Nilüfer Yanya: “It could be the most amazing guitar in the world, but it only matters how you’re playing it”

Nilüfer Yanya
(Image credit: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns)

Weaving arpeggiated indie guitar lines with bountiful synths and intricate vocal melodies, Nilüfer Yanya is a truly contemporary player with plenty of experience to share.

As she gears up to release second album Painless, the London-based singer-songwriter sat down with Total Guitar to teach us a few of the tips she's picked up on her guitar journey so far, and explains why she's a Jazzmaster player through and through.

Collaboration can unlock creativity

“For my new album [Painless, out March 2022], I worked a lot more with one co-writer and producer, Wilma Archer. We did work together on the last record [2019 debut Miss Universe], so it was kind of a development of that. I actually couldn’t write during lockdown. 

“I did write some things but I didn’t write a lot. So it was just completely necessary otherwise I wasn’t going to have anything. It was also kind of bringing me down, not being able to write stuff and not making music, so it was really nice when these songs just happened the way they did.”

Look beyond music for inspiration

“In the past couple of years, I was maybe looking to music to inspire me and it wasn’t really working in the same way it had in the past. That’s literally because we were being told we couldn’t leave our house. I think I'm a person that finds inspiration from music but also other things. 

“I would like to live somewhere else – maybe learn new instruments. I would like to produce. I’d like to learn more languages. I think coming out of Covid, everyone’s felt quite boxed-in and there’s a whole world and so many things I need to do!”

Build your confidence over time

“I started learning guitar when I was about 12, when I started secondary school. From then I just really enjoyed learning and playing in school bands with my friends. I started putting the voice with the guitar maybe when I was 14 or 15, because before that I didn’t have the confidence to even try properly. I was still writing songs but I was way too terrified to think about singing them out loud.”

Find artists that speak to who you want to be as a player

“I remember when I was 18, I saw Lianne La Havas. That was really impressive, because I think up until that point it was mainly male guitarists that I was looking up to. I don’t think I’d even listened to anyone who wasn’t a guy, and she was really, really good. I loved her arpeggiated, fingerpicky style – it was different.”

Sometimes you really only need one guitar to get the job done

“I don’t really have many guitars. I mainly play a Jazzmaster and that’s kind of it! It’s nice when you walk into a guitar shop or you see someone playing a really cool guitar, but it’s more about how you’re playing it at the end of the day. It could be the most amazing guitar in the world, but it only matters how you’re playing it.“

Experiment with gear at a pace that makes sense to you

“When it comes to pedals, I still only know what I’m trying out. I’ve actually been really getting into the fuzz pedal I’ve got, a Big Muff. I’m almost at the point where I need a different fuzz now because it’s too much of one thing. 

“Before that it was mainly distortion or overdrive. I really like delays. I’ve also got a looper where you have to make your own patches and mix it in from your laptop or computer and then add it, so I'm getting my head around that.“

Take lessons you’ve learned in the studio to the stage

“There’s a few songs on the new record that use the looper pedal, so it’ll be a different experience when it comes to playing them live. I’ll be playing something really simple and the pedal will be doing all the work, but I’ll be focusing on the singing in a way that I wasn’t before.”

Keep practising and keep learning

“What I definitely took for granted before was knowing the music so well that I didn’t have to think about it too much. We’d change things around every now and then but I wasn’t learning things. So I’m actually looking forward to that. I’ve got a whole new batch of songs and I just want to make sure everything sounds right.”

  • Painless is available to preorder and is released on 4 March 2022 via ATO Records. 

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Ellie Rogers

Since graduating university with a degree in English, Ellie has spent the last decade working in a variety of media, marketing and live events roles. As well as being a regular contributor to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and, she currently heads up the marketing team of a mid-scale venue in the south-west of England. She started dabbling with guitars around the age of seven and has been borderline obsessed ever since. She has a particular fascination with alternate tunings, is forever hunting for the perfect slide for the smaller-handed guitarist, and derives a sadistic pleasure from bothering her drummer mates with a preference for “f**king wonky” time signatures.