- Words Notion Staff
Dutch singer and producer Naaz gives us an in-depth track by track breakdown of her new EP Bits of Naaz.
Naaz has been on our radar for a while. Still in her teens, she’s one of the most promising new songwriters in the Netherlands, if not Europe, crafting her own, distinct take on the ‘bedroom pop’ phenomena sweeping the globe. Today she releases her debut EP Bits of Naaz, a bubbly eight-track collection of danceable left-field pop tunes that owe as much to Kanye West and Chance the Rapper as Lorde’s futuristic-pop sensibility. Written and recorded between her bedroom, local studio and Hitler’s personal airport in Berlin (it’s a refugee shelter and community-focused music studio now, don’t worry) it’s a triumphant first statement from an artist just starting out.
Part of what sets Naaz apart from many of her peers are her lyrics that deal in that swirling mix of self-doubt and self-confidence that defines so many people’s teenage years. By her own admission, Naaz’s lyrics are a form of therapy. Her songwriting process starts with her spilling her innermost thoughts onto paper and going from there. To get a better understanding of her lyrics and the EP as a whole we asked Naaz to break it down, track by track and she spared no detail. Listen to the EP below and read on for her guide to each track.
I woke up one morning and looked at my bedroom desk. It struck me how I am the head of the table every time I sit there. It felt cool until I realised I’m also alone at the table. How much worth did it have to be the head of the table if I was alone? It made me feel insecure; it led me to look around and compare myself to others, something I know is not healthy to do. I felt shitty but wanted to make a song to make me feel better, talk to the music instead. The paper I write on is my shrink haha. Because it didn’t feel like people understood, even though probably everybody understands the feeling of not feeling good enough.
Saying it out loud only confirms that feeling, and then maybe we set others to think the same about us, something we don’t want; those moments of insecurity, where you feel you’ll never really reach that ‘someday’, where everything is what you dreamt of. Because by the time you’ve reached that point you’re probably already dreaming of different things. You’ll already have felt the feelings your dreams gave you when you dreamt them and become insensitive to it. You weren’t living in the moment, only thinking about the ‘someday’. Maybe if I “work, eat, sleep, love and cry I’ll be someone someday. For now: stand up, because things are finally happening, I have been hustling… they (including me to myself) always preached you couldn’t do it, wait till you’ve done it.”
Today was once your ‘someday’. You can work for your future while living in the moment. Live.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much while making a song as I did with ‘As Fun’. We wrote it in Berlin in a studio at the old airport of Hitler. They turned what used to be a really dark place into something that rather shines light, as it’s now a spot for creatives and a shelter for refugees. It was one of the first times in years maybe that I wrote music with other people again. I felt like I was going a bit mad being alone in my room all the time, trying to create something out of nothing, that I was just in need of some connection with other creatives. I was quite frustrated by my own inflicted isolation towards the world, I replied to Joe Walter’s ‘How are you?’ with my whole life story, hahaha, I basically violated my own privacy by madly oversharing everything about myself with somebody I didn’t even know one bit. But it felt needed. For a while only my songs heard how I really felt. He did quickly become a bit of Naaz though as we wrote the song together along with Pascal Reinhardt. After bawling my eyes out, I ended the story saying: “if all of that didn’t happen though, life wouldn’t be as fun…” and that’s how the song was born.
‘As Fun’ is about doing things for the sole purpose to ‘feel’, whether these are good or bad emotions. As we all know, some things can look so beautiful from afar but feel so differently up close. Clouds look like sugar but are only white, cold mist up close. Hearts can break when you fall in love too deep, but that shouldn’t be a reason to leave it undone. ‘Maybe we should just watch the view from where we are, but that wouldn’t be as fun…’
In one of my songs, ‘Mess Me Up’ I write further about the hook of ‘As Fun’: ‘Break my heart, I need it. If that’s what it takes to feel alive… Waking up, I feel it. Gonna live until I die.’ Sometimes you are present in this thing called life but not really living it, I don’t ever want to stop living until the moment I actually physically die. I will not, not experience the ‘what if’s’ of love and life just because I’m afraid of the more negative outcome. For the sake of feeling, you can go ahead and try to mess me up, but I’ll enjoy the feeling of real life so much and so little at the same time, that I’ll only get to know myself more and grow. I’ll break as I grow new bits of myself and glue my pieces together with the beautiful memories I will have made. Otherwise, life wouldn’t be ‘As Fun’.
I asked Pascal to mute the guitar with his hands while playing and record the sound it made, I ended up using it in the production named as ‘percussion guitar’ hehe. When I was back in Holland, I started producing the rest of the song and couldn’t stop crying and dancing in my room. It made me feel so much, I feel like the emotion in the production brings forward exactly what the song is about and the feeling it’s portraying. It’s maybe one of my most important bits of making music, for it to be a translation of my soul at that very moment. ‘As Fun’ is definitely a bit of my soul, and every time I perform it on stage I go back to that feeling. I filled up the song with sticks tapping against each other, hidden seventh chords that you can feel rather than hear, teaspoons tapping against glass, ‘percussion guitar’ and birds whistling in nature. As it’s my favourite thing to do, I used my voice as the main instrument throughout this whole song. Every time I don’t know how to bring a melody I hear in my head to life, I do it with my voice and harmonies. I think probably 80 % of the song is made out of harmonies, just the way I like it. This is very much inspired by Kanye West’s use of vocal samples in his music, a lot of times they’re the only source of harmony in the song, and I love that. In my case, I love sampling my own voice.
I wanted to make a non-sad, non-self pitying, non-society-insulting song, about being your own type of pretty. Sing about my physical characteristics in a rather positive way.
“My skins got spots and they shine in the spotlights, hair’s so soft on a certain height, teeth can bite but they’re not so white. I’m pretty, ‘cuz I’ve got awesome minds.”
‘Minds’ is plural because it represents the many perspectives I like to take on viewing myself. Beauty can never be a fact because everybody has a different perception of it, we all have different taste, all like different things, so watch”me be my OWN type of pretty. I don’t need to be hyped to feel me.” As long as I like it, it’s all good.
“Sometimes I’m insecure, at least I’m sure about that.”
I sing about my body hair on the bridge; I wrote an almost entire conversation I had with my mum when I was 13. Most of my black haired girlfriends and I would always freak out about our dark body hair, in my particular case the boys bullied me over it. Up until a few months ago I always thought I had to hide it like it made me less ‘pretty’, I thought it was important to say it out loud in a song. My friends and I always used to treat it like our ‘big secret’, well the world can know now. We have hair; it’s black, it’s because we’re human, just like you.
Mess Me Up
This one is about when people try to protect you from things to keep you from what could potentially hurt you, without realising that that is exactly how you can get messed up.
“Don’t they know this is how you take feelings away? Give a chance to at least, feel it away.”
It’s for the ‘good’ boys and girls who didn’t really choose for it but might hurt their surroundings if they don’t live by it. Living in compromise, half happy. Half yourself. That’s what messes you up.
“I’m at a point where I don’t care if you mess me up, I’ve been there on my own against myself enough, maybe if it’s in third person I could stop the truck, but now I’m at a point where I don’t care if you mess me up. So mess me up.”
One of my first happy songs ever. Before ‘Words’, I mostly wrote sad songs. I also only did studio sessions to make music. I had just graduated high school and wasn’t accepted into college, which to my joy gave me one year of time to try to make something convincing out of my career towards my parents. I was only allowed to go to the studio if my brother joined, but with all this new time on my hands, it meant that my brother could not always join me to the studio when I felt like going. So I wanted to become as independent as possible, create that sound I heard in my mind on my own, in my bedroom, That’s how my sound was born, and I started producing again. As I was not very skilled yet and could only minimally play instruments, I decided to take sounds from my environment and use those as part of the production. Which is now a big part of my music.
I didn’t like the way I viewed the world as it was rather sad and angry until I realised how, just because I only have two eyes, doesn’t mean I can’t view the world through other people’s eyes. I wanted to get to know new perspectives through the ‘Words’ of my friends and the people I looked up to.
“I’m in love with your words, will you show me the world… through your eyes ‘cuz you know, just the way to put it on me.”
It’s mostly inspired by my best friend who is also my mentor, Arjan Bedawi (part of Soulsearchin’). I was the most insecure, sad 16-year-old when I met him, I feel like the phone conversations with him (“the sound waves of your voice make me swim through the storm”) changed my outlook on life a lot.
“The way he drives the road got my feet running fast with no despair, he made me believe it could one day be me over there.”
I’m very content with myself now. I took in the words of others and breathed out my own outlook on them.
It really bothers me how some people can’t be with the one they love just because they’re feeling butterflies for someone their community or society don’t approve off. In many ways I have felt what it’s like to not be accepted for who you are or aspire to become, I don’t wish that self-doubt upon anyone. ‘Loving Love’ is an oath to love in all it’s beautiful & twisted ways. There should be no rules or limits to love, express whatever you feel and don’t care for the ‘credibility’ of your love for things or people. If it’s real, it’s real and nothing could undo that. There should be no time for ego, hate & bullshit when you’re ‘too busy loving love’. Loving is older than our existence but nowadays we should do it ‘new school’ – love whatever and whoever you wanna & don’t care about ancient rules; race, gender and even popularity. ‘We’re anciently new school, loving love like we’re supposed to’. Let’s just make love cool again, ok?
The production was inspired by Kanye West and the songwriting by Chance The Rapper. I thought to myself ‘what would Kanye make if he’d produce a Naaz song? Well… this was it.
I made ‘Can’t’ the day after ‘Words’. I remember when I first started playing the intro on my keyboard I just felt butterflies all over my body. It felt like the translation of being in love into sound. The song is about when you really want something but think you can’t have it. I wrote it with a lover’s point of view but it could also be about something totally different, like the dreams you wish to live but think you can’t. The song is a mental struggle between saying you’re okay with something just to deal with it, while at the same time not being able to sleep at night because it bothers you so much. You accept reality but it still hurts you.
Up To Something
This song is my soundtrack for hope & freedom and makes me feel capable of anything. Back in high school I always used to spend my time alone during the breaks to write songs & just be. I didn’t feel the need to make new friends or explain to people who I am or what I want to do with my life. I was already so sure of what it was and didn’t feel like I needed their approval. So many people wondered why I was always isolating myself. Also at home when I locked myself up in my room for days making music, creating myself. Nobody really understood – the only answer I had to their questions was that: ‘I’m just a girl that’s up to something’.