Nadia Ali is one of the greatest natural voices on the dance floor scene.
Formerly of Iio (“Rapture”, “Is It Love?), the singer has since embarked on her own successful career as a solo artist. After a series of songs recorded with artists including Rosko and Armin van Buuren, Ali finally unveiled her long-awaited debut album Embers in September of 2009.
A stunning collection of heavenly trance music and ambient sound, the album showcases both Ali’s unique vocal delivery and her knack for scribing deeply personal, sophisticated electronica, proving why she’s since become such an overwhelmingly admired, oft-requested collaborator for producers and artists alike.
Last Friday, I had the honor of speaking to Nadia as she prepared for a trip to Brazil. She was amazingly kind and as sweet as expected, and she provided a lot of thoughtful, in-depth responses to my questions. Instead of drafting up a short feature, I thought her fans would instead appreciate the full-on Q&A. Below is the entire transcript. I hope you all enjoy!
Aww, thank you so much! I really appreciate that.
Of course! It was incredibly crafted. One of my readers wanted to know what your influences were when you were creating the album–what you were listening to, or any records in particular.
It’s interesting that you ask because I was listening to a lot of different things while making this album. I was listening to Radiohead quite a bit. I was listening to–there were definitely some influences. BT, I love. I love a lot of folk singers. I love artists like Ray LaMontagne, Neko Case, Sheryl Crow, so I have a lot of that. It comes through in my songwriting because I am writing more to just a piano and a guitar the first time a song is born–it’s written to those two elements, and then it goes into production. That’s when it gets its wardrobe, its attire. That’s the process.
Was the album produced by the same producer, or were there multiple producers?
There were multiple producers–three main producers. There was a gentleman in Chicago named Fritzy who always wanted to make something for the album. His background is in folk rock, so with him I sort of went through the journey of taking it to a more electronic place. The other two collaborators were Ned Shepard and Sultan, who are based in Montreal. They’re actually DJ/Producer artists, and they come from a very musical background. Their music is generally electronic and synthesized. With them, I basically had them go the more organic musical instrumentation side. The last of the producers was this guy in Sweden, Alex Sayz. He and I actually worked electronically back and forth on three of the songs. Yeah, those of the three main people. There were a few other producers I collaborated with that didn’t make it on the album, but that’s simply because you want to choose the songs that seem to fit with the rest of the album.
It’s surprising that there are three very different producers or sounds because the album definitely sounds cohesive. It sounds like it could have been done by the same producer.
Yeah. The common denominator is my voice and the songwriting, so I guess that’s where the cohesiveness comes. Also, we were playing a lot of these songs back and forth. The producers were aware of what I was looking for. I co-produced the whole album, so that’s where you get that semi-similar sound.
How long was it in the works, as far as writing and recording?
Oh my goodness. (Laughs) It stretched over a course of four years. That’s due to all of the touring, and many drafts of different productions that I had. I had some songs produced four different times until I felt it had the right production in the end. You know, I was still learning who I was as an artist, my identity as a songwriter, co-producer, what I could do vocally. That all contributed to the four years. (Laughs)
Well, it paid off, so don’t worry about it.
Aww, thank you. Thank you.
I would have to say that one of my favorite tracks off the album is actually “People.”
Oh, really? Wow! Thank you, thank you.
It’s deeply emotional. When I hear it, I get choked up all the time.
Really! Tell me why you like it?
Well, the chorus itself is really haunting itself I think. There’s something about the production–it’s sort of got an epic feel. Actually, one of my readers said its sort of like when they listen to Madonna’s Ray of Light record which was just very organic and spiritual almost. It is like that, it’s just a very haunting record.
Thank you! That album is obviously one of the best in electronic music history. She really was very forward. That album came out…that album came out in 1998. That’s twelve years ago. She’s definitely a huge influence as well.
About the song, what was your influence behind the track, or how did that come to be?
As far as songwriting or production?
Ned, Sultan, and I were in Montreal. We wrote the majority of the album together. We’ve written dozen of songs at this point over the last three years that we first started working together. We were in the studio in January in Montreal, it was freezing outside. We were listening to all these songs that we loved. We were talking about how much we love Depeche Mode, and we wanted to do a song that was like an ode to Depeche Mode.
You know, the boys loved their sound as well. They created the music for the track within fifteen minutes, and I wrote the melody and lyrics to the song in another thirty minutes. It was born very, very quickly and the inspiration behind the lyrics was from the journey of being an artist in the industry, and the resilience you have to have to not be disheartened by all of the challenges that come from critics and people. In the industry, people always have opinions, people always have something to say. It was supposed to be a really encouraging song to send a message that there was nothing that would stop me or anyone who can relate to the song from moving forward.
Yeah. I think it’s a very inspiring song, and I love that it was inspired by Depeche. (Laughs)
(Laughs) Yeah, they’re one of my big influences as well.
That’s awesome. So the album was released on an independent label, is that your own label? Smile in Bed Records.
What do you think of publishing as far as digital and physical–and do you think it’s preferable to do a self-publish?
Yes. You know, nowadays we as artists have a lot of freedom. There’s always two sides to the story. Yes, we have to deal with a kind of piracy that we never had to deal with prior to the millennium. The advantage to that is that your music can spread a lot quicker than it used to since the advent of the MP3. The disadvantage is that labels don’t have the same power they used to have.
One of the things that I always valued is to be autonomous and as independent as I possibly could be, from getting directions from people that I didn’t always feel understood what I was trying to do artistically. I decided to invest in my own career and really give it the TLC I felt I needed for my own project. It was definitely a wonderful experience. Even though its an independent release, there’s still a lot of people that come together to help make it what it is.
This wasn’t released physically, was it?
Not into retail stores, but it is available on my website.
Have you ever considered going into that territory? A lot of artists are experimenting with different forms of distribution, not only digitally, but with things like USB sticks and 7″ singles. Have you ever considered that?
I have! Unfortunately, I’ve been so busy with songwriting and studio work that we have yet to really think about expanding our merchandise and all of those other things that need to be addressed and taken care of. Unfortunately, it’s the painter’s house that never gets painted. (Laughs) That’s definitely something I’m working towards.
I only ask because I’m such a nerd about album packaging and special editions. I always love when there’s limited edition things.
I know–you sound like you’re definitely an attentive listener. I care for things that are special too. People can definitely buy my physical CD online.
That’s great. So, moving onto your current state of affairs. As we’ve deduced, you’ve been quite busy running around the world.
I saw that you were working with a number of producers. I saw that you were working with Morgan Page, as you posted last night actually, a little teaser.
Yes, I did!
What are you doing together?
Well, we’re working on some music that will be featured on his next album. The same music will also be on my next album…
Yes. He actually just a did a remix for my upcoming single from Embers called “Fantasy,” which I’m really excited about. Yeah, it’s been a really great experience working with him.
It seems like you guys have a lot of fun working together from the video.
Yeah, we definitely have. He’s a wonderful human being aside from his work. He’s phenomenally talented, and he’s got a really bright future ahead of him, I think.
So, you mentioned a ‘next album’. Does that mean you’re already working on a new album?
(Laughs) You’re the first to know, you’re the first to know! For sure.
Wow! Really? Already?
Yes, it never stops. It never stops.
It didn’t seem like it, because as soon as Embers was released, you were already back in the studio and I was like ‘I don’t..I think she’s still recording!’
(Laughs) Yeah, no I’m always working. The other reason why I’m in the studio is that I’m collaborating with the studio with a lot of different artists as well.
I was going to get into that in just a second, but just as a follow-up: So where are you progress-wise on this next one?
(Laughs) I’ve actually come quite a bit away into the process. I also have a huge backlog of songs that didn’t make it onto this album, so I have probably 100 songs sitting in my studio that have never seen the light of day. I’m just having a really great time collaborating with people and still releasing music that isn’t necessarily on my forthcoming album, but it is going to be released this year.
Well, I’m highly looking forward to that.
Aww. I’m so glad that I’ve been really blessed with the amount of interest I’ve had in collaborating with these really talented artists that are out there–Morgan being one of them. I’m sure you’re going to ask about this anyway, but I’ll just beat you to the punch. There’s Schiller, we have a song coming out on March 12 which is going to be wonderful.
Yep, there was a preview, right?
Yes, there was a little–what do you call that? A teaser. A snippet.
I saw you also posted some behind-the-scenes pictures from the video.
Oh! (Laughs) It was really incredible. It was really, really wonderful. The Schiller camp–I don’t know if you’re familiar with Schiller, are you?
I’m not. I know they’re a dance act from Germany, right?
They’re a dance act–he’s a dance act from Germany. A guy named Christopher Von Dylen. Christopher is the equivalent, or has a very similar following to Moby in the United States. He’s been around for…I want to say ten years. He has a wonderful fan-base, a really great following. A really solid sound, really beautiful, emotional electronic music. He’s a true artist/producer/songwriter, and he’s not a DJ, which is different from a lot of the other artists i work with. He’s unique in that regard.
Okay, so that’s coming out soon. Also, I saw a recent status update that you were in Switzerland.
You are so good at following me on Twitter! I’m really glad. (Laughs)
So what were the sessions in Switzerland about?
Yes, so one of the other artists I’m working with is EDX, who has also been around for a while. He’s got a fantastic sound. He’s very sought after in the industry. He’s very talented. He’s part of a Swiss family of DJ/producers, one of the main partners that he has is a guy named Chris Reece. He is one of the people that’s just really prolific in the studio. They’ve got a really great sound to them–they’re really quick, very talented. I actually reached out to EDX about doing a remix for “Fantasy,” and that’s what started our whole working relationship. He asked me to collaborate on Chris’ album first–it’s going to come out on Armada this year. I wrote a few different songs with them, so there’s going to be that song on that album this year. Another artist that I’m working with is Armin van Buuren. We have a song that’s going to come out this year too. One of the things that I’m most excited about is working with Sultan and Ned Shepard. Since they worked so closely with me on my album, they have an album in the works right now, and I’m collaborating with them. We have a really, really hot song that we just finished a few weeks ago that we’re really excited about. (Laughs)
So basically, you’re all over the place.
Yes. I’m all over the place, and I’m loving every second of it.
That’s fantastic. So we’re going to be hearing a lot from you in a lot of different varieties.
Exactly, and that’s the thing about it–it all falls under the umbrella of electronic music. There are so many sub-genres within that industry, that everything that I’m doing is somewhat different from the next.
Yeah–and actually, I meant to ask you: I don’t know if you have ever thought of this, but have you ever considered doing something outside of electronica?
It’s funny that you should ask! I definitely have done some things outside the electronic industry. Most of what I’ve done is for fun, but I have very diverse sides to me–I should say eclectic. It sounds a little pretentious to say I’m eclectic, but…(Laughs) I definitely have a knack for loving acoustic, organic music. I definitely have a plan to do an acoustic album at some point, and I love world music, especially because I am ethnic myself. I want to do an album that really explores the more exotic side of me. Actually, I did that with one of the artists I collaborated with–Serge Devant. I did a vocal that was completely Eastern chanting style. That came out on Ultra Records in November. That was really cool.
Well, you certainly demonstrated that you can do acoustic recently with the “Fantasy” acoustic session that you uploaded, which was fantastic.
Oh! Did you like it?
Yeah! A couple of my friends–I was letting them know that we were going to have an interview, so that’s what I selected to show them, and they all said ‘Wow, she can sing!’
Aww. Yeah, a lot of times with electronic music, people lose sight of the fact that there are some really–what’s the word I’m looking for? How can I put this without tooting my own horn? (Laughs) I definitely love to sing. I love sharing that part of me with people. When I sing with just a guitar and a piano, it’s such an intimate energy created, and I think people really absorb that.
I think a lot of the time I think people don’t realize that dance music translates so well into acoustic versions. you know?
Can you talk a little bit about “Fantasy” was chosen as a single, and your plans for the song?
Sure! “Fantasy” is definitely one of my favorite songs off of Embers. I chose for it to be the last song on the album because I felt as an artist it summed up as an artist how I like to be recognized: an emotional songwriter that loves being a part of electronic music. I just feel that there’s really powerful emotions in that song. I always wanted it to be a single, and I just had to choose the right time for it to be a single. I got my fans involved and had them choose between another one of my favorite songs off the album, “Point the Finger.” People chose the single between those two songs, and that’s how the decision was made.
I think that’s the best way to make it!
Yeah, I definitely love my fans. They’re extremely loyal, and very, very helpful. The plan is that there are a couple of remixes that are going to come out: one with Morgan Page, the other with EDX, and the other is Rachael Starr, and another artist is Starkillers.
Do you know when those will be out?
There isn’t an exact release date just yet, but it’ll be sometime in the spring.
I know you have a busy day coming up, so I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. Thank you so much for chatting with me. It’s really been an honor–you’re definitely one of my favorite vocalists.
It’s a pleasure to talk to you as well, and I really appreciate all your questions! They were definitely different. Thank you so much again!