The first thing you notice in Nilüfer Yanya’s music is his voice. It’s smoky yet ethereal, jumping seamlessly between its low register and delicate falsetto voice. It’s inviting, but contains a hint of menace, like gentle ocean surf hiding jagged rocks below.
On her recent album, “PAINLESS”, Yanya’s vocals are often doubled, creating an even richer, more textured sound that has drawn comparisons to the great Sade Adu.
But the 26-year-old from London, England, doesn’t see herself primarily as a singer.
“It’s weird, because when I started writing my music, my voice sounded more like an afterthought,” Yanya told The Star in a video call last month. “But on this record…I was really focusing on the vocals and their sound. I guess I thought more like a singer.
Released in March to near-universal acclaim, “PAINLESS” is a masterful, sophisticated rock record, one that makes heavy reference to the ’90s alternative but feels firmly grounded in the present. Largely co-written with English producer and multi-instrumentalist Will Archer, it marks a significant departure from Yanya’s 2019 debut album, “Miss Universe,” a hard-hitting and sometimes rowdy collection of fuzzy garage-rock.
“It’s kind of a different identity, a different sound, and the writing style is different,” she explains. “I wanted to make a new album, but I felt like I had nothing to work with. When I started working with Will, everything fell into place so easily. I didn’t question everything I did. It made sense.
Until recently, rock music was mostly like a boys club, and in many ways it still is. Perhaps because of her name, or her gender, or her soulful voice, Yanya’s music is often misinterpreted – Pitchfork classified her record as R&B” while The Guardian called it “indie pop”.
But Yanya is just one of many girl rock bands – Snail Mail, Wet Leg, Soccer Mommy, Japanese Breakfast, Sharon Van Etten, HAIM, to name a very small sample – who have become the door – torch of the genre.
“I really think there has been a change,” says Yanya. “But I feel like women have always made rock music, it’s just that people never made room or wanted to listen to it before. Like, I don’t think that there’s never really been a shortage of girl rock bands or amazing rock musicians. It’s just that now people are like, ‘Oh, that’s cool, and the doors are open. There’s a very good scene right now.
Raised by two visual artists in Chelsea, Yanya grew up surrounded by Turkish and classical music, but as a teenager she was drawn to “any music with a guitar”. While scrolling through YouTube, she ended up getting into ’90s rock bands like the Pixies (she has a great cover of “Hey”).
After releasing her own music on SoundCloud as a teenager, Yanya turned down an offer to join a girl group conceived by One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, choosing to hone her skills as a musician and songwriter while maintaining the purity of her voice. indie rock credibility.
On “PAINLESS,” his prowess as a guitarist gives the music a sense of arrogance that counteracts the album’s darker lyrical themes.
“(The album) is about feeling stuck and not being able to escape. Like you’re not moving forward,” Yanya says. “There’s despair attached to it, like you’re not doing anything good.”
Written and released during the pandemic, the album taps into the loneliness and anxiety of existing in a time that feels cut off from the future, and explores the challenge of recognizing and sorting out one’s own emotions.
“There’s nothing out there/For you and me/I’m not going anywhere/Till it bleeds,” she sings on “steady,” her voice cold but pained in the middle of a whirlwind of frantic drums.
“What troubles me now if I rip it straight / Some people won’t have a clue,” she sings on the devastating track “trouble,” her voice charged with restrained emotion.
“‘Painless’ is not allowing yourself to feel something, or not admitting that you feel something, or just numbing your emotions,” she says. “I hadn’t planned on doing something like this when I started writing, but it all came out pretty easily. So it’s quite cathartic.
The key moment in the album’s catharsis occurs in the middle of fan-favorite “Midnight Sun,” which seethes with unease before exploding into a crush of distorted guitars.
“It’s a song about acknowledging what it feels like to be pushed down but want to resist,” she told Stereogum. “If I could choose what people saw and heard, it would be to see the beauty of confrontation and the necessity of rebellion.”
Yanya says she is looking forward to heading to Canada for a series of shows in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver this month. She spoke to the Austin, Texas star just days after performing two weekends at Coachella.
“The first weekend was a little chaotic – we had literally just flown the day before,” she says. “The second weekend was much better, however. It’s been so long, and it was nice to play these songs live. That’s music, really.
Although she may not yet be famous, her music is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
“I was in this record store recently and I was so happy because they had my vinyl under the ‘rock’ section,” she recalls with a smile. “I was like ‘Yeahhh! They know what it is.