Rising Music Star NYA On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
Go towards what inspires you, even if it is not the obvious or popular thing. Originality comes from owning your truth. I have never seen great results from anything that didn’t feel authentic to me as an artist and person.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nya.
Nya is a genre-bending singer/songwriter based between Los Angeles, Paris, and South America. A sharp-witted lyricist with an unmistakable voice, she brings a soulful delivery and jazz-influenced musicianship to her cosmopolitan alternative pop, crafting unflinchingly honest songs that resonate with listeners across the globe. At 16, years before she became a Billboard charting artist, NYA was accepted into a special Grammy Museum summer camp for budding songwriters called the “Music Revolution Project,” whose goal is to offer some of the country’s most creative young musicians the opportunity to engage in musical discourse and performance with their likewise talented peers.
For the Tampa, Florida-raised singer, who had just started taking voice lessons the year before, the program not only offered a life-changing sense of community, it also exposed her to, and sparked her lifelong passion for, classic neo-soul. She developed her dynamic hybrid vibe by fusing influences from that genre (Floetry, Moonchild, NAO) with others like Fiona Apple, Anita Baker, Oleta Adams and alt/R&B group The Internet. Her love of jazz, pop, alternative and R&B that’s laid the foundation for her favorite array of popular music since 2017, is also the driving force behind the sweet seduction and deep-seated emotion of her latest single, “Closer Than Close,” which hit #47 on Mediabase’s Hot AC chart. The song was produced by four-time Grammy® winner Brian Kennedy (Rihanna, Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson and Kelly Clarkson); and co-written by NYA, Kennedy, Grammy® winning Midian Mathers, 3X Platinum Songwriter Dwayne Dialo and Grammy® Nominated Stacy Barthe, Matty Spatola, and Ray Duplessis.
“Closer Than Close” follows on the heels of NYA’s lyrically evocative, post-breakup ballad “The Real You,” which upon its February 2022 release, hit the Top 20 on the Adult Contemporary Mediabase chart and #26 on the Billboard AC chart. Her Summer 2021 single, “Won’t Pick Up the Phone,” is closing in on 1.9M views on YouTube, and earned a placement on MTV. In addition, her 2021 single “HIGH” reached #21 on the Mediabase chart. In all, NYA has dropped nearly 15 singles since 2017, starting with “Let Go” and “Mania,” and including “Love You to Death,” “Hold On, “Dark Places” and her other 2021 track, “Uphill. Her 2021 EP Requiem of Me — co-written with Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Femke — included “HIGH,” “Won’t Pick Up The Phone,” and two other tracks.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was raised by two pretty amicably divorced parents in Florida. Growing up in Tampa, I always felt like a fish out of water. My intense interest in old films and movies, anything book-related, high fashion, and geopolitics as a pre-teen and teen were not always relatable to my peers (now I think they are pretty cool, haha). My sister suffered from a near-fatal childhood illness, and to see my mom and sister consistently through middle school, I missed a lot of school and spent a lot of time in hospitals. I struggled to fit in socially, and before I found my love for music, I funneled my loneliness into school, sports (crew), and escaping into the worlds of books and tv. When I turned 16, I accidentally discovered my love for singing by taking lessons to get into the school musical and paired that passion with my love for writing and poetry. Unfortunately, that same year, my mom lost her job and fell into a severe mental health crisis that culminated with her attempted suicide the summer I turned 18. My mom had always struggled with her mental health, but this period was much more extreme. I was so lucky in many ways, but my home life during those years was challenging. I used music to get thru that period and process everything I experienced. Singing and songwriting brought me this kind of freedom and relief that saw me thru the worst of my depression. I feel very grateful I had that coping mechanism!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I participated in a program for young artists and musicians spearheaded by the Grammy organization. Its goal was to bring the music industry elite to train young creators that lived in places outside of prominent cities like NY or LA. It was highly collaboration-based, with students assigned to a new team and group challenges each of the five weeks. I was around 16, and it was my first real experience with the community music can provide and the true gift that collaboration could be. That summer helped me to realize not only my love for singing and songwriting, but also that I could find a kind of peace and confidence in music I had desperately been seeking. I never really fit in in school, and I struggled with factors outside my control where my family life was concerned. So music gave me a real safe space.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Oh gosh, the most interesting story, that’s tough. I have had a lot of adventures in the music industry; good, bad, and ugly. But this is my favorite! I actually met my husband five years ago because I was stood up by a producer I was working with at the time. We were supposed to meet for coffee at this cute little cafe I frequented during my brief time attending NYU. I wasn’t supposed to still be in the city, but all the airports were closed due to a crazy blizzard, and I had to extend my trip by a few days. My husband was moving from France to LA and planned to stop in NYC for a few days, but his flight was canceled. Long story short, he walked into The Grey Dog, we started talking, and since we both had nothing to do, he invited me to visit the MOMA with him. The rest is history. But my Uruguay born / French resident husband (who has zero involvement in the music industry) and I crossing paths at that moment was so serendipitous! He told me years later he almost didn’t go into the cafe that day because he’d already been once and wanted to go to another place, but it was too cold outside to keep walking. It’s crazy how the littlest choices can change our lives!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The first music video I ever filmed at 17 was an epic disaster partially due to a wardrobe malfunction. The video was set at the pool, and I was wearing this brand new yellow one-piece bathing suit. I was super hyped about it. The only thing was it was translucent on top, so I used nipple covers. I can’t tell you why not one person filming didn’t catch it, but when I watched the final product, the covers made it look like my nipples were the size of large baloney cutlets. It was so noticeable that it overwhelmed the video’s other visual elements. As my little sister, who occasionally lives to roast me put it, “I’m sorry, it’s like another set of eyes; I can’t look anywhere else.” Two lessons learned: having a person you trust to look out for you and how you look when on set is critical, and sometimes it’s better to go natural and free the nipple.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have a new single out right now titled “Closer Than Close,” and I’m very excited that it’s reached #45 on Mediabase’s Hot AC chart. I also have an EP that will be released towards the end of August, and I am finishing up an album that will likely be released at the top of next year. Additionally, I am currently working on a super cool metaverse project involving some of my new music and the creation of a virtual Nya. It’s pretty trippy! The new music coming is, I believe, my best and most vulnerable yet and will be paired with a lot of carefully crafted visuals. I will also have live performances built around the release. So I have many new and exciting things to share!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Seeing positive and empowering representations of individuals you can identify with or relate to is critical to having a healthy and confident perception of self. My mom was born and partially raised in Puerto Rico, and I always felt empowered to see positive LatinX role models in media. I also believe that exposure to different cultures than your own, as well as the awareness that the way you were brought up isn’t the only or right way, it’s critical to being well-rounded, inclusive, and a free thinker.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1- Go towards what inspires you, even if it is not the obvious or popular thing. Originality comes from owning your truth. I have never seen great results from anything that didn’t feel authentic to me as an artist and person.
2- No one has the right to bully or emotionally manipulate you, no matter their level of success or position. There is always a considerate way to mentor and teach. I have faced some pretty harsh working environments often because the person in power in those situations had more experience than me, and I wanted to learn. But I realized that while respecting someone’s expertise and success is great; you can’t allow people to treat you without respect and decency. It is a dangerous precedent to set for many reasons.
3- Music is about making people feel and finding human connection. A lot of the time, it doesn’t really matter exactly how you look doing it; even when it does matter, it’s still secondary to authenticity and sincerity. Don’t get caught up in superficial details; work hard at your art.
After being bullied a lot throughout high school, I used to let insecurity about how I looked or If I looked “stupid” doing something hold me back. You can’t lose track of the real magic of music and artistry.
4- The music industry is constantly evolving, and so are the paths you can take to succeed in it. You have to be open to constant pivoting and innovation. There is no one way to win!
For example, technology can be a great asset to expand and improve your career. But it requires putting in the hard work and being open to using new technology and social media platforms to grow as an artist.
5- You don’t need perfection; you need growth! I am working on keeping my perfectionism in check and focusing on making the best work possible. Action and minor improvements are often better than inaction when working towards a challenging goal.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To avoid burnout, I have to make sure I am constantly prioritizing my mental, emotional and physical health. Your body, soul, and mind need to be cared for to live a happy and healthy life no matter your field! I love practicing my routines to de-stress, like visiting the bookstore and finding something new and exciting to read or going to a Pilates class.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Before I left NYU to do music full time, I studied global public health. I actually recently began taking college courses online to finish that program. I have seen firsthand some of the many ways the health system here in the US is failing US citizens. Health equity is an absolute necessity and fundamental human right, and its lack is a violent form of both classism and racism. I would love to inspire more young people to educate themselves about the injustice in our health system. It can be hard to know just how vital voting at all levels of the political system can be as a young person. Additionally, as someone who struggled with depression and anxiety and whose life was greatly affected by the mental illness of another, I want to inspire kids and adults who are struggling to keep fighting. It really can get better!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father is my absolute champion and has been with me every step of the way! He is a great dad, a friend, and has given both his time and love to help me make a career in music. He has often been the one to provide me with that nudge of confidence I so needed to keep going in music.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake, is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.” ― Pema Chödrön
Pema Chödrön’s book, “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times,” shifted my whole outlook in my late teens and early twenties, a time when I was struggling to deal with depression and trauma.
Is there a person in the world or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
It would be amazing to have lunch with Questlove. I really admire him as a musician, producer, historian, and an overall creative force. It would be incredible to pick his brain. I would definitely be nervous, but what an amazing experience!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can check me out on Instagram @thisisnya and visit my website https://www.thisisnya.com.You can easily access my Spotify, Youtube, and other popular streaming platforms via links provided on these two platforms.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!