The Swedish-Ugandan singer-songwriter takes inspiration from the energy of dance and the unapologetic freedom of Björk on her debut album.
Pheeyownah, born Feyona Naluzzi in southern Stockholm, is the Swedish-Ugandan singer-songwriter unabashedly fusing her own personal poetry with the reverberating rhythms of atmospheric R&B, creating heavy yet heavenly melodies that play in the realm of SZA and FKA Twigs. In advance of the official release, Document premieres the music video for “Forget” a single off of SILVER, the multi-instrumental artist’s beautifully enveloping debut album out tomorrow on Labrador Records.
Exploring themes of self-empowerment, love, insecurity, and freedom of expression, the healing nature of the album is complemented by Pheeyownah’s echoing voice that sounds off into the ethers over deep, hefty beats. The album slowly rolls like a subaqueous warehouse party, broken up by techy, industrious glitch effects and interludes of spoken word. I talked with Pheeyownah about her lifelong relationship with music, her unfiltered, all-female dance collective JUCK, and how the fearless individuality of Bjork has inspired her to bring a similar unapologetic attitude to Pheeyownah, the artist, and Feyona, the mother of two and full-time student.
Kaylee Warren—How did you get started making music?
Pheeyownah—Music is part of my Ugandan culture. It’s like the center of our culture, music and movement and dancing. In our household, we’ve always had music, like MTV, the radio—there’s always been something in the background. It kinda came naturally, even though I’m the only one in my family who pursued a career within the arts. I started off learning a few instruments, and I eventually landed in the dance scene. That really spoke to me and it was kind of like finding my home… parallel to that, I’ve always written poetry. So that was another outlet for me because I have this urge to be creative and find different outlets for that. Music and writing and dancing are like my three main things where I felt like, “Okay, I have potential [laughs]. Let’s give it a go…”
Kaylee—I was reading yesterday about your dance group JUCK, and how it aims to subvert the norms through which women are expected to perform their femininity through movement. How does that play into your music? Do those themes show up in your lyrics?
Pheeyownah—JUCK is definitely an inspiration because within our collective we aspire to break boundaries and be ourselves 100%, without any filter. Just raw and dirty and gritty and everything at once. Expressing your sexuality and just claiming space without any apologies. So, I try to incorporate that kind of way of thinking into my music. Another person who’s a big inspiration is Björk. She’s like my god, my mother of dragons [laughs]. She’s my everything when it comes to music, mainly because she is only doing her thing. I remember the first time I saw her on MTV, back in the day when it was all about music and music videos…
Kaylee—Way before 16 and Pregnant.
Pheeyownah—[Laughs] Yeah, exactly. The first video I saw was “Violently Happy.” She’s on the back of a truck or something in New York City, she’s just dancing around and acting all crazy and I’m like “Who the hell is this?” She totally blew my mind because she just had this energy that was so unapologetic. She was like, “Here I am, love me or hate me, I don’t care. That was very infectious. She really took me by storm. She is like a genre for herself, she is in a different league. I remember “Venus as a Boy,” that video, where she’s just, like, making breakfast, she’s frying an egg. Like, that’s the video [laughs]. She does it in a way that’s just spot on. It’s like “This is what I want to do and you can interpret it the way you want to.”
Kaylee—She makes something like cooking breakfast feel like art.
Pheeyownah—Exactly. So I really try to stay in my lane when it comes to creating my music. Nowadays, social media can be a very big distraction. It’s interesting to see someone’s career thrive, but I’ve struggled a little bit with, pretty much, staying in my lane and believing in what I’m doing, no matter what. There’s just so much input coming from every single direction that can confuse you and question your abilities and your talent—all of that is just poison in the air. It’s been tough because with this process, I had a deadline which was kind of hanging over my head. The plan was to produce the whole album by myself, like with my other stuff. But I’m currently a full-time student and I’m studying to be a software developer.
Kaylee—That’s so cool!
Pheeyownah—It’s super tough [laughs]. It takes a lot of time. I have two kids. I have two boys—a soon to be teen and a three year old. [Between] my family and my studies and my music, I’m like “I don’t have time to produce at all.” During the evenings and late into the early hours, I’m just studying.
Kaylee—Could you tell me more about SILVER? The album itself and the process of making it?
Pheeyownah—Definitely. SILVER is kind of like a rehab album for me. The whole process of recording this album was a little tough. I had to literally stop following artists on social media. Not that I saw them as a threat, but it was more that I was comparing myself to them. I kind of had to log out and stay away from social media a week at a time. I’d go back and be like, “Okay, what’s going on here, okay, not too much” [laughs]. Log out again. Being an artist you have to promote yourself and be active and have an interesting feed, and all of that just kind of stressed me. I’m like, “Oh my god, I’m losing my audience, no one is following me.” But I had to do it in order to stay focused on what I really wanted to do.
Overall, [SILVER] is a collection of poems and is kind of like accepting that life doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. Instead of being angry or bitter or frustrated, you accept it and you embrace it. It’s also about being vulnerable…SILVER is also about empowerment and finding your strength and really holding on to it. Reminding myself of my own strength. That’s super important to me. I write these songs as anthems for myself. Like, “Come on Pheeyownah, you are strong, you’re the best [laughs]”. I’m my own cheerleader through my songs.
SILVER is out May 3 via Labrador Records. Watch the premiere of the music video for “Forget” above and pre-order the album on iTunes.