Yola’s Music Is About Connecting With Herself, Too
During AmericanaFest 2018, British singer-songwriter Yola was a newcomer just making her first introductions and playing her first sets for many U.S. audiences. By one year later, though, she had dropped her studio debut, Walk Through Fire, to massive international acclaim, and was walking the red carpet before the 2019 Americana Honors & Awards as a nominee in the category of Emerging Act of the Year.
"Yes, big year. Big year!" Yola told The Boot before the awards show, with a burst of her trademark booming laughter. "When you're a Brit, and you're debuting, and you're being recognized internationally, it's a big thing, you know? So I'm just humbled and grateful for the nomination ... If it [wins], great, and if it doesn't -- still really awesome! I'm a happy girl."
Aside from her accomplishments as a solo artist, Yola has participated in some high-profile collaborations over the course of the year, including singing as a featured artist on the landmark debut album by the Highwomen, an all-female group consisting of Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby. A big part of the Highwomen's thesis statement is their mission to uplift all women in country music, and the experience of working with the group, Yola recounts, felt especially poignant because of its nuanced portrayal of each individual bandmate.
"Everyone had a different angle of connecting to what they were singing," she points out. "There is no one homogenizing energy of how they deliver, how they sound, how they phrase. Artistically, there are different angles.
"That's really what I'm loving about the movement," Yola continues. "Instead of music by women being a genre, or music by women being something that is homogenized or lumped together, it's highlighting the myriad of colors."
The 2019 Americana Honors & Awards ceremony further underscored that movement toward equal recognition of women in the genre by bringing an all-female nominees list in the category of Entertainer of the Year. The show's most marked transition, though, was an uptick in nominees of color: In just one year, non-white nominees jumped from making up 4 percent of the list in total to 26.6 percent. As part of that 26.6 percent, Yola says that while there's still progress to be made towards equality, a greater amount of non-white artists in the running makes for greater variance and diversity within a group that has historically been pinned as a small, homogeneous artistic type.
"Like, I remember those days, talking to people, where we as women of color were mistaken for each other -- all the time," she adds. "It's super embarrassing! And really plays down your effort of what you're contributing. So the volume [increase of artists of color] means that at some point, you have to start differentiating.
"[It's] the same way that we've talked about women for heaven knows how long," Yola goes on to say. "It's not all one kind of sound. There's nuance. Same thing with women of color."
With a life-transforming debut year behind her, Yola is looking forward to her next project, the follow-up to Walk Through Fire. Her life has changed enormously since she wrote the songs that appear on that collection, but she isn't worried about how those changes will affect her writing process.
"It was written about a stage of my life, and I'm over that stage in my life. Easy move on!" she says, flashing a smile. "I'm using this music as basically free-ass therapy to purge, basically, emotionally hurling up whatever I need to emotional hurl up. Once I've hurled it, I need to talk about something else. It's like therapy. Just move on."
In addition to a self-confidence bolstered by a successful debut record and a rapidly expanding fanbase, Yola has an ace in the hole: "I have an overarching faith in Dan [Auerbach]'s production like you would not believe," she adds.
"I felt like we really laid it down. I've been honest as much as I could be in my delivery, and I really felt as though I was connecting. If I've done that, then I can be confident, because that's really what I'm trying to do," Yola explains. "As much as it is about connecting with other people, it's also about connecting within yourself."
PICTURES: A Look Back at the 2018 Americana Honors & Awards