Special guest interview by: Em Moore
Em had the pleasure of talking to Nina of Yours Sincerely for Music Shelf. Together they discussed the process of surprise-releasing their debut album Anna, songwriting, dealing with isolation, and so much more!
1. Thank you so much for doing this interview with me for Music Shelf! How are you today?
Thank you for doing this! I’m doing good!
2. You surprise-released your debut album as Yours Sincerely on Ska Punk International earlier this month. What has the release process been like? What are some benefits to surprise-releasing your album?
The release process was good! Ska Punk International has been very good to work with. We decided on the surprise release with the direct stream because I wanted people to experience the album as a whole. I felt a single for an album as diverse as it was would maybe set the wrong impression. It was a little risky as the first couple songs start slow and build into more energetic songs but I feel it worked out. The SPI Direct definitely helped with introducing me and giving context to the album.
3. I’ve seen Yours Sincerely described as “laptop ska”. How would you describe laptop ska?
Laptop ska to me is DIY recordings with ska influences, techniques and sensibilities. The only hardware I used was my guitars, bass, one vocal mic, a rented digital piano and an interface to my computer. If I recorded it in a studio or relied on others with lots of hardware for the mix it would be sonically different from using direct-in recordings, amp sims and digital mixing tools. As far as ska is concerned, lots of ska bands have influences from outside the ska scene like punk, reggae, dub, rock, RnB, jazz, hip hop, EDM, and more. So much of what makes each band and artist unique is bringing in your own influences and making something unique to you. It’s an incredibly diverse genre that I think affords a lot of creative potential for artists and drew me into trying my hand at laptop ska.
4. In addition to ska, Anna also draws from punk, grunge, and alternative rock. What were you listening to during the writing and recording process?
I was revisiting a lot of bands I had been a fan of for a long time like AFI, Propagandhi, The Weakerthans, The Clash, Smashing Pumpkins, Planet Smashers, The Police, Nakatomi Plaza, the Mountain Goats, too many to name really. I was also exploring the current scene of ska like We Are the Union, Catbite, Bad Operation, Dissidente, KMoy, Tape Girl, JER, and Eichlers. Other bands that I was experiencing at the time are Car Seat Headrest, SNFU, Agassiz, Kōenji Hyakkei, and Hey, ILY!
5. How would you describe your songwriting process?
A lot of the time I get a phrase in my head and just start writing down the first things that come to mind while getting a sense of how the melody might go for those words. I also will play chords on a piano or on guitar and record it as a voice memo. Then I just try to refine it in a few ways by getting an initial key nailed down, playing with it on piano or guitar, putting it into either my DAW or sketching out an outline in Beepbox, an online music sequencer. Other times I started with another song in mind and sort of worked my way backwards, like with “Freezer Cigarettes” which was inspired by one of my favourite songs, “Left and Leaving”. John K. Samson of The Weakerthans described his songwriting process for one of his solo albums as taking another song’s rhyme structure and trying to make it yours. I also like to take characters from fiction and rewrite my song’s lyrics to see if it would make sense if it was about them to try and distance myself from the material being completely raw.
6. A lot of the songs on Anna are very emotional and vulnerable, especially the album opener “To My Fantasy”. What helps you tap into your emotions?
I’m certainly a very emotional person. I didn’t find it hard to tap into my emotions as a result. When I have a particularly off day or am reminded of something that I want to explore I just try to write it out and keep reading it through until I feel I’ve made it clever enough to satisfy myself from exploring that emotion. I try to allow my music to be an outlet for some of the frustration I’ve experienced with myself and the things I can or can’t change. I don’t think I could tap into my emotions as well without also being able to set them aside to grow into their own fiction. It’s something used as a part of some therapies. Revisiting a traumatic experience and instead of imagining being in the past doing something or being acted upon, imagining yourself watching the past on a movie screen, distancing yourself from your own experiences so you can see yourself more honestly and compassionately, and rewriting how that experience should make you feel. With this I could see the lyrics as suddenly being someone else, Anna let’s say, someone that I can show more compassion and sympathy for than I might myself.
7. Was there a song on this album that was the most cathartic to write?
“Striking Back”. “Freezer Cigarettes” is a close second but the feeling of not wallowing in my fears and feelings was important to me after a stressful few years transitioning to be happier with myself. Plus after opening up about a lot of things in the other songs, having a song about moving forward as the conclusion was important to me.
8. Kenny Malloy, SKAmantha, and Tommy Obeso play horns and organ on “The Covers”. How did you decide who to collaborate with? What is the importance of collaboration to you?
I’ve known Kenny online for a long time and I really respect him as a musician so a lot of it was his suggestions for players as I trust his judgement. Tommy played for Kenny previously and SKAmantha is part of an online community Kenny introduced me to. Collaboration is really necessary for me the further a piece is along. I find that without collaboration I can’t get perspective on when something needs more work or not and it pushes me to do better by having someone be frank about what needs attention.
9. Your album was mastered by Beth Rivera AKA Tape Girl. How did you come together? What has working with her been like?
Kenny gave me a push to reach out to Beth as they work together. Once I reached out I found she was really engaged with what I had made. She offered to master the album for me and I was happy to take her up on it as she had mastered Kmoy’s ThePrecure Album which I loved. I think Beth is one of the best DIY producers out there right now and she was instrumental in getting Anna right. Working with her was a pleasure and I hope to do so again.
10. Is Anna named after someone in particular?
When I transitioned I spent time looking at names for myself. One thing I kept seeing for Nina was that it was a pet name for Anna in Russian which I found interesting. While this album is mine it’s also a bit of a formal, different version of me if that makes sense. It’s also partly why the album art, originally a watercolour by my cousin Sarina, was then touched up digitally to give a sort of disconnected feel, of something trying to form a whole.
11. In “Hell Frozen Over” you mention The Art of Drowning by AFI and Japanese alternative rock band The Pillows. What impact have these bands had on you?
Growing up I was very much into the Art of Drowning, All HallowsEP, and Black Sails albums by AFI. I got into them just before they broke more mainstream so I felt a bit alienated because I wasn’t a fan of the newer stuff as much while also feeling alienated from fans of the older material. Stuck loving the middle period of a band at the awkward pre-teen age. The Pillows comes from watching the anime FLCL where the band made the soundtrack. I related to the alienation that both the protagonist felt but also the female cast goes through their own struggles with adulthood which I felt more connected to later on in life. The Pillows captures a sense of alienation in some songs I really enjoy. Both bands represented feeling isolated and unable to connect to others for me in different ways.
12. Isolation is one of the recurring themes on your album. What advice would you give someone who is feeling isolated?
There is no right, final answer to your isolation so take your time exploring yourself. Take small steps forward, whether that means therapy, medication, transitioning, finding friends with similar interests or anything you can do to make your life less lonely, even a little. Then forgive yourself and others when mistakes are made. We are walking contradictions who are asked to be happy when we are sad, be brave when we are scared, and move forward when we want to run. I can never know what brought you individually to feel isolated but I do believe the world is better with you in it as imperfect as we all are. I don’t know you but I know myself, so I believe in you.
13. You’ve also released music as Weird BIAS in the past. What is the biggest creative difference between Yours Sincerely and Weird BIAS?
Weird BIAS is largely my electronic music experiments from a decade ago when I didn’t really know what I was doing at all haha. I still make the occasional cover or EDM-inspired song. It’s far more instrumental music and usually me experimenting with softsynths in FL Studio. Yours Sincerely is my project for vocal music.
14. You’ve mentioned that the soundtracks from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games helped you find new music while you were growing up. If you had the opportunity to put together the soundtrack for a future Tony Hawk game, what bands would be on it?
I’d love to see it be a Bad Time Records and Ska Punk International joint. JER, We Are the Union, Bad Operation, Catbite, Dissidente, Hans Gruber and the Die Hards, Young Costello, and Flying Racoon suit to name a few. Both labels have bands and artists with sounds of high energy, on the edge of making a mistake during a trick and hitting my head against the concrete haha. More than anything I would just want a focus on newer ska punk bands and both labels have been great for that.
15. How would you describe the ska and punk scenes in Edmonton?
Teacup Romance is a good pop-punk band as far as current acts I know of. It’s great having the Checkered Past podcast in town. I haven’t been out much lately since COVID, but it does feel less like scenes and more like a handful of good bands. My feeling is that Edmonton is a case of having some very great musicians that leave if they want to make a living in music or find a day job. And even the infamous punk band SNFU started here and left for Vancouver, BC. The prairies have always had this feeling of “Who’s left and who’s leaving?” despite some talented, wonderful people living here.
16. What are you listening to now?
I’ve been watching some long-form video documentaries about Lennon/McCartney and have been obsessed with Wings’ Back to the Egg lately. Arrow Through Me in particular has a great horn line that has been living rent-free in my head. Also, I have been revisiting the band Nakatomi Plaza which made some fantastic records, some of my favourite vocal pass-offs between the vocalists and guitar work from a band.
17. What’s next for Yours Sincerely?
I have a few songs I want to develop a bit over the coming months before giving them a go at recording. I hope to release either a 5 song EP or another 10 song album in the future. Depends on life for how long that will take. No plans for performing at this time.
18. Where can readers listen to your music?
Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, Tidal, YouTube, SoundCloud.