As the UK’s soul and jazz scene expands towards the global and genre-spanning, artists like Yazmin Lacey maintain their focus, shaping their own trajectories at their own pace. Hailing from East London, the 33-year-old yields an organic relationship with music, unexpectedly stumbling upon her craft during a move away to Nottingham.
2017’s ‘Black Moon’ EP marked the artist’s entrance, a collection of tracks that draw from a broad pool of sonic influences, allowing for Lacey’s laid-back vocals to step into the limelight. Since then, the artist has truly come into her own, showcasing an emotional depth, a maturity and charm that brings Lacey closer to her listener. This year’s debut album ‘Voice Notes’ is a search for the beauty in imperfection, flitting between personal anecdotes, intimate conversations and the inner mind. Onstage, the scrapbook-style body of work continues to elevate itself further, bursting with a personable energy that connects crowds of all walks of life.
Clash caught up with Yazmin Lacey following a joyous performance at Gilles Peterson’s festival We Out Here, walking us through the stepping stones of her career thus far. In conversation, the artist is straight-to-the-point, sprinkling an infectious laughter at each and every corner.
So how does it feel to be at We Out Here today, how are you feeling about your performance?
I’ve done it most of the years and it’s actually one of my favourite festivals in the UK, so it felt good to be here today. I felt really relaxed up there, it was fun, the crowd was really warm and it’s just nice to see people respond to your new stuff.
And going all the way back, can you pinpoint the first time that you felt like you truly resonated with an artist or a track?
I’m not sure, it’s less with artists and more with tracks because they’re all like memories. When I think of my earliest memories, they always involve music with family or, for example, I remember the first time I wrote a Spanish song because in primary school I had a Spanish teacher. It kind of goes like that, rather than just one artist in particular. They’re all little sentimental moments, it makes you feel like music is really important in remembering things. It gives a word for your feelings.
At what point did you realise that you wanted to be a musician? Was there a certain influence or moment that you found encouraging? Or is it something that you’ve always leaned into?
I’m being honest. I came to it quite late. I haven’t always known that I wanted to do it, I never really had any desire to do music. I remember my first gig I was so nervous, I was so uncomfortable that I thought – I’m never doing this again, why would anyone put themselves through it? And I thought, well, I’ll just take it as a sign – if someone asks you to do it again, then you should do it. Now, over time, I love the feeling of being up there and exchanging energy.
That’s so interesting to hear as today’s performance felt so natural.
I think it’s with time, some things I know are just muscle memory. The first time that I performed I just kept thinking, what if I go up there and nothing comes out of my mouth. That irrational fear has gone out of the way, I know I’m gonna be able to get through an hour to 90 minutes worth of a show. The difference is that in the beginning, I could be so nervous that it would override any sort of true presence, but now it’s really fun to just be up there and have a good time.
So how did you first start getting into music?
I moved to Nottingham with a mate, I was hanging around a new group of people who made music and sometimes when they were making music I’d sit there and think, oh, I can do this, but I just wouldn’t say anything. And then after a while I suppose I just did it. Someone gave me my first gig and it just kind of went from there.
Now listening back to your first EP ‘Black Moon’? In what ways do you feel that you’ve evolved, who was Yazmin Lacey back then?
In some ways, I feel like I’ve evolved so much because then I was making those songs for banter, we were jamming and it was my first experience of making music in a room with other people, which I really, really enjoyed. So I do think I’ve evolved because I’ve been doing it for a lot longer now and there’s new stuff that I’ll try out. The stages are bigger, I get to go to all these incredible places so it’s changed a lot in that way. But in some ways, I still feel very similar in terms of my approach, every time I make something it’s like making it for the first time. It’s always from a feeling, this is my life and how I make sense of it.
A debut album can often feel like quite a daunting milestone in any artist’s career. How did you tackle your first body of work, ‘Voice Notes’?
I think when I first said I was making an album, I just kept saying it, but I wasn’t actually doing that much. It was the first time where, because I’d made other records by then, when people kept asking what are you doing next, I was like oh right, Jesus. But then I just shut that all out and did what I usually do, go meet some friends when it feels right and try some stuff out, you know?
And how did the concept behind the album come about?
It literally is just me responding to things that are going on. For me anyway, when I leave a voice note it’s off the cuff, I’m literally saying everything I’m thinking in that moment, it feels really personal. And that’s what this body of work is to me, I’m talking to specific people, myself and making sense of things. Also because I don’t have any musical training, I hum a lot of stuff into voice notes and that’s how I make music.
Your opening track ‘Flylo Tweet’ speaks about self-consciousness and the power of being vulnerable. Can you pinpoint a moment in your career where you took a risk? What did you take away from that experience?
To be honest, I feel like doing music is one big risk anyway, in terms of a career it’s a bit mental. I feel like showing up as yourself, I’m learning on the spot sometimes, just responding to music and responding to how I feel. It happens all the time, because there’s always new stuff arising.
‘Bad Company’ is certainly a spotlight moment on the record, how did the track come about?
I’m a massive overthinker, and I’d always catch jokes with my friends and give my over-thinking version myself a name – this Priscilla bitch. It is about overthinking, maybe a bit of self doubt but it’s also about being able to have a laugh at that and sometimes see how ridiculous it is.
And this year has felt like a particularly special year for you in terms of live music, what’s it been like performing to larger crowds, new audiences?
It’s been a lot of fun, it’s been quite tiring at times. I’m just enjoying the magic of it, every gig I love in some way, shape or form, when I see anyone singing the words or meet anyone after a show and they tell me how the music resonates with their life – I’m loving it. Exhausted, but loving it.
It feels like jazz and soul in the UK is truly flourishing, extending in new and unexpected directions through the work of important artists like yourself. What’s your perspective on the scene at the moment?
I think first of all, when you say that I’m an important person in this scene, it’s really lovely to hear but I don’t think of it like that. I just make stuff and do my thing, I don’t really think about where to place it, I don’t think that’s my job. But with other people, I think that nothing is original and the thing that I love about music is where you can describe – oh this is giving me abit of ‘this’ in ‘this’ way. I like Knucks, I like lots of different people that are coming through, Ezra Collective, Bel Cobain, they’re doing jazz but with a twist.
Which three artists or tracks are currently dominating Yazmin Lacey’s playlist?
One song that I love to play is ‘Don’t Let No One Get You Down’ by War, I always run that in the bath. I’ve been listening to Cherise ‘Calling’, and it’s summer so I’ve been listening to Jorja Smith’s ‘Little Things’.
So now that the album is out into the world, you’ve been touring it and seeing ‘Voice Notes’ carve its own journey. Where do the next steps lie?
I’m just gonna make some more music. I’m making some more music now and I’ll probably put it out, I don’t really have a plan. I’ve got a tour coming up this November – UK, Europe!
‘Voice Notes’ is out now. Stay in touch with Yazmin Lacey on IG.
Words: Ana Lamond