When the world completely shuttered two years ago, we all found ourselves with an inscrutable amount of time on our hands. And while many of us spent that time learning how to make bread or perfect our TikTok dances, singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya dug deep and explored aspects of herself and her artistry she didn’t know were there.
“When all the touring stopped and I wasn’t busy, I was like, ‘Ok, who am I?’” Nilüfer says over the phone, her voice saccharine and light. From her family home in London, the 26-year-old artist shares how she spent the pandemic and how it heavily influenced her new project.
Titled PAINLESS, the album probes Nilüfer’s psyche in 12 unique tracks. It’s a sequel to her 2019 rave-reviewed Miss Universe album and continues her fascination with ‘90s alt-rock melodies. Gravitated to the pull of The Strokes and Pixies, this heart-wrenching album reads like a confessional diary entry, overflowing with heartache and loss, but most of all, hope.
“It’s all a bit gloomy, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel,” she elaborates.
Her latest project – which is occasionally jazzy and always pop-punky – serves as a sort of silver lining to all this upheaval and uncertainty, showing her at her most vulnerable. Among the snappy snare drum beats and punchy electric guitar riffs, Nilüfer urges listeners to sit with all the discomfort that accompanied the past few years – reveling in its ability to spur growth, instead of stagnation.
Nilüfer has found comfort in this process and time in her life, with great help from her family. As the daughter of two visual artists, Nilüfer’s art has increasingly become a family affair. It utilizes the skills of her older sister Molly (who directs her music videos), uncle (who records her songs in his Cornwall studio) and of course her parents, who fostered this unconditional love of art and music from the beginning.
But a brand new album and a slew of music videos aren’t all the singer has to offer in 2022. This spring, Nilüfer will perform her newly released collection of songs at Coachella and a few months later, she’ll be headlining the Pitchfork Music Festival in London with Hackney Church.
Just three weeks before the UK leg of her tour kicked off, Nilüfer sat down with V. We asked the emerging singer-songwriter about her creative process, preparing for tour and more. Here’s what she had to say.
V MAGAZINE: Congrats on PAINLESS – it’s beautiful. What were some themes you wanted to explore in this album?
NILÜFER YANYA: I was exploring the environment and how that affects the way you feel and think about things. And also – maybe it’s a bit oversaid – but vulnerability. In this record, I shared a lot more of the writing than I would have previously been comfortable doing so. It’s a different process and approach to it.
V: Were there any events or experiences that influenced the album?
NY: Over the past two years, I’ve spent a lot more time alone, which is a bit obvious. I think everyone’s been doing that and had to do that. Especially when all the touring stopped and I wasn’t busy. I was a bit like, ‘Ok, who am I?’ It was weird because I had a lot of purpose before and knew what I was doing every day. I know I needed a break from that anyway, and I was grateful for the break, but I definitely felt I didn’t have that much stability.
V: Can you talk about your creative process and how songs form?
NY: It’s always the music that comes first. I’ll be writing something on my guitar and then I’ll come up with a melody. Especially on this record, it was a more instinctive approach. I was trying not to overthink things. So the melody would come and then I’d think of words that fit into those syllables and vowel sounds and make it make sense from there. I didn’t want to force anything. If I come up with a theme first, it’s really hard to write music.
V: I read that this album features a saz, a stringed instrument your father used to play around the house. Why did you want to include this?
NY: I was just working on that song “L/R” and there was a melody breakdown section. And I had it on guitar for a while, but it didn’t really do anything interesting. I felt like it needed another sound, but I didn’t want it to be a synth. So I was just thinking of instruments I had at home and my dad had just given me his old one. Because he bought he bought a new one. So I was just messing around with that and we had to layer it to sound really good.
V: What was kind of your first encounter with the saz instrument?
NY: My dad would always play it when I was younger. He’s a visual artist, but he really loves his culture. I remember one specific time when my sister broke and he was really angry. Someone sat on it or it dropped and cracked and he never really got over that.
V: Yeah, you grew up in this very artistic household. How do you think that affected what you do now?
NY: I think it gave me the initial confidence to delve into creative fields. For me, it was either art or music. I didn’t really think about doing other things. I did think about going to art school, but music drew me in and had this extra rapport.
V: And onto “midnight sun” – I read that the imagery for the music video came from a light that guided you through the darkness. Can you elaborate on the song’s meaning?
NY: I really liked the lyric “midnight sun” because it said a lot without having to say too much. It’s quite poetic and not like how I normally write. I don’t normally describe things too much. The verses for me are very cyclical, even guitar. It’s a bit sinister and somber and then the chorus is like a breakaway section of the song and you feel like, there is hope and that you can escape. But I think the whole album has that vibe. It’s all a bit gloomy, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel.
V: How did your sister and you come to collaborate on your music videos?
NY: She was always taking photos and we always worked like that before I released music. I didn’t have these videos to make, but we were always filming something. She’s very creative when it comes to film and photos. When I had a music video to make the first time around, it just made sense to ask her. I thought it’d be fun. It’s been really cool to see that grow and actually make real videos. It’s really fun.
V: And she definitely knows you the best so it creates an easy work environment.
NY: Exactly. She knows what I really hate and what I love and where I’m going to be comfortable. It just seems like a wasted opportunity not to work together.
V: What’s changed since your 2019 album, Miss Universe?
NY: I feel older, like really old [laughs]. I would say maybe, like less cautious. The fact that I worked with fewer people, for me, means I feel more certain of my decisions and who I actually want to work with. Because that’s been a difficult thing for me, being decisive. When I’m not feeling super confident in myself, I tend to be quite uncertain and in between things, which is fine, but I think when it comes to fulfilling a project, you need to be a bit more decisive. I’m on a journey with that so there’s always be ups and downs.
V: I read that you’re going to Coachella – how exciting! What emotions are going through you right now as you’re about to perform at one of the biggest festivals in the US?
NY: I’m terrified. I find the idea of going on tours, quite scary anyway. Once you’re in it, it’s fine and you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just another gig.’ Even when it’s like a Glastonbury, it does feel like any other show, especially if you’re not headlining because you’re not playing to like thousands and thousands of people. So I’m hoping it’s just going to feel like that at Coachella, but like, it’ll be Coachella, so I’ll be ‘It’s Coachella!’ I haven’t toured that much recently. So I’m just eager. I’m going on the UK and Europe tour next month. So I think by the time it gets to April, I feel a bit more like, ‘I got this.’
V: What songs are you excited to play?
NY: At the moment, I’m loving doing ‘midnight sun’ and ‘stabilise’ and ‘chase me.’ But let’s see where we are.
V: Other than rehearsing for your songs is there anything else that you’re doing to prepare for the tour?
NY: It’s pretty much just rehearsing. I feel like that’s the best thing I can do right now. Oh, I’m actually going to start – I’ve got a personal trainer. Because normally when I go on tour I like to do some kind of exercise so I don’t feel like a slug. It’ll be sick to have someone actually like guiding me through that and be like, ‘What did you do today?’
V: And last question, what message do you hope to send with this album?
NY: I just hope people can connect and relate to it.
For more details on where Nilüfer will be performing near you, you can look here.