We speak to up-and-coming artist USNA to find out more about some of his other musical influences, performing at Big Weekend and what's next.

Northern Irish artist USNA is making his name known, quite literally, with his newest release “OOSHNA”. He’s titled his debut mixtape after the phonetic pronunciation of his Celtic-rooted name – a bold way of announcing he’s ready to put his mark on the music industry. 


The mixtape compiles all of the 23-year-old’s singles so far, along with three other tracks. For those new to his work, “SYMPATHY” is a great place to start. It’s an effervescent blend of hyper-pop synths, drum ‘n’ bass rhythms and his unwavering hip-hop rhymes. Although of its upbeat feel, closer listeners will cotton on to USNA’s heartfelt lyrics. He opens up on all from the breakdown of relationships to online insecurity. On the whole, it’s a sonic expression of how he became the musician he is today. 


Flitting between different genres, USNA’s musical expertise and experimentation shine through in this mixtape. He takes inspiration from artists including BROCKHAMPTON, Pharrell, and Jay-Z. So, we speak to USNA to find out more about some of his other musical influences, performing at Big Weekend and his classic music training.

You’ve just released your first mixtape, ‘OOSHNA’. What was the inspiration behind the record?

I had the record name idea and cover for a really long time before this release. I honestly just looked at my computer one day and had a realisation that I had a bunch of songs that all had a similar vibe to them. A lot of the tracks that made it on however have a wide variety of sounds because I feel this record is a big demonstration of my growth over the past two years as a songwriter and producer. Some draw heavily from other artists and are clear inspirations from some of my favourite songs by other artists. I wanted to have fun making this record and honestly made a conscious effort not to overthink anything.

Your music disguises a lot of deeper lyrics with fun, energetic drum beats. How do you navigate this combination, and what do you want listeners to take away from the music?

I like hearing songs like this so I wanted to do it as well. I remember hearing “Hey Ya!” By Outkast then reading the lyrics and being like “damn this is actually really sad”; I’m just a big fan of layers. Layers make you come back to a song and love it again for a whole new reason. I want passive listeners and active listeners to equally enjoy the music even if it’s for totally different reasons.

I read that you studied at a Conservatoire – do you find that your music is influenced by this classical background? Are you interested in the more technical side of music?

It’s definitely impacted my music to some extent. On a song like “PRIEST”, Mike Spencer commented in the studio that having the piano part being played by an actual pianist made such a difference. The sound had character that sometimes you can’t get unless you understand the instrument. A classical background makes the process a lot quicker in cases of arrangement. I was able to make the string part for “Sympathy” much quicker than I imagine I would have if I hadn’t been trained in classical theory and composition elements. I love all aspects of the music-making process so I couldn’t say if I prefer one or the other, but I do get tend waves of interest in one specific process sometimes!

How has your music developed over the years?

It’s matured in sound for sure. I used to make a lot of bad timbre choices that would not blend at all. If you dig and find “Hot Summer” somewhere, it was my first so-called album, you can instantly hear the difference. However, I’ve always been interested in the weird synth sounds and random bridges coming in from nowhere. I’m trying to tap back into that state of creative freedom you have before you understand what you’re doing.

You’re pretty open about the artists that inspire you. Who would you love to work with?

I would love to work with The Neptunes, I feel like everyone does but why wouldn’t they? They seem to bring the best out of every artist that they work with. I would love to see how they would take what I do a morph it into that signature Neptunes sound. I’m already pretty influenced by NERD and Pharrell’s own music and think it would just be one of those moments even if the song was trash.

Beyond music, you’re generally pretty creative, designing the artwork yourself – how do you juggle all of these creative pursuits and avoid burnout?

Something Rick Rubin said really fit this point: “To live as an artist is a way of being in the world.”. Each of my creative pursuits is the very reason I don’t feel burnt out! If I had only one of them to do, I would burn out a lot more I think. They each help me to stay creative but are all so different at the same time. They are distractions from each other while staying in the same world.

Irish music seems to be having a moment right now, what unique perspective do you think Irish musicians bring to the music scene?

Ireland’s got an energy you can’t get anywhere else. Irish hip hop in particular has such a fun energy to it. A lot of people I know grew up listening to and taking part in trad sessions, which is an environment you can’t explain until you see really. Things like this just add up and creep into little moments in people’s music.

Your song “BOO” was featured on ‘One of Us is Lying’. What was it like getting your music featured on such a successful show?

It was honestly surreal, it never hit me until I saw the show really. I’ll be real I didn’t watch anything past that first episode where my song was.. But I still get people that start watching that show suddenly message me like ‘OMG that’s your song!’ And I’m like ‘I know! You’re mad late to the party, but big win!’.

 You performed on the BBC introducing stage at last year’s Big Weekend – what was that like? Do you enjoy live performing?

Performing live is my favourite thing to do! That particular one was nerve-racking because Ed Sheeran had played the Main Stage before me and nobody was there at first but I came out and there were enough to call it a crowd so it felt great having them respond to what I was doing. I love talking to the crowd and a lot of my songs take live performance into account.

What are you most looking forward to over the next year? Where can we expect to see more of you?

I’m most looking forward to locking back into making music; I struggle to make new music whilst working on and releasing old music. I recently had my un-backed-up hard-drive wiped and lost a tonne of beats but honestly I wasn’t ever going to use them, so a clean slate like this is perfect to move on to a fresher sound.

You can expect to see more of me on TikTok and Instagram, @usnaboy. That’s where I update what I’m doing the most and have little snippets of things like random beats. Hopefully you can also expect to see me on more stages in the next year.