Nakaya has a knack for morphing songs which begin in a subtle hush into catchy, empowering anthems. Raised in Los Angeles, she is currently pursuing a degree in Recorded Music at New York University, and making her own music at the same time. In April she released Out of Breath, her first EP. The album includes the Jack Hallenbeck-produced track “Dear Skin,” and you can get the first peek at the video, directed by Sara Cath and Serina Paris, right here:
I talked to Nakaya about flaws, self-acceptance, quitting dance, and the concept behind the “Dear Skin” music video.
NILINA MASON-CAMPBELL: Can you tell me a little more about “Dear Skin”?
NAKAYA: I’d written a lot of stuff before I picked the songs that were going to be on the EP, and “Dear Skin” is the one closest to my heart. A lot of times I’m a person who has her guard up—it’s for my own safety and my own sanity. I feel more comfortable [when] I keep the private things to myself. I’m not one to put everything out there. But that song felt really important to me as an ode to my skin. In appreciation, or some sort of apology for abusing your body, not taking care of yourself, many, many things. It’s multi-layered.
The nice thing about this song, why I feel really proud of it in particular, is that people can relate to it [even] if the song doesn’t directly relate to them in the ways it does for me. There are a lot of situations that correlate with the theme of the song. Most people come up to me about “Dear Skin” because the lyrics are very transparent, and people can connect to that kind of honesty. That song was very hard for me to write. It feels scary, but I think it’s worth it.
How did you move through that fear to write and release the song?
Writing it was hard for me. Recording it was also hard, but I worked with a very close friend of mine so it was a safe environment where I didn’t feel uncomfortable. The hardest part was when I let other people hear it. Even letting my parents hear it, because sometimes I don’t want to talk with them about very personal issues. Not that they don’t want to hear it and wouldn’t support it, but it’s scary, especially with people who are so close to you. Letting people in my friend group, my classes, my professors hear it, that was the hardest part because I was letting them into a piece of me that I didn’t always like putting out there. After a while you kind of get over it. It happened and it brought up a lot of discussions with people and it turned out really great.
What discussions has it triggered?
A lot of people come up to me and say, “I feel that.” That’s what’s so powerful about music; I don’t think I wrote it for other people, I really did write it for my own sense of catharsis, but what I was feeling is really a human experience and so that’s why people hear it and go “I feel that” or “I really connect with this.” I think that is the most interesting thing ever. How cool is that?
Have you read Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild, which has since become a movie? I saw her speak and when questioned about how she’s able to be so truthful, she said “Be honest. People will love you for it.”
You just do it. What’s hard about being honest is that sometimes it’s hard to admit that you’re flawed. I think that for people, myself included, it’s hard to take the blame for things and go “I messed up.” So when you’re honest people go, “I feel that, too.”
Can you talk about your journey with your skin?
It has a lot to do with real, hardcore girl issues: self-acceptance and loving yourself in your own skin and being really comfortable with who you are. I don’t even think that I’m there yet and I don’t think most people get there for a long time, if they ever do. It’s a constant thing that women are struggling to deal with because there’s this constant pressure: Look a certain way, be a certain way, do a certain thing, appease certain people. It’s hard to go, This is who I am and this is it. The End.
How would you describe the video for “Dear Skin”?
We wanted to keep a similar aesthetic to the “Colored Lines” video. We wanted to play around with the theme of isolation in an actual solitary space as well as in a city environment. It’s in the vein of very ethereal, calming visuals that match the tone of the song, but with an underlying theme of solitude and dealing with being by yourself. Sometimes people just don’t want to have to face themselves and we wanted to visually represent that.
Speaking of solitude, what role does it play in your life?
I call myself an introverted extrovert. I’m pretty extroverted—I’m good at talking to people and I can do that, I feel comfortable doing that, and I like that. But I also need a lot of alone time. I’m a heavy thinker and sometimes too much time with people or in too crowded of a place doesn’t let me sift through my own thoughts. I do my best writing when I’ve had a lot of alone time. It can be in nature or even just in my room, where I’m reading a book or maybe even meditating. Those kind of things really inform my music and what I’m doing.
What kind of music were you exposed to as a child?
My parents listened to all kinds of music when I was growing up. It was a lot of hip-hop because my parents were really big into the ’90s hip-hop scene in New York City, so there was a lot of that going on in my household, as well as R&B, folk music, jazz. It was a big blend of things growing up. There was only music: My parents were avid, avid music listeners and so constantly, if we were doing anything—cleaning, cooking, just hanging out—it wasn’t so much TV, it was more just sitting around listening to music.
Which ’90s hip-hop artists did they listen to most often?
My parents are from New York, so obviously there was a lot of Biggie, Run–DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, those kinds of artists were big in the household, but also West Coast artists like Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Tupac, lots of Tupac.
Did your parents move to Los Angeles to raise you?
I was born in New York and then my parents moved out when I was really, really young. I think it was hard for them to see themselves raising a kid in the city, trying to deal with the weather, all sorts of things like that. We had some family living in LA at the time, who were like “You should just come out to LA, it’s gonna be a lot easier to take care of Nakaya.” So we ended up here.
I don’t even know how people do it on the [NYC] trains, strollers on the train. It’s hard. I think my parents [moved to LA because they] still wanted to be in a city. They didn’t feel comfortable living in a suburb because they mostly grew up in New York City—my mom is originally from the Philippines, but she came out here when she was in her teens, so basically most of her life was spent in New York. So they were like, “We don’t know if we want to do the suburban thing, but maybe something a little bit calmer than New York.”