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Nilüfer Yanya makes soulful indie R&B and at the age of 21, she’s already been named as one of The Guardian’s ‘Ones to Watch’, DIY’s next ‘Big NEU Thing’ and one of Pitchfork’s ‘Rising Artists’.
You started out playing classical piano at school, so when did you start getting into more guitar-based music and who were some artists that inspired you to start making that kind of music?
I started piano when I was 6 and started to play guitar in secondary school. The bands that inspired me were people like The Strokes and other really indie bands.
What about Pixies? I love your cover of their song ‘Hey’!
Yeah! That wasn’t until a few years later, but I love them. I also felt inspired by The Cure, and a bit by The Libertines. But I also had a lot of pop stuff on my iPod when I was in school, like Kelis.
I was amazed to hear that your guitar teacher was Dave Okumu, from The Invisible, he’s incredible! What was he like as a teacher?
It was really cool, I didn’t know who he was when I started to play guitar, I wasn’t aware of his production work. He taught me for about 2 years, mainly just the basics of guitar playing, but he was very inspirational.
Dave also produced Rosie Lowe’s debut album ‘Control’, have you heard that album?
I love that record and I didn’t even know that he produced it at first! I listened to it and I thought ‘That sounds like Dave singing in the background!’. It makes sense though because he works a lot with female artists such as Jessie Ware. I love the new album by The Invisible as well, every song is amazing, you can listen to it over and over again and never get bored of that record.
As a younger musician, have you ever felt a bit disconnected from the ‘greats’ of the music world? Do you feel an expectation to appreciate artists and genres just because they’re deemed to be ‘classics’?
Yeah, there’s so much music these days… It’s almost too much, you have to do a lot of filtering out. When I was younger, I’d heard of Nina Simone and knew a few of her songs, but I never really got into her music until I started to properly listen to all of her albums. I didn’t really listen to Amy Winehouse until I was about 16, because everyone’s so obsessed with what’s new. Until recently, I didn’t know much about Bob Marley, but everything I thought I knew about him was based on assumptions.
Have your Turkish roots had any influence on the music that you make?
I don’t think so yet, but it might in the future… I’m playing some shows in Turkey this year, which will be cool. My dad used to play a lot of Turkish music in our house, so maybe it’s coming through subconsciously.
‘Small Crimes’ was written about when your bike was stolen, what made you want to write about that?
Well I’ve had my bike stolen twice actually! [laughs] I wrote it around the time that the first one was stolen. I was thinking about the bigger picture, it really annoyed me to have my bike stolen but there are bigger problems in the world, there’s often a number of reasons behind why some people commit crimes. The people who commit the smallest crimes are often the ones who are penalised the most and a lot of the people who commit the biggest crimes get away with it and we don’t bat an eyelid.
How would you describe your new EP ‘Plant Feed’ for those who haven’t heard it?
They’re all songs that I’ve written in the past, so none of them are really ‘brand new’, they’ve been written over the past 2 or 3 years. It sounds quite corny, but I think it was that time when you’re 18-20 and you’re growing up. And growing up in a place like London, it can be quite artificial and it can be a bit weird sometimes. I think the EP is reflective of that time and those feelings.
I love all of your cover art, who designs it?
Me! They’re all just collages really, but I work with a guy who digitalises them. I like to use a lot of colours, it’s just instinctive.
Is there any new music that you’re loving at the moment?
Yeah, there’s a girl called Pixx who’s amazing, I really want to see her perform live. I love Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane’s wife, there are some unreleased recordings that she did in India which have just come out. I love the new album by Feist, Kendrick’s new album and Joey Bada$$.
Nilüfer Yanya’s new EP ‘Plant Feed’ is out now via Blue Flowers Music. She is also involved in a wonderful organisation, Artists in Transit, which delivers creative workshops for refugees: http://www.mollydaniel.com/artistsintransit