It’s an early Sunday afternoon, and there’s torrential downpour outside the window of Kinokuniya. The Japanese store is a favorite spot for singer-songwriter and producer Oyinda, whose obsession with anime helps fuel her creativity. When the 24-year-old sits at our table, she tells me that she’s just had her hair done like Aaliyah for a VMA’s themed birthday party we’d both be attending that night (I went as FEMINEM/The Real Slim Gay-D, for the record). With only one EP out, Before the Fall, the internet had already likened Oyinda to the cultural icon she’s dressing up as, not to mention comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Rihanna. Rolling Stone even went so far as to call her “R&B’s best kept secret.”
Well, the reason she was a secret is because she’d actually never performed for an audience before—something no one would guess watching her open for Chance the Rapper at one of the world’s largest music festivals. The praise continued after the release of Before the Fall, which introduced her work to a larger audience. The music swells and simmers, brooding synths and sultry electronic beats manifest a dark, compelling underbelly of modern R&B. Today, we're excited to debut Oyinda’s second EP, Restless Minds. Listen to her five new tracks below, and catch our talk with the Nigerian-English artist about her two cats, why Ursula from The Little Mermaid is a bad bitch, and her experiences as a woman in music.
Noisey: We’re so thrilled to be premiering your next EP. Are you feeling excited about the release?
Oyinda: Yes! And I just found out myself that they made me the UK representative for Beats1, which is awesome. I'm really freaking out. I was so excited and also really nervous, but it's such a privilege for me as a foreigner and from growing up in so many places that I got to choose London as my home and I got to choose the fact that I gravitated towards England more. That's just my upbringing, moving around a lot. That was just a constant for me. So the fact that even though I don't have a UK passport, I'm still being the UK representative, which means everything to me.
After seeing your live show at Rough Trade a few weeks back, I can understand why they’d choose you. Was that your first show?
The first official show I ever booked as an artist was Lollapalooza, which is ridiculous. In order to get ready for that, I’d practice with friends. No one was there except my friends so it was just practicing being on a live stage with sound and checking the monitors.
How did your first gig end up being a major music festival?
It was so random. So very random! Once I graduated, my friends at the time were studying at Berklee and were putting a showcase together. They asked me to be a part of it, so I performed two songs from Before the Fall, before it was out. And then, after that, apparently there was someone there who was booking for Lollapalooza. He was like, "Oh, I really like your music and whatnot. I'm booking for the show." He wanted me originally to be on the BMI stage, but I'm an ASCAP artist, so I was like, "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess it's not going to happen. Nice meeting you."
I went back to New York and then a few days later, I got an email like, "I booked you for the festival. You're playing. You're opening the day Chance the Rapper's playing." Ridiculous. I got to meet Chance. The backstage was closed off for only his family for the show, because you know the main headliner gets to cut things off at a certain point. But they brought us in because we opened the stage.
Were you nervous?
I was not nervous about performing. I was nervous about talking, and I was told that I had to talk. I found that I was actually talking too much because I felt like I had to. Now I just don't. I talk maybe once or twice because I really do want to thank whoever I'm playing the show with and introduce my band. Other then that, no.
It’s cool that you’re actually friends with your band, which I’m sure is comforting on stage a swell. A lot of solo artists just hire a backing band.
Exactly. That's what I didn't want. Well, my band mate Raf and I have known each other for a really long time from studying at the same university, and the same with [fellow band mate] Samuel, because we were all there. But I was a hermit and I had more classes with Raf than I did with Samuel. I'd never see him in class, only outside of class. But we all just clicked in a weird way. Samuel is also African. He's Ghanaian.
I appreciate what they do as musicians, I appreciate what they do as artists and their point of view and perspective is just so interesting, and it highlights my music in a really nice way. I feel like artists like Sade are the reason I approach things the way I do. Even though Sade is a band slash Sade is her name, she wrote with a lot of her band and produced and arranged with them.
The music you three create together is so moody and emotional. How do you get yourself into your artistic mindset?
I'll just create a mood by myself. I usually write in bed or in the dark. I might be watching something and be like, "Oh, that's the vibe I really like." I'm so influenced by film scoring, so that's what it usually stems off of. Maybe I'm watching an anime like Noragami and I'll see a scene that's just so cool and the score is so intense and amazing. I'll want to write a song like that, and I'll think about what I see when I'm in that mood. Just listening to the score, I write what I see. It’s fun that way, because then I don't have to write about myself.
Why are you less inclined to write music about yourself?
I don't feel comfortable with that and I don't think it matters. I feel like I'm not that interesting, so I would rather just not concentrate on that. When I write, I feel like I don't think about my own personal experience because I think that's what makes music universal. I like keeping it vague. But there are a few songs where maybe a line will come out that's about me. The only heavy song that I feel is about me is "The Devil's Gonna Keep Me," and only verse one. The first one's about me and then the rest is just an articulation of how I thought the story arc should go. I really like Macbeth and Hamlet, and I was reading those at the time. So the story just unfolded in a more Shakespearean way.
Even though I have moved around a lot and been exposed to a lot, I feel like I'm still in such early stages of my life as an adult that there are so many things that I need to learn first before I'm spewing all this information. I mean, writing about myself is hard because I have African parents—especially my mom—who like to read into everything. It's my parents! Or my sister will make a comment. My mom literally called me the other day and was like, "What is the meaning of ‘Serpentine?’"
As someone who’s moved around a great deal, do you think New York is a city that’s still conducive to artists?
I feel like it's just more open, more accessible. Everything's everywhere. Everyone's everywhere. I think it's because everyone has that New York hustle mentality and you never know when things will come up and you never know where things will take you. So you just appreciate it as it is. But of course you'll find the other bubbles that are more closed off, like, "Oh, we're already someone." I don't gravitate towards them because I'm a homebody with two cats. That just doesn't work for me. I can't front that way. It's just not in my DNA. I was never the cool chick in high school. I was always the funny one or the weird one. That's also probably why I don't venture out, or can be nervous about working with people. Especially as a female artist. Especially because there are a lot of males in this industry who want to tell you what your music is or tell you how you should approach how you write.
Recent events have definitely help shed a light on the actual abuse that goes on for women within the industry, let alone the general misogyny.
That’s actually why I found Fetty Wap so refreshing, because he's singing about being truthful to his one trap queen lady. Yes, thank you. Not like the Weeknd who's like, "You earned it." Not to say I don't sing along with it but that's the mentality of the industry, that women are submissive. Even ladies who are confident, like Demi Lovato, it's still seen as a ploy for the male gaze. It's sad. And it's hard.
What type of person do you think is connecting with your music?
I have no idea. I hardly pay attention to that but, but sometimes people will hit me up on Twitter and I just think, "You are the sweetest people in the world. I have no idea who you are, but thank you." It makes me feel a little bit better. But I never really pay attention, because who cares? If you vibe, you vibe. That's awesome. I have no idea. Plus I feel like I'm so new that there hasn't been an actual fan base. And I hate the word fan. I don't know. If you come up to me after a show that's awesome and I'm down to chat. I might be a little gross and sticky but I'd be happy to meet you and see you.
Is there a song on the new EP that feels particularly special to you?
I feel like I like each song for a different reason. "Never Enough" was definitely the start of everything. I was like, "I'm going to be a confident fierce bitch." I was really just trying to pump myself up for Lolla, I had four songs and I had a forty-minute set. So I was freaking out like, "....so, let's get writing?!" There are songs that I performed there that are never going to see the light of day again ever. They were fun. They were just ways to explore my musical taste rather than being like, this is a true stamp of what I'm bringing to you. Lolla was really fun. People weren't there to see me, so it was weird when I had a crowd and Rolling Stone was like, "Best kept secret." I was like, "No, no, no! Keep it a secret! Keep it safe."
I love that about you—how you’re so incredibly meticulous, and how you refuse to put anything out until the timing is perfect.
I feel like you just learn from other artists that you like. I feel like another reason that I'm so particular is because of growing up and watching Aaliyah. She was always on. She never was consistent about her style—sure she showed her belly a lot—but she would change things up in a really interesting way and it wasn't always the same. And she had these dark vibes too that I'm only realizing now that I'm older. Things that I didn't pick up on because I didn't watch interviews or anything like that but now I'm getting to know her now that she's gone. It's weird.
It’s strange rewatching things as an adult. You find a lot of dark nuances that just didn’t click in your head as a child.
Exactly. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was one of the movies for me, and I never understood why I liked Claude Frollo until now that I'm older and I'm listening to his score. It's so incredible and so emotive. He was the craziest, most disgusting, scariest character and I did not like him for that reason, but somehow his music just really spoke to me. Now I get it. Part of film scoring. Same with Ursula [from The Little Mermaid]. Ursula was a bad bitch, and I loved her. But trust no bitch. I literally have a t-shirt that says that. I got it online. Tumblr is the greatest for that reason.
You definitely look like a bad bitch yourself on stage. Are you a professionally trained dancer or does that just come naturally?
I'm MTV trained. We all watched the music videos on MTV and were like, "Let's dance around!" But Shakira, "Whatever, Whenever," you know I learned the belly moves from her. Shakira is crazy with that. She is the best. Even though Aaliyah did the belly moves and I loved her for that, that's not what I saw when I looked at her. When I saw her it was more like the "Are You That Somebody" Aaliyah, where everything was more articulate and a little seductive in a way. Even Missy Elliot videos. I always tried to learn those moves. Even to this day, she's just the greatest. Her videos were so cool. I remember "She's a Bitch," one of my favorite videos ever. And a video that really influenced this record, too.
Do you know what’s next after this EP?
I know I'm definitely going to do one last EP. I'm an odd number girl—gotta do that. That's just always been the plan because I just wanted things to coexist like an album would, but I know that with an album a lot of people would like a consistent story that's more cohesive. Except [Rihanna’s] ANTI, which was so crazy and all over the place, which I really appreciate. But I feel like for your debut, it just makes sense to be like, “Here is me and all these aspects of me that tie it all up.”These EP's will technically be their own album. And then once I really go off, I go off.
Also, I'm Not There, the Bob Dylan movie, is the reason why I made the EP's kind of bounce back and forth between perspectives, and that's why I don't have a favorite song. All of them are different things from a different perspective. They intrigue me in a way that I'm learning from them myself.
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