British singer-songwriter Yola recalls the exact “aha!” moment when the song “It Ain’t Easier” was born.
“It was a bit of an epiphany I’d reached,” she told EW when she stopped by recently to perform the track from her stellar 2019 breakthrough album Walk Through Fire. She recalls working on songs and talking with a friend and says “I’d been trying to excavate some of my emotional situation. I realized that for everything that I’ve been through to get to the point of being free enough to write under my own guise, and people apparently seem to be caring I was doing it, for all the love that I had acquired — it didn’t necessarily make life easier.”
Never has coming to understand that success, no matter what form it takes, doesn’t solve your problems sounded more soulful than it does when the Bristol native opens her mouth to belt it out.
It was a long, hard road moving from featured singer in other groups to stepping forward and sharing her own vision on Walk Through Fire.
“I spent a lot of time in this role that I don’t think people quite consciously take on board as a role that exists,” she says of working with bands and DJs who don’t have permanent vocalists. “That was my job for heaven knows how long, front person for hire.” And while she says that sort of itinerant life might sound freeing and flexible it actually became “very specific and very confining.” She knew she had to make a change. “I was like, ‘I’m done with this. I’m going to have to create the thing myself, on my own.’ And so I just had a big sea change and I edited out everyone that wasn’t supportive or loving in some way and started rebuilding.”
That rebuilding is evident on Walk Through Fire. Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the album is a glorious combination of Dusty Springfield-esque retro pop goodness and deep-rooted country soul that moves from whispered intimacy to widescreen bombast. Since pouring her true self into the music, the success has been remarkable — including four Grammy nominations (one being for Best New Artist), an appearance at Glastonbury, a slot opening for Kacey Musgraves on her sold-out tour, and props from celebrity fans like Elton John. Yola also contributed to another one of 2019’s best albums, the debut by the supergroup the Highwomen featuring Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires. She performs on the album’s signature song.
“This year has been kind of surreal, unreal, anything but real,” she says. Although she knows it’s been real, “because I’m exhausted.” The kind of exhausted that just might lead to another great song. “We’re getting ready to go back into the studio and start the process. That should be really exciting.”
Yola’s Walk Through Fire world tour will continue in early 2020 with January shows in Cambridge, MA, Brooklyn, Minneapolis, Toronto and more.