Social networking sites make you feel like you are just a tweet or ‘like’ away from connecting with your favourite celebrity, and while there are many artists and musicians who have chosen to reveal more of themselves through such platforms, some artists remain elusive. In an interview with us, Malaysian songstress Yuna reveals more than one-liner Twitter updates and emphasizes that she’s just a normal girl who writes and plays music.
You’re 25 now, how long has music been a part of your life?
I started singing when I was 6 or 7 but I started writing songs when I turned 18, when I first picked up the guitar. It was really amazing when I finished my very first song. I didn’t know what to think, I was just so happy that I’d accomplished something.
Speaking of age, do you believe in the ‘quarter-life crisis? Have your recent experiences changed your outlook on life?
I still feel like I’m a kid sometimes. I graduated law school three years ago, but I still feel like a student. I’m out here trying to gain as much knowledge and experience as I can. I don’t know what a quarter-life crisis is or how it feels, but I’ve heard a lot of bad things about it so I’m not about to find out, no thanks!
How is the Malaysian music scene different from the one that you now find yourself in in the US? Are there things about it that you miss?
The Malaysian music scene is so small, everybody knows everybody. And there’s a homegrown spirit in every musician. Everybody wants to make the country proud, and everybody is happy and proud when one or a few of us is out of Malaysia trying to make it.
Back home, for award shows especially, I miss being able to go to different artists’ dressing rooms, hanging out. Over here, I’m a little bit shy, obviously.
Are you more productive as a song-writer when in distress, or when you’re happy? Or does it not affect you?
Both! I have to say most of my good songs are the ones I’ve written when I’ve been super sad, or extremely happy. That’s what songwriting is to me — when you can’t contain your feelings in your heart anymore, you need an outlet.
“Most of my good songs are the ones I’ve written when I’ve been super sad, or extremely happy. That’s what songwriting is to me”
When you write songs, what comes first – music or melody? Why do you think your song-writing process is the way it is?
The melody. Normally the chorus of the song. It has to be catchy, or a melody that you’ve had in your head for months. And once it starts to bother me because it’s been there for too long, I’ll sing it with lyrics and then record it.
You’ve collaborated with several producers; among them is Pharrell Williams. How was it meeting and working with him? Is there anyone else you’ve met recently that has made you star struck?
I met and worked Pharrell which was really cool because he’s such a nice guy. He’s such a great mentor and he taught me how to let loose and have fun with music. I’ve also met Mike Einziger from Incubus and that was amazing as well. Especially because I grew up going to Incubus concerts in KL and each time, I would stand in front of Mike, watching him play the guitar.
What is a glaring lesson you’ve learned from your recent experiences?
Never reveal too much of your personal life if you don’t enjoy fame. Because people will always make assumptions about you and you can’t stop that from happening.
What inspired your song ‘Live Your Life’? Is it or are any of your songs attached to a particular moment that you can share with us?
‘Live Your Life’ was inspired by just being in the studio with Pharrell. It was just me thinking, “Wow this is crazy, never in my life would I have imagined being here, sitting next to Pharrell deciding on bass lines for this song — I’m gonna write about life and reaching your goals.”
“Once you make music, and you have a following, you are a celebrity, and it means you have a responsibility”
Do you identify yourself as a musician, a singer, or a songwriter and does it make a difference to you?
I think it is everything jumbled up in one. Musician, singer-songwriter, or even if people call me a celebrity, I don’t try to play it down — because once you make music, and you have a following, you are a celebrity, and it means you have a responsibility. I have learned to accept that.
Apart from music, tell us about some other things you are very passionate about.
Fashion (Editor’s note: she even has her own fashion line!) and traveling. Probably more traveling. I love seeing the world. That’s my ultimate dream, to go to every city in the world –which is impossible in a lifetime. Unless you’re Kanye West.
What philosophies do you live by?
Be kind but don’t get trampled over.
What are your top five ‘Other Sounds’? It can be anything from your grandmother’s laugh to a musician that you think is underrated.
1. My mom’s laughter! She has the best laugh ever. It’s contagious.
2. My sugargliders when they’re happy they make this weird barking noise. It’s amazing it makes me happy.
3. “Lovefool” by The Cardigans
4. My grandfather’s doa (prayer) every time we have a kenduri doa selamat (a celebration involving a feast and prayers).
5. My guitarist Pa’an’s killer guitar lines on my songs! He has the best lines ever.
By Cat Cortes
Yuna live in Singapore
with Diandra Arjunaidi and The Stoned Revivals
7 November 2012, 8pm
Tickets are available now at Sistic.