How Nikki Yanofsky Found Her Sound and Herself on Her Newest Album

To quote Nikki Yanofsky, it’s been “a minute” since the 24-year-old singer released new music. You remember Yanofsky. She sang I Believe, the theme song–and certified banger–from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It was basically our unofficial National Anthem that winter. But, you might also know her as the youngest performer ever to headline the highly-regarded Montreal International Jazz Festival when she was just 12 years old.

But after taking a short hiatus to focus on truly finding her sound, Yanofsky is releasing an album that’s 100 per cent true to herself. The first single Big Mouth debuted today. She wrote it in response to the Women’s March in New York City earlier this year. An accompanying video also dropped, shot by Emma Higgins, who’s previously won a JUNO for Video of the Year for her work with Mother Mother.

When it comes to having a big mouth, this singer isn’t afraid to admit she’s got one. And we’re very excited to see all the things she’ll say (and sing) with it. Check out our interview with Yanofsky below, as well as the brand new Big Mouth music video.

What’s been different about the process of working on this album, in comparison to the previous work you’ve released?

I think this is the first album that I’ve really found my sound and known very clearly what I want to say. Every song is written very clearly and with intention. It just feels like me for the first time compared to all my other stuff. I mean, everything I’ve worked on has a special place in my heart, obviously, but I feel like right now, it’s the most me because I’m the most me I’ve ever been. You know, it’s different working on an album at 16 and working on an album at 24, I feel like I’ve found myself.

Because this album has so much of yourself in it, does that mean you write all your own stuff? Is the music based on real-life experiences? 

Yeah, so I write or co-write all of my own music and it’s definitely based on my own experiences. I’d say mostly all, because sometimes I’ll hear a story and think, oh that would be a cool song and I get inspired. But really, my strongest stuff is stuff I’ve really lived because it comes across genuine. And it’s not necessarily even an experience. Like in this song, Big Mouth, I’m not really telling a story, it’s more me commenting on a movement. It’s about having women be proud to speak their mind and to stand up for themselves and to never dull their shine for anybody. That’s what I want the song to do. I’ve always been a kind of in-your-face person, but I’ve definitely had my fair share of moments where I’ve felt, oh maybe I shouldn’t have said that or just felt ashamed. I wanted to write a song to remind women everywhere that no, never be ashamed of being you.

You wrote Big Mouth in response to the Women’s March in New York earlier this year.

Yeah, I actually couldn’t make it to the march, but I saw it on the news and I felt so inspired watching woman after woman speak and be so poised and articulate. It felt like history and I just wanted to have something forever to remind me of that moment. Songs, in my opinion, are like tattoos. You write them and you put them out and then they’re there forever, you can’t take them away. I just wanted to have a tattoo of that moment in my head.

I love the concept of twisting that “Big Mouth” perception from a negative into a positive. Why did you decide to release this song as the single? Why did you want this to be the first taste of the new album?

I think I wanted Big Mouth to be the first taste because in terms of messaging, it’s exactly what I wanted to say to the world. And it’s been a while – like I havn’t released anything in a minute—and I wanted the first thing I said to be important and to have a real sense of self. This is a song that’s so me and I think a lot of women can identify with it too. My whole life my family has always called me “Big Mouth”, that’s like their nickname for me. It’s because I don’t stop talking, I don’t stop singing, whatever it is, I’m using my voice. And I was like, what if I use that voice to encourage others to do the same? That’s why I thought Big Mouth was an important single. I think also, with the current climate of the world, it’s important to have a song that celebrates women like this and doesn’t have to be so serious all the time. You know, you can also play to the softer sides and the funny sides and the sassy sides of women.

You mentioned that you haven’t released new music in a while. Has there been a reason for the break?

I think there’s been a bit of a break because I wanted to get it right and I’m definitely a perfectionist. I think up until now, I was hesitant to release anything because it didn’t feel like me yet. I was still finding my sound while I was finding myself and I think now they’ve both coincided. Now, I feel stronger than ever with where I’m at, from a professional standpoint musically and also personally.

Speaking of your sound, on this album do you think you lean more towards your jazz background or more towards pop?

It’s really melted together. There’s definitely a lot of jazz influence in what I do, because vocally I stem from jazz so everything I sing–even if it’s in a pop world–will have a bit of that inflection. But this album is really walking the line of both. I call it like a very happy, playful, fun Amy Winehouse-type. I mean Amy is a huge influence of mine. In the past I’d play someone something and they’d be like, okay so describe your sound, describe what you are, and it was hard. But now, when they hear it, they get it. I don’t have to describe anything. They can picture what I would look like, what I would dress like… and that’s great.

Have you felt that industry pressure in the past to lean more towards the pop side?

Not necessarily to lean towards pop, but just to pick a lane. I don’t know, for me, music is genre-less. Good music is good music, right? I never wanted to have to commit myself to just one and I feel like now I don’t.

Where does that love for jazz come from? It’s not necessarily a typical sound, especially for such a young artist.

Definitely not. I think my love for jazz came from finding Ella Fitzgerald on iTunes when I was like 11. I just stumbled upon her. But I was always into older music growing up. I listened to a ton of Motown–like Aretha Franklin is one of my biggest influences. Who else? Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, there were so many. And then Ray Charles was kind of walking that jazzy line and then I got into Ella, Sarah Vaughan, Amy Winehouse–who was at the time, really big–and Nina Simone. Something drew me to it. I can’t even really explain it, it just felt like I’d found my sound.

At 12 years old you walked out on stage at Montreal Jazz Fest to sing, I can’t even imagine having that confidence. Were you nervous?

You’d be surprised. I think in a way ignorance is bliss. When you’re so young, you can’t really grasp how big it really is. It kind of worked to my advantage. I think if I had been more self-aware I probably would’ve been more nervous, but because I was oblivious to it, I was just excited and confident and just went out there at 12 years old and performed for almost 100,000 people. But it’s funny because my confidence did go up and down. I started out super confident and then when I was a teenager and more aware of myself I went to being sort of unsure. But now, I feel super confident again.

Because you started so young, did you ever find it hard to find that balance between your music career and just being a teenager and growing up?

It’s funny, I never felt like I was missing out on anything because that was my normal. Because I started so young, I never had anything to compare it to so that was just my life, that was just normal for me. I think my parents also did a really good job of keeping me grounded and making sure I never missed out on important things, especially with friends and school. I did everything. I kind of had this double life, I always say I was kind of like Hannah Montana in high school!

Looking to the future, what are your hopes for your career?

I hope that I’m just able to sing for my whole life. I don’t know what that means for my career, I can’t predict the future, I just know that presently I’m so happy with where I’m at. I just want to take things one day at a time and keep this sense of peace and happiness and really work on just bettering myself as a musician and as a person. Obviously, I want as many people to hear this stuff as possible because that’s what my goal is as an artist, but even if this all just helps one person, then I’m good. I’m happy.