18-01-2022 Interview, Music

Yardbird Talks continues! In collaboration with Jägermeister and their #SAVETHENIGHT  project – supporting nightlife in various ways during these challenging times – we shine a light on talented creatives and artists the world needs to know, with stories we hope will inspire you.  This time we talked to the poetic and dreamy youandi about her music-making process, finding strength during hardship, and how she hopes to impact those around her. Photos by Floor Besuijen. Interview by Natascha Sommerhalter.

Hi youandi! Who are you and what do you do?

Hi, I go by the name youandi. That is the name that I was given at birth. Also pronounced as you and I. I was born in Amsterdam in 1994 with mixed roots from Germany, the Netherlands and Suriname. I like to express myself as a multifaceted creative, with a dominating love for singing, writing and making visual artworks such as collages.

Can you tell us about how your interest in music started?

I think it started in lives before this present one. It’s more than an attraction, it is something I have felt has always been part of me. Music is something that I sometimes fed and sometimes starved, but it was there from the start and it grew with me as I grew up. I expect that it was and always will be there.

How would you describe the kind of music that you make?

I would describe it as emotive, multi-layered sound poetry.

Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration musically?

I think sounds rather than artists in particular have inspired me. So, in my early years I listened to Mariah Carey a lot. She made me challenge myself in reaching high notes, my dynamics, and the wider tones. To this day I’m still sometimes challenging myself with her songs. Also my dad listened to a lot of funk, classic rock, biggie poku, which is a Surinamese music genre that really sparks my spirit. Whereas my mom listened to Fleetwood Mac and more of the eighties and nineties pop music bands and artists. I had such a wide range of musical influences available, so the mixture of these sounds and voices led me to grow into an artist that loves spending her time experimenting. But I must say that later on my producers have also inspired and shaped me. To name a few: Slisco Bars, I made my first songs with him, the boys from former Radio Stanley, Chale and Sor. To consciously get inspired happens through sounds that are being built in the moment. So when I’m at the studio in a session and someone just throws a whole vibe into a melody, it feels like that speaks to me. Inspiration to me is when something speaks to you and you answer it back. I get inspired by just hearing new sounds and feeling the possibility to answer back right in real-time. My memory is very distorted [Laughs], so I have to be able to answer back otherwise I just forget about it which is also fine because sometimes it surprises me later but that’s a different story.

What part in the song creation process do you enjoy the most?

That would be the Genesis,  the starting point, the first holy moment of the beginning of something. That’s my favorite spot to be in because the energy is high, everything is new, and there’s some kind of exploration vibe going on. When the first sounds are made it always feels like lyrics are pouring in effortlessly. I don’t have to think. I don’t have to move inside of my mental. I can just let it pour out and write it out. The beginning is just like when you’ve met someone new and you’re just in awe of that person, but you don’t know shit about that person and you definitely feel a sense of curiosity that leads you to so many surprises. So yes you can wake me up for that [Laughs]!

If I'm understanding you correctly, you write your lyrics in one session?

Yes I write most of the lyrics in one session, but so much of it also depends on am I tired coming into the studio? But I must say that if it’s pouring, I don’t feel for a couple of minutes. I’m not human [Laughs], I don’t feel tired. I don’t feel any of it, it’s just focus, pure focus. I cannot judge the process, if I get too excited or if I begin doubting, then the inspiration fades away. So it depends on how long I can keep my focus and be centered, and then I can write a whole song in maybe a couple of minutes. It’s just the production process and the singing that takes longer because I’m a pure perfectionist. But for me it has helped to be that perfectionist in my music, because it made me grow. It made me challenge myself every time, and made me learn so much about myself. So I’m okay with that. The thing that I’m not always okay with is that it sometimes takes a little longer to execute and put into the world.

What do you find yourself writing the most about?

I think I more often describe what’s going on in the thought house because a lot can happen in there. I do think it’s mostly about my life as an experience. Inside that mental. But I am never writing from a conscious point of view about my thoughts. It’s always unconscious. So for me, sometimes it’s hard to understand my lyrics right in the moment. I can write it down, but be amazed by it because there are so many messages that I need to decode myself consciously. But yea there is a lot to learn there, and that’s also, I think the reason why my conscious self, my mental conscious being, cannot disturb the unconscious, because if it’s trying to make sense of it during the process, it’s disrupting the process. It’s funny, when the unconscious messages are coming out I will find myself writing words that I have never used before, and it’s in English and that’s not my native language. Those are the moments when I can slightly go off focus because I’m so amazed, like what is happening right here? Who is taking over me?

What do you hope your music can do for your listeners?

My biggest hope and wish is to inspire my listeners to connect to their feelings and to their hearts, because that is the base from which you can do anything.

Which of your released songs are you most proud of?

Most definitely “in the midst”, because, from day one, I had such a special bond with the messaging. Going back to what I just said earlier, I’m not always capable of understanding what it’s about in the moment, but in this message, it was very clear. It was about getting out of your mind and getting into your center. I just found it so beautiful. It was so clear, so helpful and also confronting. I really love that song. It was made in an hour, like the biggest part of its body, including the lyrics. However, it took us four years to finish the song. I took it from studio to studio to studio because I believed in this song so much that I couldn’t just cut loose. I had first started working with Sor, he is also a recording artist himself. He produced the song and I finished it later with Soul Searchin. They did the executive production and made it even more special and complete. It was very important for me to share this eventually.

As an artist, social media can be very important, but how do you keep a healthy balance between tuning in and tuning out?

Well, sometimes I struggle with it. I guess for me it has to do with setting intentions. If I set my intentions for the day and count in a limited time for being on my phone that day it’ll be healthy. But if I don’t, I can easily get swept away and that can lead to overstimulation. I think I live best by setting intentions every night before I go to bed.

When you are not making music, what do you like to do for fun?

There are so many fun things to do. From an early age, I would already search for ways to experience joy. I think that’s also the reason why I became creative quite young because it’s a way to enjoy yourself. I find enjoyment in making art. Also exercising, which sometimes is hard to just start, but when I’m in it, I’m in it. It’s therapeutic because when I go running, for example, I visualize things I love and care to attract or succeed in. Later when I get home and I’m done running, I feel that same energy keeps flowing in my life and influencing other parts of my life. So I really love exercising. Lastly, creating a relaxing atmosphere or environment to just unwind. I’m an advocate of unwinding and resting in that center.

What is your definition of success?

So when my very first single “Wy” came out I had my earliest experience with working in a bigger studio, fully equipped with all sorts of people from the industry involved. I thought this song would really hit a million listeners and it would change my life, that I would become this very successful artist and be seen. I think that came from a sort of survival mode mindset. Growing up was difficult for me, I never had a fixed home or place to stay, so I just had these romanticized forms of living in my mind, of being successful. But growing into where I’m at right now, I feel like success is so much more, it’s experiencing peace of mind, feeling loved, and free in doing the things that you want to do. There will be barriers that you have to tackle, but that’s why having a support system is important, one that allows you to move unapologetically as yourself. Success also means if I can inspire my sisters, people around me, and still feel free, still feel happy, and at peace. I think that’s the highest form of success. And also, because I’ve been through a lot of shit, I think inspiring people to stay a student of life, curious and driven and not get too swept away by life’s tests. It’s easy to say, but some things you have to feel and to be a student of life is to integrate that feeling. If I can inspire people with that, to heal their wounds and stay focused, I would definitely feel like being a very successful artist.

What is the best advice someone in the industry has given to you?

What a lovely question. I experienced the honor to spend some time with Erykah Badu. A friend of mine knew a band member, so we went to her show and she invited us to a party the day after. And there, I had my moment where I could talk with her. I remember telling her about my feeling of not always being understood in the industry and how to cope with that, because I sometimes had a feeling that people were not interested in the vision that I brought or wanted to change the direction, telling me to kill my darlings. Well, she gave me the advice to always follow my vision and to not compromise on that. Not to be afraid to move with that vision. You can learn from people, but you don’t have to fully adopt everything they’re saying. I just needed to find, or attract people that do believe in my vision and that’s the most important thing. I needed that advice and it still walks with me.

What are you struggling with the most at the moment?

Consistency. It feels like a linear part of existence sometimes, and there’s a lot to develop over there for me because I’m totally not linear in my thinking. I go from A to Z to B to K. I have deep respect for people that think linear and I think we need those people around. I do think it’s sort of my superpower that I’m not like that all the time, but because I’m still learning how to embrace it, it can also be my downfall. Sometimes I overcomplicate where there is no such need for it. But I also learned to forgive myself for that as well. I think that’s a very important thing. This world pushes the linear state of mind on us. So I’m here now growing in accepting my nonlinear self.

Has there been a defining moment that has impacted you as a musician?

Many, but in February of 2021 I was diagnosed with MS. It had me thinking for a split second that I couldn’t do it. That I wasn’t capable of executing my vision in music because my body would at times make it hard for me to do so. But looking back, those thoughts were created in a state of shock. Now I realize that I’m just born for this. It’s who I am and I’m in no hurry. We were working on “Why” during that time, and we just kept pushing and pushing. It definitely shaped me.

What is a place that has shaped you?

Amsterdam, my city. It’s so vibrant and cooking and I love that energy that it’s always awake. And I do like to sleep, so sometimes it’s in conflict [Laughs], but there’s always someone to work with or learn from. It’s always there for you in some type of way, I love that about Amsterdam.

What are you working on at the moment and what can we expect from you this year?

This year I would like to dedicate myself to some projects that gripped my heart and wishfully yours too, they will be presented later this year. I’m just smiling thinking about it, and I can promise it’ll be audiovisual, distorted, beautiful, collage art, painting, and a lot of my favorite and least favorite expression: honesty.