NAKAYA Talks Vulnerability, Balance, And What's Next After "Jump"
If you’d met NAKAYA just a few short years ago, listened to her Out of Breath EP, and caught the vibe, it would fall decidedly into one category: folk. Clearly, she’s changed her game since then: now, with wider horizons and a better understanding of who she is as an artist (and the multitude of influences that shape her sound), NAKAYA is stepping into uncharted territory, no longer fit for one label but instead spanning a multitude.
It’s in this space of experimentation and musical medley that we find NAKAYA with her first song in almost a year, titled “Jump”. Fresh off of an NYU graduation (joining the ranks of other famed alumni like Maggie Rogers and Topaz Jones), and ready to dive headfirst into a new chapter, NAKAYA sat down with MILK.XYZ to talk vulnerability, Sade, and social media. Peep the full interview, plus the new track, below.
Congrats on premiering “Jump”! We love it.
Thank you so much! It’s been a long time coming.
How are you feeling now that’s it out there in the world?
It’s still really nerve-wracking. We’ve had such, such positive feedback, which feels amazing, and I think I feel more comfortable in it now since I’ve released music before this, so I’m starting to feel more comfortable letting people hear my stuff. Being a musician it can feel so personal that it’s hard sometimes to separate my work from myself. But it’s exciting. I’m really happy that it’s finally out.
Can you talk about the story behind the track and just the whole process of writing and producing it?
Yeah, so I wrote the song actually about a year ago now, so it’s been in the works for a while. I wrote it and then shelved it for a long time. It didn’t feel good enough to keep working on. And then I played it for my dad, whose music taste I really trust, and he was like, “You should really work on this song, try to flesh it out.” So I found this producer JAIE, who ended up doing the track, I literally found her off Soundcloud, it was so random, but I felt like she had a really good grasp for what I wanted for my sound and she’s a really amazing producer. So it was kind of a back and forth of us working together on it—such new age technology, where I could send her a version of the track, she’d send me one back, and we were sort of bouncing ideas back and forth, and that’s basically how we did it. It took us a very, very long time to get the right sound, but I feel like right now is where, sonically, where my niche is. I don’t think I have a word for what it is yet, but it’s that.
Yeah, I was gonna ask you—I was listening to your Out of Breath EP, and it sounds like you’ve changed or grown a lot as an artist since that came out.
Yeah, I think that all of that folk music that I was making before is still a big part of who I am, but I think that as I’m getting older and as my life is changing, my music naturally would change with it. It used to make me really anxious—I wanted to seem consistent all the time, in terms of what my sound is, and I had to realize that I needed to be easier on myself in terms of experimenting and figuring out what felt most natural to me. I think that now I have a more firm grasp on what my musical identity is.
Yeah, I think it’s such a tough balance between keeping things fresh but also maintaining that foundational core of who you are as an artist.
Yeah, exactly. So that’s been the hardest thing is trying to find the balance. And also, I grew up on so many different types of music, that when I was making things that were straight up folk, it almost didn’t feel like it was me, because there were so many other influences that are important to me and the way that I write that I needed to incorporate. So now I’m getting to the point where this feels like a full amalgamation of all the things that I grew up with, and what I like to listen to, so I’m feeling a lot more solid.
Who are some of those people that you draw inspiration from?
Oh God, there’s so many. I always, always first say Sade, because she’s probably my favorite, favorite artist, and I take most of my inspiration from her. I love Norah Jones, and even really folk-y stuff like Bon Iver, but I also feel like there’s a lot of R&B influence in what I’m doing these days, just because it’s a lot of what I grew up on, so it’s a big part of me. I feel like I don’t have an exact answer! There’s a plethora of people that I could say. So many amazing artists out there.
Totally, I mean it’s a lifetime of people you’ve been listening to so I know it’s a hard question!
Such a hard one! It’s like when people ask me, “What’s your favorite song?” [Laughs]
So you were talking earlier about the vulnerability of just putting songs out there that are so personal; do you think it ever gets easier or becomes your version of normal to expose your heart to so many people? Or is it always a fresh nervousness every time you release something?
Yeah. So the first time I played this song from the Out of Breath EP, “Dear Skin”, I had to play it for a class at NYU, and I had to leave the room and cry in all honesty, because I was so nervous [Laughs]. I think that sometimes the way that I present myself is a lot different and a lot more strong than I often feel. So I think when I write songs, there tends to be a lot of this vulnerability that I’m so, so uncomfortable sharing in my real life when I speak to people, so it’s almost like getting this very intense glimpse of who I am. But, what I will say is that I think it gets a little easier as I get more used to it. I’ve found that the more honest I am with my music, the more people have related to it. Because even if the circumstances aren’t exactly the same, thematically, we’re all kind of dealing with our own thing. I always try to be as candid as possible about who I am and what I’m going through, in the hopes that someone else can relate to that. I’ve also found through the years, with releasing music and having to bare so much of my soul, is that I feel a lot stronger in being vulnerable. There’s this beautiful strength in being vulnerable and I’m finally starting to embrace that.
I think now, when it’s so easy to be superficial on the internet or whatever, it makes people even hungrier for sincerity and just things that are genuine. They can tell when it’s really from the depths of you, and it makes it that much more powerful, you know?
Yeah, exactly. Especially with social media, I have a hard time because I feel like curating your social media image is just not the way people are in real life. And a lot of times, the people who I’ve found are really enjoying your life are oftentimes off the internet. There’s just this constant, constant comparison, and it’s so draining. We neglect to recognize that everything moves at a different pace. I go through it too, and in trying to be the most vulnerable with my music, I can, maybe, help people recognize that it’s not always what it seems.
Yeah, it’s tough. I swear there so many studies coming out right now about how social media is literally making us less happy.
Oh my God, yeah, I was reading that too. Something about how people are so glued into their phones and being on social media, that they’re oftentimes more depressed. It’s so real. How could you not be? You just look at everything and it all seems so amazing but what you’re not seeing behind the scenes is all of the things people are going through that they’d rather not broadcast on the internet. And understandably so. So I’m trying to find the balance, and keeping space for me and not feeling the need to put everything out there.
Well and as an artist, it’s just part of it—you’ll always be sharing with people, and social media is just how we share now.
Right, there’s really no getting around it. I try to use it in a way that is personal…I don’t know, social media really stresses me out sometimes if I’m being honest [Laughs]. It’s a thing that we all do.
So I know you just graduated—congrats! What’s in store for you in this next chapter?
Thanks! So much more time to do music. Being in school I learned so much about making music, and I was making a lot of music, but when you’re balancing your time being a student and interning and having a part-time job and then trying to start a music career on the side of all that, can be really draining. So now, I’m able to free up so much of my time, I have a secondary single that’s in the pipeline for the next two months…but don’t quote me on that [Laughs]. Just being able to keep the ball rolling and getting my stuff out there. It’s been a year since I released a song, and I was itching to release a song, but I’m a Virgo, so there was no way I was going to release anything until I knew I was comfortable with it. So it took me a year! But now that I have time to flesh things out at a different rate, I’m hoping that I’ll get more things out there for people to listen to.
Featured image courtesy of NAKAYA
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