The secret of Yebba's debut album? A great voice and a lot of time.

Singer and songwriter Yebba has a story she tells when she realized she was destined to pursue a career in music. It was the summer af...


Singer and songwriter Yebba has a story she tells when she realized she was destined to pursue a career in music.

It was the summer after her freshman year of college, and she was working in a warehouse, taking down laptops. She had started posting clips of her singing on Instagram, and they were starting to be successful on the internet. One day after work, she was jogging along a bean field near her childhood home in Arkansas, and pondering what the future might entail, when that would happen.

In a recent video interview, she was reflexively aware of what that might sound like. “I’m just going to say it the way I know how to say it, because I don’t really speak the language of the church anymore,” she said, her eyes wandering around her room before making direct contact. . “But I really felt the Lord say, from my stomach, ‘I want you to be a singer.’ And I had that moment where I just stopped running, and I set down and prayed, just lay in the dirt.

What followed was not unique among singers who broke into the digital age. The virality caught the surprise attention of established stars like Missy Elliott and Timbaland, which led to invitations to collaborate with other established stars and move to New York, where dreams are made, as the song goes. But what Yebba, now 26, did next was unusual: She didn’t rush a debut album with a phalanx of young writers and producers. She waited.

After about five years of focusing on her sanity, overcoming the pitfalls of the music industry, and recording take after take until she listened to her singing again was no longer what she called “very embarrassing, ”she will be releasing her debut LP,“ Dawn, ”on Friday. And the spiritual connection that guided Yebba to her career helped her take her time, no matter how many people said “hurry up.”

“I don’t care,” she said of the expectations placed on her as her career slowly took shape. In two interviews, Yebba spoke with consideration and determination, often pausing for several seconds to collect a thought. Every now and then she would cry when the conversation got serious, only to make a joke a moment later. At one point, she showed off some of the art hanging in her Chelsea apartment: an abstract painting by artist Shawn Shrum, and a green print that she jokingly brushed off as “a basic bitch buy from Anthropology.”

“They can’t confuse me, because I didn’t sign up for a sorority,” she said. “But I signed up to create things with other people’s money, and that’s all anyone can ask of me – that’s all I can ask myself, is stick with it.” that I have agreed to do so far. And the second I’m called to do something else, I’m gone.

Mark Ronson, who produced “Dawn,” said Yebba was steadfast in his taste. “You’re never going to get a sound, color or tone beyond Yebba that she doesn’t like,” he said. “She trusted me, but only in the name of achieving her vision.”

While Yebba has had some prominent collaborations with artists like Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith – and an appearance on Drake’s latest album, “Certified Lover Boy” – “Dawn” doesn’t sound like the early days of a pop sensation in boom that jumps on trends. The album has a rich retro palette, draws deep inspiration from jazz and R&B, and sits in a dark register that gives Yebba’s flexible voice room to maneuver. (On the cathartic “October Sky,” its melodic lines float gently before suddenly rising into a pyrotechnic explosion.) The LP was inspired by “Voodoo” by D’Angelo, one of Yebba’s artistic touchpoints, and recorded at Electric Lady Studios with several members of the group “Voodoo”.

“In my head, I would love to be a rapper, but in reality I only write folk songs,” she said.

Yebba was born Abbey Smith in West Memphis, Ark. Her father was a preacher and she grew up singing in the church, becoming a worship pastor at the age of 15. With deep exasperation, she told a story about his intermittent rebellions: say I want to stop, and he would say, “Abigail, who is your favorite singer?” And I would say, ‘Aretha Franklin.’ “And what did Aretha do before she became Aretha Franklin?” “She sang in her father’s church.”

Shortly after her moment of divine intervention, Yebba dropped out of college and moved to New York City, where she performed in 2016 for the event company SoFar Sounds and sang a hypnotic song called “My spirit.” When the performance video was finally uploaded to YouTube in December, it exploded more than she could have imagined. “This song was such a moment of worship, instead of being really performative – I felt like the presence of God was there,” she said.

But just weeks after the SoFar show, Yebba’s mother took her own life. She returned home to West Memphis, where she struggled with her feelings. “A lot of people around me have encouraged me to ‘let it go’ – like, what the [expletive] Does that mean? “she said.” All I have, as an artist, it’s a lot of time to think.

After “sitting at her home in Arkansas, like a robot,” Yebba returned to New York City, where she gave a lot of thought to the next step in her fledgling career. She sang for A Tribe Called Quest. She went to London to meet with potential labels. But nothing was attractive. More troubling was the realization that her mother’s death was seen as a potential content, in some rooms. At an event at the Grammys, she said that a label manager introduced her to another artist, saying, “Her mother just committed suicide, but everything is fine because she will be able to write from. very good songs. “

In response, “I dropped my purse and ran out,” Yebba said, a transparent look of disbelief scrawled across his face. She needed more time.

A crucial turning point came in 2018, when she met Ronson as he brought together collaborators for what would become her “Late Night Feelings” album. Ronson said their relationship was cemented on their second day together, when Yebba good-naturedly mocked a jacket he had worn, telling him he was “trying too hard”. (“When an artist has the talent and the warmth to back him up, I don’t mind,” he said of the dig.) Their sessions led to three songs on Ronson’s album and to the music that would eventually become “Dawn.” “

Some tracks took years to complete. “October Sky”, originally written following the death of her mother, required approximately 300 vocal takes. “I felt like when I lost my mom, I felt like I had lost everything that was important to me before,” Yebba said. But over time, with Ronson’s support, the process softened. “All I Ever Wanted”, the last song written for the record, with stacks of harmonies and a brilliant string arrangement, came together in just a few days.

Pianist James Francies, a friend of Yebba’s who plays on the album, said he’s been careful to surround himself with the right people. “At all times she’s like ‘If it’s not right, I don’t want to do this,'” he said. “And I always respected and liked it about her, because she always put music first, and she always put her peace of mind first.”

The album was completed before the start of the pandemic, but Yebba decided to put its release on hold and prioritize his sanity. “I don’t want to glorify substance, but I was sitting on my couch doing my daily chain cigarette routine,” she said. “I was just like, ‘I can be a professional cigarette smoker and a professional drinker, or I can be a professional singer.’ I don’t agree that art has to be miserable because it goes against all the reasons I have been linked to music.

But after taking her time, she’s finally ready for the next step. The title of the album doesn’t just refer to sunrise; it was also his mother’s name. “I feel like I’m 26 now, instead of being so grieved as ever,” she said. “I no longer feel that my life is a chore that I haven’t finished – that my mother is hanging over my head. There are new ways to honor it.



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