Fans of Malaysia-native Yuna Zarai are facinated by her lush, breathy vocals, easy going demeanor and spot-on fashion style. Last summer, the rising star toured the U.S. with Grafitti6 to promote her self-titled album under The Fader Label. In between shows, Yuna answered some questions about her sources of inspiration, her clothing store and what it was like working with the fantastically talented (and forever super smooth) Pharrell Williams, who also will serve as producer on her next album. Interview conducted by Robert Bray.
RASCAL via RB: How would you complete the following sentence? Yuna is a _____.
Yuna Zarai: Strikingly simple girl.
R: You grew up in Malaysia, whats it like touring the U.S?
YZ: It’s so much fun. I always wondered how artist manage themselves when they go on tour. The U.S is so huge, traveling to one place to another would be 6-7 hours away and that is what we do everyday, but I’m blessed to given this opportunity, as I love traveling and taking photos. When I’m in the car I try not to sleep so I could look outside the window and enjoy the scenery. and go ‘Woah we don’t have that in Malaysia’. But the hardest part of it would have to be looking for food. I’m Muslim and I eat halal meat. So we’re always looking for a halal spot on the road. when there’s nothing else I live on energy bars.
R: How did you first realize that you were going to be a singer?
YZ: When my dad sat me down and we had a serious talk and his exact words were “You go and be a singer. Not everybody can do what you can do.”
R: One of the things that makes you unique is your vocals, do you have any influences?
YZ: I listen to a lot of female singer songwriters, Alanis Morrisette, Feist, Fiona Apple, Jewel, The Cardigans, Amy Winehouse.. so jumble all that and you get me!
R: You also play the guitar and piano, do you play other instruments?
YZ: Just the guitar and piano.. I’m also good at playing air-drums. I might need a real drummer to help me out.
R: Pharrell Williams produced your single “Live Your Life”, what was it like working together?
YZ: It was amazing! I’ve always been a huge fan of Pharrell, and to be in the same studio with him and work on music together was just a life changing experience. For the first time I felt like I was taken seriously, like I had this task of making music with Pharrell and I was so excited about it.
R: The music video for it was shot in New York City. What do you love most about New York?
YZ: How you can come from any part of the world and still feel like you belong in New York City. It’s a melting pot.
R: What other artist would you like to collaborate with in the future?
YZ: Damon Albarn. I feel like we could come up with something quirky and cool together.
R: On your self titled album “Yuna”, most listeners say it’s almost as if you took the words from their mouths. Where do you draw inspiration from when writing lyrics?
YZ: From this album, I had to channel the younger Yuna, probably I would have to recall the things that happened 7 years ago, and express that moment in my own words. But there are also songs that are inspired by my friends. For example Decorate was about my friend, his girlfriend keeps leaving him and coming back to him. So yea, I basically write about the life around me.
R: Your sense of fashion is unique, is it driven by your musical creativity?
YZ: I guess so… I just like bright colours and patterns. It puts you in a good mood, and when you’re in the best mood, you focus better, and you’ll be able to create something out of that.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out her LOOKBOOK!)
R: I also want to talk about your clothing store “I Am Jet Fuel Shop.” How did that idea come about?
YZ: I used to perform at a lot of gigs back home and the fans would always ask me where I get my clothes from. So i decided to set up a store where my fans could kinda ‘raid’ my closet and buy clothes that I would wear to my shows or to just hang out with my friends. It’s almost 2 years now and we just launched our official website, we ship globally now.. all the way from Malaysia!
R: What’s your favorite article of clothing?
YZ: My [head]scarf obviously. It’s the one thing about me that I really love being creative with.
R: What advice would you offer singers who respect your music and style?
YZ: Just be yourself, be authentic, be hardworking, be nice and be real. You will benefit from it.
Follow Yuna on Twitter.