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Women’s History Month: Alt-Folk Duo Naz & Ella

Hailing from London, alt-folk duo Naz & Ella have been creating music together since 2009. Known for having their “beady eye on social issues”, the duo channel their anger and frustration at the world through tightly wound harmonies and intricate guitar riffs, showing there’s power in vulnerability.

Naz & Ella just released a track called “Internalised.” It explore the fear of “coming out” to yourself and draws on Naz & Ella’s personal experiences as queer women. This track is the first of two singles off of their upcoming EP (DE)HUMANISE.

“It was important to us that this song conveyed an emotional journey with a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Ella. “Internalised starts with fear and pain, and ends with the overwhelming relief that comes with finally accepting yourself and being proud to be with the person you love.”

They blend folk, post-punk, and grunge influences such as The Cranberries, Nirvana, and Marika Hackman to create a dreamy sound that any listener will love, truly.

I had a chance to chat with Naz & Ella about the current and upcoming music along with their favorite music of 2020 and being women in the music industry!

Hi Naz & Ella! Introduce yourself to the readers of For The Punks. Who are you? What makes you, you?

We’re an alt-folk duo from London, UK. We’ve been creating music together on and off for over 10 years now and much of our music is about channeling our anger and frustration at the world – but less teen angst now and more “grown-up” problems.

What made you two want to create music together? Tell us one of your favorite stories about working together.

Ella: We met at school when we were 14 thanks to a new seating plan in our English class. We didn’t know each other that well but Naz knew I played guitar and was setting up a band and asked me to join. We played in the band until we all went off to university, but Naz and I continued as a duo, and here we are!

One of my favourite times working together was performing at The Southbank Centre in Central London, a well known arts venue. It was a summer gig with a comedy collective. We were given a huge dressing room with a piano and performed on a large outdoor stage to a really lovely audience. After our set it started raining but it was a warm summer evening so it didn’t really matter, but we stayed and danced in the rain to the DJ. We miss gigging!

Naz: For me, it’s probably writing and recording our upcoming EP. Although we’ve been making music together for years, there was something really different this time in terms of how we worked together and wrote this EP. I’m so proud of it and feeling that way is so uncharacteristic of me, so I think we’re onto something and that’s really exciting.

Let’s take a minute to talk about your newest single “Internalised”. It explores the fear of ‘coming out’ to yourself and draws on your personal experiences as queer women. Can you talk about the song (little more about song inspiration, writing process, etc.)?

Ella: I wrote this song as I felt like challenging myself and writing something more personal to me. Writing something more personal isn’t something that necessarily comes easy to me, but I found that the lyrics came easily to me – they just flowed out. I think some parts of the song can be relatable to anyone, particularly the part about gender expression and the pressure to fit in.

The song is a narrative about someone who is struggling to “come out” to themself, to others and feels shame about their sexuality. But we didn’t want it to be all doom and gloom, because queer people deserve happy ending, too, afterall.

Naz: When Ella brought this song to me, I was really moved by it. It’s changed quite a bit from the first ever version she played to me, but I still feel the pain and relief every time I hear it. With almost all of our songs, one of us comes up with an almost finished song we’re happy with and then we work on it together to develop the song using our strengths, but also having each others’ perspective to make the song the best it can be. It can be easy to fall into the trap of being too precious about a song you’ve written – I’m often guilty of that!

The difference between how we created this song (and the other songs on our EP) compared to other music we’ve released is that we gave ourselves time to really experiment with the sound to bring in that emotion into the music, creating a melancholic yet dreamy sound. Having our own little “studio” space in the corner of my bedroom was really useful in taking our music making to the next level.

I think that the message and story behind the “Internalised” is not only so meaningful but great for this month, Women’s History Month. It’s such a wonderful song. Are there similar themes and messages throughout the upcoming second single and EP?

Yes, definitely. Our second single ‘No (Doesn’t Mean Convince Me) that will be out on 24th March is about the normalisation of sexual harassment in nightclubs and bard. Exotica, another track on the EP is about racism and the exotification of women in colour.

The title of the EP itself ‘(DE)HUMANISE’ relates to the variety of experiences of being othered and not treated with the respect you deserve. So, we’d certainly say the EP carries a strong feminist message.

Like mentioned before, “Internalised” is the first of two singles off of your upcoming EP (DE)HUMANISE. Is there anything more that you can share about the second single and/or the EP as a whole? What should listeners be on the lookout for?

The EP is different from our previous material, it’s more layered and with a fuller sound. We recorded it ourselves in our home set up, so we spent a lot of time with each track, experimenting with sounds and ideas and really trying to make sure they were the best they could be. We’re very proud of the songs and feel it’s the best material we’ve written so far.

Sound-wise, we’d say expect delicate intertwining guitar lines, lots of harmonies, and an atmospheric sound. We’re inspired by artists such as The Cranberries, Marika Hackman, Nirvana and PJ Harvey, so you might be able to hear those influences in our music.

March is Women’s History Month. Do you believe women are properly represented in the music industry?

Representation is getting better, but we’ve still a long way to go to see a more even split in top-level industry positions, on festival lineups, and in sound engineering and production.

Have you ever been treated less than equal because of your gender in the music industry?

Not overtly, but this is probably because we perform at largely female-run events with supportive audiences. We have received the odd patronising comment about playing the guitar or surprise from people who haven’t expected us to actually be good.

What are three things everyone can do to promote equality in our scene?

The main thing everyone can do is to diversify the music they listen to – it’s easier than ever to do this. However, it’s really up to the gatekeepers in the industry to be willing to actually support more women entering the industry and more people of colour.

Who are some women musicians that inspire you?

Ella: Skin from Skunk Anansie and Amy Winehouse were huge inspirations growing up. More recently Delores O’Riordan from The Cranberries and Marika Hackman have inspired my music and song writing.

Naz: So many I don’t know who to choose! Similarly to Ella I’m inspired by Delores O’Riordan – she’s got such a distinctive and emotive voice. I’m also inspired by PJ Harvey who is an incredibly creative writer, Emily Haines (Metric) for her witty and dark lyrics and Hayley Williams because she’s not afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve and of course has an incredible voice.

In recent years, I’ve been looking to South Asian women in music for inspiration as I don’t see many of us on the alternative scene. I’m really inspired by Nadine Shah for her honest lyricism, Natasha Khan for her mystical creativity and Shilpa Ray for being a badass (I wish I’d discovered her work sooner!).

What 2020 music releases (women releases) stood out to you the most? Why?

Ella: It was great to hear Dream Nails’ long-anticipated debut album, which was really well written and produced and that we reviewed on our blog. Also I really like Marika Hackman’s covers album and it’s nice to see artists release cover albums rather than constantly feeling they have to release new original music. She really puts her spin on songs from artists as varied as Beyonce and Radiohead.

Naz: Nadine Shah’s Kitchen Sink was a great album for her brute honesty on womanhood. I only recently started listening to PJ Harvey (I wasn’t quite ready for her music until now) and she released the demos from her 1992 album Dry and just wow – such a raw and captivating sound; my favourite song is “Dress”.

If you had to share one last thing with our readers it would be…

Our EP ‘(DE)HUMANISE’ comes out on the 5th May and you can follow all the updates on that including behind the scenes stuff via our Instagram @nazandella. Give us a follow on Spotify and YouTube to receive our latest music as soon as it’s out. We’re also on Bandcamp which is a great place to support your favourite artists!

Thanks for reading! Stay safe, keep checking out online gigs and discovering new artists. We can’t wait to start gigging again and meeting new people along the way 🙂

Stay connected with Naz & Ella on social media and be sure to be on the lookout for their upcoming single and EP!

Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Bandcamp | Spotify

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