Nilüfer Yanya Interview

I was lucky enough to chat to singer-songwriter and guitarist Nilüfer Yanya, on behalf of the Student Music Network.

Before we dive right into the new EP, I wanted to ask about your journey into music, because you have such a beautiful and distinctive sound. What influenced your sound growing up and when did you start playing guitar, singing and writing your own music? 

I would hear snippets of songs, and anything that had a guitar in it, I was immediately attracted to. My sister used to be really into skater rock music, and I just loved the sound and the angst. Early on, that’s where my desire to play guitar came from, but I didn’t really start until I was 12 or 13. I was more into indie bands then, but I slowly got out of that phase as well. I think it’s someone’s life with their music taste, but at the same time you’re trying to learn to write your own stuff as well. Everything’s developing at the same time.

What’s your experience been growing up and understanding your different influences and identities?

My Dad’s Turkish and my Mum’s half-Bajan, half-Irish. Compared to other parts of London, I grew up in Chelsea, which is kind of multicultural, but it’s not super diverse. If I’d grown up in North London, I think I would’ve had a different experience, because there’s so many Turkish people there. West London had more of a Caribbean community, but gradually that moved South. I grew up in an area where you’re just trying to be yourself and work things out. There’s not lots of identity to grab hold of surrounding you.

For me it’s a journey. The older I’ve got the more I want to learn Turkish, do more shows in Turkey and understand more of that culture. I’ve been trying to go to Barbados for the past two years, because I’ve never been to the Caribbean! That’s crazy! My Nan was Irish as well, and we did go over there quite a bit when I was younger, but everyone’s just themselves. I didn’t feel like I had a lot of culture. It was definitely there, but I think you grow up a bit detached from it. Part of my journey as I’m getting older is trying to connect with different parts of my identity.

Your parents are both artists in themselves. Do you think being artistic influences your approach to writing music?

Probably. I’ve never really thought about it like that. Most people ask me if that made it easier becoming a musician. But really it wasn’t, it was scary. Writing about such personal things is a scary thing to do. With the art it was nice because I had that visual influence. When I write songs, I have a mental image in my head.

You released your brand new EP ‘Feeling Lucky?’ at the beginning of December last year. How did you feel putting new music out into the world?

It was a nice thing to do. In 2019 I released my album and you have to do a big campaign; you have to release the record, you have to talk about the record, you have to tour the record… so it was a massive process. When it was over I was like ‘okay, I guess I have to make another album’, but it didn’t feel like I was ready to do that. And then the world fell apart in front of us, so you couldn’t really do much at the same time. I had a few songs that I was working on, so it felt nice to just release them as an EP. It didn’t feel a big deal. It was chilled.

It must be strange during lockdown to not have that immediate reaction from a crowd…

I definitely do miss touring now, and being able to feel out songs before you release them. I have done that quite a lot. It’s been a bit of a nice break at the same time.

How did you approach writing this EP? Was there a specific concept or idea in mind? Did you start writing it in lockdown or was some of it written pre-covid? 

I started writing the songs the year before it was released, and I finished them during lockdown. The luck theme came out of one song, but I added that on at the end. I didn’t write a lot of the songs about luck, but there is an element of that in the EP.

Crash, for example came out of this dream I had when I was flying. Me and Jazzy (who’s in my band) were flying back from New York, and I had a crazy dream that we were on the plane, and they said it was going to crash, and we had to start playing music to somehow save everything. I’m not scared of flying, but every time I got on a plane I started to feel more and more jumpy. I swear the turbulence got worse each time, I was kind of weighing up the options thinking ‘is this the time I’m going to die?’ When you’re up in the air you think those things. I guess you’re just reflecting on what you’re doing, and am I going to die doing the thing that I love?

To listen to the full interview, head over here, and send the Student Music Network some love!

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