Nana's "Save Yourself Sessions" Are Inspirational Moments of Fine-Tuned Storytelling [Q&A]
Since releasing his debut record, Save Yourself, late last year, Nana has been doing everything but taking time off. In addition to dropping the single "RUN THE WORLD" in February, the Crenshaw Native has spent the better part of the past few months steadily releasing the "Save Yourself Sessions," a collection of performances and interviews that offer Nana the opportunity to highlight his peers, his deep album cuts, and his near-unparalleled charisma.
Divided into three acts, the final act of the "Save Yourself Sessions" comes to a conclusion this week with the release of Nana's interview with Art Director and Photographer Kayla Reefer. This interview is preceded by almost a dozen separate performances and interviews, from the energetic and electrifying "Her Song" to the introspective and meditative "Running."
Surrounded by a small group of musicians, these live sessions have served as the perfect foundation for Nana to flex both his carefully honed storytelling abilities and knack for performing before he hits the road later this year. I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Nana about the "Save Yourself Sessions" and their final act. With more music on the way, Nana shed some light on his latest project before transitioning into his next era.
Ones To Watch: How did you arrange the "Save Yourself Sessions?" There are half a dozen performers out there with you, including a guest vocalist, so what was the creative process like behind organizing them?
Nana: I really pride myself on making music that I know will translate well in a live setting. As far as the instrumental goes, I tend to go for instrumentation that stands out and pops. In choosing [these musicians], I went through all of the musicians and was like, "Oh this guy is amazing at what he does" and "Okay she's super dope" and we all brought it together. That was the first time that we had all played together, and I had never met them in my life beforehand, but we just matched so seamlessly.
Even being outside, I wanted to give people signs of hope cause we've been in the house for the last year-and-a-half. I wanted to give people a glimpse of outside again. Obviously, I couldn't really tour or do anything with Save Yourself, so just giving people my performance side was important. I love performing, and I felt that it was my due diligence to bring these songs to a live setting and really connect with the viewer. It's much more difficult to do that online versus in person, but I felt like the presence of the band helped elevate and achieve that.
From the concrete foundation to the trees overhead, and even the performers surrounding you, the location of the sessions plays a huge part. During your performance of "Options," you're literally portrayed walking from the street into this backyard space. Is there any significance to the location?
That's my videographer's spot! We just settled there. It had the perfect LA backyard boogie type of setting, and it really translated what life is like in LA. Giving people a glimpse of Save Yourself's story, which is why you saw me ride the bike and shoot dice with the homies before performing. It gives it a setting and a narrative. I felt that it was important to add that setting to the live sessions.
You mentioned during the performance for "Out My Mind" that you had written the song during a particularly low point in your life. What pushed you to write music like this instead of pursuing some other form of therapy during that time.
I've always loved music, ever since I was young. I had no greater joy in my life as a kid than when I would watch music videos. I used to go to my sister's room and watch this program called "The Jukebox" where people could call in and request their favorite music videos. We would all gather around and watch videos on bootleg cable, so it gave me the avenue to explain myself without explaining myself. With the way that I'm able to tell stories, there's no better way than through music. Sometimes I have a hard time explaining myself in person, and I trip up words, but it's so seamless with music.
I started with poetry first, not even in a public setting, I would do it and repeat it to myself. Sometimes I would write some Jay Z lyrics down and go to school pretending they were mine just to see peoples' reaction, knowing damn well they weren't my lyrics. I wanted that reaction whenever I would put my emotions into that form. Poetry is poetry, but rap is another level. That's why I chose that form of therapy.
With your own music - especially considering how downtempo and heartfelt some of these songs are - did you find it difficult making yourself vulnerable in-person? Or was it a more cathartic and uplifting experience?
Definitely, 100%. I didn't find it difficult at all because I know that making myself vulnerable and it being therapeutic for me makes it therapeutic for other people going through the same thing. A lot of times, It isn't about me in particular. I could be speaking about somebody else I know in particular that went through something, and somebody else may hear their survival testimony and be reminded that they can get through whatever they're going through. I've never found that hard because it's therapeutic for me and people that listen - it's therapy across all genres. There have been times where I've wanted to scream, so I'll put on some Nirvana.
Save Yourself was about knowing that not only will it help me by speaking about it - and it has helped me - but also knowing that it will help other people as well. After Save Yourself came out, one guy in particular told me that I saved his life. That's the ultimate gratification for me… that's beyond therapeutic. I can't even put it into words.
There's a common thread of tension between all the sessions. You can't escape your demons so you either have to face them or move on, because like you say, you can't really run away anymore. "Act III" seems to dwell on this idea more heavily than the other two, but how important was this idea while making Save Yourself? Did you want the album to focus on it from the jump, or was it something you developed while creating these tracks?
For sure from the start. In life, there's always this dichotomy of yin and yang, good and bad. These songs at the beginning are like a rollercoaster ride, they go up, up, up. Later things drop, but there's only so far to go before coming back up. Save Yourself is about addressing this and taking it on. Letting people know that I'm a human being, I make mistakes, and I'm capable of right and wrong. I'm just like you, I'm struggling to become the best version of myself, but at the end of the day I'm still trying. It's okay to address these "issues" within oneself because we're only human and nobody's perfect. Save Yourself is about confronting these things and me coming to terms with this, and letting people know through music that it's okay to not be perfect. You may be struggling or depressed, but the sun has to shine again. The end of the album brings both pain and triumph, so it was important to let people know that you'll survive as long as you keep going. Even the title is about making a conscious effort to be like "I'm going to keep going," but it's all up to you.
Reflecting on your own humanity and imperfection, do you feel like it has been difficult to foster this idea of staying true to yourself as your grow as an artist?
I think it's all about keeping sound and real individuals around you, ones who will let you know when to scale back or when you're fucking up. We need people around us to hold us accountable. I know with the way my parents raised me, the lesson was always "Never forget where you come from, and always do your best in everything you do." My dad taught me to finish everything I start, and as long as you did your best, nobody's opinion matters.
It is a struggle waking up and knowing that life is going to throw you a curveball. You have to deal with both external and internal wars. The past year being confined has been a struggle. What kept me going was my family and the people around me. I know that as long as I continue to be the best version of myself, I know that I'll be okay living up to nobody's expectations but my own.
Between these different sessions and the varied performances, do you feel like they allow you to communicate something special? Something that the listener doesn't pick up on just by streaming?
Yeah, I think live doesn't lie. Somebody told me that long ago. It was important to let people know that I'm a real artist, and I pride myself on my artistry. Even when I harmonize, it may not be as perfect as Beyoncé, but you feel the emotion and the rawness. Now everyone's like "We want the live version of this on streaming," and that was the goal for me, to showcase my talent on a live front. Knowing that people enjoyed it really brought me great satisfaction, because I felt like I accomplished what I set out to do with these live sessions.
When reviewing Save Yourself's tracklist, is there a reason why you left off certain tracks?
For the most part, it was about doing visuals for tracks that didn't have them. The tracks on the Live Sessions were definitely fan favorites, and they're my favorites as well, so that's why I decided to do the ones that I did. Plus I told myself I'd never do "Save Yourself" without Blakk Soul. So that's why I chose the songs that I did. The deep album cuts that people really liked
You have an interview with Art Director and Photographer Kayla Reefer. What is your relationship to her, and what was the biggest takeaway from talking with her?
Kayla is my friend first and foremost, but she's my photographer and a Creative Director as well. She shot the cover of Save Yourself as well as the project's singles. I wanted to give people a backstory on the relationships I have with the people I work with, and how we're able to maintain great friendships and even better work relationships. I wanted to give the people I'm working with their flowers, giving history on them and how much they mean to me. How much their work means to me. How much I respect them and their genius.
We all make a collective between us that we call The Delegation, and we're like the '96 Chicago Bulls. Each person plays their role so well, and it's fun because it's not always about work. We just call each other sometimes like "What's going on, how you feeling?," and the work relationship is just a cherry on top. These people helped get me to this point, and it's beyond just work. These are people I'm planning on working with for the rest of my career.
Speaking of, what are your plans moving forward?
I plan on hitting the road man! Definitely got a lot of new songs coming, and I'll be at Day N Vegas so I'm excited. I'm looking forward to spreading music and experiencing being an artist post-pandemic.