LA-Native iyla Makes the Journey from Church Choir Ingénue to Rising R&B Artist
Finding her voice.
- CategoryMusic + Culture
- Interviewed byRich Thomas
- Photo byBonnie Nichoalds
Looks are often deceiving. For 26-year-old singer and Los Angeles native iyla, her porcelain complexion and ocean of red hair typecast her as a pop country singer or maybe even a boho songstress to the producers she came in contact with. Anything but what she knew she could—and has—become. She may only have two years worth of material under her belt, but her exceptional artistic vision is the stuff that lasting careers are made of.
Both her recently released Other Ways to Vent EP and 2018’s War + Raindrop EP were created by iyla and her partner, Kadis, a Grammy-nominated producer whose work includes collaborations with Trey Songz, Lil Wayne and Bruno Mars. The two concoct a futuristic blend of R&B and soul that comes to life through avant-garde videos reminiscent of high-concept visionaries like Jonas Åkerlund and Hype Williams. Though iyla describes herself more of an introvert, she wears her art on her sleeve. Take “Bad Side,” a simple guitar-driven ballad off her latest EP Other Ways to Vent, where she matter-of-factly sings to a lover, “I’ve been saving this question / I know that your answer / Will teach me a lesson about love / The shit side of love.” Elsewhere, on “OWTV,” she flexes her abilities as a rapper, spitting quickfire rhymes over Kadis’ sparse 808 beats.
“I think there’s a wave of that real R&B,” she says of the current musical climate. “Speaking from the heart, singing from the soul kinda. I think we need a good R&B vibe right now.” Shortly after the conclusion of her first headlining tour, iyla spoke to Golden State about the creation of her second EP and what it was like shooting a music video with a hip-hop legend.
Where are you from originally?
iyla: I was born and raised in the Valley. I was born in Van Nuys. I lived in North Hollywood, Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, pretty much the whole Valley, so that’s my little stomping grounds. It’s interesting to be from LA.
How does that West Coast energy influence your music?
i: It’s my home state so I don’t know any different, but to be able to access snow and the beach and deserts and really tap into all different types of energy and beauty around you…that’s my favorite part. I think this town is very industry driven—and I think that has its own beautiful energy—but I think that nature makes California a beautiful place. That’s super inspiring as a creative person.
Your video for “Cash Rules” has a bit of that Missy Elliott/Hype Williams aesthetic, whereas the video for “California” is equally cinematic but much more minimalist. Who inspires you from a visual standpoint?
i: Definitely Missy for sure. I grew up seeing her videos and the way that she did things a little bit different, and that’s inspiring to me. I would say the other person that I’m always continually inspired by is FKA twigs. She’s innovative but she brings this classic element to everything she does, and that’s what I try to do. She’s super inspiring to me.
What was it like working with (the Wu-Tang Clan’s) Method Man on “Cash Rules”?
i: He’s a legend. We were of course inspired by “C.R.E.A.M.” for “Cash Rules” so having somebody like Meth get on the record was the biggest blessing we could have asked for. First off, all of Wu-Tang had to clear it, and they could have not cleared it, too. But it was kinda shocking that he wanted to actually get on the record. When we shot the video, he couldn’t have been cooler. He has this energy around him when he walks in the room, and he was so in support of me. He would ask, “What does iyla want? What is iyla’s vision?” He was very pro-artist. As a woman I thought that was so dope.
I feel that of all the different styles of music, there are two genres that tend to get passed down from generation to generation more than others; not just casual listening but true appreciation: punk rock and soul. Did you have someone in your family that helped lead you down this path?
i: Both of my parents were a huge influence on me musically. My mom, when I was in the womb, would put headphones on her belly and play Aretha Franklin, the Supremes, and a lot of Motown artists. And every weekend when we cleaned the house, that’s what we’d listen to; that real soul and R&B. My dad was a church choir director, so he was very musically gifted. He had me listening to those same artists but also had me singing in church. More of that gospel style of music plus lots of Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, George Michael. Both of my parents were super influential in that. I think I got more into R&B music when I went to school.
Would you say you’re a shy person?
i: I would say I’m definitely an introvert. When it comes to my music or being on stage and in the studio, I think that’s where I’m loud, if that makes sense. That’s how I get out my thoughts and my feelings and my energy. But I think in my non-performing life I’m definitely more of an introvert. I grew up super shy but I think I found my voice in this.
Do you think you found your voice in the church choir or when you started to write your own music?
i: I think for me it was a 50/50. I knew as a kid that when I performed and sang it felt like the best version of myself, but I think that when it came to writing music and writing melodies, that transition solidified what I wanted to do in life.
How does your writing process work? You have a partner, yes?
i: His name is Kadis. He and I met maybe five-and-a-half years ago. I was working with a bunch of different producers but I wasn’t writing as much, and a lot of them were telling me what I should be doing. “Oh, you should be doing country music because of the way you look.” Kadis was the first producer who was like, “You can shine in whatever you feel most comfortable in. You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room, you don’t have to do country pop music. What you are is good enough to create a music career out of.” So we’ve done everything together. We created the first EP together (War + Raindrops) and the Other Ways to Vent EP and that’s the plan moving forward. We’re just a great creative team. He brings in the best musicians, as our music uses a lot of instruments; that’s important to us. We’re in the studio all the time.
Okay, this should be a fun one. If your next project had to be an EP of cover songs, which ones would you pick to record?
i: Oh man, okay. I would say the first one is “Ready for Love” by India.Arie. Second would be “I Put A Spell On You” by Nina Simone. Third one would be “Butterflies” by Michael Jackson. I think I would do “Careless Whisper” by George Michael. And the fifth one, and this is gonna sound random, would be “Grass Ain’t Greener” by Chris Brown. That would be my five.
iyla’s Other Ways to Vent EP is out now on 3T Entertainment/Astra Velum Entertainment.
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