"I like sharing that story of being a Middle Eastern girl who wasn’t allowed to do music"
Articulate and intelligent, Naaz is wise beyond her 19-years. The Rotterdam-based singer-songwriter has just dropped her debut EP ‘Bits of Naaz’, an effervescent collection of brazen “quirkpop”; but the road to releasing music wasn’t always easy, with her parents initially reluctant for their daughter to pursue a music career. We caught up with Naaz ahead of her performance on the NME Stage at Live At Leeds to talk songwriting, Kanye and how she got her family to come around to her becoming a popstar.
Firstly, what can we expect from your show at Live At Leeds?
I think a lot of people when they listen to my music they think it’s the happiest stuff ever; but to me it’s really not, it’s more hopeful. If you look at the lyrics it’s got a lot of realism and some dark twists in it, and I think it comes across in my show. It’s quite an emotional set, there’s a lot happening, and it’s not just happy songs and bouncy songs. It’s mostly songs that make you feel a lot. I hope, at least!
When you finished writing ‘As Fun’, did you realise you’d written a total hit?
It’s funny, because it was first a guitar song, and thought: “yeah, it’s just a singer-songwriter song, whatever”, for some reason I just didn’t really care. And then I asked the guitar player, to mute the guitar with their hands and still play it to create a guitar percussion sound; and when he started doing that, that’s when I started liking the song.
The minute I stopped to really work on the production, and to really find out how I wanted to make this song feel, that’s when I really started to fall in love with it. That’s when I thought ‘woah, this song is so sad and so happy at the same time’, it’s like a rollercoaster! You start off feeling quite happy, and then it’s like you’re in some kind of car wash, as there’s suddenly a lot of things happening, and there’s a lot of emotions and feeling. I feel like at the beginning of ‘As Fun’ and the end of ‘As Fun’ you feel a little bit like a different person when you listen to it. At least when I perform it live I feel like I’m developing and growing as a human towards the end of the song.
Your parents weren’t initially supportive of your decision to do music. What was that like for you?
It was hard. It’s extra weird as my life changed so much after I turned 18. Not because I turned 18, but because things started to happen around that time.
The contrast with how everything is now, at first I found it pretty hard. I grew up isolating myself from everyone and everything, and always being alone in my room and always doing everything by myself. And then suddenly you have to talk a lot, and you have a lot of social things going on, and suddenly people like you for doing what you do, instead of telling you not to do it – and I think that was one of the weirdest things I experienced.
I’m still confused over it. It’s weird to be in school and people don’t like you for being a bit different, and at home it’s the same thing; but then suddenly it’s the thing that praised. So it’s a really strange contrast, but I like sharing that story of being a Middle Eastern girl who wasn’t allowed to do music, but still eventually got to do it, and still has a good relationship with her parents. Because people told me: “just leave your parents. When you’re 18 you can leave, it doesn’t matter” – and it’s how many people did it, just leaving where they came from. But I wanted to show that you can stick to who you are, and stick to where you came from, and still develop as a person.
What was the thing that persuaded you parents to come around to this choice of career?
My mentor in music is a Kurdish man, and it’s really rare to meet another Kurd in the music industry, so it was such an incredible thing. We had such a good relationship, so although at first of course my parents didn’t really trust him, but then at the same time they thought “he is a Kurdish man, so I guess he won’t let our daughter do music videos in a bikini!” They knew where he came from, and they knew he had the same sort of upbringing to me, and then my parents told him that he had to come over a few times for dinner, and then smeared over a few years the trust just started to build. My parents started to think if I was to be with that man, and with my brother, then they could trust it, and it’d be fine. I’ve got a lot to thank him for, he did a lot to help persuade my parents.
Looking to the future, is there one person you’d really love to collaborate with?
Kanye West, always, forever. I got to do a cover of ‘Ultralight Beam’ for Spotify, and every day I wake up and I’m like “I really hope Kanye’s not in the mood to go on Tidal, and he’ll use Spotify and type in “Ultralight Beam” and maybe he’ll find my version!” You know?! That would definitely be a dream. A lot of my methods of producing are also very inspired by him, like trying to create something out of the little you have.
Naaz will play the NME stage at Headrow House at Live at Leeds on Saturday 5th May.