Pop star, NAAZ, makes her music from her bedroom (yes, her bedroom)
Right now, for many freshly 20-year-olds, life would consist of going to college, spending the long nights with your closest friends, and starting summer internships. But, not for NAAZ.
NAAZ was rejected from college, which actually pushed her to build a burgeoning music career on the Internet – without the help of a record label and/or a studio (showing that it can be done).
With a mind of a PhD grad and an aura of Tove Lo, the multi-talented, Kurdish, Holland-born producer, singer, and songwriter’s (whew, mouthful!) unconventional journey to stardom is bound to make heads turn – one song at a time.
We catch up with NAAZ about how she recorded music from her bedroom, gender equality, and the one unexpected gig that changed her life.
Jumper: Madison Beer x Missguided, Trousers: Paradis, Trainers: Hogan, Rings: Rathel Wolf
You’ve established yourself as a pop singer, songwriter, and producer. As a musician, why did you choose pop as your main genre? Who are your role models?
It didn’t happen very purposely – me doing pop. I listen to literally all kinds of music and just wanted to create something that has a little bit of everything I like, while at the same time having bits of myself in it. I wanted to make music that is perfectly curated for my own taste.
I realized I preferred the pop structure of a song over other genres after listening to Tove Lo’s music. She made music completely her own, but because it had the basic pop structure, it felt accessible and fun to me. It wasn’t straight forward and you couldn’t guess what would happen next in the song except for the structure. It’s nice to have something to hang on to while still being surprised.
You count real-life events from your friends’ life (i.e. the loss of their grandparents) as inspirations of your songs. What made you want to tell their stories through music?
I’m always looking for new impulses and always trying to find something new to make me feel a little more. There’s only so much you can experience on your own at a certain age. Sometimes I would just get bored of my own life, because there wasn’t much happening. So, I created my own little world. I would even plan all day on what I wanted to dream at night, and go to bed early in hopes of it actually happening. Often, it did! Dreaming was my favorite part of the day.
Eventually, I realized I didn’t have to live only through myself, but I could also take a peek inside other people their lives. I guess it’s a form of learning empathy, as well. That’s why I started writing about other people’s experiences. Now, my life is quite exciting, so I write about myself. It’s odd and I feel like I’m more lost now than ever.
The older you get the more little you seem to actually know about yourself as your world is getting bigger by the minute. I try to hang on to the child like excitement of discovering things, so it won’t feel too scary when I’m redefining myself.
T-shirt: Moschino at The Hut, Long sleeve knit: Paul and Joe, Trousers: Paul and Joe, Trainers: Superga x Charlotte Simone
While most musicians would rent a studio to make their song, you recorded everything in your bedroom. How did the idea of recording in your bedroom happen?
I just didn’t have much choice – limitations only widen my horizons. Limitations forced me to find new ways to do the same things. I wasn’t allowed to go to the studio, so I created a situation where that wouldn’t stop me from what I wanted to do.
At the same time, many artists don’t get to start off in studios, because of a lack of money, connections in the game, or anything else. It’s really not so odd to start off in your room, but I applaud the people who do. I feel like it shows off your willpower.
What surprises me is that before you uploaded any of your songs on the Internet, your parents didn’t want you to pursue music as a career option. How were you able to work around your ambition without offending them?
It took years and years of baby steps and major fights. Also, kind of living in compromise – like being in a half-happy state. Always putting bits of yourself aside to try to achieve something you don’t even know what you’ll ever really get. Somehow, it always felt worth it, but I don’t remember ever thinking about giving up honestly.
I would just make the best of my situation – study hard at school and get good grades, teach myself how to make music with as little as I had, put it on the internet in secret, hustle my way into people and their inboxes, and then, eventually, I met my current manager, a Kurdish man.
That did a lot, because over a course of about three years, my parents started trusting him more and more. When I didn’t get accepted into college, I had a year to prove I could do music. Then, my song “Words” came along and my life changed.
Jumper: Marleyne, Trousers: Nico Panda
Your EP, “Bits of NAAZ,” feels so personal, yet your lyrics are so relatable. What did you learn about yourself when you wrote each song?
Every song was therapy – most of the topics were things I couldn’t really find people to talk to about. As if no one really understood it. I wanted to be my own friend and record my advice to myself into music. Every time I need a wake up call, I listen to my own music. I know best what I need to hear to feel better. In a way, it’s self-care at its finest. I’m glad it helps other people out, too.
Compared to most pop artists, you’ve got a diverse cast in your music videos (e.g. “Loving Love,” and “As Fun“). Where did you find the actors? Was diversity something you intended to illustrate when you made the videos?
I find them on the Internet. It’s a beautiful place for artists like me (kind of my birth place if you think about it). Honestly, I just want to show how people of all kinds of places can be in one spot at the same time and just respectfully be present along each other. They don’t need to talk or connect. Just “be” together and accept each other as we are. That’s what I hope to portray.
Top: Ashley Williams. Trousers: Aries. Trainers: Misguided, Rings: Rathel Wolf
You count Kanye West as one of your favorite musicians. Despite his problematic stance on politics, do you believe that artists should have the privilege to express their political opinions?
Artists are just humans like everyone else, we all should have the “privilege” to express our opinions on anything I feel. I don’t even think it should be considered a “privilege,” it should just be common courtesy in my opinion. Other than that, I hardly focus on what artists do outside of their music. I’m that type of listener. Not to be ignorant, but, I just don’t really care that much.
You have lived in the Netherlands all your life, yet you are raised in a Kurdish Muslim household. Since the majority of Western news outlets (tend to) misconstrue your culture and religion, what is the biggest misconception you’ve encountered?
That it’s a ‘girls’ thing. My brother, who is also a musician, went through way worse than me. He already took some falls for me before my era came. In my family, there’s not much sexism, and I’m proud of that – my brothers and I mostly get treated equally. There’s certain things I’m not allowed to do, unlike them, because I’m a female.
But, I think it’s with good intentions – even though I don’t agree with it. We live in a world where females have to deal with sexual intimidation a bit more than men, even though men do, too. I think that’s the only reason why there’s a little more protection over girls than boys – in my family at least.
Recently, you’ve scored an opening slot for Arcade Fire. How did that go, and what did you anticipate?
Well, my manager didn’t tell me at all because he didn’t want to get my hopes up. One day, he called me and said that we needed to move our Paris show that fell on the same day. I felt a bit sad about that and asked why, which he simply answered, “Because you’re opening for Arcade Fire in a stadium in your hometown.” Then, I screamed so loud I don’t even remember anymore what happened after (laughs).
Apart from Arcade Fire, who would you love to be on tour with?
Kanye, Lorde, Charli XCX, Tove Lo – so many people honestly.
Lastly, if there’s a cause that you want to help, what will it be?
Equality between boys and girls while they’re growing up. I feel like it does a lot to a child’s mind to be made to believe certain toys or clothes or actions are only meant for one gender only.
Photos by Hannah Diamond
Styling by Louby McLoughlin
Makeup by Athena Efstathiou
Hair by Chanelly Girl
Assisted by Keshia Ruberg