Stand For Myself

Stand For Myself

After Yola signed with Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye recordings and released Walk Through Fire, her genre-melding full-length debut that earned her four Grammy nominations (including a 2020 nod for Best New Artist), she found herself facing a stubborn foe: writer’s block. Her increasingly demanding career yielded accolades and an ever-growing fanbase that included artists like The Highwomen and director Baz Luhrmann, but she found herself struggling to write at the height of it. “I had ideas right the way through, from 2013, when I was learning to play guitar, through to when I first started doing shows in late 2015,” she tells Apple Music. “But I hadn't had a single idea from 2019 into the pandemic—just nothing. That level of being busy just completely poached my ability to write. I started deconstructing my process of how my brain likes to function when I'm creating.” If she started humming a tune while straightening up the house, she wouldn't immediately try to interrogate it. She sought out stillness and space, a contrast to what she calls the “excessively conscious” state she often found herself in. “When that part of my brain was off, ideas would appear almost instantly,” she says. “I clearly had inspiration, but there were situations that stopped the ideas coming to the fore, stopped me being able to access them.” Eventually, Yola wrote her way out of writer’s block and into Stand for Myself, an album that meets the high standard she set with Walk Through Fire while drawing in new sounds (namely disco, which drives the groove of “Dancing Away in Tears”) and doubling down on vintage vibes (notably the ’70s soul of “Starlight”) and declarations of self-empowerment. New collaborators came along for the soulful journey, too: Joy Oladokun, Ruby Amanfu, and Natalie Hemby co-wrote songs for the album (as did Auerbach, who produced the album, along with Walk Through Fire), and Brandi Carlile lends her voice to “Be My Friend,” an all-too-timely celebration of allyship. Below, Yola talks through a few of the songs on the album and how they helped get her back on track. “Barely Alive” “The first song on the record, ‘Barely Alive,’ is co-written by Joy Oladokun. We were talking about what it's like to be Africans and isolated, and playing guitar, and singing songs, and being into a very broad spectrum of music—and growing up having to explain our existence, and ourselves. You are so often called on to minimize yourself. It can be that your life experience is uncomfortable to somebody and it's triggering their white fragility, so they're encouraging you to speak less on it, or better still, not at all, and to suffer in silence. If you can't speak on your life, then you can't address what's right and wrong with it. That's where the album jumps off from: It's a very concise narrative on my journey, from that place of being a doormat to having some agency over my own life.” “Break the Bough” “‘Break the Bough’ dates back to 2013, and was started on the evening of my mother's funeral. It doesn't sound like a song that was written on the horns of a funeral; it's a real party song. In that moment I realized that none of us are getting out of this thing called life alive, and so whatever we think we're doing with our lives, we better do a better job of it—just manifest the things that you want to manifest, and be the you that you most want to be. I'd been in a writing block up until that point, and that sparked me to decide to learn to play guitar and inexorably start writing songs again—and that led me here.” “Be My Friend” “‘Be My Friend’ was one of the songs to arrive in my mind almost complete. That was a real moment, when I was able to come up with something that felt really real, really true, really about the time I was in, but also about my journey. It was as much about allyship [as] it was the idea of what I needed to get to this point in the first place. I thought it was important to call Brandi to sing with me: She'd had the same conversation with me pertaining to queerness, and the pursuit of not being a token, and to manifest your most true self in your art so you don't feel like you're apologizing for yourself or hiding yourself in your art.” “Stand for Myself” “The song ‘Stand for Myself’ is the ultimate conclusion of a concept. It starts with referencing the 'Barely Alive' version of myself: 'I understand why you're essentially burying your head in the sand: You want to feel nothing.' But also, it can speak on people that are experiencing white fragility. It's like, I get it, it makes you feel uncomfortable. You don't want to have to feel empathy for people that aren't like you, because it feels like work. But then it's saying, 'I was like that, I was an absolute parrot, and I didn't have any sets of perspective of what I might stand to gain from not being such an anxious twonk.' That's really where we get to: But I did do it, because I was left without choice. Now I feel like I'm actually alive, and it's really great. You can have this, too, if you're actually willing to do the work—go and take the implicit test, find out what your biases are, work on them, feel things for other people that aren't clones of you—and that's really everything. When someone goes, 'Hey, this album should be called Don't Mess With Yola!,' I'm like, you've missed the point of this record. It's not a don't mess with. It's not I'm a strong Black woman. It's the deserving of softness and a measure of kindness and of support and friendship and love. And that's really all encapsulated in 'Stand for Myself.'”

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