NEILÀ TALKS MUSIC, EMBRACING WEIRDNESS, AND THE POWER OF BEING YOUR OWN SELF
WORDS CHARLIE NEWMAN - PHOTOGRAPHY VALHERIA ROCHA - FASHION JORDAN A THOMAS MUA MCKENZIE MANN
Whilst most Generation Z women are finding their feet, 23-year old R'n'B artist Neilà from South Florida has hers firmly on the ground. Neilà’s new EP Sage explores and charts the journey of her coming of age story. It’s easy to forget how young she really is as her smooth voice boldly skips across the beat, lamenting on love and heartbreak.
With a Jamaican Father and Barbadian Mother, it’s clearly evident within her music that her influences have traveled far and wide. Teased by her elder brother for looking like an alien, she decided to turn the negative into a positive. At the tender age of 13, she changed her name to Neilà (alien spelled backward), championing difference and encouraging self-belief-something most young girls dream of but grapple with.
F Word caught up with Neilà during her busy summer schedule to hear about her latest project and attitude to her newfound fame that also inevitably comes hand in hand with social responsibility.
Charlie Newman: Hey Neilà, firstly can you talk to us a bit about your exciting new EP Sage? Neilà: Hey! Yes! Sage is the second real project I’ve released. I started working on it last summer, back in August and released it in February early this year. I really like who I’ve become with this project. Through working on Sage I grew as a woman and an artist. I think people got to really dig into my life and get to know Neilà a little bit more with this EP.
Charlie Newman: It's very obvious that your lyrics are extremely personal. Making the record must have been a deeply cathartic journey for you. Neilà: Yes. The project is super dear to me. I started working on Sage right after I left an abusive relationship. It wasn’t a good situation for me and I felt like I needed to cleanse my mind, body, and soul of all that bullshit. And that’s where the name for the project came from, Sage. All of the songs on the project are personal. Everything correlates with real life and real things that happened.
Charlie Newman: Whose lyrics or poetry inspired you the most when you were growing up? Neilà: Growing up I listened to a lot of R'n'B of course, but also a lot of alternative rock/classic rock. Like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. My parents are Caribbean, my dad is from Jamaica and my mom is from Barbados, so I also had a lot of Caribbean influence.
Charlie Newman: You grew up in sunny South Florida. How did your upbringing affect your musical taste and how did you start singing in the first place? Neilà: I’ve always wanted to be an artist. From the time I was able to talk, my parents said I was always singing. I’ve never wanted to be anything else ever. My parents have been super supportive since the beginning, so from there we started making our way into music. Vocal lessons, dance lessons, piano lessons etc. I f*cking love my family, I wouldn’t be here without them.
Charlie Newman: Your music crosses a lot of genres, including Rock, Soul, Pop and Hip Hop. If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you choose and why? Neilà: Omg! This question! Ugh! If I had to only choose one person it would be so hard to pick but I absolutely want to work with Kendrick Lamar. I would love to work with the entire TDE roster, to be frank. They have a collection of some amazing and super talented artist. I would also love to work with Kanye West. As an artist and a producer, he’s an amazing talent. Frank Ocean and James Fauntleroy, the list can go on and on.
Charlie Newman: I've read that you have an all-female team. Was this a conscious decision? If so why, and if not, what do you find the benefits are of surrounding yourself with women whilst on tour and during the creative process? Neilà: I’ve always said I wanted an all-female team. And it kind of just happened that way. So I guess it was an unconscious one. I’ve worked with male creatives, but my core team is all p*ssy-power and pink-matter [Laughs]. Women are so powerful and hard working. I have some of the most intellectual women around me and on my team. For a long time, the industry has been controlled by males but women are really making noise in the entertainment world. It’s beautiful, and I am a Stan for everything female. Having some strong, smart, creative, talented women around you is beneficial just in life, to be honest. Get you some.
Charlie Newman: Do you and your team have any rituals or routines you perform before you go on stage? Neilà: Yes! Before I have a performance I take a super-hot shower, for the steam. I gargle with warm salt water. I drink peppermint ginger tea. I also eat 2 hours before, something light. And I pray.
Charlie Newman: Where did your stage name 'Alien Princess' come from? Neilà: My stage name is Neilà. Neilà is Alien spelled backward, so that’s where it came from. We are all aliens depending on how you define the word. We all have felt like an alien before. We all have felt out of place, like the sore thumb, left out, not included, in some shape or form. Like a f*ckin' weirdo. I felt “weird” for most of my life but then again “weird” is a social word. Weird is up to perception. I feel the most normal I’ve ever felt right now. With my green hair and loud ass clothing and my nipples out not giving af. But then again normal is also a social word and is also up to perception. Normal for me may not be normal for you. But that’s okay, right? I definitely feel free now. Well, freer. This is still America.
Charlie Newman: You have such a stunningly striking look. How much importance do you place on your image? How much do you feel this equates with your success? Neilà: Thank you! For me, the way I look expresses who I am. I love bright crazy colors and patterns. That’s when I feel most comfortable when I’m dressed up. In the time of social media, I think your image gives people an inside on who I am before hearing my music or hearing me talk.
Charlie Newman: Artists seem to no longer be able to just rely on their talent. They now have to use their voice further afield. You chose the stop smoking campaign Fresh Empire. How did this collaboration come about, and what was it that made you choose them? Neilà: I’m good friends with these really dope guys that own a production company called ‘Motion Family’. They gave me a heads up on the audition in L.A so I went! And they loved me and I got a callback. Flew back out to L.A and shot with them for about a week. I don’t smoke, at all, hookah or nothing, so the campaign was a no-brainer for me.
Charlie Newman: You scored two Nike ads in 2017, one of the most recognized brands in the world. How closely do you wish to align with the fashion industry? Neilà: Being a part of Nike was amazingly unexpected. I love Nike they are awesome. I am super into fashion, in the future, you can absolutely expect to see me fully biting into the fashion and beauty industry; makeup, hair, skincare, shoes, clothing, perfumes everything, wait on it.
Charlie Newman: Do you have any hopes to set up your own fashion brand in the future? Neilà: Yes! Most definitely. It will be as space spicy and unique as myself; sexy Zenon chic.
Charlie Newman: It appears that you are attracted to loud prints and vivid colors on stage. If you could wear any designer on stage who would you pick and why? Neilà: I would without a doubt wear Jeremy Scott. For sure. Love him.
Charlie Newman: It's clear that a lot of young girls are part of your fan base and massively look up to you. How do you deal with this responsibility and what message are you trying to put out there? Neilà: Honestly, I want young girls to live within their true self, whoever that is at that moment in her life. Being okay with who you are is so hard now because of media. As young girls and women we are always questioning ourselves, “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough?” Being happy with being you, is a beautiful thing, and that’s something I try to show through my fashion and my confidence.
Charlie Newman: Do you have any advice to aspiring young artists today? Neilà: Don’t think you can go all the way by yourself. It takes a whole f*cking village, more like a country. Put together a solid core team. People who really believe in you. This journey is filled with too many ups and downs to comprehend. You’re going to need those solid people on your side. That’s the best advice I can give any artist starting out.
Charlie Newman: And lastly, what is your favorite F-word? Neilà: My favorite F word is Family. Without my family, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. I wouldn’t be anywhere, doing anything with music. They are my backbone and biggest supporters. I owe them the universe, and they will get it.
Words: Charlie Newman
Photography: Valheria Rocha
Fashion: Jordan A Thomas
Make-up: Mckenzie Mann