At the ripe age of 14, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai began writing her very own songs, and by the age of 19 she had learned to play guitar and was performing in front of audiences. While working on her musical career, Yuna also attneded law school in Malaysia and graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Legal Studies. In addition to being nominated for and winning numerous domestic and international awards, Yuna also co-owns a unisex clothing boutique. After her breakout on the Malaysian music scene, Yuna signed to Indie-Pop and Fader Label Records. She released the EP Decorate in the US in 2011 and is planning to release a self-titled full-length album in 2012. The lead single off the album “Live Your Life” is produced by legendary hip hop producer Pharrell of The Neptunes.
A native of Malaysia, Yuna is big in her native country, and it's easy to see why. The 25 year-old singer-songwriter writes jazzy pop songs with an effortless purity that's pretty rare. Her 2011 EP Decorate manages to charm the hell out of you over just six songs of quiet acoustic guitar and softly beautiful vocals. Standout “Someone Out of Town” has the simplicity of the best bedroom pop, dreamily rhythmic wordless vocals, and Yuna's calm perfectly earnest lead vocals. Yuna ups the ante with newest album titled simply Yuna. With tracks helmed by superstar producer Pharrell among others, she takes advantage of the studio, resulting in a fuller sound that reaches for the pop stratosphere.
Based out of Malaysia weeks before the album's release, Yuna takes the time to exchange emails and answer our questions.
Band of the Day: Question: If you could play a show with any musician, past or present, who would it be?
Yuna: Janis Joplin and Coldplay.
Band of the Day: How do you write your songs? Do you just sit down whenever you have time and start working, or do you have to be inspired by a strong emotion, something happening in your life?
Yuna: It depends, sometimes I'm just messing around with my piano, or strum something on my guitar and I'll just randomly sing something.. but It could also be something that was planned; for example after being inspired something, or after experiencing something, I'll write about it. But most of the time, I'll wait for something to come and I'll just write a song there and then. It doesn't happen that often but when it does, it's magical.
Band of the Day: Are your lyrics autobiographical? If so, is writing so intimately about your life therapeutic or can it be difficult? Maybe both?
Yuna: I write most of my songs based on my personal experience, obviously! I love expressing myself, sometimes to get a message across, when I love someone, when I'm hurt, I'll tell the whole world about it. I don't think much about it being difficult, because I know a lot of people out there are experiencing the same things and feel the same way and they could relate, its a way of telling them 'Hey, you're not alone! I've been there too!'
Band of the Day: When you write a song, do you immediately know if you like it or not? Or do you struggle with songs and change them frequently?
Yuna: I'm very particular about my songs, if I don't like something, I'll ditch that one, and start something else from scratch. I think I wrote around 120 songs, but there's only 30 of them that I like.
Band of the Day: What was it like working with Pharrell on your new album?
Yuna: It was a unique experience, because this is where you see two people- very different, being in the studio, Pharrell for his incredible hiphop, pop background, and I am very acoustic and jazzy. I learnt a lot from working with him, he really inspired me to work hard and try believed I could do something different, I was confident he would bring something in the album, and at some point, we found that magic and made cool music. and it was wonderful working with him.
Band of the Day: What was one of the best memories/stand out moments from recording your latest album?
Yuna: We recorded some songs in London at the Kensaltown Studios with James Bryan, that was so much fun. I love London. I'd love to go back there again.
Band of the Day: On your Facebook page you mention that you aspire to spread positive energy, what song is the most pure distillation of positive energy in your opinion?
Yuna: It's gotta be Live Your Life. I wrote that song because I was in the studio working with Pharrell and I'm just thinking 'let's write about this moment right now, coz I'm just a kid from a small town thousands of miles away, and right now I'm in the studio with Pharrell, making music.' it was pretty surreal, i wanted people to be positive and confident with what they're doing, and go for their dreams
Band of the Day: What song from another artist do you wish that you'd written?
Yuna: Shiver by Coldplay!
Band of the Day: You also mention that you're a fan of history on Facebook, if you could witness any event that's ever happened at any time or place, what would you want to witness?
Yuna: I recently went to Rome, I'd love to go back in time and see the Romans build the Colosseum. It's crazy how it's still there standing in the middle of the city.
Band of the Day: I noticed a ton of 90s music on your list of influences, what is it about 90s music that you love so much? Is the world ready for a 90s revival yet? Would you want that to happen?
Yuna: Personally 90's was an era when a lot of music genres was introduced, I mean, it was an era that gave birth to a lot of new styles of music, you had a lot to listen to Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Bobby Brown, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Boyz II Men,New Kids On The Block… there was a shift in culture of music. I don't know if we can ever revive the 90s music… but I'm always inspired by it.
Band of the Day: If you could choose one film, or TV show or any motion picture really, to soundtrack, what would you choose?
Yuna: Wicker Park.
Band of the Day: You split your time between LA and Malaysia, do you feel like a globetrotter? Is it exciting or cumbersome or maybe a combination?
Yuna: It's a little bit of both. I hate flying long flights. It's really tiring, but at the same time, I'll think at the end of this flight, I get to see my family. So its all worth it. I'll do it every month if i had all the money in the world. I love being home, and being with my my family.
Band of the Day: What are you most looking forward to in the next year?
Yuna: Working on my second album! I cant wait!