Local Current Blog

Nilufer Yanya talks about her journey to ‘Miss Universe’

Nilüfer Yanya performs at SXSW 2018. (Nate Ryan/MPR)

In her short career as a musician, London-based artist Nilüfer Yanya has already grown into her own sound. After spending the first few years winning over fans with her jazzy pop tunes, her debut album, Miss Universe — out today — shows her transition to a more minimalist rock vibe. Her music is both crisp and fluid at the same time. It’s a sound that’s all her own, and one that will continue to evolve.

As the child of two artists, Yanya got a head start on music from early age. She started out on the piano before picking up the guitar at age twelve. Growing up in a musical family, Yanya was encouraged to find her voice, but she couldn’t have done it without a little help.

“My mom was very encouraging,” said Yanya when we recently spoke by phone. “She had a background in piano and she encouraged me to learn, so that’s how it started. I started piano and, when I was a little older, I started learning guitar. My mom encouraged me to go to music school. She was the one pushing me when I was younger, because it was easy to be like, ‘Oh I don’t want to practice.’ Practice is boring, so I don’t think I would have felt comfortable doing music unless I had that musical background growing up.”

At this point in her career, Yanya isn’t quite sure what influences her music. For her, it can change from song to song. Having a specific songwriting routine isn’t her thing. She prefers to just see where her music takes her, but admits that writing songs for an album can be a challenge.

“Songwriting is weird because you’re not thinking about the bits while you’re doing it,” said Yanya. “It’s just something that’s channeled out. You’re not building a house and going, ‘Okay here is the foundation, here are the bricks, this is where I want it to go,’ It kind of just happens. I guess before I was just doing the album and you don’t really know where it’s going to end up so you don’t worry so much about it. If it’s for an album, there’s a block in your head that’s like ‘Oh, this isn’t good enough.’ I ended up working with a bunch of different people and it came together in the end, which is a different process and a different way of thinking.”

One of the songs Yanya is most excited about is “Monsters Under The Bed” — a tune she originally wrote when she was just 15 years old, but has stood the test of time.

“It was a funny story,” she said, “because when I wrote this song and played it for my sister she was like, ‘I really like this song, but could you rewrite the lyrics because I really wanted to use it in a documentary that I’m making about our nan.’ I rewrote the lyrics thinking about her, because it was about my grandma, and her life. She had bipolar, so it was about mental health and I was trying to include the topics in my song but as a fifteen year old. I rewrote it, and it was just better. I guess it’s nice to know that songs don’t always have a shelf life. It can still have a life of its own.”

For Yanya, seeing her fanbase grow has been exciting for as a young artist and it means a lot to her to see fans get into her music. But while Yanya is excited about the release of her debut album, she’s also ready to move on and see what life has in store for her next.

“I’m relieved for it to finally come out,” she said, “because I’m more excited for it to be out there and then also be into playing, making the songs my own again and then moving onto something else. When you talk about the songs for so long, I feel like everyone last year was like, ‘Oh, you’re making your album,’ and I was like ‘Oh yeah, I’m making the album,’ and it was like, ‘Oh, this is really difficult.’ Finally it’s all finished and you have to wait for it to come out and you’re just hanging around. I’m excited to play the album and then start thinking about other things.”

Simone Cazares is a student at St. Catherine University. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.