Major thanks to Nao Yoshioka, the extremely talented Japanese RnB/Soul singer-songwriter, who connected with us for an exclusive interview to discuss her new album “Undeniable”. During our interview, conducted by Naima Karp, we got a chance to ask Nao about how soul music has helped her get through the low points in her life, which soul artists have influenced her music, and much more.
After reading our Q&A, be sure to connect with Nao on her website and soclal media, and stream and share her incredible new album “Undeniable”!
What struggles did you experience that music helped you get through? Would you say that soul as a genre ultimately healed your own soul?
Soul music definitely healed my soul. I sing soul music because soul music literally saved my life.
I was suffering from depression in my teens, my parents went through a divorce, I couldn’t fit in at school. I stopped singing for about 2 years and just pretty much lost my way. It was the darkest time of my life, but music was my only hope in life. That's the main reason why I initially decided to move to New York the first time, hoping to change my life.
When I arrived in New York, I encountered a lot of amazing music such as Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come". When I heard that song for the first time, I thought the song was talking about my life. I could deeply feel that a change was going to come. I needed that message. Every time I sing this song, it encourages me and helps to keep that dark place at some distance. It made me feel that I shouldn’t give up, have to continue to achieve my dream.
Now I do realize how powerful music can be. I truly believe that music can change people's lives and help save them from their struggles.
What does MilkBoy the Studio represent to you in terms of how far you’ve come as an artist?
A lot of music that I was listening to when I was younger was recorded in the The Studio. Without that music, I could not imagine how my own music would develop and grow. It was and still is a big part of me!
Questlove’s studio was right next door to The Studio, and all the amazing artists like Musiq Soulchild, Eric Roberson, and Erykah Badu were there, and they inspired each other and made a new music. It became a huge movement, and The Studio played a very important role in that movement. Just thinking about it makes me so excited. For me to record in the exact same place where the Neo-soul movement started was something magical.
Who are some old school soul artists that really inspire you, along with some contemporary ones? Do you dream of featuring on any of their tracks?
I was influenced by a lot of classic soul music, so there are a lot of old school artists that influenced me. But the biggest influence was Aretha Franklin! She was my idol!!! I spent so many hours practicing to sing just like her...
Contemporary artist would be the Maxwell. He is an amazing writer, artist, and performer, but what makes me love him is his spirit. When I went to his live performance, he showed an unconditional love for everything. He showed so much respect and love to his band and to his fans.
It's my dream to sing with Maxwell someday, but if it happens, I think that I would cry through the entire song! I wouldn't be able to sing because of the crying, I'm sure.
I saw that you do some covers of other artists work. But instead of re-performing it, you really re-create the track and make it your own. Personally, my favorite cover of yours is Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” What’s your favorite cover that you’ve ever performed or recorded?
Thank you so much, my favorite cover is the same! “Feeling Good” is definitely my favorite. Definitely.
I have a really deep connection to this song, which I encountered for the first time while I was studying New York back in 2009. At the time, I couldn’t speak English, I didn’t have any friends, and I was so lonely. I remember that I was singing the song in my room and the song gave me so much hope. I could really connect with the lyrics and it became a very special song for me.
That's why I really wanted to put “Feeling Good” on my debut album. Shirma Rouse from The Netherlands, who produced some of the songs on my debut album, did this amazing arrangement! I'm in love with those vibes!
“Undeniable”, your new album that has just released, seems to channel a lot of strength and the soft power of female energy. The message of a fearless woman in 2020 is a badass one that DCWS fully endorses. How does music help keep you strong, unafraid, and ambitious during such a bizarre time in the world right now?
When I listen to music or take in some art, it really takes me to a safe place and makes me realize how precious and blessed I am to live my life. For a long time, I was forcing bad things on to myself and I kept blaming myself. Depression set in and I just couldn’t get away from it, but when I listened to some really good music, I stopped thinking and just felt it. There were so much love, freedom, and forgiveness in the music. Music gave me a chance to reclaim myself again.
Yes, the world is a bit crazy right now and reality is very tough sometimes, but I can’t live without hope. I believe that God won’t make any mistakes.
For all the bad things that happened in my life, I still believe that those things happened for a reason, and I have a brighter future because I overcame them and grew from those experiences.
You’re not the typical face of soul, and Japan doesn’t have a history of soul music. A lot of people who listen to your music don’t know what you look like. Do people ever make assumptions about you as an artist, or has the industry mostly welcomed you with open arms?
It happens a lot. When I get on stage, people look at me like “what is going on?” But at the same time, once they hear me sing and my music, people always give me positive reactions. It is a great feeling that people are purely reacting to my singing and my music.
I come from Japan and we have a different culture, but we are all human and we can all be one through music. That’s the power of music.