Yazmin Lacey is a proper East End girl who after moving to Nottingham several years ago found her voice and what a voice it is, fragile yet strong, a voice for classic soul music but with its roots in surprising places. I’m glad to call Yaz a friend so we caught up over a beer on the eve of her first solo release, an extended EP entitled ‘Black Moon’, soul jazz ripe with emotion containing hints of broken beat and other indicators of what is to come.
Hey, I really like the record! It’s quite raw but slick at the same time. Your vocals are recorded pretty raw, very breathy and bare bones.
That’s because we didn’t really have any money for a studio so it's a living room recording, the best we could do and then the mic broke and all of us were skint so we just had to go with it!
We were dying to rerecord the vocals you know but I think it works anyway, that’s my first thing and I don’t think I’m ever gonna be a slick slick singer anyway so I think it’s always going to come out a bit raw.
I dunno, I don’t think you’re not slick! You’re not a belter or a hollerer that’s all, you’re a ‘Can you turn it up?’ to the soundman singer, you whisper as well as sing.
You did a couple of recordings with Trekkah, were they your only other release?
You know what, I did a favour a couple of years ago for a mate and did a house tune that got signed to a New York label but all this label stuff was new to me so I didn’t really know what that meant.
Do you think they’re going to jump off the back of you now and put this record out?
I hope not! (Laughing)..the thing with the EP, I’m just really proud of it because it’s truly me and even if there’s faults in it , I’m pleased that we finished an original idea because this was in my mind for ages whereas other things I’ve done, they were collaborations and people wanted a particular vocal and I’m like, OK, I’ll do it but this is what I wanted to really put out.
So tell me about the band you’ve got.
I had done a gig for Nathaniel (Coltrane Wilson - owner of independent clothes shop and event promotion company Mimm) and he’s always been really supportive and he was also speaking with Pete (Beardsworth) at the time who’s the keys player, and he was saying that Pete really wants to work with a vocalist and I wanted a band and Nathaniel was ‘You’re going to have to trust me on this, he’s going to be able to do what you want him to do’
He’s a serious musician!
He is! Honestly he’s a low key genius, he really is! So we met up for a drink and I accidentally got a bit too pissed before we got there and was a bit hellooo, this is the meeting! And Pete just said let me sort out the band and I booked a rehearsal space and it all went well you know? When we did the EP, everyone contributed but me and Pete have got a really good dialogue cos he’s classically trained and he’s also got vibes, I’ve got no classical training , no singing lessons, can’t play any instruments properly and so the idea behind the EP was loads of late nights with Pete and me humming and him working it out from there. Somehow he was able to translate that to everyone else in the room who can play. I was literally tapping things out and it’s been really nice working with Pete and the guys actually and that’s it, really informal. One rehearsal I would say this is how it goes, play a 30 second recording that I had made in my room..they all looked at me (laughs) and I was let’s just do it and that’s how everything has been made! We’re making new stuff at the minute, same way, I’ll have an idea, don’t know what key it’s in but say it’s here, drums will be like this and somehow it’s working for us!
Do you feel more confident having a band there because you were pretty stage shy werent you?
Oh my god, I still am you know! The only difference is that I now enjoy it, a bit, I want to do it though I’m shy but whereas before I don’t think I’ve ever been that reserved in my life!
No, you’re not like that! Onstage you’re different..I spoke to someone earlier who thought you’re just super-cool onstage but I know you and you’re not shaking or anything but I can see the nerves a bit..
Not anymore but I used to get Elvis-Leg and it was all over the place!
When I was performing I hated doing solo stuff because you have to fill so much of the stage but when I had a band, you can just step back and if they’re good, you just let them roll. So with your band you should be able to gain more confidence and just groove right?
Exactly, when my band jam, they all make music separately from what we’re doing and they are incredible musicians and that was a good thing for me cos I was like shit, I need to up my game a little bit cos I cant go in their whispering, they’re waiting for me to do something! In our first rehearsal it took me a full 40 minutes before I actually sang something! I was partly humming and they were, youve got to do it! And I went for it because they must see something in what I do. I love being on stage with them, because it’s joke! There's little things we all notice..I’m not one of those people who sings at a party pissed up, it’s sooo cringey!
Same, I only sing for money!
(Laughs)...but they’ve definitely made me a bit more confident, we’ve all taken a bit from each other so that’s nice but I still get nervous now. Before when I first started I’d be sick before the gig, my stomach bubbling up, worried about not being able to breathe or no sound coming out! Basically though, I’m loving it now!
Tell me about how you got on the Future Bubblers programme (FB is run by Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label focussing on young talent in individual cities and Nottingham was in the inaugural batch).
I have to give props where props is due because I definitely wouldn’t be doing some of the things I am now if it wasn’t for them because when I was first singing I was trying to hold down running a charity as well. Music never seemed like a priority for me and when I say that I don’t think music is important, it was just a private thing for me, a release. I was so busy, when you’ve got no boss or someone to hand over to when you need to go and soundcheck early..FB gave me some direction, it gave me a space where I could focus on that, where I could put some plans around it and bounce ideas off somebody that saw potential in me.
So what happened on it?
I played that launch (FB showcase) at Rough Trade Nottingham and Nathaniel got me that and I remember them saying about the project but I thought, nah, I’ll leave that as someone who can’t even get on stage in a comfortable way, I’m definitely not applying! Then some of my friends applied and said they’ve got one of your tracks on the website saying here’s an example of a Future Bubbler so I thought I’d be stupid not to apply. So I did it then forgot about it but then they called! We had a really good week in London where we just got to make music and got put in the deep end. Can you imagine, there’s a room with all these amazing musicians who were making music for years and they’re ‘Yeah, we’ve got this out and this out’ and I just rolled up, I can’t play keys for myself, I can’t do this or that...but it was really good. We did a Brownswood Basement Session which was amazing, fully shitting myself for that, I’ve been watching the Basement Sessions for years so that was sick. I was also given serious deadlines on me which I needed. My work ethic is really good, my confidence not so much so when someone says we’re expecting this off you by this date regardless of your confidence, fake it till you make it! They’ve been supportive of my gigs and if I need to ask questions they are there.
We’ve also just set up a label (Running Circle - Black Moon is the debut release) which is all of us, the band plus Guohan from Three Body Trio, because we needed a platform to put our music out on. None of us feel comfortable with all that social media ‘Five days to the release!!’ hype so we can just put it out and not cringe anymore, it’s just to have a nice time more than anything and to have an umbrella to all be under.
Three Body trio were on the Bubblers thing as well right but you didn’t know them at the time?
I’d met Pete before but never checked his music. Nathaniel had linked us up but we’d only had a drink and our thing didn’t come till after the Future Bubblers thing. I met Pete, Tom (Towle - drums in Yazmin’s band and a third of Three Body Trio alongside Pete and Guohan), Guohan, Congi as well who I knew from before so I thought this is sweet! I’d already done some stuff with Congi before so I felt quite lucky, like I’m in a supergroup! We’d already arranged for a rehearsal but the Future Bubblers spurred it along…
So, back to your record… I like it a lot!
What’s your favourite?
Oh man, I don’t know, I only heard it last night! Though actually I really like the first short track with the analogue arpeggiated sound ('Buffering'), I’d like to hear that explored more or spliced into another track.. I guess the vibe I’m getting is obviously people like Erykah (Badu), is that true?
That’s really flattering that people have said that and I’m not trying to channel anyone but obviously I’ve listened to the Queens..
What are you listening to then? What are you channelling?
It’s so hard when people ask who influences you..
Yeah, quite often they sound nothing what you sound like!
Exactly what I was going to say! I’m not even gonna lie, I grew up in East London, Manor Park, Stratford area and its Grime all the way you know! That was my thing and everyone was coming up in that time and we was in that area and we were well fucking excited about that. I think the mentality of that I’ve taken through, just do your thing, put it out, you ain’t got a studio, fuck it, do it in your living room..it’s not polished enough, we’ll put it out there, just do it. So that has influenced me a lot in that way..
There are jazz things going on in there as well though yeah? Not just Pete’s arrangements but I can hear it in your voice sometimes, not always but I can hear your voice getting a bit trumpety in the best possible sense, kind of like a horn line..
I grew up on Bashment as well, my Dad’s a big Bashment fan, Dancehall, Lover’s Rock, Soul but also in terms of when I’m making music and I know it sounds weird, but since I’ve been in Nottingham, I’ve got into a lot of Techno as well and it’s the layers when I hear Techno, that’s how I make my music as well.. and of course really strong females have inspired me to just do it. Any female that’s in the music industry just doing their thing always inspires me cos even though it’s only been a short time I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen that it’s very male-dominated.
There are also lots of peers here in Notts that you know who sing as well?
That’s true and they’re my friends but mainly Nottingham has given me a nice stomping ground to just try ideas out. I’m from London and there’s amazing musicians there but I think when I was writing all this and where I was emotionally I wouldn’t have done that in London because I’m not saying its over-saturated but it is saturated, you’ve got to be bolshy and you’ve got to be out there to do it but there’s some nice little spots in and around Nottingham where I could just experiment..
Bit less business...more gentle and less hustle..
Yeah and really supportive people as well and that has a lot to play in what I’m doing now
I know you’re working on some new stuff as well but obviously you’ve got to work this release first. Any hints on the new material? Is it going to be different?
I’ve got some stuff coming out in the Autumn actually, which I can’t say about right now but we’ve also got a single coming out in Autumn recorded in a proper nice studio with a proper nice sound and I think we’ll be edging towards that way but in terms of me and the band, we’ve just started working on some new stuff, it’s a bit more bold and where the confidence is coming in, I’m just trying to exercise my pipes a little bit and see how that works...a lot louder, a lot jazzier actually and I think that’s come from us jamming loads and me just learning so much more about music...I like it man, it’s more dancey actually!
I can hear that in Black Moon where a part of the song segues off into a jazzy groove and it picks up and I’d like to hear it get going..
That’s so weird because that’s partially what the next one is called..’Get going’! What have you heard? (Laughs)
I’m just enjoying it..there’s two parts of what I like doing, some of it’s really nice, really jazzy and more upbeat but I also like dark music man, it’s always been bedroom music for me, my release not necessarily for everyone else but the other stuff we’ve been doing in the studio is quite dark and I wouldn’t say it’s gentle but it’s probably one of the first times that I’ve just gone in on it..I’m really excited, I wish I could play it to you now! The studio stuff is really dark, clean, you can hear everything of my voice but in a studio way. We had this amazing little Neve amp that was just peng and I was really excited. Playing with the band, you get a good gig, great cos you can hear yourself but a lot of the gigs we’ve played I can’t hear a fucking thing! So for the first time, I was like shit, that’s what I sound like! I want to do more of this…And because I could hear everything and of course, you’re balancing six different people’s inputs, I wanted to experiment more..I think I’m wanting to work towards an album for Springtime next year so we’ll see how that goes!
Are you going to try and do a load of dates for this release?
Well, I think we’ve kind of got a booking agent now which has happened so she wants us to do a mini-tour in Wintertime depending on how far we get on with the album so I don’t know yet to be honest. We’ve been offered some nice gigs at some festivals which we weren’t ready for this year because we didn’t have an EP ready but next year definitely. We’ve been offered some nice gigs around the country which I’ve been dying to do. Now I’m with the guys, we’re just gonna catch joke for one and go to all these different places..so..wish list..I want to go to Brighton, I want to play Manchester a lot cos I love Manchester, Liverpool..just see how it goes! We might be playing Berlin next year or even this year depending on how things work out, that would be really cool cos Berlin’s a vibe.
I’ve got some stuff coming out with Congi as well, I just love their shit, they’ve never played me anything I don’t like really..and it’s so chilled with them..I was making music with them before the band and we’d chill, eat food and laugh about stuff and then they’re like, let’s do some bits and it was really nice cos they’re like me, bedroom background like I am so that’s exciting..
I’m also doing some bits for Mndsgn’s label Akashik Records and some other UK labels which I probably need to go finish off!
So you could end up with a huge pile of music coming out in one go?
I think so but it’s really important for me that I just do my own stuff, it’s kind of a therapeutic thing for me but it’s now fun, with a little bit of confidence to go and work with other people.
Is it hard finding enough lyrical content to work with all these different people, do you change for each one or do you still draw on the same thoughts and memories?
When I wrote Black Moon there was loads of things going on, I was in a new city, loads of things happened and I think that gave me a wedge of material and that’s why it was really important to finish it you know..
So this was written when you first came to Nottingham?
Yeah, so I’ve been sitting on a lot of those songs for a few years, I’ve got loads of writing, I’ve been doing it just for me for years..
Well that’s a lot of people’s experiences isn’t it? They’ve got a lifetime of writing for their first release and then it’s shit, I’ve got to write again! Not that I’m hexing you, you’ve got the voice and the band so you’re fine!
I know! I am feeling nervous a little..I know I’m late to everything in life...top female singers I know are like 25 and I’m 29!
Oh c’mon, Cesaria Evoria was discovered at 47! One of the great world singers..
Yeah, I think if you know what you’re doing and why you are doing it, the age and the look..it’s all a minor to me...but you know if no-one bought this EP, I’d still be really pleased because I needed to finish those things that were in my head and see something beautiful come out of them...I’m not expecting to sell any of them anyway but I’ve made so many new friends, experiences, knowledge..all of that from this, I’m blessed anyway, any sales would be a bonus on top of that. But I am nervous about writing again...For the first time I feel really happy and comfortable and just in tune with everything that I need to be in tune with...so it is quite hard to write because I’ve never written to be a singer-songwriter, I’ve written because I’ve needed to let go of certain things and I’m pretty happy so I don’t feel like I need that kind of release right now! But there are other things, not that I can never write about love but it doesn’t just seem to come pouring out in the same way...the Autumn release is just going to be about the estate where I grew up and I’ve shit loads to write about that (Laughs)...We’re just enjoying it, genuinely starting to enjoy it and learn.
Well, in the fortnight since we did this interview (sorry for the delay Yaz!), the EP has garnered serious praise getting plays on BBC Radio1Xtra, NTS, Jazz FM and more with Bandcamp's Andrew Jervis lauding the release and the record is selling...all over. With the EP launched at Archspace in London and a forthcoming gig in Liverpool, it’s looking rosy for this humble talent...Get Going!
Interview by Ex-Friendly June 15th 2017