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Njomza Makes Songs That Inspire Mac Miller and Probably You, Too

Justin Staple

After teaming up with everyone from Skrillex to FKi, the Chicago pop artist strikes out on her own with her debut project 'Sad for You.'

After a winding road of singles and features with some of the best heavy-hitters in the EDM and rap world, Chicago singer-songwriter Njomza is ready to emerge with her first official release, Sad for You. The EP finds the 22-year-old taking the lessons she's learned from her past collaborators (of the likes of Mac Miller, Skrillex, FKi 1st, to name a few) and applying them to sweeping and accessible pop tunes that channel the atmosphere of 90s R&B with modern compositions.

Sad for You also marks the first official release from Mac Miller's newly-founded label, Remember Music, dropping April 7 following a long collaboration that included an appearance on Mac's last album, The Divine Feminine. The two years leading up to Sad for You found Njomza refining her sound while staying largely out of the touring and festival spotlight. With her latest project, however, Njomza is ready to re-emerge with both a concise release and a new live show, which heads to Bonnaroo in June.

Njomza recently came through the VICE offices in LA for an episode of Noisey Radio on Beats 1, where she detailed her transition from Chicago to LA, and the process and people that led to the creation of Sad for You (yes, it's about some tricky past relationships). Read on for an extended version of the interview below.

Noisey: Before we get into the singles, let's talk about Sad for You. Talk about the inception of this project? You been working on it for a while now?
Njomza: Yeah, I started working on it probably.... Hear Me is three years old. So it's just been a long process over the years that I didn't know what it was at first, and I was just kind of writing. And once it started coming together I decided I wanted to call the project Sad For You, because I was just writing sad girl songs. Yeah, so then I made the title track "Sad for You" after I had already decided to name it that.

I know there's probably been encouragement for you to put out a distinct project that's all your own and everything. Do you feel like now is the time to do that?
Oh yeah, for sure. I feel like it's been time to do that. So I'm very excited to finally put out a body of work.

When did you move from Chicago out here? Talk about that a little bit, the origins of you coming out here.
Two years ago. Well, it was kind of like I was making music in Chicago and living at home with my parents and it was just like, I just new I had to get out and kind of explore new sounds, I guess. And just new vibes in general. I think getting away was very crucial for me to get a new vibe so I can get inspired and really start the project because it was a little bit more difficult for me to work back at home cause there's not as much going on I think. Obviously, as there is in LA when it comes to music.

Who is your crew out there? Anyone that you still work with?
I mean, yeah. Chicago's a small scene so everybody knows each other, you know? I pretty much know most of, I just remember being around most of the say money dudes, because I record out of the same studios as them so that was like the people I was around the most. LIke, Tokio I was just working on his album in Malibu recently so we're still connected from that. I know Vic and Chance and all of them. It's just like being in Chicago you kind of end up just knowing each other.

What was it like? I know you've been asked a bunch, but what's it like being signed to Mac's label out here in LA? Talk about the inception of that idea.
Being signed to Mac is dope. I definitely like coming out here and having him on my side. And that sense has pushed me forward a little bit, you know? I learned a lot from him, he's definitely like a mentor to me, so it's been a good thing, definitely.

Did he encourage you or help you on this new project?
Yeah, he did, actually. I went over to New York once I had all the songs to kind of like finalize everything and get it all perfected and he was there, every step of the way towards the end of it. So he's definitely like, hands on when it comes to that.

What about your art direction? Talk about the idea behind the EP cover.
I shot it in my bedroom, I painted my wall pink. Impusively, randomly a couple months ago and I was like, "alright, I'm obsessed with this color." So everything was just pink every day and I started writing in my room. That's why I redid the whole thing. And then, I don't know, it's just the energy in the room was so bright all the time I started dressing differently and putting on wigs all the time. Like the wig in the cover was just for fun, honestly. I didn't think like, oh I'm putting on a wig for this specific meaning, it just looks dope to me aesthetically. I just wanted to make sure that it kind of gives you the emotion that the EP's gonna give you. I think the EP kind of feels like it's like soft but at the same time it's emotional and there's hard feelings in there. I think I look kind of distraught in the picture a little bit. [Laughs]

Kind of bedroom vibes, sweet emotions. Let's talk about that first track, "Sad for You." How did that all come together?
That actually came together in New York. I was in the studio, it was the middle of the night and I was just trying to write another song for the EP because there was a song I wanted to put on it that didn't end up making it, because like, whatever. So I started it and I thought it didn't sound good, I was like Nah, I'm not into this. I'm not sure how I feel about this and I almost just threw it off to the side and then Mac came in and was like "Yo, What? This shit sounds crazy, you have to finish this." So we kind of zoned in on it and finished that. So that's how that started. It was just in New York while I was working with Mac. It was either that or baggage, I made those two in New York.

There's kind of like a progression in your sound a little bit too. I feel like you're doing more stuff with your vocal. Did you have any inspirations?
I mean, yeah. Moving out here, and just being in the studio all the time. That's literally all I do. I know everybody says that but out here, I'm not touring yet and I'm just trying to build my sound and work on that. Everyday I'm just in the studio and I work with people that inspire me everyday. People like Mac, people like Skrillex, you see their work ethic and the things that they do and it obviously grows on you a little bit. Yeah, everyone around me inspires me, I just pay close attention to the people that I think are dope, try to pick up on them.

What was the reaction to when you dropped the track? Were you happy with it?
Yeah, I'm stoked. I feel like people actually really like it. I was nervous because it's not like, "Oh my god this is like a hit", you know what I mean? It's valid that you gotta really just vibe to the track, so I'm happy with the way people have been responding. It's been really positive so I'm stoked because then I'm sure that those same people will enjoy the rest of the EP.

Did Sonny [Moore, a.k.a. Skrillex] tell you any specific advice while you've been in the studio with him?
No, not really. With Sonny it was like, he'll just go in and make the beat and I'm just freestyling songs over it. It's very fast, but he did tell me when I was talking to him about the project a while ago. He was just like, "Make sure it sounds cohesive. You gotta find a sound, like instruments that you wanna bring back." Little tips like that, but I'd say Mac was like, when it comes to stacks, he's definitely inspired that a lot. Because he has like a crazy falsetto. I don't know if you've heard him sing but his falsetto is pretty crazy and he'll just stack a million times and I just kind of like observing in the background while other people work and stuff. I've been writing and recording since I was 13 so it's kind of like over time I'm getting better and better as time goes on. And my technique is getting better, I guess.

Let's get into that other track before we move on, "Hear Me."
"Hear Me" I wrote when I was in Chicago and it was with Poppy beats. He made the beat. He worked with Vic Mensa a lot on his project. That started off, it was just really organic. I've always wanted to put that song out but I never knew how I should or when I should. I was like, alright this is perfect, I need another song on this EP that fits the vibe of the EP. So yeah, that's just a song that's kind of a favorite of mine and everyone around me for a really long time so I'm excited for that to be out. It's a long time coming, years and years of just waiting to unlock it. [00:11:32.24]

Lyrically, what are you talking about on there?
Kinda just growing. It's like when you get out of a relationship and you grow from it and you kind of grow up and realize that you weren't completely innocent, I guess. You blame the other person and kind of just missing somebody. The hook is like "Can you hear me? I can't get over you" That's what I'm saying throughout all of it. But that's basically it, growing after a relationship and wanting to show the other person that you've grown now and it's better now and you're not as crazy as you were before.

Does writing and staying in the studio help you deal with relationship problems?
Oh yeah, it's like the one thing that keeps me sane, honestly. Anytime I'm upset over a relationship I immediately just go to the studio. It doesn't matter the time, I'll wake up 10am, I get a bad text or something I'm like alright I gotta go to the studio right now, work on a song. And then I kind of just distract myself until I forget almost or let out all my rage.

Was "Hear Me" written in that state?
Yeah, Hear Me was years and years ago so it was definitely like over my first love. That's definitely what I wrote the song about and a lot of songs come out of my relationships. Everything kind of starts as an idea that comes from a specific situation and then it turns into a monster that I pull in from everything. I can get inspiration from pretty much everything so. It never really ends up being about one person when I finish the song. It's like I started with one person and it's kind of like, "Alright, this is a feeling now and it's bigger than that person." You know what I mean?

What's your plan or expectation for the project? You're gonna tour off it and try to go that route?
Honestly yeah I hope so. Right now I kinda don't have any expectations I'm like, I'm putting out this project. Hopefully it resonates with people and they relate to it, vibe to it. I don't know, I just wanna make people feel something with the music so that's kinda like the only thing I'm really hoping for. Everything else I think will just come, fall into place.

Talk about some of the kind of producers that helped put together the music on it.
I was working with, all at random for the EP. But three songs on the EP are actually done by Tommy Brown and the semicolon Ryan. Yeah, so they did Perfect Fit, Poison, and they did Someone Like Me. So those were all done within like a very short period of time, like probably within a week or so. Just pumping out those songs and then the Sad For You song is with Caleb, Caleb Stone. I started working with him when I first moved to LA. And then there's Mills, he's on the intro. Christ Stowe, he did baggage. It's just all random producers honestly, but they're all dope. I've kind of never like, stuck to one producer. I'm always like, getting different flavors.

Let's talk about the single with FKi. That's our boy, first. I think we played it before, for what it's worth. Talk about working with him and what you liked about First.
I met First through Mac actually, it's really funny cause Mac was working on the song "Weekend" that he has on his Good AM album. First was in the studio and he was just chilling, smoking weed, and I was like, "Dang, this guy's like really tight at producing." The beat was like crazy. And this is when I first came out to LA, I'm still like getting to know people and meet people. So I was like, I for sure need to link up with this dude. So I followed him out as he was leaving, and I was like yo we need to link, make some music. He was like, alright for sure, bet. The rest is history, he has a studio right by my crib so we just started working all the time. Like, me and First have a lot of music together. A lot. So we only released like two of the songs but I'm sure we'll have a lot coming out.

Talk about "Pretty Bye Bye," how did that song come together?
That song actually, the story behind that song is crazy because Sonny actually hit me up and was like, "Hey I have this song, it's the last song on the compilation album for Owsla and we need vocals on it. It comes out in two days." I'm like, wait what? Like, I have to write this song in two days, and this is the first time that I ever worked with him. Like, we worked before but we didn't finish the song. He kinda was working on a song I already had made, which is on the EP actually. He started remixing Poison, which is the third song on the EP, so hopefully you guys get to hear that version, it's sick as hell. But yeah, he hit me up and he was like we have this last song coming out in two days, so send me it when you're done. I was just like, Okay, what? For sure. So I ended up going to the studio down the street from my house, and just being there like all night, and I finished the song in one day and I sent it back and it was just out everywhere. And I was just like this is the craziest thing that's ever happened. Honestly, I've never just written a song and then just been like alright it's coming out like next day! I didn't even really hear back from them being like, oh yeah we like it. It was just out, but yeah they ended up liking it so that's good.

Talk about your contribution to Mac's last project because I love that project. It's crazy.
Yeah, so I was working on Sad For You like the same time that Mac was working on his album. Around the same time so we were really involved in both of each other's projects. I was definitely there a lot of the way with his project. "Planet God Damn," we did that in New York on my trip when I was working for Sad For You. And yeah, I'm just like on background vocals and stuff, hear me peep through some of the songs.

Paint the scene of what his setup was like for that because I know he had a lot of different sounds coming from all different places. The production was crazy.
Yeah I mean Mac's like a solo. He'll just go to the studio and It's honestly just like him, just going ham with like and engineer, really. That's it. And if he wants another sound he'll bring in different musicians to put the sounds on top of it. Which is also really inspiring because that's what I ended up doing on my project. I got trumpet on my project, vibraphone. Just seeing how he pieces the songs together, and makes them what they are, the final product. Yeah, inspiring.

What do you hope people take away from Sad For You?
Yeah I do, I think it's just empowering. I hope people would take that away from it. Just kind of the whole project is leaving a toxic situation and being cool with it. Yeah, I hope people can take that away from it if they're gonna take anything away.

The title kinda has multiple meanings, I feel like.
Right, it's like a double entendre. I'm sad for you like, I miss you. But at the same time I'm sad for you because I feel bad for you almost. You know, I'm like, I'm leaving and you gotta watch me leave so, that's also kinda sad.

Do you find it more difficult or more easy to navigate as a female in the music industry?
I think I'm finding it easier to navigate through experience but as a female I don't think it's easy. I mean, You know how guys are. [Laughs] So, when all you are is around men you gotta kinda like, stand your ground a little bit.

You art directed the cover, so you got a new video for "Intro"?
I shot that with Paul Capra and the creative direction was from me and my homegirl Jamie. We actually shot it in her apartment and her apartment's already like, super sick if you saw the video. It's got very old casino vibes. Vintage Quentin Tarantino vibes and shit. I want to kind of build a world where people can get lost in, you know? I already have the vision in my had it's just about executing it now. Like, the aesthetic is there, but it's a story. The whole EP is a story, so I'm going to try to bring that to the table visually as well. Not just sonically.

What does that world look like?
It's kind of like, I'd say like badass. Just badass. It's like, the songs are kind of emotional, so it's just really more the rawness of it, you know, of just leaving a relationship or a toxic situation and just kind of going through those motions, and those emotions are gonna show through the videos.

Sadness, and then what are the stages?
There are a lot of stages. It's like the stages of grief. If you listen to the EP, it's just like me going back and forth from being like, alright fuck this, to being like wait, I wanna come back to this. I don't know how I feel. And then at the end it's like, nah this is really not the wave at all, so I gotta show that in the videos, you know? Just that back and forth, just how Sad For You mean. I'm sad for him, and I feel bad for you at the same time. It's the same thing with the EP. Just me constantly trying to figure out if I should stay or if I should go and it ends up being I really gotta get out of here. You know?

So it's fair to say the album starts with the breakup, but you don't know if you should leave or not.
Right, well the first line in the EP is "Fuck these emotions, I don't need them / People switch up like the seasons." So, like that's kinda like summary right there. I'm like, alright, I've been feeling this way for too long and I know how this is gonna end up because I know how people work so it's on me now. You know what I mean? If I stay and suffer that's on me, so. It's just leaving, and being free of yourself and I think it's kind of setting me up for my next project. I'm not sad right now, you know? I've been gone so I'm like chillin'. Hopefully it helps people out on that type of subject with the relationship issues or whatever. If you're addicted to something, anything. You can really take it and turn it into anything you want. It's just knowing when to walk away, I guess.

Killin' it. So what's next project-wise? I know you're just wrapping this one up.
Yeah, I'm already working on my album so yeah, that's the next project but I can't say too much about that, because Sad For You is not even out and I'm way ahead of myself but it's definitely got some brighter vibes.