Photo Credit: Nina Manandhar
We got on a call with Yazmin Lacey, firebrand soul goddess of Nottingham, to talk latest EP, 'Morning Matters,' the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19, and what she's been up to during the lockdown.
You're one of the best artists I've discovered in the last few years. Your albums have helped me through some post-breakup bad moods, and I've come out on the other side, feeling so light. If there were some feelings you'd choose for your listeners to have, what would they be?
A sense of peace. A sense of relatability. Music has just been a very healing thing for me, in my life, and I feel like if me writing about my life brings that to somebody else – that's amazing.
What themes and narratives can we expect you to explore in your upcoming work?
In the upcoming stuff, I'm exploring things I've learned over the last ten years. A lot of self-evaluation. It's funny that you said you came to the music at the heels of a break up because my first release – that's exactly how I felt. We met at the right time. After that, there was a sense of healing. I thought my next bit of work, my album would be what I wanted to say to everybody as an artist. And, that's where I'm at right now.
Can you talk about the emotions you went through when you linked up with Pete and the other guys from your band that were part of 'Black Moon' & '90 Degrees?'
With Black Moon, I wasn't in a good headspace. I felt very heartbroken, like when you're in the thick of it, it just all feels like a bit of a mess. With those guys, we just started jamming with each other through knowing each other from Nottingham and P's a great producer. My latest EP is with new people now.
Onto 2020s Morning Matters - which was absolutely stunning, by the way. So light, so elevated. Music we really need now. What were the motivations and influences behind it? How was the journey from inception to release?
I think after I did my first two EPs, I was healing and I started to feel better, and in that whole process of Morning Matters, I dedicated that EP to anybody who struggles to get up in the morning because in that time, between those two EPs, I know I did. Writing it was my way of getting back up again, do you know what I mean? I think I've got into this process as well, which was choosing what song to play in the morning the night before, and that really set me up for the day. It's a bit of like a morning mantra, talking myself through it, asking myself if I'm okay inside – that kinda stuff.
With the latest EP, I sense a sense of humor in your songwriting. And, lots of gravitas delivered with composure. Where do you get your writing influences from? What's the process like for you? Any stumbling blocks?
Thank you for noticing that there's more humor in this EP. That's an acute observation. There's definitely more humor in this EP. I feel happier now. I felt restricted before, and now, I feel like I'm stepping into my own. Outside of music, between my friends and family, I'm quite a joker, and I don't take myself that seriously. And, because I'm feeling better now, it's really fun to get that side of myself back again. Sometimes I think humor is an excellent tool to get you out of a bad space. Being able to laugh at something can feel really liberating sometimes, you know? As far as writing influences go, there are some really great writers in England that I love, like Lianne La Havas, Jordan Rakei, and Amy Winehouse. Artists like Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, when you hear them, you're like 'I hear that story, I feel that.' That's the kind of thing that inspires me. And, I think, writing about myself, I just do that because the way I got into music, I didn't really set out to be a singer, so I never really got my mind into the process of writing songs. Every song was a bit of more an expression of how I was feeling at that time. Over the last few months, I've spent time curating music, learning how to DJ, learning software, and its all really just proactive procrastination – finding other things to do instead of sitting down to write an album. I think when it comes, it comes, and I think that's the tricky thing in the age of music where people just want things instantly. When I have something to say or when I feel like there's an emotion I can express through singing, that's when I write. I play around with stuff, make up little melodies, sing along to songs, but actually writing for a piece of work, it just has to be when it comes.
Thoughts on social media being a double-edged tool. It gives fans a chance to connect with you, but there can also be a lot of noise that drowns the good stuff out. Are you able to maintain a balance?
Honestly, I haven't done any online concert or anything like that. Mainly because I don't want to. I've watched loads of them and enjoyed the hell out of them. But for me, maybe I'm just not that artist. I like that in-person stuff, I really do, and I think I might have to change that depending on how long this goes for. Social media is great because when people message me and they might say, oh, I bought your record, and I sent it to my friend, and I'm like, oh yeah, it's real. It's a great tool to actually speak to fans, collaborating with other artists, you can hit them up really quick, get chatting and stuff. But, at the same time, I don't post all the time, really because I think I'm still quite private. Before, I used to have a hundred or so of my friends listening to me sing, and now, there are so many people on there. I don't want everyone to know what I'm having for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, do you know what I mean? It is a great tool for finding things, too, to be honest. I love it for finding music.
Tell us about how you felt when your first EP was flying off the shelves? How has putting out music to critical acclaim affected other parts of your life? What are the highs and lows?
When I put out that first EP, it was kind of a Guinea pig. The people I was working with were like, "We can test it out, see what happens." My friend, on a night-out, said, "You need to do a record." We just put it on the net and sent it to some record stores. I couldn't believe it. They started to sell out. I've only just become a more confident performer in the last year or so. Before that, I was always shy. Although I know now that if I put out a record, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't know that people are going to listen to it. People will critique in whatever way - positive or negative. As long as everything I make is real to me, I can put it out with my whole chest and support it with my whole heart. I try not to over-think it. The over-thinking happens when I'm trying to make something. When it just happens, that's when I know it's the right stuff, and it's time to put that out.
Did your brief acting stint help circumvent some of the nervous energy that an artist experiences when on stage? What else would you say helps your ability to perform on stage?
It was kind of brief, actually. It wasn't for me. I'm just laughing because I can see the roles that I played. But, to be honest, it wasn't the roles itself but the process of it – background work, being able to put yourself on the spot, you have to be in a lot of situations where you don't know anybody, and you need to have an imagination. Acting games and improv helps a lot. It's a bit like that with music. I just kind of see it like, "I've never done this before, so let me just throw myself into it." I suppose it helps with that.
Before music – you worked with children. Do you miss working with children? What has working with them taught you?
To be honest with you, I'd been working as a youth worker in various situations for so long that when I switched to making music, it was a really hard switch. I never really expected to switch up my career that much. The things I've learned from young people have opened my eyes about the world and about things that I find uncomfortable, and it's made me want to change those things. That's why I like working in that sector because I think you can actually try and combat some of the fuckeries going on in the world. That time, when kids are young, formative years are so important, and if you can do things to help out in those years, it's good. It's hard work, but it's enjoyable – no two days are the same, it's very active, you get to be creative, children are hilarious. I miss it a lot, and I struggled because my whole pattern had just changed from the last ten years to just being creative. I don't know how to do that as my job, I just feel like I know how to do that when I feel like I need to say something. I still do bits and pieces of youth work at schools, lectures, etc. because I think it's great work. I actually think I'm good at that, and the rest of it feels like a fluke.
How do you see the lives of young Black kids changing after the wave of agitations in America and Europe? What do you think the music industry can do at a time like this?
I don't have all the answers, for one. I just have my experiences to go by. There are different levels of change. It's really important for me to work with young kids in my community and share my experiences and knowledge with them about a world that sometimes doesn't value them enough. I think that if you're a Black child, you need that advice. If you live in a society and a system isn't catering to all the children, it's not just my problem or the problem of the kids – it's a problem at large because they are the future. I was thinking about how children will be watching the adults' responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, and it'll dictate how some young people will form opinions of Black people and how they'll go on to behave a certain way. Change, offering alternative views during the formative years, is really important. What I think it'll look like for them in the future is the responsibility of the ones who need to make the changes, I suppose. Small changes are happening because what protests do is that they unite people. Regardless of communities outside our community, whether they're interested or want to participate, confidence is building within the Black community. We're in a position where we can hold one another up and support one another, and that makes for positive change. I think we're seeing that more. The music industry is a funny one. Like I said, I'm in an industry I never expected myself to be a part of, up until two years ago. I can definitely see bias; I can definitely see lots of things going on in the music industry – from how much Black music is consumed to who's making money from it to how Black music is defined now. If you looked at a chart in the UK and if it is an RnB or a Soul chart, not all the time would there be a Black artist, and I think that's a shame. I think it's important to pay homage to things, looking back to where the origins of the music we love comes from is really important and pushing it forward, even in a purely creative sense. I definitely have grown more of a voice since time has gone on. Everyone has a breaking point, there's only so many times you can feel like that before you make changes to how people treat you. I do think a lot of people will move forward by not supporting the things that don't support them anymore. I do hope the momentum doesn't die out. And, I hope that people will do the complicated work. But we have seen that this is possible. There are people who live in the world that respect each other, and when one person has a grievance, people empathize and want to support them.
Music has been political for so long. How do you demarcate between that and your personal self-expression?
Sometimes, I write things that are political, but maybe people wouldn't read it like that. I suppose it is all just me, isn't it?
What about Nottingham allows you to be more creative?
A lot of my work I've produced up until now is heavily inspired by my time living here. I'm not actually looking to Nottingham for any direct inspiration at the moment. I've kind of got a wider eye on what I'm writing currently. I think Nottingham is so heavily in all three of my EPs. There are artists that inspire me in Nottingham – Liam Bailey, Harleighblu, Ellen Night, there's a little collective called Lusty Arts Collective, some great DJs as well.
What did the experience with Gilles Peterson's 'Future Bubblers' program leave you with?
In all honesty, I can sum it up by saying that's the first time somebody made me feel like an artist. They treated me like one from the get-go. At that point, I didn't have an EP. I had all of the songs for 'Black Moon' written as acoustic, and I basically sent that in and they were like – this is good, how can we support you? I was like, "I can do this outside my bedroom, okay, okay." They lifted me and put such value in what I was doing in our conversations. It was nice to be on a scheme run by a label that I already respected.
You've mentioned in an earlier interview with 'PRS for Music' that you'd love to be a part of a Female Supergroup. Could we see you being a part of one in the near future? Who would you like to be in that group?
That sounds like something I said when I was starting out. I'm heavily inspired by soul vocalists, and some of my female friends that are singers have taught me so much about music because I haven't had any training. I've had one vocal coaching lesson, and that was right before lockdown. They've helped me express myself and given me confidence. In my group of friends, we spend so much time together, listen to so many similar songs, and I imagine that it would be a lot of fun. Collaborations would be good, somewhere in the future – Knxwledge – I love how glitchy he is and how he switches it up, and I'd love to make a mixtape with him. Gotta throw this out in the universe, you never know. There's a UK group that I'm in love with at the moment called 'Sault.' Their stuff is so dope, they've put out like 3 albums, and they're all killer—total vibes.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Blue Note: Reimagined project?
I was approached by Blue Note, which is amazing. They're so iconic. So many of the artists who've paved the way for a younger generation of musicians are on Blue Note. I remember the first record I bought that was Blue Note. There are little things like that. It feels like it's a piece of history. My single, which I'm going to leave as a surprise, will be coming out later this summer around August. The first two are already out: Jorja Smith and Ezra Collective, and they're both fantastic. I think it's a really cool idea to have contemporary artists covering songs from before and sort of, paying homage to that.
Any thoughts for your fans on how to navigate a huge global shift and the sense of grief we're experiencing on account of COVID? How do you think you've been maintaining your sanity?
I think, be careful and wary of social media. It's a crazy little minefield. There's a lot of information, and it needs to be the correct information to be useful. Sometimes, it's just a bombardment. You can't control what's going to come up on your feed. I mean, you can, but only to an extent. Take breaks. And also, just do things that make you feel good. Self-care. Getting lost in an album you know really well, cooking something you love, getting an extra early night, or talking to friends. Try and do things that make you feel healthy and give you joy. Check on others because everyone's finding it hard. Be compassionate and extend it outside of yourself.
Thank you for speaking to us, Yazmin.
Words by Alina Gufran