Hurricanes, firenadoes, and floods—these are the disasters that have dominated headlines of late. When it comes to the woes of climate change, the proof is certainly in the pudding this year.
It’s this very phenomenon that Nala grapples with in her latest EP with Claude VonStroke, Everything Is Burning. Written in her college locale of Florida at a time of flood, and in California as fires raged in the Malibu hills, both of its tracks see her vocalizing the damage we inflict upon ourselves as a result of refusing to take stronger action on reducing emissions. It helps that the record as a whole is supremely catchy; after all, what better way to mobilize the masses than through dance?
Nala has never been one to shy away from voicing her opinions about the world and humanity’s impact on it. Everything Is Burning is actually a companion piece to her track “Sun Is Hot,” which also addressed global warming. Her music has also covered topics ranging from psychology, to media propaganda, and beyond. Activism comes naturally to her when it comes to musicmaking, influenced by her roots in indie and punk.
The innate sense of edginess and willingness to experiment is what led Dirtybird Claude VonStroke to name her one of the label’s next torchbearers, and for coveted underground institution Lights Down Low to book her as a resident at their parties. It’s also what brought her to the attention of Billie Eilish and her team, who granted Nala the coveted opening slot at Eilish’s album release party in July.
Keen to hear more about the things that drive her, Nala dove deep into the anatomy of Everything Is Burning, and who she is as a creative.
You’ve had quite the career! What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned about networking and finding success as an artist from the ground up?
There are so many important lessons to consider if you’re going to make art a career. I think being kind to people is really important. When you consider your influence on the world, I feel like people really need kindness and they need to see that kindness has power.
Another important lesson is to stay consistent, stay grounded and stay diligent. There’s so many highs and lows, and if you’re not careful, it can take you off track. The people that really make it are the ones that keep working even through the rejections and successes.
As someone who’s found mentors in the Dirtybird family, do you agree that having mentors is key to progressing one’s career? How does one find a mentor in the music industry?
Mentors are really important if you’re looking to break through as a local artist. You have to find people who can take you to and teach you about that next level.
Developing a solid network and reputation within your community is the first step. The next would be to sell your potential and ability to be a valuable member of that mentor’s community. Lastly, maintaining a good relationship and proving value through the work you do!
If there’s anything you could have done differently in your career path so far, what would it be?
I’m honestly very happy with how things unfolded in my career. I think the only thing I would’ve liked to do was go to a music engineering school. I feel like learning everything on my own took more time than if I had gone to school for it.
You’re known for your genre-bending sets; how do you prepare and practice for such complex performances, and where do you source your music?
The whole process is very emotionally driven. For nightclub settings, I just go with the energy of how the rooms and audience feel. For festival sets, I’m usually allotted a shorter time slot so I have to tell a story in a couple songs. Curating a festival set does take up a lot of time, but the work I put into these sets always feels worth it in the end.
I discover music in a couple ways - Beatport, my Discover Weekly and Release Radar on Spotify, and by listening to DJ sets from DJs I admire.
On that note, you recently got to flex your throwback indie/pop punk muscles for Billie Eilish’s release party. Did you feel much pressure in the lead up to that? How did that gig come about and what was the most memorable moment you had there?
Honestly, yeah, I did! I hadn’t played a non-electronic music set in a long time and I didn’t know what to expect. I really wanted to make a good impression. Thankfully, it was a pretty easygoing experience.
I think the entire event production was gorgeous. They really brought her album to life and it was really cool being able to hear her album as it was released with her and everyone else who was there.
Your EP contains conscientious messages about global warming; can you tell us more about the events you witnessed throughout the writing process of ‘Everything Is Burning’ and ways in which you expressed the sentiment you were feeling through sound?
Last summer was really intense for Los Angeles (and the entire globe) in terms of fires and natural disasters. I had never seen the city covered in so much smoke, it looked like we were on Mars. It was a pretty scary feeling - super apocalyptic.
I wrote Everything is Burning at my friend’s studio in Studio City. He has this great spot on the top of the mountain that overlooks the valley, and while I was writing I saw a fire on the mountain across the valley and I was like “EVERYTHING IS BURNING!” Haha.
The sounds I used were sort of dark and intense to match what I was feeling. I think I also wanted to create a song that could be a release from the stress. When I sent it to Claude Vonstroke he had a brilliant idea of adding the acid synth, which really drives the track.
What steps have you taken to reduce your own impact on the environment of late?
I do what I can. I recycle. I carpool as much as possible. I try to shop locally. I donate to charities and try to encourage others to do the same. I vote for eco-conscious initiatives.
Unfortunately, I also feel sort of helpless in this endeavor at times. It’s really up to corporations and governments to make the real changes we need. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing about this topic and hope it inspires others to take action in their own ways.
How else do you plan on using your music and platform to make an impact on society? And what’s your overall vision for your career?
If I can mobilize people into viewing dance music and current issues in a different way, mission accomplished. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about climate change or politics. Some of my unreleased tracks cover disappointment in romantic partners, embracing escapism, and longing for someone’s touch.
Even though these topics might be heavy in theory, I really enjoy being able to make them palatable for a broader audience. I think discussing heavy topics, and making people party or vibe to them is really the goal of my career.
Tell us your thoughts on the phrase, “musicians should stick to music.”
It really doesn’t make much sense. Art has always been political. It’s always been about social commentary. Artists are observers. What we make is our opinion of these observations.
Finally, give us a fun fact about yourself that you haven’t yet shared before
When I was in middle school, I was featured on an episode of That’s So Raven. Haha!