A multi-talented artist, Yuna was first inspired by musicians like The Cardigans, Fiona Apple and No Doubt while she was earning her law degree in her native country of Malaysia. Today, in addition to writing award-winning albums, Yuna is making her imprint stateside with songs like “Island” and her Pharrell-produced single “Live Your Life.” We were on-hand during her amazing performance at the Converse Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn and got a few moments to discuss her music, inspirations, and her latest self-entitled album which is out now.
Thank you for taking some time out your busy schedule to speak with us. So tell us, what were some of the first experiences with music and your upbringing in Malaysia?
I was a pretty much a normal kid. I grew up having parents who loved music and my dad had a lot of musical instruments in the house. He'd always play songs to me and my mother. I would sing in the car everyday on our way to school. I started learning how to play the keyboard when I was six years old, but I think I was eight when I first got hold of a No Doubt album (Tragic Kingdom) and fell in love with music.
You mentioned “fell in love with music.” When did you discover your talents as a singer?
I think the moment people started to come up to me and telling me I should make a career out of my music. I never really had the confidence to pursue a music career in the beginning, it was just something I did for fun until my mom and my dad, and everybody else told me I should really just focus on music.
Seems like your friends and family saw something that you didn’t. Is this why you eventually became a lawyer? Do you still practice law and does the knowledge help you in music at all?
I got into the music scene during my final year of law school. It was intense. I had classes and assignments, but during the weekends I would have shows and promo dates. I managed to finish my studies before really getting into music, something that I thought would never happen at one point. Honestly, I don't remember much about what I studied though, but in the music industry we deal with a lot of contracts, and I run a company back home so contract and company law really come in handy these days. I'm glad I really studied for those two subjects!
I can see how it would. Speaking of transition, you are quite successful in Malaysia. Tell us about the process entering new markets such as Europe and North America. What were your expectations, if any?
I didn't know what to expect! It was a trial and error type of thing. I'm an independent artist back home and my music was doing so well when I received an offer to sign with FADER Label. It was scary in the beginning to finally sign with a label, because I was so used to doing things on my own. However, I decided to give it a try in order to take my music to another level. If I hadn't done it, then I would never know.
Can you tell us some of the concepts behind your newest self-entitled album and what the vision you wanted to capture?
The album was such a fun project! It was me really just exploring music, different sounds and styles. A lot of those songs were written when I first came here to the States, which was two years ago. Hence, a lot of stuff in there had a lot to do with my experience like dealing with heartaches, being homesick, missing my friends, falling in love, chasing your dreams. I wanted it to be a really positive, good pop album – something that a lot of people could relate to.
You have some big list names featured on the project, particularly Pharrell – can you share with us some of the memorable moments working with all these people?
I worked with a lot of talented producers on this album, which was a lot of fun. We get to collaborate ideas, adding some new things in the record. Working with Pharrell for example was refreshing because I never explored that side of music before, even though I'm a huge fan of him and N.E.R.D. I come from a jazzy, singer-songwriter place and it was scary for me to come out of my comfort zone and try something new, but it's amazing because we came up with songs like “Live Your Life” and “Bad Idea.” At the same time, it was also great to work with producers like Andre Harris, Chris Braide, James Bryan. They helped me a lot in producing pop acoustic stuff which I enjoy doing. They would help me build the record out and it's very exciting because I never got the chance to do that before.
So what would you say is your favorite song on the project?
I have a lot of favorites in there! But I would have to go with “Lullabies,” that's why it's the first track on the album.
Do you have any other music projects we should know about?
I am currently touring with Graffiti6 right now, they're this really cool band from the UK and they are just wonderful to tour with. I love their music and they are really awesome live! Other than that I'm just writing more new materials as we speak!
Any final words?
I just want to thank America for supporting new acts like me and being open to new music! It really has been an amazing experience for me. Thank you!
You can view Yuna’s tour dates below.
June 12 – Nashville, TN @ The End *
June 13 – St. Louis, MO @ Blueberry Hill *
June 15 – Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater*
June 16 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge *
June 18 – Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
June 19 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge *
June 20 – San Francisco, CA @ Café Du Nord *
June 22 – Los Angeles, CA @ LA Film Festival
June 23 – Pasadena, CA @ Levitt Pavilion
June 24 – Saint Paul, MN @ River’s Edge Music Festival
June 25 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour *
July 21 – Seattle, WA @ Capitol Hill Block Party
August 5 – Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza
* with Graffiti6