With more than a few tricks under her belt, longtime collaborative artist, songwriter, producer, classically trained violinist and composer Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi has shifted focus back to her solo work. Releasing under the moniker YAS, her first single ‘Poison’ dropped back in 2018 and introduced us to her brand of sizzling, expansive R&B melded with electronic pop and understated yet gravitational string work. Having taken up violin at the tender age of six, YAS has toured extensively, performing with symphony orchestras since the age of 16. Now LA-based, the Japanese-Egyptian-Kuwaiti artist has played strings sections on tracks by Lil Nas X, Travis Barker, San Holo and Kanye West – to name a few – as well as performing live with Miley Cyrus and Shawn Mendes at the Grammys. Yet early 2021 saw YAS drop two scorching singles of her own, announcing the two-track EP RED, the first of several mini EPs that will come together to form her debut LP COLORS, an exploration of mood, music, colour and the relationship between the three. Her next EP in the series, BLUE, out this Thursday and featuring singles ‘for free’ and the stunning piano-led track ‘worth it’, gives listeners a more melancholy, ruminative side to YAS, while also serving as a gentle reminder that she is a multifaceted artist who refuses to be defined by genre.
We caught up with YAS for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight Q&A series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and give them a chance to talk about their music.
First off a big hello and how are you? Times can be trying without a global pandemic, so what’s been your saving grace throughout this time?
I am OK. My saving graces have been my dogs, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, cigarettes, and Mezcal. Can you tell I am ok? Don’t I sound ok?
You’re currently releasing EPs that will form your debut LP COLORS. The first was RED and your most recent is BLUE, the idea being that each EP will explore the associations between colour, mood and sound. What’s the colour that you’d use to describe yourself if you had to pick one and why?
To be honest, I don’t think that I can pick any one color to represent me as an artist or an individual. I think the whole point of the concept behind COLORS is that none of us are just one color. We are always growing, changing even from minute to minute. 5pm we can be sad, 8pm we can be excited, it really depends on so many different factors that go into your daily life. If you had to ask me right at this very moment at 9:19PM on Tuesday I would say that I am feeling kinda yellow. Wavy from the mezcal.
You’ve worked with some incredible artists, from Jay-Z to Anderson .Paak and seemingly everyone in between! What sparked the decision to step back into making your own music?
Even though it’s really cool to say that I have worked with these people, I think ultimately the fact is that I get no creative input on other people’s records. Sure, I can play someone else’s arrangement. Sure, I can write strings to fit someone else’s song. It is an important role, but quite often the string portion comes after the song is mostly done, so I am really just trying to mold into what already is. I enjoy starting an idea from inception and being in creative control of where it goes.
How did the idea of your LP come into fruition? Did you always plan to release several EPs to form your LP?
This particular rollout was crafted as a response to the industry A&R’s and managers who thought my product could not be packaged in a cohesive way. Many of them told me to pick one genre and stick to it. This is my rebellion against having to be genre specific in any way. This is the representation of my creative freedom. I am an artist and I should not have to hinder my creativity for branding and packaging purposes. My job is to just make what I make.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned working as a collaborative artist that you’ll take forward into your solo career?
Always always treat everyone that is part of the operation with the utmost respect and appreciation. I’ve gone into so many gigs where the artist didn’t even acknowledge me and it put a bad taste in my mouth even though I may have enjoyed their music. Conversely, I have also experienced some of the biggest artists in the world making sure I was taken care of, and it felt good to know that my role, although minute in the grand scheme of things, was appreciated.
If you could retrospectively give yourself one piece of advice when starting your career, what would you say?
It’s not going to happen right away. So stop waiting for the overnight moment. You’re going to have to work your fucking ass off, and it will still feel out of reach. Stop looking for a handout or being upset at others that were born with a silver spoon or had a tinge of luck. Look forward, not around.
‘Worth It’ is your latest track from your forthcoming debut album. Taken from the EP BLUE, it’s fittingly melancholy, gorgeously stripped back and a delightful contrast from RED. Has switching between tones and moods proven challenging for you or is it something that’s come naturally?
Honestly it comes super naturally. Switching from genre to genre has been super easy for me. When I sit down to write, I’m never really sure of what’s going to be the end result. Every time I sit it’s almost always something different from the last. And I am cool with that, because I am staying true to myself and my process.
If you could’ve written one track by another artist, what would it be and why?
‘Doomed’ by Moses Sumney. It’s so minimal, but so transcendent. Moses was actually an acquaintance friend back in college. I sang backup for him for a show once. His artistry is inspiring, especially because I knew him before all the glam. It makes me hopeful for my future and my creative evolution and I am excited for what’s to come and what I will be capable of in a few years.
YAS’ BLUE EP is out April 15.