According to astrology, it takes about 29.5 years for Saturn to come back around and meet your natal Saturn back to where it was when you were born. It’s believed that the Saturn Returns hits in your late 20s and its impact is felt into the early 30s. The planet is traditionally associated with discipline, hard work and sacrifice, and as your teacher it aims to guide you through a major change in your life.
This cosmic rite of passage is documented for NAO in her recently released second album, 'Saturn'. Just like the theory that it’s based on, the record shows a transition into the next stage of adulthood for the singer. In it, intimate textures that appear to draw from the electrifying the natural environment envelope NAO’s effortless soul vocal.
Following the curve of a relationship and the breakup, the songs gracefully rise and fall to demonstrate the consequent effect on the self. Told through astrological musings that twist into gentle hypnosis through their delicate beauty, lustrous moments of sultry R&B fold into pure angelic harmonies. On other tracks, feel-good fast flowing rap verses kick to a delicious afro-beat, before icy tones bite into NAO’s signature falsetto that never falters.
As a trained jazz musician, her ear for the art and all that it stands for truly shines through. The record demonstrates that Saturn’s trip follows no direct route, but in the end, and with a little help from your friends, you grow into a truly a stronger person.
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So you have three hours to prepare for the TED Talk you’re giving tonight last minute. What are you going to talk about and why?
The astrological theory of Saturn Returns.
As a second album, what does Saturn say about where you are both musically and personally now?
I believe Saturn will show you all the growth I’ve been through in the last two years, not just musically but personally, I left adolescence behind and finally became a woman. And with that comes explorations into new territory in which you can hear throughout the album.
You’ve created an accompanying book too, what have you learned in the last couple of years and what is the greatest message that you’d like listeners to go away with?
I think the greatest lesson I learnt in the last two years is everything happens in its own time. I think we spend out twenties racing to get all our ducks lined up, ticking all the boxes which is a difficult thing to achieve. It makes it harder when you see other people around you smashing all their life goals, it can make you feel a lot of things. But I think remembering that everything will happen in its own time, it’s perfectly normal to peak a little later in life.
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So, the interlude discusses the Saturn Return. Is this a process that you’ve been through recently? I guess it can apply to how you make music too, and your own creative control?
Yeah me and my friends have been on a journey with Saturn, it’s called your Saturn return and even if astrology isn’t your thing, I still feel like it’s a great theory to capsulate what one goes through in their late twenties. I wanted a really clear explanation on the album about what your Saturn Returns is about.
Having grown up listening to a mixture of pirate radio, gospel church choirs and the sounds of a London suburb; you’ve really crafted a style of music that is personal to you and it’s been so greatly received. My favourite part is that you pick out delicate sounds and collide them with something bigger - like the subtle birdsong in ‘If You Ever’. Do you always have an ear out for inspiration, and are there any moments we should listen out for?
I don’t consciously have my ear out for inspiration, I don’t go looking for it. But often it just turns up and you cease the moment. Like a tune coming on the radio in an Uber or a song playing in store whilst you’re out shopping. If I hear something that I like I go for my Shazam and add to a playlist for me to listen to later.
You’ve worked with various people on the record. How did these collaborations come about, and what did you learn from them?
I mostly worked with my regular collaborators on this album, I’m super comfortable with them and I thought if it’s not broke don’t fix it. We learn loads from each other all the time it’s hard to pin point one thing, it’s a constant lesson.
From what I’ve read about the studio that the album was recorded in, it sounds a little like Camden market... can you tell us more about the place that it came to life? Are environments important to you in order to be creative?
I work in a communal studio space where lots of my friends have rooms, there’s a big living room where we hangout and drink tea, play video games sometimes. It’s awesome and super important to my creativity, it’s all about feeling comfortable.
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There’s something very pure about the album as a whole. It feels as though it should definitely be listened to in order. How do the songs relate to each other, if they do?
Yeah the album tells a story in how the last two years have unfolded, I don’t wanna explain it cause it’s there in the music, but once you listen you’ll understand the story straight away.
Overall, it’s quite a positive record, despite the cool tones. Perhaps this is considered to be quite rare today as a lot of musicians claim that they find it easier to write and produce sad songs. However yours show a more tilted perspective, with a little more optimism with the heart and soul. Does the world need more of this in both music and humanity?
Yeah you’re right, it’s a lot easier to write the sad songs and I had to make a conscious effort to make sure there was balance, the two years haven’t been all doom and gloom, there have been some really special, happy freeing moments and I wanted that to come through in the album. And in today’s climate I think that sending out good vibrations is super important, I feel as though my job is to heal through music and positivity is a big part of that.
Finally, if the record were to soundtrack a new movie - what would the plot be, and who would direct and star?
Hahahaha! No idea what the plot would be but the star of the show would defo have to be Kendrick Lamar, the way he acts in his videos he’s an actor for sure.
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'Saturn' is out now.
Words: Tanyel Gumushan
Photography: Lauren McDermott
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