NAO talks jazz, the power of the internet and her new collaborative project

February 8th 2017


  • NAO :: Interview On Wednesday Lunch


“For one hour, we all get into a room from different backgrounds, different ages, different classes and races and we just forget for a second who we are. We all just have our moments and memories to the music, we all dance and we sing, all of us together in a space for an hour. We just forget all the shit that’s happening in the world.”

With a game plan like that, it’s no wonder NAO’s first Sydney show at Oxford Art Factory sold out last week. Before the gig, NAO joined Samantha Groth on Lunch to chat about her ‘wonky funk’ style and the production process for her album For All We Know.

Musically, NAO has quite a varied history. She trained as a jazz singer at a music conservatoire in the hopes of developing her vocal skills. When she finished her studies, however, she decided to take elements of her jazz training and adapt them into her own unique style of production and singing. Being part of the 90s generation, the music of the era soaked into her – “listening to TLC, Missy Elliot and lots of hip hop like NAS, Jay-Z and Mobb Deep, so much stuff had already filled my bones as well as jazz”.

NAO says her rise to fame has also been a product of her time. Living through the booming era of technology helped her to create a following whilst initially remaining anonymous. She saw a new wave of electronic music that was based on the music itself, rather than the glamour of the industry and its heavyweights.

“I never really thought it was possible, to be honest – I always felt like being an artist was something reserved for the super beautiful, or the super super talented. Or perhaps both. So you know, when you’re 15 and watching Beyonce or Rihanna on MTV, you’re like ‘I don’t look like them!’

“But lucky for me, the internet existed, which meant I could put my own music out there and build my own following. And then it was possible to become an artist.”

With her Soundcloud following steadily growing, NAO wanted to start releasing EPs through record labels – but when a number of labels turned her down, she decided to start her own: Little Tokyo.

“I just started my own so that I could put out my EPs – February 15 and So Good – so that they had a place, a home where they came from… Also, it meant I could release some other artists on there who wanted to come up the same way I did.”

If running a label and touring the globe weren’t enough, the UK songstress has a collaborative project in the works called ‘NAO X’. The project entails her stepping out of her own sonic world and into someone else’s, reaching out to collaborate with some dream artists such as Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar.

Hear the whole interview above, and watch the video for her track ‘Bad Blood’ below.



Read more from Mija Healey