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Q&A | ILYA

September 11, 2019

Read the full interview on FlauntMag.com!

Iyla is in her own lane. The R&B songstress was born and raised in Los Angeles, which encompasses a great deal of who she is as an individual and artist. Growing up in the valley and surrounded by the industry, she always knew she’d be a part of it.

While she has a hard time describing her sound herself, songs like “Juice” and “Shampoo” yield her smooth, sultry vocals over some of the hardest trap beats. Iyla began singing at the young age of two years old, singing around the house. She states, “I was loud. I knew always from as far back as I can remember, but I’m such an introvert that I was like ‘how will I get there? How will I be comfortable enough to be in it?’”

Now at 26 years old, she stands confident, mature, and as determined as she’s ever been. While she’s never doubted her dreams of pursuing music, it took all these years to not only find herself, but her place in the industry. Finding security in her label at EMPIRE, Iyla recently unleashed her critically-acclaimed EP titled WAR + RAINDROPS in October of last year.

Flaunt Mag caught up with Iyla on a bright day in Los Angeles at her go-to studio in Hollywood, touching on her days as part of a girl group, relationships, creative vision in her visuals, signing to EMPIRE, activism efforts, and more.

How would you describe your sound?

This question is so hard for me always. [chuckles] Because when you submit something to Spotify or iTunes, you have to pick one genre — and that’s so hard. At my core, it’s R&B. That’s what I love, but there’s pop in there. There’s a lot of jazz influence in everything that I do. My producer Kadis and I always want to have a sense of live instruments and classical elements to everything we do. With that, we pull a lot from jazz music. Then there’s soul in there too. It’s a lot of things.

At what point did you realize this music thing was forreal?

When I was 18 as soon as I graduated high school, I joined a girl group. That was the moment where I made that decision as a very young adult, this is it. It’s easy to say “when I did my partnership with my producer, when I did my partnership with EMPIRE,” those moments, but even back when I was 18. Because I made the choice as an adult: this is what I’m doing. That’s when it became real because I took it as seriously as I do today, at 26 years old.

Is that when you finished high school?

Yup, I was 18. Went right into a group.

You were in a group?!

Yeah, it was called Fine China. It was literally a week after high school graduation, I was either going to try to get into a music school, and my audition was the same day as my audition for this girl group. That’s why it felt like my first moment of “this is real,” because I chose getting right into the industry [snaps] as opposed to getting right into school then learning the industry. I jumped right into the girl group, was there for a year and a half. But I never stopped from that moment.

How many people were in there?

It was four girls when we started, then it was three girls, then it was two girls. Then it was done. [chuckles] I was one of the last two.

It just wasn’t working out?

You know, it was so fun, especially because it was the beginning of my career. Really the beginning of all our careers at the time, but we all knew we wanted to do our own thing. We were very different, very different people. It was nice to have the girls with me to go through my first interviews, my first traveling and performing, all of that, but we all knew. Over time, each person took their individual path. Until it was two left, then we’re like “okay, it’s our time.”

Is the other one doing a solo career too?

Yeah she’s actually doing more deejaying, which is cool. Her name’s Chloe, she’s so talented. She’s actually a fire singer but she’s deejaying, which is awesome.

Talk about being from Woodland Hills.

Technically, I was born in Van Nuys. As a baby, I was in North Hollywood. I spent a lot of my childhood in Woodland Hills, Sherman Oaks, North Hollywood again. I went to high school in Van Nuys, I’m just a valley girl all the way. [chuckles] I don’t even know if I can say one specific place. To me, the valley represents such a strong culture because it’s so diverse in every way. I grew up around every type of religion, background and food, that’s what the valley is to me. Los Angeles is that way. California is that way in general, which is why I love it. But the valley is just home.

And you’ve been in LA your whole life?

I have. I spent a couple years actually when I was a kid in Nebraska, because my dad’s from Nebraska. But I’ve never lived anywhere else like LA.

“Juice” is my shit. Can you bring us back to that studio session?

Omg, thank you. “Juice” is so special to me because it’s really the first thing that I put out. It’s really the first video I put out. It’s so special. I worked for years…

First visual at 4.6 million views on Youtube? Not too bad!

I know, it’s insane! The studio session with “Juice,” I was working with my producer Kadis. We work on everything together, we’ve worked for the last five years. It’s crazy because that was one of those sessions where the magic happened in a moment. I wrote that song with Brittany B. who’s so talented, she’s just a powerful, strong woman.

Brittany B. on Love & Hip Hop? How did you land with her?

Yeah. She was good friends with my producer Kadis and Yonni, they own Ultrium Studios which we worked out of at the time. I recorded that there, that day she just went in. We’d been working on ideas for the track, she’s like “I have something.” She just went in and laid down an idea for “Juice.” So much of what she laid down is what you love about “Juice.” She just has the juice, she’s dope like that. Then I went in and added my thing to it, Kadis added more of his thing to it on top of that production. That was a moment., we just knew. It was one of those things where you’re like “oh, this is the juice.”

What’s your creative process behind your visuals?

I worked on “Juice” with an amazing guy, he goes by Embryo professionally. Because it was my first introduction into the industry as a solo artist, I really wanted to tell my story but as if you’re seeing me for the first time. Which I can’t just sit there and give you my story. I wanted it to be a video that really captures you visually obviously. It’s so colorful, I wanted it to be very captivating and very much tell the story of unexpected love.

That’s what the song’s about. We all have this 2019 situationship. We don’t want to be in relationships but we do, but we don’t. We don’t want that. As soon as you’re single is when it comes to you. As soon as you don’t want it anymore is when it hits you. The video I wanted to hit you in unexpected ways too. What’s going on? Why’s this guy taking his shirt off? Why are the dudes this big role in it but you don’t see their faces? I wanted to make you ask questions.

The “Shampoo” visual is also fire. Best memory from shooting that one?

The “Shampoo” shoot was completely opposite of “Juice.” Because “Shampoo” focuses so much on mental health. Even shooting the visual was very… emotional. That video will always be special to me because of the story and of what it took to shoot it. It’s always fun with me team, I work with an incredible stylist Brookelyn, and she was there. We all can connect to feeling down at times. It’s important to me as an artist to talk about those things and that’s what “Shampoo” really represents.

The visual is to check in with yourself, check in with your friends. But it’s crazy because even us there the day of the shoot, we’re going through those ups and downs. We all have friends who go through stuff even if we’re not going through it ourself. It was a fun shoot, but it was definitely an emotional shoot. I probably cried three times shooting, just because it’s so vulnerable in those positions. I love that video.

A lot of your music touches on love. Do you have a man?

I do not. [laughs] It’s funny because it does, it talks a lot about love. I was coming out of a relationship when I started writing the EP. Now I’m in this phase, music is my relationship. I’m so focused, I couldn’t focus on someone. Maybe you can tell from my music but when I’m in a relationship, I’m all in. Like everything. So if I can’t give the time… you know? But I’m single, living my best life.

Does the person you wrote the records about know it’s about them? 

I think so. It’s funny because it’s not just about one person. Sometimes with my songs — even in my song “California” which is on the project, it’s about more than one person, but it sounds like I’m singing about one person. So they might go “oh that sounds like me but the rest doesn’t, so it must not be me.” [chuckles]

What can we expect on your forthcoming EP? Is there a title yet?

There’s no title. I have to have it totally done, mixed, mastered, a whole thing where I listen down to name it. The name means a lot, especially in the beginning of your career you’re telling your story. I haven’t named it yet but you can expect Iyla. You can expect some similar qualities of WAR + RAINDROPS. I always want to evolve but still stay true to who I am. There’s gonna be that R&B, that jazz, that soul, that little touch of pop, maybe even some dance in there. It’s gonna be me evolved.

Why an EP and not a debut album?

A lot of people do the singles game right? I didn’t do that as much. I want to give you something to digest, but I want you to also learn me as I’m learning me. I want to do more small pieces but I’m sure the next thing I do after this EP will look more like an album.

What is it you want fans to get from your story?

I want people to see me. Like all of us, we’ve been through our own ups and downs. Especially as a woman, we’re going through a lot now and we’ve been going through a lot in the world. Not just us women, as people. My biggest thing is this journey is about loving myself in and out of music.

Social media’s so big now, I hope people can see that artists are human beings. We might put out music, but we get our energy back from you. We get our energy back from the listener or the viewer right? I want you to listen to my stuff, watch my videos and feel better about you and your process. Know that nobody’s perfect, we’re all trying our best in whatever we do. That might sound cheesy but I want you to be inspired to be yourself. I’m different, I don’t feel like I’ve ever fit into any specific mold. Then when you’re in the industry, it’s on another level. Just love you because you’re different, and we’re all different. Even when you think someone is so whatever, they’re going through something.

Talk about your journey with EMPIRE. What made you decide to rock with them?

EMPIRE has been such a blessing. I had a small core team before EMPIRE. I had people in my life like Kadis, Gaylyn, Lucas, Amberr, this very small, powerful, little team. EMPIRE really took it to that next level. I prayed for EMPIRE before I even knew what it would turn into. [chuckles] EMPIRE gives you so much freedom to be who you are as an artist, as a person. We sit in meetings and it was always important for me to be a business owner in myself — they more than allow that. It’s like a family. I felt that from the moment I met Tina and Ghazi, I’m like “oh this is an extension of this little mini-family.”

Talk about your activism efforts. Why is it important for you to give back?

Oh my gosh, it’s everything to me. Me being an activist and me being an artist go hand in hand. I wouldn’t do music if it wasn’t for my activism. I grew up in a really strong family of activists, on both sides. I don’t even know any different than fighting for what I believe in. That to me is human rights, everything from race relations to women’s rights to LGBTQ+ community to immigration laws. Anything that has to do with protecting a human being’s rights to live their life to the fullest, I will fight for.

Literally on the street, I will fight. I will have signs. [chuckles] I’ll do whatever I have to do and music gives me an opportunity to do that on a bigger level, which is why I do it. It’s important to me to inspire people to get in their communities. Even when I go on tour (hopefully soon), I want to be in those communities during the day. I do it here in LA, I want to do that wherever I go because we are a big human family. It doesn’t always feel that way.

What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?

Ooh, well an album is definitely a goal. As a human being and artist, I want to always grow. For example I’m getting ready to do my first merch, but I see myself doing a clothing line someday. I see myself always expanding in every way. Something like winning a Grammy would be crazy. Being honored by your peers is one of the highest honors you can have. Even with my activism, being able to start foundations and travel abroad, just really help human beings through music and not through music.

What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.

I came off my first radio tour about a month and a half ago. That was doing five interviews a day, barely sleeping, barely eating, living my best life. [chuckles] Pinching myself every day like is this my real life? People want to interview me? While also being such an introvert and adjusting.

Now, I wake up. Sometimes I’m here at the studio or home in the valley, and I’m right into the music. Every day. Me and Kadis are working 12 hours a day maybe. For this project, we’re having writers come in. We’re having a couple producers work with Kadis on their ideas. I feel more pressure this time around because now there’s ears listening and waiting. I’m always doodling. I have a little notebook, I’m writing poems. I’m really in creative mode. I’m talking about shooting videos, all different types of stuff. This phase of my year is creative Iyla mode.

3 things you need in the studio?

One thing is hot water and honey. I know most people have tea, you know I’m a valley girl. I need a notebook. Because even if I’m not writing, I’m doing weird things in it. Somehow that gets out my creativity. Oh man, can I have 4 things? A candle. I need things to smell good, that’s part of my life. Then I need my phone. I have to be coming up with ideas and writing in my Notes, sharing it with whoever else is in the session.

Who’s the most played artist on your phone?

That changes. I’ve been listening to a lot of Kehlani’s Sweet, Sexy, Savage album. That’s always one of my go-to’s, been majorly listening to that. I’ve also been listening to Doja Cat. I’m getting into the Doja world. I love it, I’m a new Doja fan.

What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?

It was actually three fans, they came together to my show at SOB’s in New York. They were the sweetest. They had tears in their eyes. It was a Monday night show, they’re like “we came out here just to see you.” I was standing about to go on so it was even more special because they gave me that energy right before I went on stage. I was standing to the side, they came up like “we’ve been here since the beginning.”

For me, that’s so surreal because my beginning was like October. Not that long ago. The fact that they were even there for me when there was no EMPIRE is crazy. To see them in person and have them in the front row singing every lyric to all the songs. The cover I did, they knew the lyrics. That’s my most special.

Is there anything else you want to let us know?

Just dropped a new video to my song “Flowers” that’s on WAR + RAINDROPS. I’m really excited to have that round out this EP for me!

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