In Conversation: Noya Rao

It’s fair to say March didn’t quite go as Noya Rao expected. Just weeks before the Leeds based electronic-jazz outfit were set to travel to the US to play SXSW, the UK found itself cast into full pandemic crisis mode. Despite also being split between Leeds and London during lockdown, the band have still had a successful 2020, the pinnacle of which has undoubtedly been their newly released EP ‘Stay’. The band’s rare ability to perfectly balance the electronic and organic continues through their latest body of work, with dreamy vocals coming courtesy of the immensely talented Olivia Bhattacharjee. We caught up with her in the wake of the EP’s release to talk more about its track list, how the band tackled production during lockdown and their plans for 2021.

The Music

Your EP ‘Stay’ came out just over a month ago now – tell us a bit about it!

The EP represents a new era for our band. We had a turbulent year in 2019 with leaving Gondwana Records and our bassist Jim leaving the band. The band had to grow and change and the new EP represents a fresh start. It’s still the Noya sound – I don’t think we could ever venture away from that as it’s so intrinsic to the members and Tom’s production skills – but the sound has grown and evolved. 

We selected the songs on this EP for their energy and hope they exude a tone of the season. It’s music that you want to listen to as the sun sets on a warm summer’s evening. It’s music that makes you feel something.

The tracks have each got their own story too. It’s usually an insight into my world and mind, but the lyrics are usually one of the later things to be written and so the words take great inspiration from the tonality and character of each piece. It’s a very responsive way of writing lyrics.

“It’s music that you want to listen to as the sun sets on a warm summer’s evening. It’s music that makes you feel something.”

Lots of musicians have said that lockdown provided them with the chance to develop tracks they simply wouldn’t have had the time to create otherwise. Were you working on ‘Stay’ pre-lockdown or did it come about as a result of it?

We were working on ‘Stay’ pre-lockdown. We were meant to be playing at SXSW in Texas in March so were racing against time to get the EP out in the Spring, but as soon as lockdown hit we decided to slow down and take our time a bit more. With most the recording done, I had time to work on the artwork and Tom had time to dig into the productions. I’d say the EP was better off having had lockdown, but it wasn’t a creation born from lockdown.

As a band your production method has traditionally focused on recording live takes rather than using a more patchwork approach. Did you have to adapt this method at all whilst split across separate cities during lockdown?

I’d say we use a real mix, especially as we’re all between cities. Take Heaven Bound, that was a heavily produced track whereas with ‘Stay’ and ‘People’ we took more of a live approach. It’s important to us to make songs that can be feasibly played live using analogue gear (i.e. without laptops triggering backing tracks) and so approaching things from a live angle makes that process a lot easier. 

The Age of the Algorithm

Spotify announced this week that they’re testing a new feature which allows artists to boost their tracks within the app’s algorithm in exchange for a lower rate of pay per track stream, do you have any thoughts on it?

Wow, I hadn’t heard. I’m really torn on my opinion of Spotify and its role in the industry.

I am often enraged that the artists creating the content for the music industry get such a shit deal, but at the same time, as artists, we are extremely dependent on these platforms to reach audiences far and wide. These platforms have allowed artists to be much more independent. You can release music without labels, but that comes with issues itself because the market is saturated. I’m appalled that they would offer to pay less than they already do (it’s a minute sum that artists receive per listen) but actually I think it might be more economically viable to take less money and reap certain benefits from the algorithms.

“It’s become even more important to play live now that people stream instead of buy, and that’s what makes this pandemic so tragic for the music industry.”

Algorithms used by streaming platforms have been likened a fair few times to VAR in football, designed to make the experience more accurate and enjoyable whilst in reality detracting from it. Do you see this everything-at-our-fingertips era of streaming as a positive, or are algorithms actually stifling how we discover new music?

That’s an interesting question. Take our most listened to song, ‘Talk’. It has nearly 1 million listens but that’s because we got on to a couple of popular playlists and maybe into a few algorithms… it doesn’t necessarily reflect people’s interaction with our band or our page. Spotify is clever as it makes listeners lazy, it does all the searching for you. You can literally trigger an algorithm and Spotify will supply you with endless tunes that suit your taste, but unless you actually click on those artists and look them up and perhaps follow them, there’s not much gain for the artist. People may have listened to a few of your tunes but still have no idea who you are. 

People consume music so differently now but I think the only thing that is certain to never fade away is live music… well until the virus took over that is. It’s become even more important to play live now that people stream instead of buy, and that’s what makes this pandemic so tragic for the music industry.


 Whilst we’re on the topic, what was the first CD or Record that you can remember owning?

Well I’m a bit younger than the others in the band but I’m pretty sure my first audiotape that I personally chose was Puff The Magic Dragon and the first CD I bought, well was Britney Spears of course, Oops…I Did It Again.

Your EP ‘Owls’ which came out in 2019 was influenced by a trip you took to Tokyo. What other city or country is top of the bucket list when it becomes safe to travel again?

As a band, I think we’d love to play the US. So much amazing music comes out of the states and it’d be an incredible adventure to tour there: LA, New York, Austin.

You now live between London and Leeds – are there any big differences between the Jazz scenes in the two cities?

I’d say scale and styles mainly. Leeds is special, it’s got a real sense of community to its jazz scene but it’s just a little small and is supported more by the student base there. We’re not really a part of it any more – getting too old! I think London will always be a step up because of the sheer number of musicians that flock there. I wish there was more of a balance in the music scene, that it was less London centric, but it is what it is. London has more venues, more music schools, more people. It’s inevitable.

Looking Forward

As we edge closer to December, what do you think your most listened to track of the year is going to be?

Last Sniff by Wilmer Archer ft .MFDOOM. I love this project. The mix of beat making with live orchestral arrangements, it’s fresh and captivating. I also love Doom.

What do you have planned for the rest of the year and for 2021? 

We’re finishing off another EP that will hopefully be released early next year. We’ve a couple of exciting things planned with Jazz re:freshed for SXSW 2021 but I’m not sure how much I can say on that. We really hope we can tour but we’ll just have to see what happens with the Corona situation. It’s exciting to focus on creating records for now!