Soul-filled R&B songstress, Shay Lia, creates music that is intimate and soothing for her listeners. We have a chat as she shares her new EP 'Solaris'.
Currently based in Montreal, French-Diboutian singer Shay Lia has returned with another soulful offering that is sure to transport you to her world of self-discovery and boundless creativity.
With whispery vocal tendencies akin to Solange, Shay Lia has proved to be an artist that is intentional with her musical delivery. Every melody and lyric is carefully placed alongside sonically rich production as she evidently refuses to confine herself to one genre or style.
Back in 2016, Shay Lia was featured on KAYTRANADA’s album ‘99.9%’ and it’s been an upward spiral for the singer since then. Releasing a thread of singles and her first album ‘Dangerous’ where she collaborated again with KAYTRANADA, Buddy, and Kojey Radical.
While her previous works merge elements of R&B, funk, and soul, ‘Solaris’ is the result of her wanting to fearlessly expand her sound and dominate new territories, taking a pop and afrobeat route.
She describes her single “Love Me, Love Me Not”, which also appears on the EP, as “intimate and soft”, wanting her listeners to “feel how sensuality, pleasure, and melancholy can blend into the same song”. The track poses as a teaser to the versatile melodies and nuanced songwriting to expect in the forthcoming EP.
We had the chance to speak to Shay Lia about stepping out of her comfort zone with her recent EP, her journey so far as a musician, and what next to expect.
If you could, how would you summarise your journey to becoming a musician?
It has been a very internal experience for me so it had to be all about finding my confidence. I‘ve always wanted to do this but I needed to discover if I have the talent to write my own songs. Meeting producers early when I arrived in Montreal made it easier because I had amazing and talented people that trusted my artistry as a songwriter. The success of “Leave Me Alone” with Kaytranada gave me a lot of confidence too because I wrote it by myself in my bedroom. My journey included hard moments because I knew where I wanted to go but I had to finish my studies first – dealing with that feeling mentally was a challenge. I’m proud that I did it and I’m fully living and breathing in this project.
What made you fall in love with music in the first place?
My parents would play a lot of music in the house when I was a child, I remember being obsessed with Janet Jackson at 4 years old. I remember listening to Buena Vista Social Club, Sade and Destiny’s Child and falling in love with those sounds. When I was living in Djibouti, I discovered YouTube and it became my best friend. I would spend hours a day on it searching for new music, concerts and interviews. I didn’t even speak or understand English at the time but I was fascinated by the levels of excellence that I could see and hear.
You’ve said that ‘Dangerous’ was made in the comfort zone. How did you challenge yourself with ‘Solaris’?
I challenged myself musically while keeping my experience as an R&B artist close. I tried something new and played with different types of production including afrobeat. In terms of process, I had to work faster because I had a deadline this time and the pandemic made it harder to produce work – let’s say that I was 100% out of my comfort zone.
Before creating ‘Solaris’, did you have any set goals in mind for the project?
I wanted to love what I made and challenge myself while I made it. If I’m being honest, the goal is always to get more recognition and to live more comfortably. The music industry is very difficult and competitive so as an indie artist, there’s even more uncertainty for us and this pandemic is making things much more difficult. That’s why I need to do what I love otherwise I would not have the strength to carry on.
‘Solaris’ is about a state of mind where the sun shines brightest. Where or what is your ‘Solaris’?
My Solaris is in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire with my family. It’s where we go every Christmas and where I feel the most unconditional love and acceptance. It’s where the sun and ocean feel like paradise. Music can be incredibly powerful and feel like my Solaris too. When I’m going through difficult things, music, art and seeking inspiration by looking at legendary artists and studying their lives brings me happiness and comfort.
You’ve described the EP’s songs as existing within the same world. Would you take this same approach when creating an album?
Yes, definitely. That’s the way I love to listen to a project in general. I’m not a fan of projects that sound the same from beginning to end. I need variety and I need to feel like I’m invited to travel through each song into a new world as I take it all in. A mixtape would be the only type of project I would be able to treat as a ‘no rules’ type of thing but for an EP, I like having one cohesive concept so I can play with each song to give each one it’s own personality.
“Mais Oui” is your first song featuring French lyrics – your mother tongue. Will you be writing more songs in French from now on?
If it feels organic, I will. I won’t force it. This one came to me so naturally and I’m interested to see how people feel about it.
When people listen to the new project, what do you want them to take away from it?
I want them to feel the comfort, the warmth and the joy I worked to channel on this project. I want them to see it as a feel-good project nothing more, nothing less. Feel good music is hard to create and it can truly have an impact on a person’s day, mood and perspectives. My first project was also like that. I think that’s my style in general but with this one, considering the pandemic and the focus on a solar experience I hope people will feel the warmth.
Looking back, how have you developed as an artist since you first started releasing music in 2014?
In 2014 I had no team and no manager, I was only focused on graduating college, music was a hobby on the side. I graduated 2 years ago and that’s truly when I started seeing the changes. Now, it’s my full-time job. I’ve travelled for this work, been on tour. The experience is completely different, way harder, more intense and more rewarding too. I’m still in it so it’s hard to say but I can tell you that everything has changed over time from my perspective to my skills, the process I have developed to achieve and commit to my vision. I still have a lot to prove to myself though. Being an artist in 2020 is about being a brand, you can literally do anything if you do this right, from fashion to art direction. Some want to be on tv, others want to tour non stop – the possibilities are endless once you’re established so I’m still adjusting my vision one step at a time.
What are your hopes and dreams for the next five years?
I hope for money, freedom, and more power to achieve what I want to achieve. My dreams would be the same as my hopes but X 2000! Sometimes life surprises us with more and better than what we wanted, so that would be my dream – but I’m trying to stay down to earth. I don’t like dreaming too much, I’d rather plan. I would love to be able to collaborate with my fave artists, I would love to get better at everything I do and be seen by more people and respected for it in this industry. I want to be myself and I want to be great while I do it.