You may have heard New York-based Nakaya's voice before on her breakout single, "Lose It Too," a sultry combination of folk and electronica that's garnered hundreds of thousands of Spotify streams and a music video featured on Vand Nylon. If you haven't yet, you're welcome.
Her previous EP, Out of Breath, is a soft, electric exploration of love and heartache, and now she's back, with a new single about standing on the precipice of vulnerability. The song's called "Jump," and sonically captures the feeling of intense fear, anxiety and excitement of the prospect of something new in an honest, gentle manner.
We sat down with Nakaya to discuss "Jump," her songwriting process and the inherent political nature of creating art as a queer woman of color.
Nakaya: Basically, I wrote the song last summer, while I was in LA, and it's funny--I actually wrote the song in 15 minutes, which is a record time for me to write a song.
Do you normally sit on songs for a while?
I normally mess around with them for a really long time. But for this one, it was so immediate, and I was writing about something that was happening to me at that moment, it just flowed out of me. I always say when I'm writing songs I don't ever feel like they're mine. I feel like it's some weird gift that was just dropped on me. I don't know how to explain it--songwriting is a really mystical process. I feel like I'm constantly walking in blind.
What was happening to you at the time you wrote it?
I had decided I was going to make a commitment to be with someone, and at the time it had already been a bit tumultuous at the get-go. I had this apprehension about what I was getting into. "Is this something I want to be all in about? Or should I keep myself safer?" I don't know if that's the word... "Should I tip-toe into it, or should I dive headfirst?"
And you ended up going headfirst.
Do you see songs one line at a time? What's the typical process of them "flowing" out of you?
I wrote this other song, "Dear Skin," in five minutes. I was just in such a place where I needed to get it out, and have this catharsis and find understanding about my feelings. Then some songs, like "Colored Lines," took around six months to write. So I think sometimes I'll hear or see something that really inspires me to write, but that's the hard thing about songwriting: you never really know what's going to inspire you. The best songs I have and the ones I feel most strongly about are the ones where I'm not forcing it, and it just happens. And I honestly think "Jump" is one of my favorite songs I've ever written.
The quiet, moody part at the beginning... did you write that or did someone from production add that in?
That was production. So I started working with this girl, her name's Jaie, and I found her over Soundcloud on a random day. I didn't even know she was a girl, so that was a pleasant surprise. But she's from Kuala Lumpur. And it really just worked out--she had a really good grasp of what I was looking for, bridging the gap between really alternative folk music and electronic music, and I think that's something I'd been struggling to do with my sound for a long time. And "Jump" feels like the most accurate introduction of what my songs are. I've never met her in real life. It's really crazy, this new-age technology.
Is this part of a larger album to come?
I'm currently working on a new EP. It's untitled as of now, but I'm working with Jaie on it. There's probably going to be a new single in the next month or two. And there's a lot being worked on, just getting flushed out. Things keep changing, so I feel like I've been nervous about that. But I'm trying to embrace it.
Well, people change. I'm always annoyed when someone says, "People don't really change."
Exactly! Like, how are you existing if you're not just constantly changing and evolving?
I'm a new personality every day. Some might call that Multiple Personality Disorder.
My therapist would call that concerning (Laughs).
How did you discover you wanted to be a singer/songwriter?
I grew up going to this very intense dance studio in LA that Debbie Allen runs. And they had this gala thing where people sang every year--and I guess someone figured out that I kind of could sing one year, so they let me be the understudy for the main role, which was more of a singing role than any dancing at all. Then they let me do one terrible daytime show when it was like 50 kids. They only let me do one show, but I was like, "This is my moment!" I hadn't really thought about singing as an option for me, because I was so deeply entrenched in that dance world. But I began to realize dance wasn't really what I wanted for a career, and I'd been writing a ton of poetry, and I just went for it. One day I said, "I'm quitting dance," and my parents weren't too pleased at first. But I didn't even start taking any voice lessons until I was about 15 or 16. That same year I taught myself to play guitar. I didn't even start writing songs until I went to Grammy camp.
What was that like?
I went in on the performer track, and I ended on the songwriting track. I just realized that as a person of many minorities, my perspective is so different from so many people, and I have a lot to say. I applied to the camp the year before and got rejected, and I didn't know what to do. But my parents, who are so supportive of me pursuing an artistic career, were just like, "Do it again." It took a lot to get me to reapply, because the rejection was so brutal. But thank God I did.
Do you think your music is political?
Yeah. I think all art is political to some extent. No artist exists in a vacuum. I write a lot about love, because that's a feeling that's really overwhelming and all-encompassing for me. I'm drawn to really strong feelings. But the way I write about it is political for many reasons. "Dear Skin" is political because the only reason I've dealt with a lot of self-hatred and insecurity is because of the way things are pushed on women, and women of color. Even if a song isn't overtly political and about Trump, it's political all the time.