Yaz León: “People are more soul-baring in the London music scene at the moment”
Debut EP by British producer Yaz León, It’s Only Takeout Ma, merges soul, funk, R&B and pop, to document some intimate memories
The six-track EP by Yaz León, ‘It’s Only Takeout Ma’, is, by her own admission, a whale of a project. “It took a complete character development to finish,” quips León. The neo-soul artist from West London took a year to finish the EP and despite being innately personal in nature, the sounds of the extended play exude a sense of nostalgia that would be familiar to almost any listener.
“The first track titled ‘Abu’s Song’ is quite literally a candid conversation with my grandmother about her youth, it’s nostalgic and warm and really sets the tone of the body of work. The EP just summarises many life events of the last few years,” says the British producer who’s a Spanish Iraqi native.
Written and produced by León herself, with additional production from Ess West, and live instrumentation from Luke Bachuss, Seun Folayan, Jack Oliver, and Starkey the Messenger, the EP takes modern soul to new heights. We caught up with the producer to learn more about her debut EP.
In Conversation: Yaz León
Tell us what influenced this EP. How personal is this project?
The project is insanely intimate, I wanted it to be thought-provoking and moving in one way or another. There had to be an aspect of starting conversations and covering taboo topics. Lyrically, there were a lot of conversations I was having with myself and others. The single titled ‘AUGUST’ is a love letter to my first girlfriend and I guess… a sort of coming out letter to my family.
‘Abu’s Song’ sounds intricate and nostalgic. Tell us a little about the lyrics.
Abu’s song is all about my Abuela (maternal grandmother). Whenever we were together we would sit and talk for hours. She was really progressive for the time she grew up in. In this case, she was talking about a trip with her sisters and being pushed to sing publicly. I sneakily recorded some of it because it was too cute. Out of nowhere, she brings up what she sang and then actually sings it, and it was moving. I was halfway through my project and I was looking for something to set the tone of the EP. It was then that I found the voice note again and decided to use it. I paired it with my piano arrangement, beautifully played by Luke Bachuss, and everything just came together.
Is the EP anchored by a singular narrative?
No. The whole idea of the ‘It’s only takeout Ma’ was to have each song be different in topic and tone. I might’ve written a million songs about heartbreak or daddy issues but I wanted to make the project as multifaceted as people generally are. In some way that’s the singular narrative of the EP. I guess I’ve changed my mind…
Tell us a little about your creative journey and the year you spent making this album
Not gonna lie, it’s been a rough year. So, spending time with friends creating and channelling energy into making this project has been therapeutic. I met some really wonderful people and saw different perspectives and approaches to composing. I also never pushed myself to meet deadlines if I wasn’t mentally in the right place. Something which I have to credit my friends for reminding me to focus on. It’s been character-building. I started the project timidly and unsure and now I’m really proud of everything I’ve made and learnt during the process. Could tattoo it on my forehead!
How do you define ‘modern soul’?
I think modern soul is just evolved soul having mixed with other genres and new ways of producing as well as including very current topics lyrically. People are more political and opinionated and vulnerable in their music.
Tell us why you named the EP ‘It’s only takeout Ma.’
My mum and I have a pretty typical immigrant mother-daughter relationship. It used to annoy me (and still does a bit) that she would worry so much when I’d go out. She’d ask for my friends’ phone numbers and addresses, and social security numbers (just kidding!). As a result, I’d lie about where I was going. That really put a distance in our relationship. With the number of women victims you hear about on and off the news, I understood more and more about her worry for her children’s safety. So, the title of the EP references a lie.
What are the different sounds you explore in the EP?
A goal of the project was to look at experimental production and potentially mismatch the melodies with different-toned lyrics. Some of the songs that have the happiest lyrics have the saddest instrumentals. I also wanted to mix different genres. Considering emotions go up and down, the genres had to match. We’ve got some funk, pop, Spanish undertones and some emotional soul. Even got some Arabic oud on one of the tracks… have to rep the heritage!
The arrangements and some aspects of songwriting feel personal and very present. How challenging is it to channel authenticity in music at the moment?
I don’t think it’s too difficult. Especially in the London music scene at the moment, people are so much more soul-baring. It feels more accepted and needed. Lines might be blurred for some in terms of knowing what their truth is. But nobody’s completely unbiased in their version of events. What we think is the truth is probably the most authentic we can get.
Are you back to performing live?
I am! It’s been f***ing lovely to do live shows the last few months. I supported AKA Block and played at Soho House so that’s been really fun. I’m hoping to plan another headline show after the release…
Tell us what you’re planning next…
I’m working on some music videos and live sessions to follow the EP which is exciting. But there are some really cool singles and collaborations for the new year, I’m telling you. These people are going to be the next generation of iconic musicians.