The M usic I ssu e
Nell Mescal Issue 22
CONTENTS The Music Issue Playlist
Nell Mescal 09
Reimagining Albums 47
Jordana Bryant 49
Mads Deaver 53
Diana DeMuth 17
Elisia Savoca 55
Julia Cole 19
2020 Music Review Part II
BLÜ EYES 61
Gracie Carol 25
The Only Ocean 27
Emily Hackett 67
Sam Himself 29
GG Townson 69
2020: The Year We Pressed Pause
3 Ways To Maximize Productivity In 71 Music Production 71
Joey Hendricks 35 TROY 37 Lana Chalfoun 41 Matt LeGrand 43
Words of Wisdom: Deborah Fairchild
Words of Wisdom: JWhite
Words of Wisdom: James and Robert Freeman
Editor in Chief
Carol Wright is a recent graduate of American University. At a young age, she became interested in telling stories through photography which eventually led her down the path of creating Nyota. Now, her passion for storytelling has given her the opportunity to pick the brains of musicians, actors, and influencers across the world.
Arielle Ostry is entering her final year at The George Washington University, studying journalism and mass communication as well as dance. She started out writing dance reviews and artist features, and now likes obsessing over and writing about mental wellness, pop culture, and art (in all its many forms). In her spare time, Arielle enjoys fresh air, experimenting with her ever-evolving coffee order, and binge-listening to true crime podcasts.
Nicole Cox is a recent American University graduate with a bachelorâ€™s in Graphic Design. Nicole has always enjoyed the arts, from writing stories to painting objects she observed in nature, she always found a way to create, but she never expected the computer to be used as another medium for her creativity. Thanks to her wonderful professors at American, she was able to explore her passion for the arts and further implement her skills in her professional studies and hobbies.Â
FEATURES Nell Mescal
The Only Ocean
James and Robert Freeman
CONTRIBUTORS Amanda Molloy Celeste Lim Sophie Sachar
EDITOR’S LETTER This year has been one for the history books for more reasons than one, but specifically because of COVID-19 and the way it has changed the way we live. As this insane year begins to come to a close I have been thinking a lot about the industries and businesses that have taken hit after hit since March. One industry that I couldn’t stop thinking about is the music industry, partially because while I was still in college I was fortunate enough to intern at 9:30 Club in Washington, DC and I watched firsthand how COVID-19 started to change the entirety of the way the venue was run. Shows that had been scheduled and promoted all came to a halt or were delayed and eventually canceled, our internship was cut short, and it soon became obvious that this would not be an issue we would see resolved in a few weeks time. Since March there has not been one music venue that hasn’t been directly affected by COVID-19. Across the world live music has completely stopped and Facebook or Instagram Live concerts have tried to fill the gap. When it came to deciding on a theme for this issue and what made sense when it came to wrapping 2020 up through Nyota. I decided to focus this issue on music. One, to shine a light on how the industry is coping and show our readers how they can help. Two, to put singers, bands, musicians, and industry leaders at the forefront of the conversation. I hope this issue can give you something to think about and also lift your spirits as we end what has been a truly tumultuous year. With Love, Carol Wright Editor in Chief @_carol_wright
The Music Issue Curated by Breanna Riddick 7
Let It Whip // Dazz Band DYSFUNCTIONAL // KAYTRANADA, VanJess By My Side // Joyia This Moment // Janine Autumn Nights // KEAM, Audrey Yin Andromeda // Gorillaz ft. DRAM Donâ€™t Turn It Off // 40 Thieves ft. Qzen Fevereiro // Sango Batman // Jaden Do You Love Her Now // Jai Paul Needed // Brent Faiyaz Lessons Learned // Matt and Kim No Sudden Moves // Julia Nunes pov // Ariana Grande And I Love Her // The Beatles Ache // FKA Twigs 8
Nell Mescal Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Naoise White
Nell Mescal is stepping into the spotlight as a singer/songwriter that everyone should have on their radar. With original songs under her belt and a loyal social media following that eagerly waits to see what cover she’ll post next, Mescal is proving that in today’s digital age talent and authenticity still reign. What’s the earliest memory you have of a time you felt connected to music?
How did you go about honing in on the way the songs would sound?
That’s a tough question. The first thing that came to mind maybe wasn’t the earliest, but a really prominent memory I have where I felt really connected to music. When I was about 11 or 12, I was listening to Birdy’s “Words as weapons” and something about it made me feel really weird like I had been totally immersed in the song for the three minutes and I just played it on repeat for the rest of the week!
I’m not really sure. I think honing in on a specific sound really just depends on how you feel or the emotion you want to convey and go from there. I’m told I have too many sad songs, but I think some of my songs might come across as sad but for me, they have a sense of hope which I would hope people can hear from the lyrics and music.
You sing, write music, and play the piano. Did you start playing piano first or did your interest in singing come first? Singing came first 100 percent. I’ve been singing forever and then did piano lessons when I was about 9 or 10 and I didn’t like it at all. I had about three teachers who were all lovely but I just couldn’t stick at it until I was about 13 and started teaching myself how to play chords to form my own song. Before posting covers and coming out with your own music did you explore your love of music in school or through extracurricular activities? Yeah since I was around six I’ve been in choirs, singing, and drama groups so I’ve always been around music and the arts in some way or another, although I did dance for years and have not mastered it yet! You post covers on Instagram and YouTube, could you ever see yourself coming out with an EP or full album of covers? Covers are definitely just something I do for fun on my social media, but I have so much original music on the way so that’s what I’m really excited for! You have two original songs out right now “Crash” and “Deja Vu”, both songs are different sonically. 9
Do you have a particular songwriting process or do you just sit and write when inspiration hits? Usually just when inspiration hits! I don’t really like trying to push myself too hard on writing when I don’t feel like it because it never works and I usually just leave feeling unmotivated, so it’s almost always when I feel really inspired by something. Do you have any desire to do Broadway or musical theatre in the future? Musical theatre has always been a huge part of my life and it has always been a dream of mine to do it professionally, but right now focusing on my own music is the main thing. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to delve into my musical theatre side when the time comes! What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Singing for me always has a purpose and it’s usually to make people feel something through whatever it is I am doing whether it’s the performance, the lyrics, or the song itself. So I think the best advice I can give at the moment is to sing or write or perform with a purpose!
CAMÍNA Interview by Amanda Molloy Photographer: Rambo Elliott
With her debut EP Te Quiero Mucho, singer/songwriter Ariel Saldivar (aka CAMÍNA) has cemented herself as an artist to watch. The EP explores loss, the impacts of one’s heritage, and persevering through adversity. Saldivar spoke with Nyota about being mentored by Kevin Jonas Sr. and her songwriting process. Congratulations on the release of your debut EP. You describe Te Quiero Mucho as a record about resilience and honoring your heritage. Is there a song on the EP that you feel most connected to? Thank you so much. It feels good to have it out in the world despite the tumultuous times through which we are living. I will always feel connected to the song “Forever and Always” because it was written to honor the passing of my beloved dog Olivia who was with me for 13 years. It brings me great comfort and joy to know this song will live on forever in her memory, and as honoring death is so central to Latin American culture, it felt very appropriate to honor hers in this way. Elements from different genres, such as lo-fi and trip hop, are present on the record. Are there any particular artists that inspired this unique blend of sounds? My producer, Black Taffy, has a remarkable collection of South American music and he introduced me to bands I had never heard before, such as a trio of bolero singers called Los Embajadores. We used a sample of their voices for the last song on the EP called “Se Puede.” The way they harmonize with such lament in their voices is absolutely striking and left me frozen the first time I heard it. I was inspired to recreate the sound using my own voice in an operatic style to stack the harmonies used in the sample for the song – because what is more dramatic than opera?! I am super pleased with the outcome. How did temporarily relocating from Texas to New Mexico impact your songwriting process? Ha! Temporary ended up becoming more permanent after the pandemic hit! Santa Fe has always been a special place for me. I have been visiting since I was 18 and have always wanted to live here. I had trouble focusing in Texas; there was too much distraction and I could not get in the right headspace to be creative. Then I got a call from a childhood friend who lives here now to come visit for a while, which I took as a sign from the 12
universe and moved here. It has been wonderful for me to be near close friends who have known me for most of my life and being surrounded by nature and the stunning natural beauty of the landscape has helped me immensely. I have found I can be very productive when I relish solitude. I am convinced I would not have been able to make this record anywhere else. What was supposed to be three months has turned into a year! Kevin Jonas Sr., father of the Jonas Brothers, was your musical mentor growing up. What have you learned from him? I learned a lot from him as he was my introduction into music and what it meant to be a musician. I learned that pursuing an artistic endeavor of any kind requires patience, hard work, focus, and discipline. He inspired me in so many ways by investing his time and sharing the resources he had, introducing me to the recording process and to engineers who taught me how to use Pro Tools and how to sing in a microphone properly. He taught me how to record in a live performance setting and how to blend my voice as a background vocalist. I learned about distribution and sales and what the business of music was like, and although much has changed since then, the same principles still apply. I spoke with him recently and he told me the people I surround myself with are just as important as anything else. He has such tremendous foresight and discernment, ‘antennas’ as he would say, to pick the right people to be on your team. It takes the right people in place to set things in motion and I know this to be true more than anything. I am grateful for the team I have, or I wouldn’t be talking to you now! You previously toured with Broken Social Scene and The Polyphonic Spree. What do you miss most about performing live? EVERYTHING! There is nothing like performing live. It’s a rush and an opportunity to be better every time. It is still a miracle to me that people would spend their hard-earned money and time to come see a live performance. I will never take for granted the setup of gear, the soundcheck, the sound tech, and all of the elements and people that have to work hard to make a live set great. I miss being on the road and meeting new people and experiencing incredible hospitality and kindness from strangers. I really hope I get to experience this someday soon.
Like many other artists who have been unable to tour due to the pandemic, you’ve been connecting with your audience and promoting your new music with the help of social media live streams. How has your experience been and do you think live streams have a future in the music industry after the days of COVID-19? Great question! I personally find them nerve wracking because I cannot control the quality of how it sounds when an Instagram Live is beholden to the speakers of an iPhone, but alas it is a way to connect and I am learning new processes all the time from other musicians who are struggling with the same thing. It is a lot more challenging for electronic musicians. I have been working on acoustic sets for my music, and even though it was never intended, that has been fun! I do think livestreams have a place in the future after COVID-19. I will still watch movies at home on Netflix and be more selective about the ones I see in theaters once they reopen. I see live music the same way. You’ve released two cinematic music videos for the tracks “Cinnamon” and “Forever and Always.” Should we be expecting another video in the future? If I had the money, HELL YES! LOL! That has actually been a really fun and exciting challenge. How do you make something beautiful with VERY limited resources? I made “Forever and Always” on a kitchen stool that spun around and used lighting techniques with my dramatic face gestures and my voice to express the emotion in the song. It came out so much better than I could have imagined, and I am very proud of how simple and effective it is. I did have an artist I deeply admire reach out to me to work on something for “Se Puede,” so you could see something soon, fingers crossed. What is one main message you hope to convey to those who listen to Te Quiero Mucho? LOVE CONQUERS ALL.
Cartalk Interview by Amanda Molloy Photographer: Katie Neuhof
Chuck Moore has made their debut as Cartalk with Pass Like Pollen, a debut album that blends genres, dives into the growth that comes from change, and finding self-acceptance. Moore talked to Nyota about the process of writing the album and gaining inspiration from living in Los Angeles.
Congratulations on the release of your debut record Pass Like Pollen. Where did you come up with the name for the album? The name Pass Like Pollen came from a lyric in the song “Driveway”: “Minutes pass like pollen, hardly notice my frame of mind.” It’s a reminder that time moves quickly and you can surprise yourself with the growth you’ve gained. I believe time can heal and reshape. You have quite a unique and genre-blending sound. How would you describe the kind of music Cartalk makes to someone who has never listened to it? A fan of the band recently tweeted that we are “emocountry”. I think that’s a perfect description. I’d say we are in the realm of indie rock/alt-country. What was the process of writing this album like? Did you run into any obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them? I wrote the record over the span of two years, collecting lines, memories, anything that had a hold on me I had to write down. I wanted to flesh out the lyrics in all types of light. Obstacles came like they do with any craft. A lot of the time it was giving myself the space away from writing. To go out (when we could) and do other things, move my body, see friends. Everything needs room to breathe, to pull away from, and then come back. How has living in Los Angeles impacted your journey as a musician? LA has a rich history of music, especially rock n’ roll which is my favorite genre. I like to start off the shows 15
saying something along the lines of “Ready to rock n’ roll?” Cheesy I know, but I can sometimes be a cheesy human being. There is music everywhere. You can hear people blasting music from their cars, folks singing on the streets – it’s in the air. One of the reasons why I love Los Angeles is that there are so many independent music venues. I could see live music every night of the week if I wanted to, and sometimes I did. I feel lucky to be a part of an inspiring creative community, folks who I also call my friends. 2020 has not been easy on artists and the music industry as a whole. How have you maintained your motivation and creativity throughout these difficult times? I am a morning person, always have been. My grandmother used to say that I wake up with the chickens. I still do. I’ve made it a practice in the last few months to get up early and write for at least an hour. There’s no destination in mind, just write about anything. It’s been a rewarding practice and there’s even been the start of a few songs out of it. Moving my body, whether that’s cycling or bodyweight workouts have helped me stay focused and positive. I find that when I am in motion, my mind feels relaxed, kind of like a river, so the creativity comes more easily. You and your band shot an at-home music video for the single “Wrestling.” Can you walk us through the process of creating this video? That was such a fun project for us to do during this time. We decided on “Wrestling” because it was one of the more fun ones. The crowd would always dance to this one when we would play it live. We all recorded/videotaped ourselves from the safety
of our homes. It started with our drummer Chris Geller, who then sent his video and track to Dean Kiner, our bass player, then Mori Einsidler who plays lead guitar and sings harmonies, then finally to me. The song was all built in a matter of a week or two. Editing the video took much longer. My editor and I decided to compile videos that we all took over the past year. We wanted to make it feel like a scrapbook, looking back on all the good times with friends and loved ones. Your latest single “Las Manos” is an incredibly poetic track about honesty. What inspired the lyrics? The lyrics are inspired by an event in my life. It’s that first look at someone and you can feel they are going to be in your life in a significant way. It’s looking back at those first moments of connection with someone as well as connecting with yourself (looking at the lyric, “Honestly I scare me too”). What advice would you give to aspiring musicians? Keep going.
Diana DeMuth Interview by Celeste Lim Photographer: John Huba
Diana DeMuth had a bohemian upbringing that has only aided in giving her music a fresh perspective. After going to college for one year, DeMuth left and decided to pursue music full-time. This led her to creating her debut album Misadventure. The singer/songwriter talked with us about her songwriting process and creating the album. Big congratulations on the release of your debut album, Misadventure. What was the process like, from songwriting to mastering? I began writing this album in London in 2019 and from there went to the Catskill Mountains to write and record with Simone Felice. We developed a strong bond and together with our friend and co-producer David Baron, we created Misadventure. It was recorded at a studio on top of a mountain in upstate New York, and I think that environment allowed us to tap into something really special. Is there a song on the album that you hold especially dear to your heart? They all do in their own way. I would never put a song on an album that didn’t give me chills. That being said, “Photographs” always makes me tear up a little! What is your favorite memory from the making of Misadventure? The recording of “Hotel Song” has always stuck with me. It was one of the first songs we did and hearing it come to life was incredible. I’ll always remember hearing the mastered version of it for the first time driving across the George Washington Bridge. It was surreal. Your songwriting has an old-soul feel that adds some freshness to the music scene today. From where and who do you draw your inspiration? Anything and everything. I always say the way you write something matters more than the content itself. A lot of these songs are about freeing yourself from what holds you back. Being brave enough to go get what you want out of your life. 17
Through your experience working with renowned producers and touring with bands, such as The Lumineers, what is the greatest lesson you have learned? The biggest one is probably to always be prepared. You definitely have to come correct if you’re playing for thousands of people a night. Practice, practice, practice! 2020 has been a strange year for everyone, but the effects of COVID-19 have hit the music industry significantly. Have you been able to gain some creativity during this time? Yes, definitely. We’ve been in the studio a lot working on new songs. The silver lining of COVID-19 has definitely been time to reflect and create. Some of my best music has been made during this time. What do you miss the most about touring, and what are you looking forward to in the future? I miss touring a lot. I miss seeing people’s faces in the audience and the energy in the room. There’s nothing quite like it. I just can’t wait to be able to meet fans in person again. Once it’s safe again, I’ll be giving out a lot of hugs! The depth of your lyrics and the power in your vocals make for truly incredible music. How do you want your listeners to feel when they listen to your new album? More than anything, I hope listeners find this album inspiring. I wrote it at a point in my life when I needed a change. Whether it’s one song or the whole record, I just hope it strikes a chord.
Julia Cole Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Carlo Alberto Orecchia
Julia Cole makes the type of music that gets stuck in your head after one listen. Two songs from Cole’s Honeychild EP, “Trust You” and “Side Piece,” have both taken off. The first already passing one million streams on Spotify and the latter spawning a TikTok challenge. The country artist is not afraid to push the boundaries and she proves that the future of country music is one without restrictions.
You gained an interest in performing after singing the National Anthem before sports games. What made you take the leap to actually writing and recording your own songs? My high school hosted a talent contest and I was passionate about writing my own lyrics to perform instead of just doing a cover like most people planned to do. I was always a writer; wrote a novel in high school and won many poetry contests. Once I learned I could really perform, it just became a merging of my two passions into one. When you were first starting out were you nervous to tell friends and family you wanted to pursue music full time? I never had nerves about owning my status as a singer/ songwriter/recording artist. My parents knew I was going to school so they weren’t nervous about me. Little did they know, there was never a “backup plan” to use my degree…my degree in entrepreneurship and creative enterprise was strictly to help me further my music career. The classes I took in marketing and branding proved invaluable. What is your songwriting process? I get inspired in the most random places doing the most random things: driving, running, drinking at bars, in the middle of the night while I’m failing to sleep, on flights, EVERYWHERE. I usually record voice memos on my phone and then bring the bits and pieces of ideas and songs I come up with into
co-writing sessions where we build out the rest of the song’s infrastructure. Do you have a favorite song you have released so far or one you feel the most connected to? “Honey Child” is probably my favorite at the moment. It’s my full-circle-sports song. I grew up playing volleyball in Mizuno athletic wear and now Mizuno is using my song in their 2020 and 2021 “Her Own Story” women’s empowerment campaign. The lyrics of “Honey Child” is the message I want all girls to hear. “Honey Child, keep growing wild like a bluebonnet in the breeze. You might bend but you won’t break…. Show them what you’re made of. Girl what are you afraid of? Be You, BEAUTIFUL You and it will all be sweet as honey, Child.” It’s that message to keep going no matter how hard it is, and most importantly to always stay true to yourself. Although you make country music your songs such as “Do You Mind” and “Side Piece” seem to bleed into other genres. When working on a song, what’s your process for honing in on the way it will sound? My producer and close friend Josh Ronen worked super closely with me on every piece of the track. We don’t let genres confine us to sounds we’re “allowed to” or “restricted from” using. I grew up in Houston with tons of genres mixing as the soundtrack of my childhood. Josh helps me blend those sounds smoothly. 20
Social media is a key way for artists to connect with fans. You’re very active online especially on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok (the sidepiece challenge). How has it been navigating through the good and bad parts of having a large following online? Honestly I’m not ignorant to the “bad part”, but it’s so small compared to the incredible benefit of having a direct connection to fans that I don’t let it bother me at all. I’m sure it will one day, but for now the #ColeTeam has my back online and is a group of respectful wonderful music lovers. If there’s one thing musicians and music fans have missed the most since COVID-19 struck it has been live music. What do you miss most about performing live? I can’t wait to play real live shows with screaming crowds of thousands, spilling beer on each other dancing. I miss the smell of smoke on the stage. I miss the sound of a crowd. I miss soundcheck in massive empty venues envisioning how the seats will all be full in just a few short hours. I miss hanging with bands playing the same festivals as me backstage. I miss meeting and hugging the #ColeTeam members after the show. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE WRITE. If I could do anything over again it would be to focus on honing in on my songwriting before diving into the artist world headfirst. I know it should go without saying, but it is really and truly ALL ABOUT THE SONG. A great song can change your life…but it has to be authentic and honest to YOU.
2020 Music Review Part II By Sophie Sachar
Keeping up with new music has been hard this year. Between the general information overload and an influx of quarantine projects, it’s tempting to just seek refuge in whatever brings you maximum comfort and familiarity. Ideally, with this list, I’d like to get you excited about something you haven’t heard yet (and if you’ve heard all of these, you have great taste). In no particular order, here are some more albums I’ve enjoyed this year. Dehd - Flower of Devotion
Tomberlin - Projections
Like the masks of comedy and tragedy on the cover, Flower of Devotion balances happiness and heartbreak. The songs are playful, almost childlike – but listen to the lyrics for the real gut-punch. Emily Kempf experiments more with her vocals, infusing the songs with personality and verve.
Co-produced by Alex G, this EP is another on a list of folky projects I’ve liked this year. Somber, warm, and delicate, it feels like the woods in a fresh rain.
Taylor Swift - Folklore This surprise album flows as a whole while threading together personal narratives, historical allusions, and stories of Taylor’s own creation. This interplay allows the album to unfold slowly and enrich with every listen. “August” is absolutely one of the best songs of the year. OTTO - Clam Day With its zany, bubbly electronics, this album captures the confusion (and sometimes, silliness) through which we navigate our daily lives. It manages to keep you dancing as it pulls you into a gloomy, computery trance.
Lomelda - Hannah Lomelda’s fourth album is tender and gorgeous. The warbly, cassette-tape sound, warm piano, and glimmering guitar give her songs texture, and her voice is both wholehearted and heartbreaking. Shamir - Shamir I’ve only just begun to dig into this album, but at an energetic 27 minutes, I know it won’t take long. Shamir’s seventh album hints at punk, indie rock, and pop, but ultimately comes out its own joyous creature altogether. Some more albums I’ve really enjoyed this year came from Adrianne Lenker, Lianne La Havas, Fleet Foxes, Orion Sun, Icky Bricketts, Katie Dey, and Haim. Happy listening!
Flo Milli - Ho, why is you here? It says a lot that Flo Milli doesn’t get old, even with her Tik Tok prevalence. Her debut is an instant escape to a world of sparkling confidence, and begs the ever-existential question – Ho … why am I here? This one is sure to snap you out of your doldrums.
Gracie Carol Interview by Celeste Lim Photographer: Samantha Leslie
Gracie Carol is a musician with a message. Growing up, she fell in love with country music because of the genre’s use of storytelling, and now she is telling her own stories through music. Her song “3 Minutes” is all about the need for female musicians to get equal airplay on the radio, and her goal is to empower female artists of any race and genre. Carol spoke to Nyota about sharing the stage with Keith Urban and connecting with her audience during the pandemic.
When did you first realize your passion for country music? Growing up, country music was the only music I ever really heard cause that’s all my parents ever listened to. I actually didn’t really understand that there was any other kind of genre of music until I was in middle school. I fell in love with it so gradually with all the aspects of it... the story telling, the song writing, the way the music or production makes you feel. I just always loved it more than other music and connected to it. I knew I wanted to sing when I got older and be some kind of performer, but wasn’t sure which path to take. Country music has always been there for me. Then during my senior year of high school, I knew I truly wanted to be a country artist. At only age 17, you shared the stage with country music legend Keith Urban on his Raise Em’ Up Tour. What was that experience like for you? So as I was saying from the first question, singing with Keith was the true moment I knew I wanted to pursue my career in this industry. I love connecting with people through song and performing. Singing with Keith showed me what my future was going to hold. It truly was and still is the best experience I’ve had in my life and I’m so honored and blessed that Keith showed me the way. From where and who do you draw your inspiration? To be honest, growing up I listened to artists from the 90s to now. Country music has been changing 25
throughout the years and it will be no matter what. But the storytelling and the feeling you get when listening will never change, and that’s what I love about it. It started from Teri Clark, Martina McBride all the way up to Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini. All their music definitely has a different sound, but I believe that’s the great thing about it. What was your favorite part about creating your debut EP, Day Dreams? The recording process. Being in the studio and creating new music that people have yet to hear is one of the best feelings. So creating a six song EP for the first time was one of the most fulfilling things I have done in my career. I’ll always have and remember that feeling everytime a new song I create somes to life. Can you tell us a bit about your song, “3 Minutes?” What was your inspiration for the lyrics and music video? “3 Minutes” is all about changing the conversation with female artists in the music industry. We work our butts off so much for our chance to be heard and our chance to hit the top 20 charts in country radio, but men still dominate for some reason. I wrote it because it only takes around three minutes to give us that chance and to listen to our songs. I guarantee you they are as good as the men. So when I wanted to create the music video, that’s exactly what I wanted to show for the storyline. That we work hard too and there should be equal play in country radio.
You have been candid about the challenges of women getting recognized for their work in today’s music industry. What advice would you give to aspiring female artists? Keep trying, keep going. It all starts with a song and you never know who is listening and who is in that writer’s round you’ll be performing in. Take chances and keep trying. Don’t let any man discourage you, we’re all equal. The live entertainment industry has taken a major hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How have you continued to share and connect with your audience during this time? When the pandemic hit, I took to doing live streams on Instagram and Facebook to keep performing. It was very weird and strange not being able to hear or see your audience, but I’m glad I was giving the listeners little concerts from their home. When tiny restaurants and bars started to open back up, I eventually slowly started taking precautions of getting back on a stage again. Do you have anything exciting in the works at the moment? I have some more things up my sleeve before the holiday and the new year comes around. But get ready for 2021. I’m really excited for it!
The Only Ocean Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Sabrina Gutierrez
The Only Ocean formed in Lompoc, California, and have been creating music together since band leader Wesley Hill’s high school days. After going through changes in band size, The Only Ocean is now a close-knit quartet creating songs about self-image and self-reflection. Nyota chatted with Hill about the band’s song “Watch It Fall” and his advice for aspiring singers. Before becoming a full-time musician did you see yourself pursuing a different career? Wesley: When I was younger, I was convinced I would be in the NBA. It wasn’t until I was in middle school when I realized music was what I wanted my life to be. California is known as the state where dreams come true. Growing up in Lompoc did starting a band always seem like a tangible goal? W: At times yes. When we first started, we just played in towns that we knew so we felt like anything was possible. When I first tried playing in LA or tried to get on bigger shows, it always felt next to impossible because no one knew where the hell Lompoc was. So we definitely got passed on a lot. Since moving the band to LA it has been way easier. I am grateful for all those years playing Lompoc though. It definitely fueled my drive. Your band name, The Only Ocean, came from the Arctic Monkeys song “Potion Approaching.” Was AM a large inspiration for you when the band first started? W: Yes! They were a huge one and still continue to be one for me today. Tell us about your song “Watch It Fall.” What story are you trying to tell through the song? W: “Watch It Fall” is about me not liking who I am. There have been times in my life where I’ve been afraid to show people the real me, so I put up a front in hopes they’ll like me. I was convinced people wouldn’t like the real me. Your sound has changed over the years. What often inspires the feel and sound of your music? 27
W: I’m a bit all over the place when it comes to what I want to sound like. Some days I wake up and I wanna write a loud psych-rock song, and the next it’s a Top 40’s pop song. It’s a bit all over the place but our producer Jonathan DeBaun (The Mars Volta, Antemasque, Le Butcherettes) makes sense of all of it and what comes out is The Only Ocean. He’s been a big inspiration on the sound and production. In today’s social and political landscape people are always looking for ways to escape through music. With the songs you’re releasing in 2020, are you hoping to give your listeners music they can vibe to? W: Of course. They’re a bit sad though so if anyone wants to vibe but also self-reflect, then you’ve found the right band. The band has gone through various changes over the years. What has being a member of The Only Ocean taught you? W: Not to give up. When things get bad, you just have to get through all the shit to get to the other side. Being in a band is hard, but if I had given up when things got rough for me, I know I’d be miserable right now. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? W: Same answer I said above. Just keep moving forward and have fun while you’re doing it. Also, be prepared to make a lot of mistakes along the way. You’re definitely gonna play some band shows and write songs you’ll find cringy when you’re older, but it’s all part of it. We’ve all been there so don’t let it stop you.
Sam Himself Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Stefan Tschumi
Sam Himself grew up in Switzerland but wanted to be closer to the source of the music he loved growing up. This led him to move to New York. It’s a bit ironic that he found himself back in Switzerland to tour and shoot a music video for the title track of his EP Slow Drugs. He talked to Nyota about exploring new sounds in “Slow Drugs” and how music was integral to his life growing up. Was music an integral part of your life growing up? Yes, it was, in peculiar ways. Before I discovered music, I heard melodies everywhere when I was a kid. That’s how I organized everyday sounds in my head. Every household noise had its own little jingle. And my mom listened to a lot of music all the time – that’s how I got into actual songs. She also sang to my siblings and me. It was the most soothing sound I knew at the time. Did growing up in Switzerland have any influence on your music? I’m sure it did. If you grow up here, there’s a sense that the world, whatever that means to you, happens elsewhere. Say you’re a teenager obsessed with rock bands; most likely they’re not from Switzerland and if you’re lucky, they’ll pass through at some point. Things might be different now, but I must have internalized that mentality as a kid. That was one reason why I moved to New York. I wanted to be close to what I viewed as the source of so much of the music I loved. So it’s all the more validating now to find resonance back home, a very sweet reconciliation of sorts. Your EP Slow Drugs is a foray into a new sound. Was it fun to experiment and try new things with this EP? It was fun and some real work too. It wasn’t easy for me to let go of what I thought I knew and trust the kind of intuition that requires you to start over. My producer Daniel Schlett played a major role in that process. He
supported my best ideas and gently encouraged me to get rid of some dead weight I was clinging to at the time. He’s eerily clairvoyant in that way. Why did you make “Slow Drugs” the title track? In your eyes, does it encapsulate the sound and feel of the EP? Yes to both. “Slow Drugs” was the first song of the EP chronologically, so it set a tone in terms of what the other songs would be about and what they were going to sound like. I made many, many versions of that tune before arriving at the one I ended up recording. They kept getting simpler and more stripped-down, and the sparse arrangement we ended up with became a guideline for the rest of the tracks. I really cut my teeth with that one, and I’m a better shark for it. In the accompanying music video for “Slow Drugs” you’re in Switzerland moving around on roller skates. How involved were you in the creative process for the video and how did the idea come about? The “Slow Drugs” video is very dear to me because it’s the product of my first collaboration with videographer Stefan Tschumi. We filmed that clip just over a year ago, and we’ve since shot three more music videos and countless photos together. He’s become the eyes to my ears, the kind of creative partner who’s able to capture what I’m all about while adding new dimensions to the songs we visualize together. I approached him with a rough concept 30
for the “Slow Drugs” video: I wanted to create an odyssey through adverse terrain, a trip across Switzerland, my home country, in regions I’d never been to before. As evidenced by the footage, the roller skates took care of the element of adversity, and the splendor of the surrounding Alps ensured that I’d be a mere supporting actor, a visual afterthought at most, which I loved. After the release of your song “Cry” can listeners expect a full-length album in the near future? They sure can! “Cry” is the first single off my debut LP, due out next year. Many of the songs on the album came together during the COVID lockdown, around the same time I wrote “Cry.” I really hope people will find some comfort in the new record during these sad, strange times. During these weird times what music have you been listening to to stay sane? I definitely resorted to my musical first responders a lot: Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Neil Young… the voices I need when the plot thickens. Recently, I’ve also been crashing at my rehearsal space, which is part of a makeshift venue that just held a Beethoven festival, so I now have his piano sonatas stuck in my head. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Record yourself as much as you can and listen back to your own singing. Hearing yourself might not be fun at first, but it will help you figure out what you have to work on and get used to the sound of your own voice (at least that’s what I’m betting on). And no matter what range you’re most comfortable singing in, train your falsetto. No joke!
2020: The Year We Pressed Pause By Celeste Lim
When the world stopped in March, so did the music. Independent venues shuttered, artists cancelled stadium tours and hundreds of thousands were left jobless. In a year that tested the world in just about every way, the resilience of this industry was no exception. What could be a greater challenge for an industry built on communal experience than a widespread pandemic that demands human isolation? COVID-19 altered the way people create, share and listen to music. Daily routines changed. People were no longer tuning in during their commute to work or playing radio hits inside their shops. The visceral nature of music became more evident than ever, as people around the world were made to re-discover how music played a role in their lives, and how that could continue to grow fulfillingly within the confines of their homes. As people spent seemingly never-ending months indoors, many resorted back to the very activity that allows their minds to transcend their current environment. This form of escapism is reflected in this year’s rise in music streaming. The start of 2020 brought high expectations for the industry, as both recorded and live music hit record highs. 2019 proved to be music’s most successful year of the decade — streaming accounted for 80% of revenues and paid subscriptions exceeded 60 million for the first time, according to a report by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). As the pandemic wreaked havoc on industry sales, streaming was left with the greater responsibility to entertain the masses. Hungry listeners turned to trusty services, such as Spotify and Apple Music, while artists and writers depended on those very 33
same platforms for income. Yet streaming could not hold itself as the sole hero, as the last nine months have shown that truly no crevice of the industry can bypass the disruptions of the pandemic. Streams fell by 7.6 percent at the onset of the pandemic, as restaurants and retailers across the nation closed and Americans began to reduce consumer purchasing. After three consecutive weeks of decrease, the numbers began to pick up and normalize as life continued in quarantine, with the exception of a dip in early June, coinciding with the Black Lives Matter protests. The music streaming market is expected to have an overall neutral impact from the pandemic, projecting to steadily grow by almost $7.5 billion in the next three years. On the other end, the pandemic forced artists to become more creative in how they connect with their audience. The hallmark of the industry this year has been live streams, rising in popularity due to the cancellation of all live music events. Musicians held and performed in virtual benefit concerts that raised funds to benefit independent venues and touring staff, as well as medical professionals on the front-line of coronavirus efforts. In April, Lady Gaga, in partnership with Global Citizen, co-curated “One World: Together At Home,” a live-streamed concert that raised a total of $35 million to provide protective gear for health workers and aid in vaccine development. Hosted by late-night stars Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, the benefit concert brought industry icons, such as Elton John, Chris Martin and Paul McCartney, to television screens all over the world. Listeners found new ways to engage with music remotely through the unwavering power of social media as well. Viral hits were further popularized by
video platform TikTok and webcast series Verzuz, first introduced during the pandemic by producers and DJs Timbaland and Swizz Beats. Verzuz utilizes Instagram Live to broadcast “battles” between two music icons each episode, even successfully garnering the support from massive sponsors like Ciroc and Apple Music. Music and entertainment venues were some of the first to shut down due to COVID-19, and in most states, will be the very last to re-open. What was once a robust part of the industry was now hit with the massive financial implications that come from shutting down large gatherings. Music has proven to be a key factor in the health of the U.S. economy, with arts and culture contributing more than $760 billion annually to the economy, according to the National Endowment for the Arts. Without federal support now, 90% of independent venues will go out of business, according to a study from the National Independent Venue Association earlier this year, bearing dire consequences on local economies. NIVA most notably launched its Save Our Stages campaign, aimed to “preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live event venues and promoters throughout the United States.” The trade association focuses on lobbying efforts, pushing Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act. If passed, it would provide the necessary aid to keep many of the country’s most beloved independent venues from closing permanently, including The Anthem in Washington D.C., New York City’s Apollo Theater and The Troubadour in Los Angeles.
As the end of 2020 approaches, these organizations haven’t slowed their efforts in demanding government support for the sustainability of the music industry. As part of its widely-praised annual Wrapped campaign, Spotify launched an official partnership with NIVA, donating $500,000 to the fund while the association’s 3,000 members await the fate of the Save Our Stages Act. As Spotify celebrated the greatest artists of the year, they chose to do so by honoring the very stages that first brought those names to the marquee. More than ever before, musicians brought light to an anxious and frightening year, whether through live-streamed Q&As, virtual concerts or quarantine-recorded releases, yet much of that would be impossible without the previous work of every songwriter, sound producer, stage director and lighting technician involved. “Art is how we decorate space, music is how we decorate time.” Late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat’s words play louder now than ever. 2020 was the year time stopped. Months were hard to measure and moments were forced to be redefined. Yet, as always, music was able to lift the morale of creators and listeners around the world, whether by relishing in the memories of rubbing shoulders at local venues or offering a sense of hope for the music experiences yet to come. In many ways, COVID-19 will alter the ways that everyone goes about in their daily lives. The once reliable routines and regimens must be entirely reinvented for the greater good of society. Without a doubt, the music industry will return. It never truly left. It will just evolve with the world, as it always has.
Other performance rights and trade organizations have also mobilized the public to demand Congress to continue benefits for small businesses and selfemployed individuals in the industry. The Recording Academy and its affiliated charitable foundation, MusiCares, established a $2 million COVID-19 relief fund in April, allowing musicians and industry professionals to apply and receive up to $1,000 in aid. Additionally, The Recording Academy partnered with more than 50 artist rights organizations to create MusicCovidRelief.com, which offers digestible information and resources for professionals to access the protection and benefits made available by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Joey Hendricks Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: David Bradley
Joey Hendricks has been creating music since the age of 15, so it is no surprise that he has been able to hone his skills as a musician over the years. With his debut single “Yours or Mine” he is carving a space for himself in the music industry and proving that country will never go out of style. Hendricks talked to Nyota about growing up in Anacortes and his advice for aspiring singers.
Has music been a creative outlet for you since a young age? Yeah I’ve always loved music, but once I started playing guitar and writing songs when I was 15, it honestly became a form of therapy for me. It still is. Did growing up in Anacortes have any influence on your music? Absolutely. The winters are pretty long there and you can get stuck inside and in your head, so I was desperate to find something to keep me busy and express myself. For me that was music. I think that influence is still evident in a lot of the songs I write today. For aspiring musicians getting signed is a huge career milestone. When you got signed to Sony Music Nashville, did it feel as though things were falling into place? It did. I moved to town to just focus on being a songwriter, so to end up with a record deal was just the icing on the cake. Tell us about your debut single “Yours or Mine.” How long did it take to write and record? I wrote “Yours or Mine” with my good friends Michael Whitworth and Daniel Ross. We wrote the song in about 45 minutes and it became one of my favorites. It felt like a good place to start my story as an artist.
Before recording your own music, you started out as a songwriter. Would you say songwriting is your favorite part of the music making process? Yeah definitely. Like I said before, songwriting is a form of therapy for me and I still get such a high on creating something out of nothing. You recorded a cover of “Xmas (War is Over).” Is John Lennon an artist you look up to and why did you want to record that particular song I was initially hesitant to record a Christmas song, but with everything going on in the world it just felt so relevant. I’m also a huge John Lennon fan and love everything he stood for, so it was cool to put my own spin on this song. As you continue to write and record music can listeners expect an EP or full album from you in the near future? Definitely! Keep an eye out for new music in the very near future. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Just keep doing you. Write songs that make you happy and keep creating because the world needs it right now.
TROY Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Rick Caballo
TROY got his start in musical theatre before becoming interested in creating his own music at 14. Fast forward a few years and he has started to write and perform original music, while also finding the time to act in shows like This Is Us and TNT’s The Last Ship. He talked to Nyota about his song “Unbreakable” and creating music in the digital age. You got your start in theatre. What skills did you learn during your time doing theatre that you carry with you today? Wow, I’ve learned so much from being in musical theatre. I suppose performing in front of live audiences really helped me get comfortable doing shows. It’s so cool to connect with an audience energetically. I try to carry that with me on every live show I do. When did you start to transition to writing and recording your own music? Were you nervous to take that leap? I started writing my own music at 14. I’ve always loved writing and singing even while acting. It’s funny you ask if I was nervous, because I really was. I’ve always known music was my passion, but I never really committed to it until a friend of mine in LA said, “You’ve got to let the world hear this music.” I took her advice and a week or two later, I played my first show in LA. I still get a little nervous before every show, but I see that as normal and I try to feed off of that energy. Tell us about your song “Unbreakable.” What inspired the lyrics? While I was lying in my bed one night thinking about life, I started to write “Unbreakable.” It was a time in my life when I felt like I was consistently tested to see if my legs would give out or if I would keep going. It was the moment where I started to trust myself more and become who I am today. As the writing process continued, I realized so many others were going through the same thing – trying to persevere through tough times and aiming for better days. This song to me isn’t just a song, it’s an anthem. 37
You have been working closely with Marti Frederiksen. What has that experience been like? Working with Marti is like working with Obi-Wan Kenobi. He’s incredibly wise and insightful and a musical force. He’s worked with some of the best bands and artists in the world (Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry), so I consider myself fortunate to be working with him. I got introduced to Marti by my music manager, Michael Keeling, who is a long time childhood friend of Marti’s. Michael set up a listening session with Marti in Nashville. I was so pumped and nervous at the same time. I played a few of my songs and Marti liked what he heard. After we left the session, I celebrated with Belgian waffles. We’ve since worked on several songs together with more on the horizon. Who are some of your music inspirations? I grew up listening to Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Johnny Cash… I could keep going. My late voice teacher used to call me the “Retro Kid.” Haha. I definitely think they have influenced my sound and their music still inspires me. Every one of their songs tells a story and I like to do the same. I’m also inspired by so many of today’s great artists like Ed Sheeran and Dean Lewis. Their music is so good. In today’s digital age has it been easier for you to find an audience and get your music out there? Yeah, for sure. Especially lately with so many of the venues shut down, the audiences have almost exclusively moved online – at least for now. Generally, today it’s pretty easy to get your music out there digitally. But getting your music out there is only part of the equation. Getting the audience to listen is the key. With social media and digital streaming platforms, the opportunities are huge. Could you see yourself ever going back to theatre in the future? Absolutely! I love musical theatre and fully expect it to be a part of my ongoing journey. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? One, don’t expect success out of the gate; two, have the courage to disagree as needed; three, get comfortable with being uncomfortable; four, if you need to step on someone’s shoulders, be sure to pull them up with you; and five, you’re going to start wearing tighter pants, so you might as well get used to it.
Lana Chalfoun Interview by Carol Wright Photo Courtesy of Lana Chalfoun
Lana Chalfoun may be young but she has the work ethic needed to persevere in the music industry. Her debut album Aware came out in 2019 and showed off her vocal range and songwriting prowess, while her recent releases like “Be Ok” are more on the personal side. Chalfoun chatted with Nyota about working with producer Jeremy Ryan and pulling from her own life experiences to write songs.
When did singing and songwriting become a passion of yours? I started singing at the age of 3 and started songwriting when I was about 10. I always loved performing, and so I think when music in general really became a passion is when I could perform the songs that I had written. Do you pull from events happening in your own life when writing songs? Most of my songs that I write are based on events in my life. It makes them more real, to me and to others. Tell us about “Be Ok.” Was it therapeutic for you to write? “Be Ok” was probably the most therapeutic song I’ve actually written for myself. It really helped me sort through my thoughts and calm me down. I still listen to it when I get stressed out. The song focuses on the anxiety young artists feel within the industry. Is this something you think has become even more prevalent with people comparing their careers to others through social media? Yes, although social media is a great platform to share your music and promote yourself, seeing where other people are and how much they’ve done and comparing it to yourself is one of the most unhealthy things… and it’s inevitable when you are on social media. I think that’s why there’s so much anxiety/ depression in our generation because we’re constantly comparing our lives to others.
You have been working with producer Jeremy Ryan. What have you learned through working with him? I’d say the number one thing I’ve learned is how to work within the industry. In producing the songs, I learned a lot about how to take feedback and how to collaborate on ideas. I’ve also learned how to stay on top of things, and to keep the ball rolling. During quarantine how have you been keeping yourself motivated to create music? It was definitely hard at first to be motivated to do music, but the more bored I got, the more I turned to my guitar and songwriting. I think quarantine ended up actually allowing me to be a better writer because not only did I mature personally, but I had more time to write and reflect on my life which in turn gave me better songs. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? I would say to not give up. I know that’s cliché, but it’s very tempting to just stop trying when you’re not seeing the results that you want. But that doesn’t mean you never will, you just have to keep working. Nothing in this industry is handed to you. You need to put in the time.
Matt LeGrand Interview by Carol Wright Photo Courtesy of Matt Legrand
Matt LeGrand can thank his roots in France and Chicago for exposing him to different types of music, and he attributes the Rolling Stones for inspiring him to get his career in the music industry started. At the age of 11, he learned to play guitar and that progressed into LeGrand creating and writing his own songs. He talked to Nyota about being self-sufficient in the music industry and staying humble through early success. After spending your infant years in France do you have any French musicians you gravitate towards or grew up listening to? Yes, I used to listen to French artists like MC Solaar, Daft Punk, and Edith Piaf. My favorite though is probably Claude Francois singing the song “Comme D’habitude” which is the song that was the catalyst to “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. Once you moved to Chicago were you inspired to get into music because of the city’s musical history? Even though Chicago’s music history is rich and inspires me today, what actually got me into playing music was the first concert that my mother took me to. We went to go see the Rolling Stones and I was only 11 years old! Thanks Mom! I got my first guitar two weeks after that concert and started studying. Fun fact is that my brother would use my guitar from time to time and he became an incredible guitarist that makes me look like I’m still an 11 year old learning the guitar. Outside of singing you also play instruments from guitar to drums. How has playing instruments been helpful in your career? Having a good sense of other instruments is extremely helpful and allows me to produce a lot of music just on my own. Although collaboration is probably one of my favorite things about what I do, I find that being self-sufficient is incredibly important today. Artists in the industry are becoming more independent and more multi-talented than ever before. Having an independent mentality in the business today is giving 43
a unique opportunity to a much grander number of musicians, singers, producers, and songwriters. Your song “Crazy Bout Cha” is super upbeat and fun. Tell us a bit about the making of that song. I’m glad you love the song! “Crazy Bout Cha” came from an idea from Bryant Reid. He thought that it would be an interesting direction for me to take a sound from a different era and make it relevant for today. Dave Hall produced “Crazy Bout Cha” around a sample from the song “Jungle Jazz” by Kool and The Gang. With the help of songwriter Ray Rush, the team and I were able to pull off an amazing blend of new and old! How involved were you in the creation of the music video? Was it rewarding to see the final project? We worked with the great director Randy Marshall on this one! Other than some collaborative conversations on set, I really stayed out of Randy’s way on this one. I’m glad I did because I was blown away by the video. Randy’s eye and work style was so unique. I thought that being the star of the video was going to be enough involvement! When you’re creating music do you usually write lyrics and go from there or start with a melody? I will usually start with the melody and the words will follow. In a perfect world where I’m really feeling it, both the lyrics and melody will come painlessly at the same time. Some of the best art is created without too much thinking and in very little time. This is easier said than done!
After your song “All Good” came out, you had a string of successful singles and even ended up on Billboard Magazine’s emerging artist list. How did you keep yourself grounded amongst the early success? Thankfully it has been pretty easy so far to keep myself grounded. I think that it obviously has a lot to do with the people that surround you and existing as humbly as you can. I wake up every morning and reflect on not only where I am in life but where others are as well. This brings in perspective and I feel that is important for realizing the good things in life. I am lucky to have amazing people around me that are honest as I know I have yet to meet my biggest challenges. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Believe, believe, and believe. It seems like an impossible dream a lot of the time and it’s easy to lose faith. Stay in it as it’s always about longevity in a career. First, make sure that you absolutely love singing, and then commit every part of you to it. Immerse yourself, enjoy every moment, be kind to everyone, and be professional!
Viviana Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Koko Art Studio
Viviana started performing earlier than most musicians her age, so it is not surprising that as a college student she already has an album and three singles under her belt. She is not afraid to be vulnerable through her music and discuss topics such as mental health, relationships, and sexuality which allows her to relate to her listeners. She talked to Nyota about how Phoebe Bridgers inspires her and the importance of being honest. Performing has been a part of your life since you were 8. As you started pursuing music professionally, did you seek out mentors to help you grow your skills? I had a teacher in high school named Miss Linda. I practically lived in her music room. Whenever I got the chance I would go and pick up a guitar and just start playing. She really gave me the space to find my sound, and find who I am as an artist. I probably wouldn’t sound the way I do if it wasn’t for those long days in the music room with Linda. Is there a song or album you can remember listening to growing up that stuck with you and has influenced your music in some form? Stranger in the Alps by Phoebe Bridgers is genius to me. Her lyrics are crafted so impeccably, and she is a huge inspiration for me. Phoebe has influenced my music so much. She has helped me be honest. Because of her music, I feel comfortable diving into some pretty deep, serious topics through music. You’re not afraid to be vulnerable through your music. Is it often easier for you to work through things via song rather than talking through them? I have gotten pretty great at talking through my trauma thanks to therapy, but songwriting helps me express myself in a completely different way. It’s magical when I can put exactly how I am feeling into a song. The most beautiful part is when someone tells me they can relate. It’s sad because I don’t want anyone to feel the way I do, but it’s also amazing because we know we are not alone. Is songwriting a solo process for you or do you collaborate with other songwriters? Songwriting is a solo process for me 99% of the time. All of my songs I write myself. I just feel like it’s more vulnerable that way. Sometimes I will co-write songs with
other artists for them, but never for me. I would love to collaborate in the future though, it just has to feel right. I love your song “Explosions.” It’s definitely a bit pared down compared to songs from your album I Mean What I Say. Were you experimenting with sound or did a slower pace just seem natural for the song? I feel like my sound has changed as I have matured. I was around 15 when I wrote I Mean What I Say and I wasn’t sure the sound I wanted yet. I just leaned towards pop because it’s what I knew. “Explosions” is more me. It’s closer to how I want to sound in the future. Tell us about your song “Weather.” What was going on in your life around the time you wrote it? At the time, I was struggling with my sexuality and identity. I constantly felt like there was an elephant in the room when I was around my family. It made everyone uncomfortable and I never knew what to say. “Weather” was inspired by a conversation I had with my father. We were in the car, and it was on the tip of my tongue, “I’M GAY,” but I just couldn’t get it out. We ended up talking about how hot it was outside. I live in Houston, it’s always hot outside. What story are you trying to tell through your song “Turbulence?” I’m discussing not just a fear of airplanes, but a fear that I will never let myself reach my full potential. It’s a story of self-sabotage, but also hope that one day it will be different. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Be true to yourself and be HONEST. Always be honest. That is the most important thing in my music and in my life, and it’s also what makes people gravitate towards the music.
Reimagining Albums Words and Album Covers by Amanda Molloy
Cover art is an integral way for an album to make a positive first impression on a potential listener. A striking cover can set the tone for an enhanced listening experience, and even a single artistic component can add a whole new layer of depth and meaning to an album’s storyline. With this in mind, I decided to combine my love of music and design by working on a personal project in which I reimagined the covers of certain albums that have helped me through quarantine.
Dreamland - Glass Animals I came up with the idea for this redesign immediately after listening to the album for the first time. Dreamland reflects on memories from lead singer Dave Bayley’s formative years and makes use of audio from home movies recorded by his mom in the ‘90s. Nostalgic imagery is so strong in this record that it often feels as though you can visualize the storyline of each song playing out like a VHS tape on an old TV. Glass Animals has the unique ability to transport a listener to an entirely new world with each release, which is one of many things I admire about this band. Favorite song: “Tokyo Drifting”
Being No One, Going Nowhere - STRFKR Being No One, Going Nowhere is a comfort album for me. I can go back to it when the mood strikes and every listen feels like I’m experiencing it for the very first time all over again, and that’s truly what this album is – an experience. Named after a meditation book by Ayya Khema, the record explores a number of Eastern philosophical concepts while retaining the cosmic dance party energy that STRFKR is known for. My fascination with outer space, the introspective nature of this album, and the new sense of wonder brought about by each listen is what influenced this redesign. Favorite song: “Maps”
#NYOTAmusic Punisher - Phoebe Bridgers I didn’t stray far from the original cover art for this redesign – I adjusted the color scheme slightly and added some typography to compliment the album’s tone and content. For the most part, Punisher is more acoustic than the kind of music I normally find myself listening to. That being said, hearing this album for the first time was like finding calm in the storm of these past few months. Especially instrumental in the inspiration for this design is the haunting and cinematic outro “I Know The End”, a song about finding peace among chaos and taking things one day at a time. Favorite song: “I Know The End” OK Computer - Radiohead I owe much of my love for alternative rock music to this album. Every time I put on OK Computer I am amazed by how incredibly ahead of its time it was. The album is 23 years old, yet the topics it covers – information overload, disillusionment, paranoia, and isolation, to name a few – are more relevant in 2020 than ever before. I turned to the many iconic album covers of the late 20th century to find inspiration for this redesign. I added a glitch effect on the text to highlight the album’s dystopian commentary on a world increasingly reliant on technology and just how destructive that reliance can be. Favorite song: “Karma Police” Notes on a Conditional Form - The 1975 This redesign was primarily based on the album’s five-minute-long opening monologue by climate activist Greta Thunberg. Accompanied by ambient piano music, “The 1975” is an urgent call to action in which Thunberg sheds light on the ongoing ecological and climate crisis. The essay is immediately followed by “People”, a heavy track that delivers bold commentary on current events and societal issues. I wanted this new design to retain some elements of the original cover while emphasizing The 1975’s call for the world to “wake up” before it’s too late. Favorite song: “I Think There’s Something You Should Know”
Blonde - Frank Ocean Frank Ocean’s most experimental project to date, Blonde, is a coming of age story in which the protagonist navigates self-discovery, lost love, and lessons learned from life’s most complex moments. Because I associate memories with looking at photographs, I inverted the colors of the original album and designed this cover to resemble a film strip. To me, this record is a lot like looking back at an old photo album and trying to piece together the memories. Your thoughts may be hazy and you may be competing with different points of view, but what matters most in the end is that those memories have shaped you into the person you are. Favorite song: “Nikes”
Jordana Bryant Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Ryan Hamblin, BrainStem Photography
Jordana Bryant is proving to be one to watch in the country music scene with her debut song “This Love.” After starting out as a YouTuber posting singing covers, Bryant found the confidence to release her original music from the support she got on her channel. She talked to Nyota about working with Rick Barker and realizing that making music was more than a hobby. When did singing turn from a hobby to a passion for you? I’ve always loved singing, but I’d say probably about five years ago when I started really writing and recording. I just fell in love with that process and how I could control what message I put out and spread positivity. This past year, as I’ve started posting my singing, getting such a positive reaction has really helped me see that my music can be so much more than just a hobby, and that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. You post covers on YouTube and have gained over 3.5 million views. Did the support you got on the channel inspire you to start releasing original music? Posting music, as I’m sure anyone can tell you, is always a bit scary. Especially when it’s music you’ve created yourself. So seeing people support the covers that I posted really helped me overcome that fear and post my original music, and I’m extremely grateful for how supportive my fans have been of that too. It means the world to me to see how people really relate to the music I’ve been posting and releasing! Tell us about your debut single “This Love.” What story are you trying to tell through the song? I wrote “This Love” to capture the excitement of the beginning of a relationship. We all daydream about experiencing young love, and so with this song I just really wanted to express and share that joy. And throughout writing “This Love,” which I did with Seth Mosley and Jesse Lee, I really wanted to stay true to what was relatable to my fans. After all, I wouldn’t have even released this song were it not for the support my fans showed it after hearing about it on an Instagram Live show that I did. You have been working with Rick Barker, what have you learned from him? I’ve learned so much from Rick, but I’d say the main thing he’s taught me is to just focus on writing, singing, and connecting with my fans. There are always so many things with my music that I want to jump into, but doing everything is just not possible. So Rick has really helped me learn to prioritize, and for me the most important thing has always been connecting with people through my music. 49
You’re 15 and already pursuing your dreams. How has it been balancing school and your normal day to day with your burgeoning singing career? Of course sometimes I struggle with balancing school work and my music, but throughout it all I try to remember that if I push myself too hard, I won’t be able to create my best music. For me, planning out time in my calendar for my music is really helpful because it helps me fit in my music even when I’m managing a lot of school work. Do you have a specific songwriting process or do you just write when inspiration hits? I try to block out time to write everyday, but a lot of times I also just write when I have something that I want to express that I don’t know how else to say. When I’m writing, I typically start out by playing around with some chords on guitar (or piano) and then start hearing some melodies to go with it. I try to hone in on the melody that I like the best, and a lot of times a melody gives off a certain emotion, so I just try to lean into that feeling when creating the lyrics. The music industry has been changing year by year and there are tools for up and coming artists to truly put themselves out there. Have you felt that with streaming services and other technology it has been easier for you to find an audience? I’m really grateful for all the technology we have today because it in essence provides musicians with a stage in front of the entire world. Social media has been an incredible resource for me because it’s helped me share my music with others, and it’s helped me find an audience that really relates with the messages I try to share. Especially during the pandemic, social media has allowed us to connect in a time where it would otherwise be really difficult to, and has let me share my music and perform for people, even if I can’t do in-person shows. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? My advice for aspiring singers would just be to stay true to yourself because that’s something that no other musician can do but you. Also, when you sing from a place that’s authentic to you, it’s often much more relatable to others and can really make a difference in their lives.
Mads Deaver Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Kisera Perry
Mads Deaver is a singer/songwriter that is sure to be on your radar soon if she isn’t already. With a growing fanbase and fun pop-rock sound, Deaver is an artist to watch. Nyota talked to her about creating a Christmas song and working on her EP. You have been performing since you were 10. What initially got you interested in performing and creating music? I’ve always loved music. When I was little, I used to love to drive in the car because it meant that we could listen to music loudly. My favorites were compilation CDs because they had all the popular songs and I could sing every song. When I was finally old enough, I took voice lessons at a local music school and a group of us performed at local charity and community events. About that same time Youtube was getting popular, and I started making videos singing covers. Honestly, I can’t think of anything specific that got me interested in performing. I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t super important to me. Who are some artists that inspire you? There are so many artists that have inspired me for different reasons, but I have always been really drawn to powerful women with strong messages. I’ve loved Demi Lovato since the Camp Rock days, and have loved growing with her as a fan through so many different stages of her career. I also admire Gwen Stefani. Her concert was my first one. I knew every single song from the album and sang at the top of my lungs the whole show. I was exhausted afterwards. LOL. P!nk and Hayley Williams are also artists that really inspire me. What is your songwriting process? I wish I had a more organized writing process, but it’s pretty spontaneous. Some songs take a few hours or a day to write and some I’ve been working on for months. I do a lot of my best thinking while I’m driving or late at night. Sometimes I think of a line or a hook and I put it in my notes. Other times I just have a wave of inspiration and I run to my keyboard to pound out a melody and record it in voice recordings. I guess my iPhone plays a big part in my process.
Tell us about your song “GR*NCH.” What made you want to put out a holiday song? I wanted to put out a holiday song as a bit of a fun change. We’d been stuck at home and it just seemed like a good time to put out an upbeat song to lift spirits. It also helped put me in more of a positive mood. It was a fun song to write. “GR*NCH” is not your typical Christmas song, which makes it fun. Were you hoping to release something that was atypical? Thank you for saying that. I love the way that the song came out. I’ve been playing with my sound lately and “GR*NCH” has a kind of a guitar-led Pop Rock vibe which is what I am really loving right now. I didn’t set out to make something atypical, I just wanted something that sounded like me. Has the pandemic given you more time to work on new music? Definitely. Don’t get me wrong, I wish the world was in a healthier place, but I’ve been able to use this extra time to concentrate on music since a lot of my usual tasks aren’t happening right now. I’ve released three songs during the pandemic: “When You’re Drunk”, “I Forgive You”, and now “GR*NCH”. I also created and edited the videos for “When You’re Drunk” and “I Forgive You” myself at home, so it is definitely forcing me to be more creative and self-sufficient production-wise. Should fans expect an EP from you in the near future? Yes! I am really excited about it. I am working on my EP now. I’m working with producers from both the US and the UK, and I feel really lucky to be able to have such amazing people on the EP. I hope to have it out early 2021. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Keep practicing and sing every day.
Elisia Savoca Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Elisia Savoca
Elisia Savoca is hoping to make people happy through her music, a goal that’s sure to be met when listeners get the chance to hear her sultry and mesmerizing tunes. Savoca grew up in San Diego where she attended local shows before transitioning to performing. She talked to Nyota about her EP, ACT 1 – MANIFESTO, and self-directing music videos. Where do you pull inspiration from for your music? I pull inspo from so many places. Usually, I listen to a lot of 90’s hip-hop, jazz, and a hint of folk music. But during the time of making this EP, I was listening to Hiatus Kaiyote on repeat. My favorite song from them is “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk”. I highly recommend listening to it! Growing up in California, did you often go to concerts and small shows? If so, how did that inform your music taste? Totally! I went to concerts as much as I could when I lived in San Diego. I’ve played a bunch of fun local shows, one of them being ‘Battle of the band’ of Vans Warped Tour. When I was in a pop-punk band, I really started to learn my vocal range and stage presence. I would watch so many Paramore and No Doubt live shows online and try to model what they were doing on stage. It wasn’t until I started playing those shows that I really understood how music could make people feel. But at the beginning of my career, I went to a music school called Rock and Roll San Diego. I joined a band there and was playing a bunch of classic rock covers like “The Ocean” by Led Zeppelin or “Heart of Glass” by Blondie. That most definitely gave me the experience I needed to write songs and have a good work ethic. After that, I started playing in cafes in high school. My mom told me if you’re going to do this you gotta do this, so then I started to learn guitar and get better at my songwriting. “Falling” is the first single you released from ACT 1 – MANIFESTO. Do you feel as though “Falling” gives listeners a glimpse of what to expect from the rest of the EP? Yes totally!! What you can expect from this EP is breaking boundaries and saying what you want to say. The music video for “Falling” was self-directed and edited. Did you feel even more creative being stuck in lockdown and having to make do with what you had?
Yes! When in quarantine you gotta get creative. I wanted to take initiative with my art and do it myself so that I could execute everything the way I wanted to. Before quarantine, I was making my own videos but I had either my brother or my friend filming me. When I found that creative pocket in myself, I just looked up a bunch of tutorials on editing and how to make videos look at least remotely good – haha! It definitely felt like I leveled up when I figured out the visual side of myself. Why the name ACT 1 – MANIFESTO? Did that come from somewhere specific? Honestly, I was going for a walk one day listening to these demos and I just had a vision for a music video. In my vision, people were wearing 1700-style dresses and the colors for it were golds and reds. Then it gave me this very noir vibe. I then dove into some words that were 1700 inspired words, and then I had a light bulb moment and said to myself: manifesto. Is there a certain place or environment you like to be in when writing songs? I just love hanging out with the producer I’m working with! Honestly, I don’t usually have a certain environment I work in but I love being in the studio around a bunch of people. I just love good energy, haha! As an up and coming singer, has it been rewarding to start building an audience and see people enjoying your music? Yes for sure! I love to make people happy. That’s genuinely why I’m in music. I want to be someone’s therapy! What advice do you have for aspiring singers? I would say don’t be too hard on yourself. Be proud of what you create!
Skandra Interview by Carol Wright Photography: Anna Azarov
Skandra can thank the power of social media for getting her song “Rivers” recognized by the masses. A viral TikTok showing the singer and her husband risking it all to pursue her music-making dreams resonated with viewers, and now the music video has over 200,000 views. She talked to Nyota about the creation of the song “River” and her nonprofit Treehouse. Growing up did you always turn to music to express yourself? At first, it was writing where I really expressed myself. I began writing poetry and short stories at a very young age. Because I also had been taking piano lessons since I was 4, the two naturally merged into singing the poems over the music. This was how I discovered songwriting. You used to work with other artists on music before creating your own. What did you learn during those experiences? I’ve always worked on my own music throughout the whole process, so I’d say I learned a lot. With each band I formed or project I was part of, I’d take away perspectives. I really love understanding another person’s process for writing music. I think it not only says a lot about them but gives me ways to shake off the trap of being redundant and trying something new. Tell us about your song “Rivers.” What inspired the lyrics? “Rivers” began as an acoustic song I wrote on a rainy day. It was slow and almost waltz-like. The song is about the admission that though something may feel like true love, it’s obviously destined to end. It sorts through thought processes I had throughout that prior relationship. It’s about finding strength in this admission and forgiving myself for being honest. You were also heavily involved in the music video creation for “Rivers.” What was it like being a part of the creative process in making a video? Our friends had just launched SuperVision earlier that
year, and after showing them the demo for “Rivers,” they became excited about making a music video for it. That rejuvenated my excitement for the song. I gave them an overall feel and my inspirations for the visuals and then Robin Clive went at it. Oliver Clive produced it within a week and a half. The crew, art direction, makeup, props, and more were all found throughout Paris, and I found the location online. It was all shot in a single day and for all that, we were so happy with the result. It’s a little dream world. The creation of “Rivers” and the accompanying music video has an interesting backstory that actually went viral on TikTok. Why did now seem like the time to take your savings and put them into creating an album? “Rivers” was recorded and the music video was shot at the end of 2019. I wanted to launch everything in 2020 and have the tour, release party, and quite a lot more. I had it all lined up to be released in March but the pandemic hit and I put it on hold. I don’t know if we could have known what this year would bring. Would we have given our all savings-wise? We never could have imagined how this year would play out. We decided to go for it last year because my husband truly believes in my vision as an artist and I like to be delusional and persistent when it comes to my goals. These two motivations resulted in this ridiculous and amazing viral TikTok that changed my life forever. Were you surprised to see all the support “Rivers” got through TikTok? I was! My husband had presented the idea of “getting the counter up” and because it’s not in my nature to present anything other than the art, I had no idea what would happen. Seeing thousands of people tell me 58
they love the song was truly humbling and beautiful. It inspires me to see people supporting artists and it inspires me to create more. Tell us about your non-profit Treehouse. How can our readers get involved? In 2015, I was working on a project and not leaving my house much. I kept getting messages and emails from fellow artists promoting their work. I felt bothered by the fact that their messages didn’t impact me. I had no real interest… and I LOVE art. So, I realized it wasn’t the bombardment of promotion that bothered me, it was the lack of intimacy. It felt far away and I wanted it right in front of me. I wanted to experience their art. I decided to have about 20 people over at my house, which we all called the Treehouse. It went so well, I decided to do it monthly. After three months,
there were 150 people jammed in my living room and watching through the windows, so I had to move out of my house and find new venues every month. We always pick unconventional locations and the owners get behind the cause and do not charge. It’s free to perform, free to attend, and art for the sake of art. We’ve exposed hundreds of artists to thousands of people. We threw a festival in 2016 with headliners such as Kimya Dawson (The Moldy Peaches), Jade Castrinos (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), Josiah, Vox, and Joey Dosik. We had 25 bands, 25 films, and this was purely fan-funded. Treehouse gathers hundreds of people into tight-knit quarters every month. The entire premise is about intimacy. We had seven months’ worth of events lined up and had to cancel them all. People’s lives and safety are worth it.
We took it to Instagram instead and launched #QuarantineConcert where over 15,000 artists participated virtually. Even the lead singer of Walk The Moon dressed up as a Walrus and shredded his keyboard. It’s been great. You can find us here or @ treehouse.la on Instagram. What advice do you have for people who want to create music but are nervous to make that leap? I’d say be willing to make garbage until you find your sound and voice. Even then, you’ll still make nonsense every once and a while but the more you write, the
more you work at it, and the more you fuel the dream, you’ll find something so uniquely you and there are people out there who want to hear it. This leads me to the second thing I always tell artists: just because no one is listening, doesn’t mean there aren’t those who want to. It’s not about showing art to your friends and family in hopes that’ll lead to something. You’ve got to get the art in front of as many people as possible, and there will always be a percentage of those that connect with it. You’re looking for your other halves – the kindred souls.
BLÜ EYES Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Brittany Berggren
Music has been an integral part in the life of singer/ songwriter BLÜ EYES since she was younger. Now, after changing directions in her career and going from being in a band to working solo, BLÜ EYES is coming out with new music that is sure to resonate with listeners. She talked to Nyota about her single “Just Friends” and what has been keeping her motivated in 2020. Did music play a large part in the early stages of your life? Definitely! My whole extended family on my dad’s side is super musical, so every family get together inevitably included playing music – lots of Beatles and James Taylor in four-part harmony. Your music career has gone through numerous changes from you being a songwriter, to being in a band, to you going back to being a solo artist. Over time what made you realize you wanted to work solo? I guess I just felt this pull to do it. It’s not the most “fun” thing to me really. I am for sure an extrovert and love working with people, so being the sole person making final decisions on everything can be hard at times. But so far, I’m incredibly proud of the music I’ve been making. I think this is one of those moments in my life where the thing I was most scared of was the thing most desperately needed to push myself. You have been able to experiment with sound through collaborations you’ve done and your own singles. Do you go into a song knowing you want a different sound or does that happen organically? I think it just depends on the song! If I’ve written this super angsty lyric, I know I’m gonna want the music to sort of mirror that (or be the exact opposite but in a cool intentional way), whereas if I’ve written this super vulnerable reflective song, I’m usually gonna want to keep it pretty minimal. Sometimes it does happen organically, but usually after I 61
write something that I like, I’ll take a walk and listen to the basic demo and really try to sonically visualize what the production could do. Tell us about your song “Just Life.” Was it cathartic to write? Definitely – but it was one of those songs that grows on you as a writer. I really liked it the day we wrote it, but I don’t think I realized how great it was until I listened back to the demo a few days later. At that moment listening to it, I thought to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe I wrote this. This is so beautiful and cathartic to listen to.” You co-wrote “Just Life” with Jonny Shorr and Haley Joelle. Does co-writing allow you to see a song from multiple perspectives? Does that make the songwriting process easier?
What can listeners expect from your upcoming album? Lots of really emotional songs, haha. I’ve dealt with a lot of really complex and confusing emotions this year, and the album is just kind of an exploration of all of them. It’s me trying to figure out who I am in this new independent space. I am incredibly proud of it and cannot wait for the world to hear. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Learn what you like, listen to a lot of that, and try lots of different stuff on your voice. Make a LOT of music, and take note of what styles make you feel most authentic and like yourself, regardless of what is current or popular at the moment.
YES, absolutely. Like I said, I’m very much a people person, so it really helps me get ideas flowing when there are conversations floating around in the room. Jonny and Haley also happen to be really good friends of mine – I’ve probably written at least 50 songs with Jonny at this point – and they both like to write with a very conversational tone to the lyrics. Like what would you actually SAY to this person if you saw them on the street, as opposed to finding the most clever metaphor or poetic way to put something. So writing with that conversational intention, it definitely helps to have someone else around to bounce things off of. It also helps me be more open-minded to things I never would have thought of on my own. That’s the magic of co-writing. 2020 has been a weird year to say the least. How have you been staying motivated and creative? I’ve just had soooo many ideas based on my life experience from the last year that I just felt a duty to see them through to the finish line. Making an album just felt like something I needed to do this year with how much I had to say creatively. There have definitely been days (and weeks) where I just am not in the mood to be creative and have to kind of power through, but every time I open up a Logic session of one of my songs and just start tinkering, I inevitably wind up having so much fun. It brings me so much joy to hear my songs take on this new life when I finally find the right arrangement for them. Tracking final vocals is a different story because I can be so hard on myself. I need to be in an AMAZING mood to do that. 64
Desanka Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Alex Melgosa
Desanka can thank musical theatre and Shakespeare for sparking her interest in the arts. The singer/ songwriter, actress, and model has already released multiple singles and most recently a Christmas EP. She talked to Nyota about connecting with fans in the digital age and creating music with her best friends during quarantine. You did theatre and choir growing up. Did those activities help you realize a singing career is what you wanted? Growing up doing extensive musical theatre, Shakespeare, and choir definitely triggered my love for the arts. Both music and acting are my deepest passions that I was lucky enough to discover at such a young age. Has quarantine had an effect on your music-making process? Quarantine has actually expedited my writing process. This time has really allowed me to finish songs I’ve started, begin more projects, and release new music. Tell us a bit about the Social Distance Christmas EP. When did you get the idea to create a Christmas EP? Christmas is one of my favorite holidays and I’ve always wanted to release Christmas music. Writing this 2-song Social Distance Christmas EP worked out perfectly this year because I had more time to write due to the pandemic, and my best friend who is a Broadway actress in NYC had to come back to LA as COVID-19 caused her show to close. With more time on my hands, my best friend in LA, and her talented sister available to collaborate, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to create something special. Your original song “Social Distance Christmas” is very upbeat and punk-influenced. Was it important for you to create a Christmas song less on the conventional side? I am a pop artist who only listens to pop-punk music, so I definitely wanted to incorporate my love for the genre in both songs on the EP. We wanted both “Social Distance Christmas” and our rendition
of “The First Noel” to be uplifting, energetic, and festive, which I think we all need this year more than ever. However, in “The First Noel”, we also wanted to incorporate the classic Christmas choral essence before the unexpected breakdown as an ode to the original piece that ties the three of us back to our classical roots. You worked on the Social Distance Christmas EP with Gabi Campo, Maria Campo, and producer Alex Carlson. What was it like collaborating with them and did any part of the collaboration process change due to COVID? Creating art with your best friends couldn’t be more rewarding. All of us had a blast every step of the way. Lucky for us, Gabi, Maria, and I were all quarantined together in a sense from the very beginning of the pandemic, which made this collaboration seamless. Alex Carlson composed and produced both tracks from Fargo, ND, and we recorded everything at my dad’s in-home studio in Los Angeles. To top it all off, my boyfriend drummed on both tracks! Being a singer in this digital age means connecting with fans on and offline. How did you go about building your relationship with fans via social media? Connecting with my followers and fans through social media has been the best. I pride myself in building relationships with my audience by responding to comments and engaging with my DMs consistently, which has been especially rewarding during this time. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Advice I would have for aspiring singers would be to make music that you love and be authentic to who you are. 66
Emily Hackett Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Sarah Barlow
Emily Hackett creates music with a strong focus on storytelling that becomes apparent as you listen to her EP My Version of a Love Song. Hackett can thank poetry for helping her hone in her storytelling skills and musicians like John Mayer and James Taylor for influencing her sound. She talked to Nyota about how music turned into a passion and her songwriting process. When did making music go from a hobby to a passion for you? That was a journey. It was a rollercoaster ride of believing in myself and then being unsure I was good enough. I think they call it imposter syndrome. I didn’t have a hard time recognizing when the universe was telling me something, but I did have a hard time trusting it. When I started allowing more, despite being sure or not, I enjoyed it more, and thus wanted to do it more. Are there any particular artists that you listened to growing up that have had an influence on your sound? A bunch, and all across the board. In sequential order of discovery it kind of went: Beatles, James Taylor, Simon & Garfunkel, Jewel, Michelle Branch, Joni, Avril Lavigne, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow. I’ve always been a song girl though, so the range of artists is even bigger than that, but those were the artists that I digested as a whole. Full records. Your music has a strong focus on storytelling. Before you started writing music did you ever write poetry or short stories? I did write lots of poems and just flowery language in prose too. I had this one journal that had a ton of melodramatic thoughts and poetry on crushes and preteen love lives. I was so sad when I lost that cause it would be very fun to look back on now. You were named CMT’s Next Women of Country Class in 2019. How did it feel to get recognized in this way? I felt very proud to be up there as an indie everything with no team or anything. I was grateful for the recognition and to me, it was another reminder I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
Tell us about the process of creating My Version of a Love Song. What story did you want to tell through the EP? Oftentimes I feel like I’m all over the map in my writing both musically and lyrically, but when I see a common thread in some of my best songs, then it feels like you’re on to something. There’s a story forming on its own. This one was accepting a lot of my shortcomings as an individual – in my love life, in my habits, in my self-discipline, and in my doubt. I think love is in the understanding. These songs helped me understand how to love myself just a little bit better. “My Version of a Love Song” is upbeat and encompasses how it would feel to fall in love with someone. Is this why you chose it as the title track? It felt like a great encompassing of the honesty and sense of self that the entire EP brings to the table. And yeah, it’s fun! Still my favorite to play live off this record. Your lyrics make what’s happening in the song very easy to picture, for example, “We would be bingewatching season three / of Stranger Things by now” from “Handle.” Do you have a clear image in your head of what’s happening in the song when you start writing? I always have a feeling. So I think I’m constantly trying to explain what that feeling is. Sometimes you have to put yourself right there in it. I’m big on descriptors. I call it the furniture. The tangibles. I think that helps in getting the listener on the same page as you. Bring them into the room, into the moment. I always have a little music video rolling in my head when I write. What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Singers? Sing what you love. Learn how to protect your voice but don’t train it. I think what’s innate is special. Songwriters? Never say it how it has been said before.
GG Townson Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Stephanie Girard
GG Townson has been putting on performances since she was a child and her passion only continued to grow as she got older. Fast forward to 2020 and she’s set to star in the Salt-N-Pepa biopic as hip-hop icon Salt. Townson talked to Nyota about getting into character and her advice for aspiring actors. Did you become passionate about the performing arts at a young age? Yes, my love for the arts started when I was a child. I was always entertaining my parents and their friends when they would come over to the house. As a child, my mom had me in all kinds of activities. At one point, I was learning to ice skate on a competitive level, but performing arts won me over. Your grandfather, Ron Townson was in Fifth Dimension. How much of an influence was he on your music taste and music knowledge growing up? Honestly, I was so young before he passed. I didn’t get the chance to see him at the height of his career. By the time I was born, which was in the ‘90s, he was done touring and was just my paw paw. I know more about who he was as an artist and what the group faced as an all-black group doing the type of music they did now in my older age. You are set to play Salt in the biopic Salt-N-Pepa. What drew you to the role? When I got the request to audition for the role, I immediately thought what a legendary group and story to be a part of telling. How amazing would it be if I got this!? Once you were cast as Salt, what did you do to step into her shoes? I talked to Cheryl a lot! I recorded conversations and played them back to myself. We broke down the script scene by scene as she told me her personal feelings and walked me through the real-life scenarios
that inspired every scene. Of course, I watched the videos and interviews as well, but I already was doing that part before I was cast because your homework is a part of the audition prep. Since Salt-N-Pepa is a hip-hop group, did you and your co-star Laila Odom have to go through any specific rehearsals to get down the cadence of their voices? Yes, we had boot camp for the rapping and dancing aspect of the film. We went to the studio to record the songs and to get their rap cadences down. Which song of theirs did you have the most fun performing in the biopic? The most fun performance was “Push It” because the original video is so iconic. The look was iconic, and we worked our tails off to be as perfect as we could be to the original music video. Did you learn anything new about Salt-N-Pepa through the role? I learned that they were real-life hustlers. They didn’t stop at the music business to make money; they were women about their business in multiple areas. What advice do you have for those who want to pursue a career in the arts? You have to love it in exchange for nothing in return at first. That’s the foundation. The business isn’t always nice, and it doesn’t always move in the way you want it to. Once your love, hard work, and opportunity are all on the same page, it’s so sweet! 70
3 Ways To Maximize Productivity In Music Production By Deborah Fairchild
Technology continues to change the face of music, affecting how it’s created, produced and recorded. But whether all musicians working in their studios are getting the most out of the opportunities technology affords them is another question altogether. In many cases, they may be missing out on technological tips – or at least technological shortcuts – that could help them increase their productivity. “There are so many ways these days that musicians can increase the amount of quality work they are doing, but people sometimes miss basic shortcuts that can significantly improve their workflow,” says Deborah Fairchild, president of Nashville-based VEVA Sound, which verifies and archives projects for clients in the music industry. But with the right tools, instead of getting bogged down by minutiae, the musician (or producer) can concentrate on the more creative aspects of the work by taking advantage of methods for doing things more directly and more quickly than would be the ordinary procedure without the technological help. Fairchild says the engineers at VEVA Sound have provided a few tips to increase productivity in creators’ music workflow: •
Create, and then work from, custom templates. Within a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), users have the option to create templates that can help speed up the workflow and eliminate repetitive tasks that can drain the creativity out of you. “By creating templates, you gain the ability to start each project from a familiar setup that best
accommodates your individual workflow, while keeping best practices in mind,” Fairchild says. “This also fosters continuity between projects so that they will be easier to revisit in the future.” •
Create custom keyboard shortcuts. Most DAWs give musicians the ability to create custom keyboard shortcuts.These shortcuts can increase your efficiency exponentially, Fairchild says. “Because there is so much functionality in each of these platforms, creating custom shortcuts will give you quicker access to the functions you use most,” she says. “The result will be that you can produce your desired results with little or no wasted time and effort.”
Label everything accurately. Make sure that every track in your project is labeled correctly, Fairchild says. “Is that line an acoustic guitar? Note it,” she says. “The same goes for project files.” Instead of naming something “final mix final final edits 2,” come up with a naming convention that accommodates each improved version of a project in your workflow, such as “My Song_Final Mix_Ready for Master.” Correct labeling can be especially important when you are collaborating because you want everyone involved to know what a track contains without having to guess.
“Ultimately, the right workflow can give musicians a break from fretting over all the little details that slow them down, and allow them to put their imaginations and original ideas front and center in the production process,” Fairchild says. “The result is musicians can be more productive and more creative all at the same time.”
Words of Wisdom
Deborah Fairchild Interview by Carol Wright Photo Courtesy of Deborah Fairchild
Deborah Fairchild, president of VEVA Sound, started her career with the company as an archival engineer in 2004. In the past 16 years, she has risen to lead the company in all facets of the business. She has grown VEVA into a global entity servicing major labels in North America and Europe, establishing offices in New York, Los Angeles, and London in addition to the company’s headquarters in Nashville. She talked to Nyota about paying her dues and how artists are using technology to their benefit. Growing up did you always see yourself working within the music industry in some capacity? I have always loved music, but I’ve always had a technical mind. When I was choosing a major to pursue in college, audio engineering seemed to make the most sense. I love what we do at VEVA because while we don’t make or distribute music directly, we get to work in the center of it – surrounded by music. That’s where I’ve always wanted to be. You started out at VEVA Sound as an engineer and you’re now the President of the company. What have you learned as you worked your way up? The most important thing I’ve learned: knowledge is power. Who you know is just as important as what you know. A strong network will provide opportunities, but it’s your knowledge and skill set which will give your career staying power. Along the same lines, you have power over your knowledge. Not everyone needs to know everything that you do. For our readers who don’t know about VEVA Sound, tell us a bit about the work the company does. For almost 20 years, we have worked to verify, validate, and archive recordings in the music industry. We ensure that credits and metadata are accurate, and that audio files are archived in timeproof formats. That way, masters, and credit to the people who created them, are safe for generations to come. We do this for our label clients, as well as for artists’ live recordings with VEVA Live!
Under your leadership, VEVA Sound has been able to grow and do work across the world. How has it been leading a global company during the COVID-19 pandemic? We are very fortunate to work with amazing clients who have adapted the way they do business to accommodate this year. Mostly our ability to sustain the business through the pandemic falls on our amazing VEVA team. They have shown incredible flexibility and determination to see each other through these weary days. I am proud of our team, and I know we will come into 2021 stronger because of what we’ve faced together. Who are some artists that you believe have used technology to their benefit during this time? Beyond fan engagement and virtual performances, we have seen a number of incredible recordings created in 2020. Technology has enabled artists to work in ways they otherwise might not have chosen. In some way, I think this is the purest implementation of technology in music – when it facilitates creativity and collaboration. What advice do you have for those who want careers within the music industry? I get this question a lot, and I always come back to the same first answer: be prepared to clean toilets. I mean that figuratively, but in my case it was also literal. When I started as an intern in a studio, I did whatever needed to be done – including cleaning the toilets. This willingness is what I believe gave me proximity to the real work, and garnered the respect of my now peers – I paid my dues.
Words of Wisdom
JWhite Interview by Carol Wright Photographer: Martin Lowenthal
Hailing from Detroit, saxophonist JWhite makes Jazz music that he hopes is felt by people from all walks of life. With a music style that borrows from the Pastelle and Rosewood movement, the contemporary urban scene, and youthful expressions from around the globe, it is sure to resonate with everyone who hears it. Nyota talked to him about his single “A Whole Mood” and what initially got him interested in creating music. You’re from Detroit, which is the birthplace of Motown. Did growing up there inspire you to start making music? Growing up in Detroit definitely helped shape my musical ear. I’m a big fan of any Motown and Detroit-style soul music. Detroit music has always had the perfect mix of soul and R&B. I call my music “Soul Jazz.” Of all the instruments to play, why did the saxophone seem like the right fit for you? There was no particular reason I chose saxophone. I was 10 years old and joined the 5th grade band, like most starting musicians. I just stuck with it my whole life. I got serious at 15 when I joined the Jazz band and took my first featured solo. I loved the reaction and the freedom of improvisation. It’s a euphoric feeling for me when I dive into my own spirit and play what I feel. Tell us about “A Whole Mood” and the process behind creating that song. “A Whole Mood” is my latest single. It was written and produced by yours truly. I finally have my own home studio, and “A Whole Mood” was the first song I ever recorded from home and did it all myself. The song does include Billboard recording guitarist David P Stevens as well. I started with the chords and added the backing beat and bassline. From there I played my sax like the mood I was in. For whatever reason, it was a laid-back, sexy mood. 76
Where do you look to for inspiration when creating your music? I love scenery and calm places when I create. When I first moved to Phoenix, AZ from Arkansas, it was a great change of scenery. I learned I love mountains, palm trees, the sun, clear blue skies, etc. Spending time by myself reflecting on just about anything allows me to create music. Also, I always have melodies and rhythms running around in my head.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? My advice to aspiring musicians is to find your inner voice on your instrument, develop it, and stick to it. Don’t look to the left or the right, but only straight ahead in your musical journey. If you keep pressing on when you get ignored or someone thinks they closed a door for you, understand you cannot be stopped with determination and some God power.
“Driven” your first single made it to #18 on the Billboard charts. How would you say your sound has changed since that first single release? My sound has definitely changed since my first release in 2007. I feel like I’m a better player overall. I finally found my voice on the saxophone. It took me until my 30’s to find my true voice on the horn. Now, I only focus on playing my style and always sticking to the voice God put inside of me. I still study the greats and other musicians for insight, but I will only try to play like myself from here on out. What’s one myth about Jazz that you would like to debunk? One myth about Jazz I would debunk is that Jazz is boring. I feel like some Jazz musicians can bore people with all of the technicality and notes at times. I’ve learned most people love instrumental music. Ultimately, they want to enjoy the sound of your instrument, groove to it, and listen to it more than once. I’ve been able to draw lots of young people into what I do, solely because I play with a “feel” and not as many notes as I possibly can. I focus on making music that someone may actually want to put on repeat and not be over it after just listening one time. You have been able to share the stage with Smokie Norful, Dave Hollister, Warren Hill, and other great musicians. What have you learned from playing with them? I’ve learned from all the major artists I’ve performed with. I learned a lot about approach on the sax from Warren Hill, Najee, Gerald Albright, and Kirk Whalum. Playing sax with artists like Dave Hollister, Regina Belle, Dwele, Cece Peniston, and Adina Howard allowed me to perfect my showmanship and live performances.
Words of Wisdom
James and Robert Freeman Interview by Carol Wright Photo Courtesy of James and Robert Freeman
Music has been an important aspect of James and Robert Freeman’s lives since they were kids. This is why it was only fitting for the brothers to come together to release Three Tributes, a CD that honors their family’s musical legacy, which spans three generations. Nyota talked to the Freemans about their childhood and creating the project.
Taking things back to your childhood, how did music influence the way you saw the world growing up? Music WAS our parents’ world, and thus ours too from the beginning. Could we have looked the other way and become lawyers, doctors, shop owners, bus drivers? Yes, we could have. But music would always have been in our blood. The Viennese talk about “Wiener Blut,” Viennese blood in your veins. There’s a little truth to that. Your parents, Henry and Florence Knope Freeman, were both musicians. When the two of you decided to pursue music were you nervous to admit that or did it only seem like the natural career choice? No, we certainly weren’t nervous. In my case, I think my father was a little nervous for me when he saw the possibility of me being a freelance bass player forever. When did the idea for Three Tributes come to you both? After each of us had independently commissioned a piece. Your newest work pays tribute to your parents and grandparents. Did you both do a bit of deep diving on your family members to create music that embodies them? The diving wasn’t very deep. For me knowing my mother’s thoughts about how she herself had been 79
discriminated against as a musician, it was natural for me to choose a woman composer and a woman soloist. Is there a certain process you both have when it comes to composing music together versus separately? Neither of us are composers. Our choice of Gunther Schuller resulted naturally from the sense both of us had that he was a distinguished American composer whose music we admired, as well as a person who knew and admired our parents. Both of you have gotten the chance to teach music at the college, high school, and professional levels. Does teaching the next generation of artists inspire you both to continue creating music? Of course. We are very proud of our students who have gone on to successful careers in music. But we’re also very proud of those students who have gone on to successful careers in fields unrelated to music! Whatever we have done to inspire them is inspiring for us. What advice do you have for aspiring musicians? There are many, many talented people in the music business. It isn’t an easy business. But if you love the art with all your heart and soul, go for it! You’ll discover where and how you fit in.
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