Yuna is in a happy place. Her new album Chapters marks her re-emergence into the music scene as she takes on a radical departure from her indie folk sound and dips her toes into the sultry pool of contemporary R&B. The profound change suits her well and growing up certainly has its perks. Chapters is a no holds barred album, inspired by a wrecked real-life relationship as Yuna draws the strength to bare her soul, displaying a rare vulnerability her audience yearns for. Her distinctive honeyed vocals are unabashedly laced with newfound confidence, further reinforced through a musical kinship as she collaborates with other powerhouses such as Usher and Jhené Aiko in this new album which has found its way into Billboard’s Top 10.
As a Malaysian native raised in a conservative environment, Yuna had her path charted out to pursue a career in law, though music always provided her an escape into a world where freedom reigned. The shy folk-pop songs she uploaded on MySpace caught the attention of many and to satiate her curiosity, she made the big move to America in 2011, subsequently releasing two international albums under the guidance of her mentor Pharrell Williams. 2016 is set to be a huge year for the singer-songwriter star as she has been given the honor to record the Olympics theme song alongside names such as Lenny Kravitz and Corinne Bailey Rae. There are also plans to launch a Chapters tour in Europe and America. If taking chances is Yuna’s ticket to stardom, then we want in too.
An exclusive clip of a recent interview with Yuna on Artist Decoded.
Visit www.artistdecoded.com for the full podcast.
What are you looking forward to the most about turning 30 this year?
I don't know! I think I can't wait to see how my album does. It's already getting a lot of buzz, definitely an early birthday present for me! I can't wait to work on other projects this year and next year too. Everything is finally coming together at the age of 30. I’m really happy.
Your new album Chapters is partly based on a break-up you went through the past 2 years. Tell us about your first break-up and how you dealt with it.
I think you learn a lot from losing someone, every time you go through something heart-breaking, you discover something new about yourself, which is beautiful. I focused on my work and my happiness, and I came out of it strong and better. I’m a little wiser now and I know that sometimes things just don't work out because they're not supposed to.
What was the creative process like throughout the making of Chapters?
It was pretty easy. I love working with my producers because they always come up with the melodies or music and I just focus on the lyrics and writing the song. I wrote all of my songs in Los Angeles and I took my time. I went through all of the songs I have and selected the ones which works for the album. This time around for Chapters I really got to see my album from all different angles. The creative process was a lot of fun and I learned how to take my time and live in the moment.
The songs you’ve written in the past were more uplifting. Where did you find the courage to come up with an album that showcases a raw, honest side that reflects your vulnerability?
I guess I’ve always been raw and vulnerable. I started writing these songs since I was 19 when I was at my most vulnerable stage but I think after 10 years of making music, I have learned how to hide my feelings. For this project, because I went through a life altering experience, I decided it’s time to go back to that and let go of my insecurities, writing down my true feelings. I went with my gut feeling and I have to say that I’m really proud of myself.
The new album also marks a shift in your music from indie folk to contemporary R&B. Were you listening to a lot of R&B music during the making of this album and who were your biggest influencers?
I was! I grew up listening to a lot of R&B music from singers such as Aaliyah, Usher, Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill. I was doing a lot of R&B stuff too in the very beginning of my music career. I joined an R&B acapella group but it didn't take off and nobody really knew about it because I don’t talk about it. I was also going to hip-hop dance classes and my teacher would introduce us to all the latest R&B and hip-hop songs that I'd normally never listen to. I was very intrigued and started listening to them. While I was working on this album, I tried to find a nice balance between the current R&B, the early 2000's R&B, and with my own sound too.
Besides Usher, you also collaborated with stars such as Jhené Aiko and DJ Premier. Have you always wanted to work with them?
I love Jhené, I think ever since I moved to L.A., I’ve always wanted to meet her and write with her, so I’m really happy that it finally happened for this album. As for the DJ Premier track it was kind of random, I was in New York and my manager thought it would be cool to be in the studio with him, and that just happened like that. We created a beautiful song together. I have to say “Places to Go” is one of my favourite songs ever.
You moved to L.A. in 2011 and you were going through a rough patch in life at that time. How has this city inspired you and your music to go further?
Just the people and the weather. I feel like if I were to be in a different city, like New York, it wouldn't have worked out the same way for me. The people in L.A. are more laid back, more willing to go out of the way for you and are generally nice. Everybody is so inspired to create something amazing because of the weather and it’s a hub for musicians all over the world, we come out here to create good music. It's a nice feeling to be a part of everybody's creative process.
You mentioned in an interview that when this album is released, you want to be in a good place. Have you achieved that?
I'm definitely in a good place, alhamdulillah (thank God), I feel great.
We hear that you used to be really shy performing on stage. How did you overcome that?
I just think to myself every time I go on stage- it's me that I have to impress. I’ll go home and look into the mirror to ask myself 'Did I do well tonight?' I’ll always feel like yeah I kind of did but it could be better. When you're doing something, it always has to be something that you go home to and sleep at night thinking to yourself “Yup, I did that!” There's no room to be shy. I understand now it's all or nothing when you go out there and do your thing.
It’s been 10 years since you first started your foray in music. How would you describe your journey so far?
Fulfilling. There were good and bad moments, but there wasn't any moment that I was not proud of. I can tell people “Yup I’ve gone through that and I'm still here”.
You’re often defined as the Muslim singer-songwriter star to the public. How comfortable are you with that?
I've embraced that since the very beginning. I’m really comfortable because I truly believe that people want to hear the music and it reaches into their soul. And I only sing about love, life, challenges and lost. It’s all very human. It just so happens that I’m a Muslim, I practice my faith and people think it’s different. I feel like I’m just an ordinary person with extraordinary dreams.
You’re also a role model to young fans out there especially when it comes to issues such as female empowerment. What kind of message do you hope to convey to your young fans out there through Chapters?
Love exists and even if you feel that love is gone, it's around you, it’s everywhere. Sometimes you feel like you lost a part of yourself when you lose something incredible, and you lose hope, going into this dark place. Losing hope is dangerous, it’s one of the things that could trigger hatred in a person. I want my fans to know, I've been there too and trust me—things will get better.
Production assistant: Ryan Kevin
Lighting technician: Johnny Hernandez
Fashion assistant: Kristy Sube
Special thanks: Connor Hunt & Kelly Tomlinson
The Laterals is now on Medium! View Behind-the-Scenes and exclusive outtakes of our photo shoot with Yuna here.