record PAINLESS. The album was recorded between a basement studio in Stoke Newington and Riverfish Music in Penzance (owned by her uncle Joe Dworniak a former bassist in funk band I Level), with Miss Universe collaborator and producer Wilma Archer, DEEK Recordings founder Bullion, Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, and musician Jazzi Bobbi.

Yanya began considering her second album back in 2020 after coming home from a year-long headline tour for her debut album. Initially she worried about the mistakes she didn’t want to repeat from making her first record. “Obviously I was really proud of it,” she says of her debut album, “but I also could have done it differently, there wasn't a rush.” The anxieties that clouded the making of her debut were gone when she got back in the studio with Archer. “It just happened a lot more organically. [Archer] had all these amazing ideas and they were so easy to turn into songs. It just felt fun.”

Where Miss Universe stretched musical boundaries to include a litany of styles from smooth jazz melodies to radio ready pop, PAINLESS takes a more direct sonic approach. By narrowing down her previously broad palette to a handful of robust ideas that revolve around melancholy harmonies and looped industrial beats to mimic the insular focus of the lyrics, Yanya has smoothed out the idiosyncrasies of previous releases without losing what is essential to her.

PAINLESS is a record that forces the listener to sit with the discomfort that accompanies so many of life’s biggest challenges whether it be relationship breakdowns, coping with loneliness, or the search for our inner self. “It's a record about emotion,” Yanya explains. “I think it's more open about that in a way that Miss Universe wasn't because there's so many cloaks and sleeves with the concept I built around it.” She adds, summing up the ethos of the new album, “I'm not as scared to admit my feelings”.

With influences as wide ranging as ‘90s alt-rock bands like Nirvana, indie artists Radiohead and Elliott Smith, and drum and bass culture, the anxiety inducing themes of the record are captured in the bones of each song. Audible in the raw, distorted guitar riffs, hip hop-indebted percussion, and Yanya’s mercurial voice which veers from deadpan speak-singing to a sublime, wandering falsetto. This can be heard best on ‘Shameless’ a molasses-slow track with an alt-rock edge that sees Yanya deliver the lines, barely above a whisper, “You can hate me / if you feel like … under it all I’m shameless / until you fall it’s painless.”

The organic way the songs came together was partly an inspiration behind the album title PAINLESS, but it also harkened to the introspective theme of the album. “The lyric [in ‘Shameless’] is ‘until you fall its painless’. It's not that everything is painless, it’s that pain is not a bad thing.”

On ‘L/R’ Yanya showcases her heritage playing the saz, a string instrument used often in Turkish folk music. “I’ve always viewed it as my dad's instrument because it's something he would play around me a lot when I was younger,” she explains. “It definitely has that nostalgia element to it, but also acts as a step into the mostly undiscovered part of me and my identity.”

Over a fast-paced, nimble guitar line on ‘Stabilise’ Yanya sings “There’s nothing out there / For you and me / I’m going nowhere”. It is a song about the mundanity of the city where dog fights, small flats, and endless high-rise buildings can induce claustrophobia. “I was really thinking about your surroundings and how much they influence or change your perception of things. A lot of the city is just grey and concrete, there's no escape,” she says, “A lot of people don't leave the city their whole lives, wherever they’re from.

“It’s weird because on that one the chorus is about going nowhere and I really didn't want that to be the chorus but it was the only thing that was working, so it was like the song was trying to tell me something.”

On ‘Midnight Sun’, a brooding, trip-hop influenced track, Yanya asks for strength from both an imaginary other and herself when she sings: “You’re my best machine, you’re my midnight sun.” For a song that started life according to Yanya resembling a “jaded country rock song” ‘Midnight Sun’ evolved into a mantra one could repeat to pull themselves up from the brink.

“[The lyrics] can easily fit into a relationship scenario but it also can be about your relationship with yourself. It’s like you're the sun, you're the light guiding me through the night. With ‘best machine’ I imagine you're going to war but against who. It could be something that protects you, something you only take out when you really need it, or maybe it's something that serves you every day.”

Later, on ‘Belong With You’ Yanya battles against knowing they are in a self-destructive relationship (“I don’t even like you bitch”) while feeling drawn back into the chaos again and again. “It's definitely like you're still wrapped up in all the feelings of it, but it's time for you to exit.”

Written with school friend and member of her touring band Jazzi Bobbi, ‘Belong With You’ had a very unlikely early influence. “A big reference was Tatu. You know that song ‘All The Things She Said,” laughs Yanya. “I think it was the 'I belong with you, I belong with you' part. The repetitiveness of that and then it has that pop, early noughties vibe. Sometimes it’s nice to make things that aren't as weighty and heavy. I know this is going to be fun when we play it live too.”

Although PAINLESS is about trudging through the mires of our emotional selves, the writing process left Yanya feeling more confident in her abilities as a songwriter. “It made me feel really good to make it and to write it and put it out.”

In the making of the album her growth is evident to see. “I'm a completely different person. It's hard to know where the growth is. I think it's about the openness of the record. Even feeling comfortable sharing my process with another person.”

She continues: “On the last record I didn't want to work too much with one person because I thought it's going to become their record, and that's just rubbish. I think sharing [the process] is a really beautiful thing. You don't always come by that. You really have to work on that, so this album is very much a product of that creative friendship.”

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Tasha’s second album, Tell Me What You Miss The Most mingles pockets of introspection with wide, expansive, marveling at what’s yet to come. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Tasha is a musician who writes songs that take loving and longing seriously. Whether dwelling in the sad thrum of an impending break up or the dizzying, heart thumping waltz of new infatuation, here is an album that traces one artist’s relationship to herself in love. Full of deep, invigorating inhales and relieved, joyful exhales, Tell Me What You Miss The Most is an exquisitely crafted breath of much needed air.

“Won’t you lay near me please / goodbyes aren’t easy to swallow / Here take my heart for me / I don’t need all this old sorrow” Tasha sings, her voice smooth and honeyed in the first track of the album “Bed Song 1.” She stands on the brink of saying farewell to something once-sweet, the sentiment swirling into the slow-walking pace of the second track, “History,” which wonders aloud “Was it me / Did I not prove to you how far I’d go”. Still, the album refuses to stagnate, instead taking the listener on a whirl across a much-missed dance floor in “Perfect Wife,” calling to mind the sheer pleasure and giddiness of dancing hand-in-hand with a pretty girl. “Perfect Wife” is also a track that demonstrates Tasha’s musical versatility and showmanship, featuring a seamless, slightly retro chorus embroidered with the lilting chirrup of flutes as played by Vivian McConnell.

Yes, Tell Me What You Miss the Most isn’t just a catalogue of tenderness----it’s also a showcase of Tasha’s growing and formidable musicianship. “When I made Alone at Last, I had only been writing songs for two years. I hardly even knew what kind of song writer I was. But this record feels much stronger as far as a representation of my songwriter and musicianship,” says Tasha, adding “I did feel like I was piloting it in a way that I haven’t really felt before.” Take the heady soprano whisper of “Sorry’s Not Enough” that crests into the wave-crashing roll of dissonance propelled by Ashley Guerrero’s insistent drumbeat. From its attention to instrumentation, the clean strumming of guitars both acoustic and electric, to the steady stretch of Tasha’s vocals across each verse and chorus, this is an album that follows an artist as she produces a sound all her own.

In its second half, the album becomes more spacious, peering with clear eyes toward a blue horizon threaded with a folk tinged, out-of-doors sound. Chimes recorded outside her grandfather’s house twinkle on “Love Interlude.” On “Burton Island,” Tasha sings of “the sun’s last song,” asking “honey dance for a while, dance for a while.” In fact, many of these songs seem to invite gentle dancing, the type of breezy bodily weaving one might engage in on a Saturday morning or a firefly-dotted summer night. These are swaying songs,” Tasha says, extending an invitation to her listeners to rock back and forth, cradled by her music.

“I was inspired by a distance I felt from myself,” says Tasha of the album, “the writing was kind of born from this desire to get back to an intimacy, or honesty, with myself.” Other inspirations include kissing, long drives in nature, her mother, and “winter and all that it allows (being alone inside, wrapped up in something warm, feeling things deeply.)” Her list of inspirations is a collection of types of touch; fleeting affectionate touch, the brush of a knit blanket, the bracing grip of feeling one’s own skin twinned in a palm. So too does the album veer in and out of touch with Tasha herself, tracing tenderness and loneliness, the paradox of feeling held and utterly abandoned at once.

As the album winds down, the feeling of a sun setting or a year ending begins to glow, as if Tell Me What You Miss The Most charts a path through the desolate starkness of a personal winter, the blossoming of an internal spring, the blaze of a heart’s summer and then the golden dénouement of autumn. Regarding the shape of the album itself, Tasha discusses her intention for it to feel like a finished, fully realized piece of art. She says, “I wanted very much for this to feel like an album with a start and finish, where there’s an arc that’s brought back around.” An organic feeling of rise and fall lifts the album from beginning to end, especially given the bookend of “Bed Song 1” and “Bed Song 2.” Between these Bed Songs lies a journey of emotional burnishing, of loss, realization, re-imagination, with dreams bounding toward the future. Still, we begin and end in a place of intimacy and rest, reflecting Tasha’s long held belief in the necessity and power of respite. Listeners might recognize the bed as not just an album through line but a career one. Even while Tell Me What You Miss The Most represents growth and change, Tasha notes that “there are parts of me as a songwriter and emoting poet-person that carry over. Bed might be the obvious connection.”

Listen to Tell Me What You Miss The Most as the sun peeks its downy head over the rooftops. Listen as you sit down to your cup of coffee, listen as you remember someone you once loved and wonder what might have been. Listen as you imagine different pasts, their many colors laid out before you, dizzying in their potential. Listen as the sun sets again and the moon rises, her cool face perfectly hung in the night sky. Listen as you imagine all the people you might someday be, all the mornings you’ll grow to greet. Listen as you pull someone close. Listen, and let the album pull you close.

Ada Lea

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As with so many artistic endeavors, Ada Lea’s debut album began as one thing and ended up as something else. The commonality of that process doesn’t make the story any less interesting, however, especially in the case of what we say in private — a beautifully colorful collection of profound pop songs that will be released later this summer via her new Saddle Creek home.

The Montreal, Quebec-based Alexandra Levy — who records and performs as Ada Lea — is also a painter and visual artist, and traces of her many creative abilities run throughout what we say in private. To her, music and visual art are different vessels for communicating similar ideas. Levy’s appreciation of female artists — including the writer Sylvia Plath, visual artists Frida Kahlo and Eva Hesse, and musicians Karen Dalton and Nina Simone — provides inspiration and guidance, informing her use of multiple artforms as tools for self-expression. Whether it’s creating music or art, “It’s a world that I can build around me and sit inside,” she says. Through all her work, Levy explores the concept of womanhood as it feels and looks to her, as well as love and how it transforms over time. She doesn’t shy away from exploring uncomfortable and painful emotions, either. With the brightness of love, strength, and hope contrasted with the darkness of loss, suffering, isolation, and abandonment, what we say in private is a varied and vivid record that constantly seems to shift in the light, bringing together all the intricate influences she’s collected over the years.

what we say in private began with a need to document the ending of an important romantic relationship. Following a tormented period of staying up all night (sometimes days at a time), frantically painting or writing songs as a means of coping, she journalled for 180 days in the hope of finding herself again. She conducted this period of analysis and introspection in private, like most of her creative pursuits, and the process eventually resulted in a rebirth: a rediscovery of self and a new sense of freedom and self-acceptance.

These chaotic feelings and the resulting catharsis are deeply felt in the final recording of what we say in private. Levy wanted the Ada Lea album to feel like a journal entry from those 180 days as she cycled through emotions. Throughout, she expresses feelings and thoughts that all humans experience behind closed doors and alone, but are conditioned to keep to themselves. This is reflected in the lyrics, the artwork, and the songs — together forming a public exhibition of deeply private matter. The album is a collection of raw, confessional, and at times messy emotions, presented to a society that can fear such realness, often favoring the uncomplicated, curated, and manicured.

Levy, who studied music in New York City for three years, initially envisioned what we say in private as a conceptual record formed from two distinct sides: one inspired by the sun and one by the moon. That idea waned over time as the songs began to take shape, and her initial sketches laid the path to somewhere, something else. “Over time,

that idea started to feel wrong and out of place, and a distance had grown between me and the concept,” Levy says, upon reflection. “I followed the clues and pieces that inspired me, and they would bring me somewhere else, a slightly different direction. In the end I would just keep looking for more and more clues until it felt right to stop.”

The resulting Ada Lea record still carries echoes of that initial plan — the light/dark dichotomy mirrored in the public/private thematic nature of the album, which drifts in and out of the shadows, every flicker of the dark met by a searing leap into daylight, and an array of colors coming alive and changing song by song. Seeing feelings and scenes in colors, Levy brings them to life either as a song or a painting, depending on her mood, though she admits that translating these visions into musical form often yields strange or unpredictable results. “I think we all have that ability to see songs in colors and shades,” she says. “I definitely see a color palette, maybe even an entire image when writing a song.”

what we say in private truly comes alive thanks to the way these recordings utilize the very real world around them, rather than shutting it all out. Expanding the boundaries of the studio, Levy, alongside the record’s producer Tim Gowdy, found new and nuanced ways of allowing the songs to flourish. “It was all part of a bigger idea,” she says. “We stuck microphones out of windows in mid-January to capture the chilly nighttime sounds. We recorded snow removal trucks backing into the lot and airplanes flying overhead. We used voice memos, a piece from here and another from there. I had built a room with the demos of my songs and Tim helped to add a second level.”

As such, the album reverberates with human warmth, defined by the signature characteristics that can be found throughout. Lead track “the party” fittingly comes wrapped up in static white noise, a soft atmosphere lingering in the distance and gently surrounding the stark instrumentation that is gradually introduced. “wild heart” follows a similar path, the first couple of minutes gently rolling on but always feeling slightly off-kilter, a far off surrealness that comes to the fore for the song’s richly absorbing finale.

Elsewhere “mercury” is a subtle but propulsive near five-minute ride, its dark textures, chugging guitars, and scattered percussive nuances twisting and turning, stopping and starting throughout. “180 Days” treads a similar path, its elusive characteristics winding in and out of thick guitars and tender vocals, while “what makes me sad” takes a somewhat different turn, a swooning pop ballad that feels immediately more refined, all swirling guitars and a center-stage spotlight for her wonderfully distinctive voice.

Levy delivers something very special on what we say in private. Bold and daring, but also gentle and vulnerable, the album finds new ways of presenting its vision from one inspired idea to the next, a big leap into the wider world with passion and exuberance.