Yuna is a pop singer-songwriter from Malaysia. Having quietly but relentlessly built her career, she’s now one of the most esteemed rising stars of the international music scene. Based in Los Angeles since 2010, she worked with Pharrell Williams on “Live Your Life” last year and with a bunch of producers including Robin Hannibal of Quadron and Michael Einziger of Incubus on her new album Nocturnal, released on October 25 (Universal Music). We had the great pleasure to have a phone call from Yuna a few days ago, and chat with her about Nocturnal, the Malaysian music scene, fashion and much more…
Music Weekly Asia: Yuna Interview
Hi, Yuna. You said that the project of this album was a challenge for you. Why?
Yes, I feel I treated this album as my first project. I had so much freedom and so much focus, and what I wanted to do is to give something a little bit different from the last album. The last album is great, but I wanted to try something new and a little bit risky but not too different from who I am. I had the opportunity to work with a lot of talented producers and they brought in their own style to the music. I’m really happy with how it turned out. For example, one of my favorite songs on the album is “Mountain” – it really showcases what I am and what I love in the music and the sound. I’m just really happy to be able to do that, finally, after all the years working on album after album, and this new album particularly was a personal success.
How is it working with Pharrell Williams, the Neptunes and other big names of the music industry?
Working with different types of producers – for example Chris Braide is from the UK, Tomas Barford is from Denmark and Robin Hannibal is also from Europe – it’s a lot of fun to be able to work with people who have different backgrounds. For example, Chad Hugo is very hip hop-oriented, and yes, of course, it changes the way I look at music. I am just really thankful to be able to do that and to explore different styles of music, and turn it into something that is mine. So, on this album I managed to do that.
Tell us about the videoclip for “Rescue”.
“Rescue” was shot along the coastline of San Francisco. It’s really beautiful out there. The director had an idea of shooting a lot of different views of me going around all these beautiful bits of scenery, and I was like ‘Ok, let’s do it!’. It’s a very happy, sunny and empowering song, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
You’re a guest on Oh Chentaku’s videoclip for “Sing It Rock and Roll”. Do you stay close to the Malaysian music scene?
Yes, I’m really close to Oh Chentaku and the bands with who I grew up touring with. They are my very good friends and they are really supportive. Yes, I try to stay close to all of my friends in the local music industry. We are a very supportive bunch of people and it would not be possible for me to be where I am right now without them in a way, because they helped me a lot when I first started out.
How is it to go from the Malaysian indie music scene to the international arena?
It’s not like a huge change. Everything just seems bigger to me and it’s a lot more work, but it’s just the same thing: a lot of people out there who are trying to make music. But, it’s like every corner I turn there is an artist and a producer and it is exciting because all these people can work with you for kind of free because they probably just do it for fun, and it’s something magical that happens. It’s a really cool environment out there [in the US] but I feel it’s very limited in Malaysia. But I’m really excited to see it grow in the local scene and music industry because I feel there are a lot of new acts, new talents and new producers coming up – and especially in Malaysia, there aren’t a lot of producers. I know one talented guy, AG Coco, who is a producer, but there are not a lot of choices in the country. I hope in the future there will be a lot more people who will produce for other artists.
KL – LA: what are the highlights of the two cities for you?
Kuala Lumpur is really beautiful. I grew up and spent most of my life there. It’s a very colorful city where you can feel the culture and traditions. I’m happy to be from a city like Kuala Lumpur and going to places like New York City or Los Angeles. There is something special in what we have here, and you can’t find it in any other place. I also love Los Angeles, especially because of the history of the city being like an entertainment Mecca with Hollywood, with people like Marilyn Monroe who used to be so huge that she couldn’t just walk down the street, or Audrey Hepburn… I feel that it’s pretty exciting to be part of that environment. It’s very inspiring: they used to do what I’m doing now.
Will we see you soon on tour in the region? What’s the following step after the release of Nocturnal?
Yes, hopefully! Obviously I’ve never toured in Asia before so it’s one of my ambitions to do a whole Asian tour, probably Malaysia, Japan… that would be really cool for me. I’m excited to meet all my Asian fans because I’ve never seen them before – I see them on Twitter, on Facebook, but I don’t know what kind of crowd they are. So, hopefully next year, after the album is out and all.
What’s currently in your iPod? Who are the bands that inspire you?
I listen to a lot of different types of music, but I grew up listening to Coldplay. This band has always been huge for me, it’s the go to… I want to listen to music… Coldplay! So growing up with them really influenced me a lot, but I listen to a lot of bands as well like Foals, Vampire Weekend… hip hop too: everything from Drake, I listen to Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, and also pop music: Rihanna, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake…
You have a brilliant sense of fashion. Where do you get inspired and what are your favorite shopping spots?
Actually I kind of wear whatever I like. I just wear prints, then I pair it with another print and people would think “Oh, it’s just creepy to pair these prints together” but that’s how I’ve always been. For me it’s a trial and error thing and I understand that you can be fashionable but can never be perfectly stylish. I admit that sometimes I do have a little bit of fashion anxiety when I look back at my photos. Some of my clothes are nah.. I would just be like ‘Oh my God, why did I wear that?’ It’s a learning process. That’s how I am.I like to try things and if it doesn’t work then it’s fine – I’ve always been that way. Ever since I’ve started out making music and being in the entertainment industry, I’ve got a lot of my inspiration from designers like Alexander Wang, Richard Chai… all of my favorite designers.
You have 24 hours. You can go anywhere you want, do anything, see anything, eat anything. Where are we off to?
Oh wow. Petaling Jaya at the banana leaf rice restaurant called Kanna Curry House. That would be it. I would probably just spend 24 hours out there, eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper with all my friends.
Thank you so much Yuna. It was great to have a chat with you, and good luck for all the upcoming things for you this year and next year!
You’re welcome. Thank you so much! I really appreciate it.
A big thank you to Universal Music Singapore for arranging this interview.