Yola Carter supported James Brown, performed with Massive Attack and Eddie Floyd and won U.K Artist of the Year at Americana Fest.
Yola talks to us about overcoming vocal nodules, enduring performance disasters, and learning to stop caring so much!
Finding her voice and delivering her style
What obstacles have you had to overcome for your love of singing?
Vocal nodules! No one tells you that it can be a stress related disorder. After losing my voice I found out that my environment could contribute to how tense I was and therefore how easily my voice would recover. I couldn’t talk for two months.
Thankfully I broke my leg, I know this sounds crazy but my voice tension was directly related to stress. I was so high on painkillers it was impossible to be as stressed as I was. I had no idea that breaking my leg could be so helpful!
In the meantime, I had to learn everything from voice physio, to phonology and osteopathy to get my voice back.
A vocal lesson you’ve learned the hard way
I used to get a cold before every show. My body would protest when I internalised my stress. If I’ve had a cold since it’s been a serious one passed on from one particular petri-dish of a band mate, but not by stress. Purge all the douchebags from your life, your voice will thank you.
What’s the most important thing a singer has to learn to become an ARTIST?
Learn to play the guitar! The job is an extremely dependent job if you don’t play in instrument. This means they’ll always be somebody between you and your idea. This can be fun of course, but there is also a freedom and a joy to being able to get an idea out on your own. Once you get over your hand feeling like a calcified claw, you’ll be able to contribute to the full pallet of your musical identity.
Most important lesson you have learned about social media
It’s an opportunity to set the parameters of how you want to come across. You get to define who you are. This is important especially if you are doing a genre of music that isn’t just straight pop music, and even more so if you’re a person of colour doing a genre of music that the media wouldn’t immediately assume that you’d do.
Memorable Live Moments
How can a singer nail a live performance?
There is a stage in your life where it feels like you’re begging the audience to pay attention to you. You’re leaning over the edge of the stage trying to almost physically drag them into your world.
Stop all that crap, close your eyes, sing like you’re ever so slightly upset, unlock your knees if they are locked, breathe using your abdomen deeply enough that it moves and just go searching for that magic tone hidden in the tear of your voice.
Stop giving a sh*t. Caring too much about singing well is one of the main impediments to singing well. In any other form of muscular movement, be it sport of yoga, expecting full muscular function from a muscle whilst trying too hard – and therefore being too tense – is counter-productive.
Strangest gig you’ve ever done…
I recently played the set theatre at Kilkenny Roots Festival in Ireland. The venue was crazy busy and the people really knew how to commit to a good time.
Then I saw a guy in the crowd that I recognised and I couldn’t remember why. Then I remembered, he was one of three people that attended a show I did in Dublin in my old band years ago. We played to him and his two friends for an hour or so and just spoke to them, it was tragic, adorable and hilarious.
A performance FAIL…
Back in the day, black hair care wasn’t an industry that black British people had access to easily. My hair will grow very much, and it would break easily. I used to just grit my hair back in a ponytail and wear a hairpiece as a ponytail.
One day I was singing in a club and dancing around and my ponytail whipped off and went under a speaker stack. I worked my way down to the floor retrieved my ponytail, then danced behind the stack while I put it back on. Goddammit, I’m a pro and the show must go on!
A performance SUCCESS…
I was playing Glastonbury Festival on crutches on one of the muddiest years. I played six stages scattered across the site and I did the whole lot with a broken leg and spaced out on hard-core painkillers.
I can’t remember a song that I sang or getting to any of the stages but I nailed every routine and apparently, I was great. That’s a win as far as I’m concerned!
Yola Carter is a British singer songwriter of country soul music. Previously a songwriter and band front woman and co-writer, Yola has taken to the stage solo and to become a new and critically acclaimed artist in her own right, winning accolades from NPR, The Guardian, American Songwriter, and winning the Americana Music Association UK’s Best UK Artist award by a landslide in her first year on the back of the quality of her live shows. Find out more at yolacarter.com