Yuna Reflects on Growth and Music Producing
LA-based songwriter and producer, Yunalis binti Mat Zara’ai, known professionally as Yuna, was industrious during the pandemic. After a spending the best part of a decade on the road following her eponymous 2012 debut, working with the likes of Pharrell, Usher, G-Eazy, Tyler, the Creator, Pink Sweat$ and Little Simz, across three studio albums and two EPs, the alt-R&B artist wanted to do “something new.”
Originally from Malaysia, she found herself back at the house she shared with her parents for a covid-enforced, 18-month stay and decided it was time for something different with the next record. The first thing was to produce it herself.
Going into the third month of lockdown, I started looking around the fixer-upper my parents and I bought a few years ago. My dad’s office had turned into a storage room and it was kind of perfect as a studio because it was on its own wing–in the most quiet part of the house. So, I had all these home improvement projects lined up and the office was one of them. We cleared out the boxes, cleaned and vacuumed the room multiple times. I moved some desks together, got some hand-me-down gear from my friends who own studios…and voila! A home studio! I figured that I had to start learning how to produce, so I got on Twitch during the pandemic, made friends with amazing fans who have great producing skills and basically learned a lot from them. It kinda took me back to when I was 19, in my bedroom recording music on GarageBand, using my gaming microphone. It was awesome. I actually wrote a few cool songs in Malaysia!
Expanding her production skills has given her a new autonomy. “It’s allowed me to know what I like,” she explains. “Previously I felt like I couldn’t understand the terms and language to explain to the producer what I wanted to hear. And now I can. For example, if I feel like a certain sound in the mix is not right, I can create that sound myself and show it to them and they’ll understand it. I now know a little about how to mix my own vocals. It’s very liberating! It’s such a great skill to have and I learn something new every day. It’s a great way to write songs too. because you’re not fully dependent on someone to create an arrangement for you. You can do it yourself.”
Her independent bent knows no bounds. She’s also created a new way of distributing fresh material to her official fan club, known as #yunationals. Her fifth record has turned the traditional album release on its head. Y5 has been split into four EPs and a final album, releasing continuously beginning November 11th, in easy-to-digest collections that give each track room to breathe. For each of the EPs, Yuna has looked to different genres for inspiration, from soul and R&B, to guitar- based indie rock.
Acting as primary producer across all the projects, she’s also collaborated with other songwriters and producers, including Brian Warfield and Maclean Robinson, Biako, Josh Grant, THE ELEV3N and Malay. The freedom to flit between genres and release music as soon as it’s been recorded has been an enjoyable experience: “I honestly just wanted to have fun,” she laughs. “Also I felt strongly about wanting to release music as soon as I was done writing and producing it. Why wait for another year to get a whole album done? I figured, I have these three songs done, I’m going to make music the whole year anyways, so let’s release them in different parts!”, she exclaims.
It’s a lot of work but I love it, I love all the songs and I am so happy that fans get to listen to songs that I made literally one month ago…so cool! I have some fans who hated the experience because they’d rather have the whole album than wait for a series of EPs but I wanted to try something different. When I make songs, I want the fans—old and new—to really digest them…put them on repeat without forcing them to, ‘hey, listen to all 15 of these songs now.’ Instead I’m only asking them to spend 10 minutes of their day to sit down, put some headphones on and enjoy the music. I know my fans. Since the pandemic, they’re dealing with a lot and so I’m happy to connect with them every two months or so to check-in and also share new music. It’s different but much more fulfilling!