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Q&A with Lina Naf

Lina Naf is an indie, alternative-pop, bubblegrunge artist who blends late '90s nostalgia with a contemporary sound. A Seattle-based artist, Naf collaborates closely with her LA-based producer and creative partner, Jesse Field. Her music has been described by industry professionals as 'indie pop with alternative nostalgia' and 'dream pop alt-noir that will dig into you.'

Naf explores themes of  heartache and mental health, through catchy melodies and raw emotion. Her music shifts between feel-good alternative-pop hits (akin to bands like Alvvays), and dark, cinematic music (in the vein of Daughter and The Marias).

Lina Naf logo.

Your latest single is called "Better Place." Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it?

Yes! Thank you for asking. I actually wrote ‘Better Place’ back in 2018. The song was inspired by the feeling of falling in love while battling depression. It’s about finding a sense of safety in another person. 

The outro feels a bit like reaching for someone while spinning around a whirlpool. I think the instrumentation, in some ways, tells more of a story than the lyrics do. My producer and I wanted to show the emotional journey of the highs of love amidst the lows of mental health through the instrumental production. 

You’re also working on your first album. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

I’ve been so excited about this project. The album actually spans over 10 years of my songwriting career– songs I’ve written from young adulthood until now. Songwriting has been a hobby and passion that has stuck with me my entire life, but I didn’t start actively releasing my music until just last year. So yes, this will be my first-ever album! It’s overdue for sure, but I’m so happy to finally be sharing some of my art and life experiences. We don’t have an exact release date yet, but we are pushing to release the first album single sometime this summer.

The album is a “driving with the windows down” kind of album. Very feel-good and energetic. It leans into that early 2000s alternative “bubblegrunge” genre, with some indie pop influence. I’ve touched on a variety of relationship dynamics, so hopefully there’s something in there for everyone. 

Lina Naf

I noticed that outside of Seattle, one of your largest listener bases is actually in Indonesia. Have you performed there in the past? If not, what do you think might have led to your significant listener base there since developing an audience outside of your initial market can be incredibly difficult for new artists?

I’ve noticed this as well! I’ve never played in Indonesia, and I’m not entirely sure how that listener base happened. I did notice my single, ‘Complete,’ was added to some playlists of an REI-type adventure store in Indonesia called Eiger. I’m not sure if that helped boost exposure, or if it was the algorithm, but after that, it was played all over Indonesia in many different cities. 

You’ve spoken pretty openly about your struggles with mental health. In an Instagram post, you wrote: “the majority of musicians– a massive 70%-- report experiencing depression and anxiety, leading me to wonder if those of us who struggle with mental health are drawn to music in the first place, as a sort of therapy and emotional outlet. I know music has been a complete lifesaver for me, and has given me a sense of purpose when I’ve been at my lowest.” I’ve definitely noticed a similar trend. What advice would you give to another artist or listener who is struggling?

As simple as it is, one piece of advice would be to be mindful of the music you’re listening to. If you need to cry, focus on the heavier stuff. If you want energy to get through the day, listen to something upbeat. Logically, we all know this, but it’s surprisingly easy to forget how quickly even just one song can impact our mood and emotion. I have to keep reminding myself to take advantage of it. 

My advice to another artist who is struggling is to, of course, continue channeling those heavy emotions into their music creation. I’m also curious about our collective experience with the new music industry, and how it impacts our mental health as artists, especially with social media, and the pressure to create consistent high-quality music and content. It’s a big workload on artists, and it can be hard to know where to draw those work/life boundaries when you want to perform at your best ability. I know it has affected my mental health at times. My advice in that area would be to be gentle with yourself and to know that you’re not alone in that feeling. Connecting with other artists is a good way to feel less isolated. 

You have a strong visual identity (through your photos and videos, logo, website, etc). How did you curate that?

Thank you so much for saying that. I’ve been slowly narrowing down the visual and sonic brand. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my music while searching for visual inspiration. Trial and error has been my best friend in this process. The logo was a fun one to tackle. I had pages and pages of sketches spread out on the floor, writing my name in as many ways as I could think up. My partner and I scanned in one of those handwritten names, and then I actually kissed a mirror which we photographed and scanned into Photoshop to create the logo I have now.  With album marketing and promotion, my goal has been to develop that visual brand even further. I’ve been gathering a lot of inspiration from late 90s editorial-style photography. Ray Gun Magazine has been a big inspiration for me.

Given that degree of visual branding, do you have any plans to release any full-length music videos? 

I do! I’m hoping to release at least a couple of music videos within the next year, depending on budget (or time availability if I’m directing and editing the videos myself). 

Lina Naf

To me, many of your songs sound like they could be on the soundtrack of a movie from the 90s or 2000s. If you could have one of your songs used in any piece of media, what would it be and why?

I’m so glad you picked up on that. It started out coincidental, and now stylistically, it has become very intentional. For the album, we’re really leaning into that late ‘90s / early 2000s nostalgia. 

I would absolutely love to hear my music in the opening or closing credits of a romantic comedy, something like a modern-day ‘No Strings Attached’ or ‘Thirteen Going on Thirty’ type movie. I write softer, more cinematic music, as well. I could see those songs played in a romantic drama. One of my unreleased songs, ‘Lovers’ Games,’ I’ve always pictured in a nightclub scene of a movie or television series. 

You work closely with LA-based producer Jesse Field. What is your creative process like working together?

Jesse and I have been very close friends for almost 6 years now. I can’t imagine creating with anybody else at this point. I bring my songs to him, and together we try to improve the songs to be the best versions they can be. He’s my producer, but also my bandmate, so it’s a unique dynamic. 

I’m pretty solitary in my songwriting process. I’m mostly a piano player, but I’m learning guitar as well.  I bring my demos into the studio (which include melody, lyrics, simple placeholder production, and an overall structure) and Jesse builds them up with studio-quality production. I’m so grateful to have his talents on these songs. He has such a creative ear, and we’ve really found and developed our sound together over the years. 

All of the guitar tracks are played by Jesse. Some of the guitar leads were written by me, but Jesse does the majority of the guitar writing. Sometimes he restructures the songs, switches up chord progressions, etc., and handles all the typical producer roles. We bring in session players for drums, and occasionally session players for other instruments, like bass and strings. 

Do you have a favorite song you’ve written? 

You know, it’s hard to pinpoint an absolute favorite. I do have some favorites, but I love them all for different reasons. It depends on my mood and emotions as well. When you’re sad, sometimes you just want the slow ones. Though I will say, of my current releases out on Spotify, ‘Complete’ is my favorite, followed by ‘Better Place.’ I think those two are the closest stylistically to who I am as an artist. The messages and themes of depression are pretty resonant and powerful for me as well.

Who, or what, has most influenced your music and artistic style?

I’ve been writing music since early childhood, so there’s been a lifetime of influences that have sort of built on each other. There are a handful of artists I’ve been pulling most inspiration from lately though. There’s a bit of variety in there. I’d say Alvvays, Bad Bad Hats, Beabadoobee, Daughter, The Marias, and Microwave have had the most influence as of late, though the influences are pretty subtle. I’ve also, of course, pulled influence from those late ‘90s / early 2000s influences like Alanis Morisette, Liz Phair, Michelle Branch, early Avril Lavigne, etc.

What are you listening to currently?

In addition to my album influences, some other bands and artists I’ve been listening to recently are The Japanese House, Angie McMahon, The National, Vera Blue, Art School Girlfriend, and Tom Odell.

Listen to Lina Naf's single "Better Place" now.

Lina Naf

Photographer: Sofia Ermolenko

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