We had such a great time talking to our April 2021 cover star, singer-songwriter Yuna, but there was only so much that was fit to print in our physical magazine. Fret not, for throughout this month, we will be releasing parts of the interview not available in print.
In this first part, Yuna gives us glimpses into her upcoming album and admits how connecting with her fans via Twitch has allowed her to expand her creativity.
Art direction & styling: Abdul Aziz Draim, Photography: Micky Wong, Make-up: Noriana Nazuir
BAZAAR: First things first, we know that a new album is coming up. Do you know when we should expect it?
Yuna: No (laughs)…
So how much is done?
I want to say maybe 70 (percent), but it can be 50. I don’t want to put a deadline on it, because I’ve just managed to start working with this producer that I really love. His name is Malay and it’s been my dream to work with him since maybe 2012. He produced Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange which to me is one of the best albums ever made. So I’m a huge fan. We have just started working on maybe three songs, so let’s just wait and see what we can come up with. I’m trying not to rush the process. Let things happen naturally.
It’s been good, but that’s the thing. Before this the plan was (to get the album out) before Raya, then we were thinking maybe to release it after Raya. Then now, it’s “Umm, never mind, let’s just aim for September now.” We’ll see.
Did lockdown inspire you to write this new album? Or was it always in the plans?
My goal is actually to release an album every year. But it’s so tough to do that. My last album, Rouge was released in 2019, so we thought we’d release another album in 2020. Then the pandemic happened. But that doesn’t change things for me, when it comes to putting out an album. I feel we can still write and put something out. But time moves really fast when you’re busy and suddenly, “Oh, okay, it’s 2021 now.” So I guess we have to put out an album this year. But I won’t be surprised if we put out an album in 2022 (laughs)… because I know myself too well. But I’m trying to aim for 2021.
Any exciting collaborations on the album?
Yes, but I can’t really reveal anything yet. I really enjoy having collaborations since the last album. We had maybe nine collaborations then, but this time around I really want to keep it super personal and minimal. Maybe just have one or two people that I really want to collaborate with. Instead of just like “Hey, everybody, come join me!” because I’m that kind of person. But this time, I want to tell myself, “Okay, you know what, we have to focus on releasing an album, just for me.” Featuring my vocals and my songs and my lyrics, so right now I’m just focusing on that. But I do have a very exciting single (that’s a) collaboration with someone coming very soon.
Will there be other producers?
I’ve been working with Malay, and Robin Hannibal who worked on (Rouge singles) Black Marquee and Forevermore. But I can’t really reveal too much yet. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of producing myself. I started learning during the lockdown, trying out this digital audio software, Ableton. I’m having so much fun with it. I’m such a tech geek!
I go on Twitch every day—Twitch is a live-streaming platform for gamers actually. Gamers will go there, they’ll play their game and then people can watch them (do so). But I go there to show my creative process. So I share my screen and my fans can tune in and watch me work on music, or sometimes I’ll be writing lyrics… so people can see me go through that whole creative process.
It started out as a show for the fans, but now we actually—and by ‘we’, I mean my viewers and I—write the songs together. So they’re really helpful with making me be more creative.
So they actually give you feedback?
Yes, they tell me which parts they like. (Because of that) I’ve ended up writing more songs, maybe eight or even 10 ideas. Before all that it was really tough to come up with ideas (for songs) because, you know, you feel malas (lazy)… So having (the Twitch sessions) really motivated me to write new stuff. And because everything is online, there’s a little bit of pressure to perform in front of the fans.
But it’s fun. If you have time, just go to my Twitch channel, where you can watch all the previous videos I’ve made. So that’s how I’ve been working on music. I think the fans have inspired me to start producing music and writing.
Dance Like Nobody’s Watching is your most recent single (released December 2020). Was part of the reason to release that as a single to bring a little bit of joy into our life in lockdown?
Yes. Well, I mean, there’s definitely that part, because the song is so good, but we ended up not using it for the (Rouge) album. I mean, we wrote it and it wasn’t finished then. So during lockdown, I wanted to keep on putting out music. I’ve released three songs during lockdown— Stay Where You Are, Invisible, and Dance Like Nobody’s Watching is the most recent one.
I thought the first two songs were very slow. People were just (staying) at home, and we were going through a lot during that time, with the Black Lives Matter movement, and the US elections… although we’re Malaysians, we still felt the impact (of those events). That was why we decided to release something super chill at the time. Then December came, and I was thinking, “You know what? Let’s just put out something that’s fun, where everyone can kind of just listen to this and feel great about it.” Something for their workout or driving playlist. And the song slowly generated a lot of love from around the world, such as on Spotify. The biggest audience for Dance Like Nobody’s Watching at one point was the Philippines.
I was so excited! That enabled me to connect with the fans in the Philippines. And recently, it’s big in Thailand. So now we’re planning to kind of “infiltrate” Thailand musically, and find the fans who are listening to the music. It’s pretty cool and exciting.
What themes will you be exploring on this album?
Definitely R ’n’ B pop. But I want to say it’s a little bit more minimal, easy listening, compared to the last album. Rouge was very energetic, there was a lot of drama in the last album. But this time around, I want it to be kind of pure and natural, fun and laid-back. Because essentially, that was how I was feeling last year. We’ve been going through a lot, so let’s just take time to relax. Fans can just listen to it as they hang out with their family and when they have time, to sit down and really listen to the lyrics and really love the album. So that’s my goal for this album. It can still be deep and artistic but at the same time, I really want people to just go, “Okay, I’m going to listen to Yuna’s album, because it’s time for me to wind down and relax”, you know?
You’ve said that this new album will be somewhat nostalgic in the sense that it’s going back to the “old Yuna”. Have you been feeling retrospective? Or does it have anything to do with being an independent artist again?
Definitely, I think that makes a lot of sense. It’s kind of funny how things work out, right? I’m back to being independent—by choice, actually—and it’s definitely something new again. Well, it’s new, but it’s not new. Because I’ve gone through this before. I’ve done the whole independent thing back when I was building up my career from scratch. Only this time around, it’s going back to being independent after having been an established artist. An established independent artist. So it’s kind of bittersweet.
The last time I was independent, I was so new and was trying to do things in the US but I was broke, I had no money … Yet now here I am, I have fans from all over the world, but I’m (back to being) independent. So let’s just create the kind of music that I love.
I’ve been listening to a lot of songs from my first album, and I feel like the stuff that I’ve been writing now sound like they could’ve been in that first album. That’s kind of what I’m feeling working on my music right now.
So I guess you can say that I’ve been feeling really retrospective. You just miss it, you know? And I’m back here in KL, back to recording in my bedroom… this is where I make my music. It’s kind of crazy, that 10 years later, I’m back to working on my music by myself, producing and playing the guitar and recording by myself again…
One could say that you’ve come full circle.
Yes, kind of. That’s really interesting, that’s a great concept. Thank you so much! That’s like a light bulb moment right now.
(Check out Part 2 of our interview, when Yuna talks candidly about songwriting and the traumatic experience that started it all).