With her second American album Nocturnal set to hit streets on Tuesday, we sat down with the Malaysian-born singer-songwriter Yuna to chat everything from listening to the Spice Girls to working with the Neptunes’ Chad Hugo.
EW: So your sound has a big mix of genres. What are some of your strongest influences?
Yuna: I’m a ‘90s child, so I grew up listening to the Cardigans, Fiona Apple – just a weird mixture. The Cranberries and Spice, you know what I mean? My dad used to play a lot of rock, too, like the Beatles and Velvet Underground.
You once described your music as a cross between Mary Poppins and Coldplay. Can you elaborate?
I can’t believe people still hold onto that! It was a quote that I had on, like, my Myspace Music page seven years ago. But yeah, what I meant to say is I like to incorporate a lot of different genres in my music, and, you know, having a sense of honesty and sincerity in the lyrics as well. But I’m still pop at the same time.
They’re also both British. Do you feel a special kinship with artists from the U.K.?
Well, Spice Girls are British too, so… maybe! [laughs] Growing up in Malaysia, I was exposed to all different types of music.
You have a law degree, which is a pretty rare thing for a musician. Do you think it helps you navigate the business, having that knowledge?
Yeah, I’m aware of certain things. A lot of people tend to go into the music industry and be really – what do you call it? – oblivious to everything that comes with it. So from day one, I kind of know what I need to look out for and what I need to do and what my rights are.
You’ve lived in L.A. for the past three and a half years. Do you feel like the city has influenced your music?
Yeah, of course. The working environment in LA is really refreshing, really good. Because in Malaysia, it’s a small country – you end up working with the same people that you like and that you know. But LA is so huge, there are probably a million producers working there, you know what I mean? [laughs] A sea of them. So you just have to find the right fit.
And they’re all so good, because it’s the hub – everyone goes out there to make music. So it was really refreshing for me to work with different producers from different genres. I was living in a bubble [before]. I came from a strong jazz/ singer-songwriter/folk influence, but in LA I learned how to have a balance between all these genres and R&B music and hip-hop, mixing them all together.
On the new album you work with Chad Hugo [The Neptunes] and Robin Hannibal [Rhye]. How did that go?
I specifically felt like I wanted to work with them. I’m really happy with how it all turned out, and how the album sounds. Now I just can’t wait to share it. As an artist, I think you can see the growth from album one [her international full-length debut, 2012’s Yuna] to album two. I tried so many different things [on Yuna], but this one is more fully me.