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.”
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