Interview with Pheeyownah – “My artistry is my playground”

The Swedish experimental R&B songwriter talks about her upcoming album ‘Silver,’ her groundbreaking dance crew, and her philosophy of self-love.
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Pheeyownah / Girlie Action Media

For Feyona Naluzzi (a.k.a. Pheeyownah), art is all about freedom. The 31-year-old songwriter, producer, dancer, and poet has a vision that can’t be contained by a single artistic pursuit, so she uses any mode of expression it takes to bring it to life.

Naluzzi seems destined to have been a performer from the start. Growing up in Stockholm (her parents emigrated to Sweden from Uganda in the early ’80s), she avidly watched music videos on MTV and practiced acceptance speeches in the mirror. She envisioned herself playing to massive crowds in giant arenas.

Though she had been writing her own songs since she was very young, it wasn’t until 2011 that Naluzzi began actively pursuing a career in music. After attending a year-long program for aspiring singer/songwriters, she started recording. Her first two singles, the neo-soul-infused “Strugglin'” and “Take it Slow”–as well as her 2012 debut EP City–were produced by classmate Daniel Markus, also known as Megaman Dee.

Freedom through movement

Pheeyownah says that her original gameplan was a dance career, but her change of plans hasn’t derailed that aspect of her art. She still actively participates in the Swedish all-women’s dance crew JUCK.

She describes JUCK as “a practice on its own”—a performing collective that uses movement to explore questions of gender, race, sexuality, and humanity’s concepts of time and space.

“It is the meeting between us, the performers and the audience, that creates the feeling of what JUCK is,” Naluzzi says. “Each and every performance with JUCK is always a powerful experience. We have a very strong sense of sisterhood and an energy that is so comforting.”

“I learn…about myself, my own strengths and weaknesses, empowerment, and what it means to be a performer without any kind of [sic] bounderies while working with JUCK. These are the key words that I try and carry with me everyday and apply to everything I do.”

Silver

Pheeyownah’s upcoming debut full-length, Silver, represents a culmination of everything she’s learned and experienced over the course of her career. She continues to expand upon the more atmospheric, experimental-leaning style of R&B she explored on 2016’s zero9zero9 EP.

Silver is full of ethereal, crepuscular soundscapes and rumbling trip-hop beats, all punctuated by Pheeyownah’s hazy vocals. There’s a quiet power to her work–an anthemic crunch, a dark drama, as if she’s preparing to take the entire world by storm.

The airy, pulsating title track, released ahead of the album as a single, kicks Silver off on a powerful, cinematic note. According to Naluzzi, the song is “about coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. It’s about embracing the imperfections in life…and making the best out of every situation.”

The thrilling power and forward momentum is palpable in Pheeyownah’s voice and the faint but striking sounds that surround it. “You don’t need to give me your space,” she croons, “I’ll take what’s mine, I’ll take what’s mine…You don’t have to lend me yours / I got my own shine.” It’s a beautiful rallying call for what she refers to as “claiming your space”—being authentically and fearlessly yourself, whoever that might be.

Surrounded by nature

The natural world figures big into Pheeyownah’s ethos. Her songs frequently feature motifs of chirping birds or running water, and the dazzling videos for songs like “Vivid, Fearless” and “Pose When Exposed” show her climbing on rockpiles or wandering through the woods at dusk, clad in all black and white. As Naluzzi puts it, it’s just another way her Stockholm childhood informs her art.

“There’s [sic] alot of beautiful nature in Stockholm and wherever you go you’re always surrounded by it or very close to it,” she says. “I use it a lot in my music because it’s the element that completes my vision and enhances my expression.”

Love or fear

Like so many artists, Pheeyownah often finds herself plagued by self-doubts. However, she says, she’s growing better at quieting them.

“I’m better at listening to my heart’s desires and staying true to my visions,” she says. “It hasn’t always been easy…But I’ve learnt to stand my ground more and more over the years.”

“I really have to work against myself and eventually manage to remind myself of my strengths and what it means to me to be an artist,” she adds. “My artistry is my playground where I feel 100% free.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a supportive group of like-minded creative people behind you. Naluzzi finds fellowship and strength within her family, as well as with her JUCK cohorts and close friends.

One of these companions is Amanda Arin, who also served as Pheeyownah’s stylist on the “Pose When Exposed” video. Near the end of Silver cut “Yellow Light,” we hear Arin speak via a voicemail message. “Sometimes,” she says, “the most spontaneous and simple things end up being the most honest and true.”

Arin frequently leaves messages with this kind of helpful advice. As Pheeyownah puts it, there are “just periods in life when you feel a little bit overwhelmed a need to slow down and just pause everything for a while in order to get yourself together again and she reminds me of that.”

Through her art, Pheeyownah stresses the importance of individuality and self-love in a world that actively discourages both. As a chief inspiration for this philosophy, she cites a quote from none other than comic legend Jim Carrey: “You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and as you walk through those doors today, you will only have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.

Silver is out May 3 on Labrador Records.

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