With the 2019 release of her critically applauded, Dan Auerbach-produced full-length debut, last year’s Walk Through Fire, the Bristol, UK-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and JOVM mainstay Yola had a breakthrough year with a series of career-defining highlights including:
making her New York debut at Rockwood Music Hall
playing a buzz-worthy, breakout performance at that year’s SXSW
opening for a list of acclaimed artists including Kacey Musgraves, Lake Street Dive and Andrew Bird on a select series of US tour dates that featured stops at Newport Folk Festival, Hollywood Bowl, Austin City Limits Festival, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors
playing a YouTube session at YouTube Space New York
making her nationally televised debut on CBS This Morning: Saturday Sessions
receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Artist, along with fellow JOVM mainstays The Black Pumas.
making her late night national television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!
releasing a soulful cover of Elton John‘s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,”that not only quickly became a staple of her live sets — but caught the attention of Sir Elton John, who praised her and her cover
Understandably, last year, the JOVM mainstay had hopes to build upon the momentum of the previous year with a handful of opportunities that came her way that many artists across the world would kill for: Early last year, it was announced that she was cited to play blues and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Baz Luhrmann’s musical drama Elvis alongside Austin Butler in the title role, Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Presley’s mother. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a series of monkey wrenches into her hopes and plans: Tom Hanks wound up contracting COVID-19 while filming in Australia and the rest of the shooting schedule was delayed for the better part of a year. In between filming, she was supposed to play a series of dates opening for country superstar Chris Stapleton and Grammy Award-winning acts The Black Keys and Brandi Carlile — with one of those shows being at Madison Square Garden, which also got postponed indefinitely as a result of the pandemic.
However, Yola was able to finish her first Stateside headlining tour, a tour that included a stop at Music Hall of Williamsburg, a few weeks before the world went into lockdown. In lieu of touring, the Bristol-born, Nashville-based artist wound up making virtual stops across the domestic, late night television show circuit: She played album bonus track “I Don’t Want to Lie” on The Late Late Show with James Corden — and she played a gospel-tinged cover of Nina Simone‘s classic and beloved “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” filmed at The Ryman Auditorium for Late Night with Seth Meyers.
The Bristol-born, Nashville-based JOVM mainstay used the unexpected gift of time and space to ground herself physically and mentally as she began to write the material that would eventually become her highly-anticipated sophomore album Stand For Myself. Some of the album’s material was written several years previously and inspired by deeply personal moments, like her mother’s funeral. Other songs were written during pandemic isolation, and as a result they reflect on her personal and collective moments of longing and awakening. Tracks were also cowritten with Ruby Amanfu, John Bettis, Pat McLaughlin, Natalie Hemby, Joy Oladokun, Paul Overstreet, Liz Rose, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Hannah Vasanth and Bobby Wood. The album’s material will likely make a connection with anyone who has experienced feeling as though they were an “other” while urging the listener to challenge the biases that fuel bigotry, inequality and tokenism, which have deeply impacted her personal life and career.
“It’s a collection of stories of allyship, black feminine strength through vulnerability, and loving connection from the sexual to the social. All celebrating a change in thinking and paradigm shift at their core.” Yola says in press note, adding, “It is an album not blindly positive and it does not simply plead for everyone to come together. It instead explores ways that we need to stand for ourselves throughout our lives, what limits our connection as humans and declares that real change will come when we challenge our thinking and acknowledge our true complexity.” Ultimately, the JOVM mainstay’s hope is that the album will encourage both empathy and self actualization, all while returning to where she started, to the real Yola. “I kind of got talked out of being me, and now I’m here. This is who I’ve always been in music and in life. There was a little hiatus where I got brainwashed out of my own majesty, but a bitch is back.”
Continuing her ongoing collaboration with acclaimed producer, singer/songwriter, musician and label head Dan Auerbach, the album which was recorded late last year at Easy Eye Sound is inspired by the seminal albums she discovered through her mother’s record collection, as well as the eclectic mixtapes she created while listening to British radio that featured neo soul, R&B, Brit Pop and others. Featuring a backing band that includes Nick Movshon (bass), best known for his work with Amy Winehouse and Bruno Mars alongside Aaron Frazier (drums), a rising solo artist in his own right, the album is sonically is a noticeable shift from her debut, with the album’s aesthetic meshing symphonic soul, classic pop.
“Diamond Studded Shoes,” Stand For Myself’s first single is a woozy yet seamless synthesis of densely layered Phil Spector-like Wall of Sound pop, jangling and twanging country soul, 70s singer/songwriter pop and late 60s/early 70s Motown soul centered around the JOVM mainstay’s powerhouse vocals and some of the most incisive sociopolitical commentary of her growing catalog, as it focuses on the powerful, who have beaten down and cheated folks, who are desperate to survive with their dignity intact. “This song explores the false divides created to distract us from those few who are in charge of the majority of the world’s wealth and use the ‘divide and conquer’ tactic to keep it,” Yola explains. “This song calls on us to unite and turn our focus to those with a stranglehold on humanity.”
Directed by Kwaku Otchere, the recently released video for “Diamond Studded Shoes” places the JOVM mainstay into a brightly colored, surreal world in which the mundane, the fantastic, the shitty and the flat-out terrible all meet to often hilarious results. And of course, throughout Yola’s larger-than-life personality, sense of humor and decency can’t be denied.
“The video is in part inspired by The Truman Show and is about being trapped in a false construct,” Yola explains. “It is supposedly perfect, but you’re trapped in a life that wasn’t meant for you. I wanted to convey the feeling that everything you know to be true is not quite working the way it’s supposed to. The island at the end is a paradigm of mental conditioning, we are all trapped on an island of our own thinking, until we change it.”
Stand For Myself is slated for a June 30, 2021 release through Easy Eye Sound. Along with the album announcement and video, Yola announced a series of tour dates that included spots at Newport Folk and Newport Jazz Festivals, making her one of the few to play both in the same year. She’ll be opening for Chris Stapleton on his rescheduled 2021 tour. She’ll also play a headlining show at The Ryman Auditorium next year. Of course, you can find those dates and ticket information at her website: https://www.iamyola.com.