HALF-lioness, half-songbird Yazzy is a seventeen-year-old…
award-winning singer-songwriter from North Devon. Having written her own songs since the age of ten: she won the Open Mic UK competition in 2015 and participated in a number of open mic. events and songwriting competitions. Compared with from Eva Cassidy and James Santer; her local radio station has dubbed her ‘North Devon’s sweetheart’. On the road, she has supported Paul Young and Luke Friend and hit the top-spot of Amazon’s Download Chart (Folk) when she released her album, Silly Boys Breaking Hearts. I talk to Yazzy about her upbringing and when she got into music; whether there is pressure on her shoulders – being so young in an industry ruthless and tough – and what plans she has for the rest of this year. Yazzy discusses the opportunities and music scene in North Devon and whether she is tempted to relocate; the advice she’d off young musicians and the artist who is currently seducing her ears.
Hi, Yazzy. How are things? How has your week been?
Hello! My week has been really good! Pretty busy as usual: recording a charity single to save the North Devon Theatres, working on some new releases and doing my gigs! Just a little tired (L.o.L)
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Yazzy. I’m seventeen; from North Devon. I’m singer/songwriter and I’ve been writing and gigging since the age of ten. It’s always been a massive passion of mine: I love sharing my music and feeling connected to people through it. I play guitar, piano; violin and, of course, sing. Though the genre I chose to share is more commercial, acoustic-Pop with Soul; bit of Country influence, I am actually classically-trained and part of The National Children’s Choir of Great Britain. I enjoy all styles of music!
You recently posted a video of you performing Million Reasons (Lady Gaga) alongside Adam (A.K.A. Adam in the Hat). What was that shoot like and will you two be working together again?
It was really cool and so laid back!
I met Adam in 2014 (I think) when I played at Bicton Fest. Luke Friend was headlining the show after his success with X Factor and Adam just got up on stage too and they started jamming – and I thought: what a cool guy!
Adam is more in the Exeter music scene; I’m more North Devon-based, but, actually, our paths crossed more when I started going to college in Exeter! Adam was actually my older sister’s maths teacher! He invited me along to record the little cover and I really loved it. I love singing and jamming with people who are as passionate as I am!
Can you take me to the start and how you got started in music? Was there an artist or album that lit that spark in your mind (to take up music)?
I’ve always loved music. My grandad has always sung in a choir and I’m really close with my grandparents. I spent my whole childhood watching Glee and High School Musical: putting on performances in the school playground then doing all the primary school talent shows. Then, my music teacher at primary school put me forward for a local festival and I sang two songs. That’s where it all began (really) gigs-wise and I’ve done that same gig every year since.
Regarding my songwriting; I got a guitar from Santa when I was nine/ten-ish; played it every day and then, one day, I (just) wrote (like) five songs – don’t even know where it came from! I remember showing my mum and she was just in shock! Then, she took me to a local musician’s home studio (which is a garden shed) and I started recording my own music on a little Dictaphone!
You have covered quite a lot of songs – recently, Can’t Help Falling in Love – and expertly redefined other people’s songs; making them your own and adding your own special touch. Which have been your favourite songs (of other people) to cover?
Umm…this is a hard one as it depends what mood I’m in – as to what I enjoy singing the most! I never write set-lists for my gigs: I always just decided on the spot based how I’m feeling! But I’ve always loved soulful music with meaningful lyrics and passion.
Eva Cassidy is a huge influence of mine. I’ve grown up listening to her (as my mum is in awe of her).
This is kind of embarrassing, but I actually found a video of me doing a makeup tutorial when I was ten(ish) (with my Primark eyeshadow pallet (L.o.L) and in the background I’m listening to Eva Cassidy’s album! That’s genuinely what little Yazzy would listen to! Sam Cooke, Etta James; Beyoncé, you know. I just love songs with passion! I really like covering Little Mix songs at the moment: Girl Power, yaaaasss!
That voice has gained incredible plaudits and seems to emanate from somewhere very personal and powerful. Which singers inspire you most and how do you get a voice that is personal yet filled with strength?
This sounds a little silly but I don’t find that kind of inspiration from singers mainly. I think the reason my music can be so personal is because I’m a very open, sensitive person – I feel everything. One second I’m laughing, the next I’m crying. I have a very strong personality: I’m very determined and focused but I’m also a very fragile person (like most musicians). I think that’s what comes out in my music. You are still a teenager and a solo musician on top of it.
Do you feel any pressure with tender years on your shoulder and expectations to prove yourself? What is life like for a young musician?
I have and do sometimes find it hard being a young musician as lots of the musicians I’m surrounded with are older than me – they’ve been doing this for a lifetime.
Sometimes, I worry people don’t look at me like I’m a serious musician: more (just) a girl with a guitar who writes about boys breaking her heart – which is partly true – but I have been gigging and writing for nearly eight years. But the older I get, the easier it does become.
I’ve got more confidence through my music and I don’t really feel age is an issue anymore! It’s a funny question this because lots of my friends are going to uni., getting jobs; moving away etc. So, I expect a lot of myself because I know that your future doesn’t just come to you: you have to work for what you want. I do put a lot of pressure on myself to do well but, to be honest, I’m so full and happy when I’m just performing: doing what I love, and as long as I can continue doing this for the rest of my life, I will be one happy girl!
This Way, the single released last year, has amassed over sixty-two thousand views and shared over one-hundred times. Can you quite believe it is so popular and what inspired the song?
That song was an experiment for me. It’s very different to my usual style and I just felt like I wanted to (just) test the waters and I was so pleased with the results! Haha, ok, so; the song: I’m the kind of girl who would rather be in a serious relationship, rather than not really knowing where I stand with someone. So, the main hook in the song is “You know I want you, but I don’t want you this way”. So, basically, I’m saying it’s not wrong to expect to be treated well (lyrics speak for themselves L.o.L). I think the video is so popular because Chris (for Altitude58) – who directed and created the music video – is so incredible and really made the music video so professional. We made the most of the local scenes – which I think the locals enjoyed!
Silly Boys Breaking Hearts was released in 2015 – and your debut album – and proved popular with fans and critics. Was it tough and nervous putting an album together or was it quite fun? What are the lessons you learned from making it?
I LOVED creating my album. Waking up at 5 A.M. to go record my album in London? YES PLEASE (and I’m NOT a morning person).
The end of 2014/2015 was probably the best time of my life because I was away all the time working with amazing producers (Birdy’s producer Gareth Henderson; Vanessa Mae’s guitarist Phil Braithwaite); travelling around so much; photoshoots and just doing what I love.
It felt like I was on a rollercoaster that was going up! My album actually went to number one in the Amazon Music Charts the day of the release! The lesson learnt in making the album is that you shouldn’t rush anything. Silly Boys Breaking Hearts’ title track was reproduced three times until I was happy with it!
Can we expect to see any new Yazzy material later this year?
YES, FOR SURE! Early-March, I’m back up in London recording some new music which I blimmin’ (sic.) can’t wait for! I’m teaming back up with my producer Phil as he’s back from tour with Vanessa Mae. I can’t wait to hear his stories – they’re always so inspiring! My favourite was when was when he met Adele just before she ‘made it’ and he accidentally shut a door in her face! Haha!
Over the years, you have won competitions and accolades. It has been quite a hectic time of things. Is there any memory that stands in the mind as particular special?
I have participated in Open Mic. UK, TeenStar; Future Music’s songwriting competition – U.K. and international songwriting competition. Some people don’t agree with competitions but these have allowed me to gig all around the country since the age of twelve: Camden’s Dingwalls, Birmingham NEC, Indigo at the O2, London and many, many more! It’s been amazing to be in these competitions as it raises your profile but also just meeting so many budding musicians who have now gone on to make it in the industry. Plus, having your name and music displayed in front of big names in the industry can’t be a bad thing!
Being based in Devon, are there opportunities to perform or is there quite a limited local scene?
Devon actually has a really nice live music scene. It’s not Bristol and it’s not London; but I’m very lucky to be part of the whole music scene down here.
I keep really busy and I really enjoy my gigs that I do down here! I gig quite a lot in the city too, so for me, I have a perfect mix!
Is there ever a temptation to relocate to somewhere like London or do you prefer the space and quite of Devon?
For sure. I will probably relocate in the coming years just because of how far London is away from where I am. However, I will always be rooted in Devo: it’s where my entire family live etc. But, I think for practicality, if my music does pick up, then I will have to relocate – but I don’t think that will be happening for a while!
Can we see you on tour anywhere this year?
Yes! I have so many gigs lined up. I also do a lot of busking all over the place! Check me out on my social media to find out where I am (that’s easier than me naming every gig (L.o.L.).
What advice would you give for songwriters coming through at the moment?
Write from your heart.
Nothing gets to me more than a musician who plays, sings and writes from the heart – and you can really feel what they’re feeling.
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I really love some of Frances’ music. She’s an up-and-coming artist! I’m in love with Don’t Worry About Me.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can each select a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).