First Look Friday: Get Acquainted With Nao's Soulquarian-esque Wonky Funk
Nao photographed by Paul Phung for Okayplayer.
It’s no secret that we absolutely love (and we do mean love) the styles and sounds of Neo Jessica Joshua. Better known around the industry as Nao, the East Londoner with the swooping vocals first graced the game as a backup singer for artists such as Kwabs, Jarvis Cocker and Pulp. Much like the film, 20 Feet From Stardom, Nao wanted to go after something brighter. She took her fate into her own hands through refining her signature sound by working with U.K. producers like Mura Masa, A.K. Paul and Loxe. A student of jazz from the Guildhall School of Music, Nao utilized all of her skills and talents to breakthrough the static alongside Disclosure‘s Caracal last year. She even taught schoolchildren the art of playing the piano, worked with a choir and enjoyed beatboxing alongside others in a group called, The Boxettes.
With two EPs in the can, the 26-year-old has raised expectations after touring and performing in large venues across the U.S. Today, July 29, we’re excited to finally see her step front-and-center with For All We Know, a catchy and addictive effort full of boom-bap, soul and R&B flavor that is held together by Nao’s euphoric vocals. For All We Know is littered with that voice, which is her ace in the hole, as whenever one hears it is reads as a strange delight. Effervescent, edgy, energetic, exotic, esoteric and engaging are just a few exemplary words we can use to describe how he vocals sound to us. On a song like “Adore You,” she sounds lovestruck and longing, and with her forward-thinking R&B defining this new wave coming out from across the pond, Nao is one of the most important artists of 2016.
Already touted by BBC Radio 1’s Annie Mac as having the “Hottest Record In The World,” Nao’s songwriting, production and unexpected delights make her a standout candidate for this week’s First Look Friday feature. To further entice you, OKP-ers, we also have a stream of For All We Know available for your earholes. You can get a taste of her “wonky funk” by pressing play before. Without any further ado, we would love for you to get further acquainted with the one, the only Nao, a talented singer-songwriter who you get familiar with before the price of admission goes up. In our chat with the lithe artist, we speak with her about obstacles that she’s overcome, how Soundcloud has evolved the music game and in London and what was the first song she ever wrote.
Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact on both sides of the U.S. What is it that those in London are seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?
NAO: [Laughs] I’m not sure what you mean by “music snobs,” but I hope it is a good thing. I hope that the music touches those who are normal listeners. I think the United Kingdom in general is quite progressive when it comes to music. For the underground scene, there wasn’t really a place for it on the radio or for the mainstream listeners to hear it. Now, with the power of the internet, people are able to find it, enjoy it and spread the good word.
OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they honed their skills and practiced their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?
N: I often say [to others] that I am an old soul when it comes to my influences. I really appreciate the types of singers who sing from their souls. Singers like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Prince — their voices and songs came from a far deeper [place] and you can truly hear it when you listen. It touches you, it inspires you and allows you to feel something. That’s not to forget Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, you know… I have too many influences to list.
OKP: Your song, “Girlfriend,” is very dope and has heightened anticipation for new work from music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist in London? How did you react to your first bits of press?