JBL Emerging Interview: Agnes Azria: "I don’t think I could not do music"

Multi-talented singer songwriter Agnes Azria has established herself as one of the most exciting new artists in her native L.A over the past couple of year, with her deceptively effortless style clearly marking her out as one to watch. In this Emerging Headliner interview powered by JBL, she opens up to Headliner about her origins in music and the challenges facing emerging artists…

“I’m so happy to be here,” a beaming Azria says as she takes her seat with Headliner onboard JBL’s very own truck at this year’s NAMM show in Anaheim California. “It’s my first time at NAMM but it’s amazing, I’m having a great time.”

Azria sits down with us just moments after giving an intimate solo performance live from inside the JBL truck before a privileged audience. Equipped only with an acoustic guitar, it’s a spellbinding set that showcases her raw songwriting talent and her ability to transform the more electronic, beats-driven elements of her music down to a more minimalist setting. 

From the laid back nature of her vocal delivery and performance style, to her easy going manner when chatting to Headliner, there’s an innate musicality and quite confidence in everything she does. Which is hardly surprising, given the grounding in music she received from childhood.

“I feel like music has always soothed me ever since I was a baby - I wouldn’t go to sleep unless somebody sang to me, and I was always attracted to instruments as toys,” she explains. “I started taking voice lessons from an opera singer when I was about eight, and since then it has just always been part of my life.”

Throughout the course of our conversation, Azria speaks slowly but with economy, unhurried yet purposeful, thoughtful without mincing her words.

“During my vocal lessons I would learn other people’s songs and how to sing technically,” she continues. “But I was also writing poems on the side about my very intense eight-year-old feelings,” she smiles, “and my teachers asked if I wanted to make them into songs. We began singing them acapella and I decided I wanted music to accompany them. So, I found a guitar teacher at about the age of 12, and it was mainly songwriting lessons. There wasn’t a focus on any particular genre, it was just about songwriting and supporting myself so I could create these songs.”

I don't have any answers. Everyone's journey is so personal. Agnes Azria

For the budding songwriter, initial influence and inspiration came from relatively mainstream sources.

“When I grew up, my parents worked 14-hour days, so I basically just had FM radio, and pop music was really the only access I had to music as young girl,” she recalls. “I listened to Mariah Carey, and because she was more R&B and soul than pop, I always gravitated towards her. She was a huge influence.”

When asked at what point she decided to devote her adult life to pursuing a career making music, Azria explains that she has never contemplated any other option.

“I feel like it wasn’t ever really a choice,” she states, matter-of-fact. “I don’t think I could not do music and do something else with my life. I would hit the depression that I hit when I don’t touch my guitar or write or sing. It’s a very essential part of my life, to be creating. And naturally it just started to become a profession for me.”

As for what the biggest challenges she and other independent artists face in establishing themselves in today’s hyper competitive music industry, Azria is philosophical, focusing on where she needs to get to next and dealing with circumstances as they arise.

“I’m not going to pretend I have any answers, I’m still figuring things out,” she remarks. “I think meeting amazing people who are willing to help you and give you their resources and support is something that has always catapulted me from one place to another. Meeting a musician who is more than happy to introduce me to their audience and share with me their stage was always something that really boosted my career.

“It’s about finding compassionate people who want to help you live your dream. It’s finding them and treating them well and nourishing those relationships. But I don’t really have any answers. I’m still dealing with the challenges and still going through it. Everyone’s journey is so personal and different from one another.”

Our conversation soon moves on to Azria’s approach to songwriting, which can vary drastically depending on her mood.

“I’m a producer too,” she interjects. “So I have a home studio. I use Ableton, I have my interface, my guitars, my bass and also keyboards and analogue synths I can play with. I always start with drums when I’m producing. Then I figure out an arrangement, and then it’s a case of looking at the message of the song and the chords, and that is a whole other journey.

“Then other times it’s really back to basic, just me and the guitar, and I’ll just write something to a chord progression.”

As lockdown restrictions in the area have lifted, Azria has been relishing returning to the road, performing live at any opportunity and connecting in-person with the various music scenes and subcultures in and around her LA base.

“I’ve been performing once or twice a month since the pandemic restrictions have lifted a little,” she tells us. “I opened up for a couple of people, I’ve been playing some house shows, it’s all about the people that want you to be a part of their scene.

“There are so many subcultures in L.A it is absolutely insane,” she adds. “I feel like I have bounced from one to the other. I feel like I am pursuing music solo right now, but there is the new wave jazz scene, there are rock people, pop writers and producers who are working with big people in LA. There are all these different niches. And I love collaborating, so that’s something I’d like to do more of.”

With two releases so far this year in the form of glitchy electro indie tracks I Always Wanted To Be A Secret Agent and No One Dances Anymore, what does the remainder of 2022 look like for Azria?

“I’m definitely going to be releasing a bunch of self-produced singles,” she says. “And I have some collaborations with other LA-based musicians that I love in the works. And my plan is to make an album and go on tour. Hopefully with the support of a label, but you can expect a lot of singles and LA shows over the coming months.

On the subject of a possible album, Azria highlights the different approach she adopts when writing for a full-length body of work as opposed to a single or EP release.

“It’s a different process,” she states, as our time together draws to a close. “I wasn’t anti-album, but I had just been making songs that came to me. Then I was talking to my old manager and some friends, and I started to think of an album as being more like a story than collection of songs. I have ideas about the topics and the message I want to convey, so sometimes I am writing, and I know this song is for the purpose of the album. Then other times I’m just distracted and feeling like shit, and I have a song that I just have to let out!”

Whatever does come next from Azria, we’re certainly looking forward to it.