QSC Aspiring Interview: How Tayah’s ‘Hotel Suite 31’ turned her pain into a positive

Born and raised in West London, UK R&B artist Tayah is focussed on making music that tells her story, her way. Having performed at venues such as The Southbank, Lovebox Festival, and Notting Hill Carnival, as well as gaining airplay on UK radio, she has garnered plaudits among audiences and peers for her unique style, experimentation with sound and lyrical storytelling.

Her new single, Hotel Suite 31 is the first taken from upcoming EP, Still Wonders (released on April 28). The UK artist explains how the song sees her turning her pain into a positive and how her new EP focuses on the art of being still.

What musical influences from your upbringing have shaped you to become the artist you are today?

I was surrounded by music in my household growing up. There was always a radio on – all my school friends used to point that out – 24/7 – it didn't matter what time it was or if anybody was in the house, it was always on. 

I was surrounded by people who loved music and we listened to genres ranging from ‘70s and ‘80s, soul, jungle, garage, old school hip hop, R&B, jazz, neo soul...there's a plethora of genres that have been with me since I was very young. It was just always part of me – I have nostalgic memories about music.

Did you ever consider an alternative career before you started to create music?

I had different things I wanted to do. I wanted to be a fashion designer. I wanted to work on a cruise. I'm actually scared of boats now so that's definitely off the table [laughs].

In terms of songwriters, who do you admire?

I've always had my favourites. Raphael Saadiq from Tony! Toni! Toné! Lucy Pearl – very old school! – Missy Elliott, Amy Winehouse for her storytelling and the connection I feel when I hear her vocals, and Mary J. Blige for the same sort of feeling. 

There's so many artists that I could pick out for different reasons that have influenced me and connected with me. I was an English student and I really loved writing stories and poems, so songwriting to me just came very naturally. 

I'm a big lover of songwriting and storytelling, and I appreciate any artists that can do that.

I needed to re-ignite this weak flame of fire I felt like I had left inside.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue music yourself?

I never vocalised it! I've never said, ‘Okay, I'm doing this and I want to become this,’ and blah, blah, blah. I just feel that naturally my actions have moved towards that. Everyday I got up and said, ‘I'm doing something that I enjoy. I've made this song, that turns into a few songs, that turned into an EP, that turned into videos…’ and this and that.

How do you navigate being an independent artist in a crowded market?

It's really interesting. It's really positive, because independence comes with creative control and being able to be free in what you do. At the same time, obviously, there are difficulties and hurdles. 

I've been trying to make sure that I position myself and really get to know different people in different areas, not just other musicians, but people who work in the other areas of the business and create natural bonds with them. 

By doing that, you can see the bigger picture and feel a bit more grounded. It's a good place to be in, especially now, because I'm still exploring myself and the avenues that I can go down. I have the freedom to be able to do that, so I don't take that lightly. I'm very grateful for this and I'm using it to the best of my ability.

it's easy to cloud the truth that you know about yourself.

Your new single Hotel Suite 31 is about the struggles of growing up and the importance of standing firm in one's beliefs. What was on your mind when you wrote this?

The basis of the story came from a point in time where I felt really isolated; where you feel quite alone or low in terms of self worth, and I just changed the story. I changed the narrative and turned my pain into something positive.

The inspiration I got for the lyrics was me trying to remind myself of all the things that I had already come through, and all the things that I know to be true. I think sometimes with negative mindsets and things like depression, sadness, or any of those negative feelings, it's easy to cloud the truth that you know about yourself. 

So when writing this song, I had to dig deep and remember those morals and those things that I know to be true about myself and bring it to the forefront.

I needed to re-ignite this weak flame of fire I felt like I had left inside, so naturally, I went back to my roots; the things I was raised on, the old Jamaican proverbs and scriptures, the things that make me who I am and remind me of what I’ve already come through.

It sounds like songwriting is therapeutic for you; is that the case?

Definitely, yes. Writing in general is really therapeutic for me, and songwriting as well. To sing what you've written…sometimes it's hard, because you're really channelling what you’re feeling. Songwriting is something I love in terms of lyrics and the different ways to write a song.

Every song is not my deepest, darkest thoughts, because some songs are very on the surface. I think the reason why my songs are personal is because I don't always have that channel in my personal life, or just in day to day life – to share my thoughts. 

Music is that one place that I get to do that freely without any rules, without any thought of, ‘What is that person going to say?’ It's just a free piece of paper to let things out on and say what you want to say, ask the questions you want to ask and leave it at that. Somebody else is gonna listen to it and interpret it in their own way. It's a nice little exchange that I'll give up my vulnerability for.

What is the song you’ve written that means the most to you?

In terms of sonics, I would say 8 ‘Til Late – that was on my first EP. That is a popular ode to all the genres and all the inspiration I had growing up and showing them, ‘Look what you guys inspired me to do!’

In terms of songwriting, I’ll say The Sun Sets In The West, which is off my new EP. That is very nostalgic. I actually sat on that song for a little bit longer than the rest of the songs just because I wanted it to really be natural. Everyone who's heard it so far (without me saying anything) has said, ‘I really relate to the song,’ so I'm quite proud of that.

What can people expect from your upcoming EP, Still Wonders?

If you're continuing to listen from all the songs that I've already released, like a returning listener, it's a follow up to my first EP, Wonderer of the West. That project was made in a time of instability and a lot of travelling around, hence the theme of the songs.

This one is more focused on being still, and still has two meanings: still in terms of the act of being physically still, and also still as in continuing to do the same thing. I hope listeners have a deep sense of clarity with themselves when they listen to this project and that it creates a feeling of nostalgia, but also a feeling of being able to accept the present moment. 

I'm looking forward to hearing what anybody has to say, or any ways that people can connect to this one. I'm quite proud of it – it's a bit of a step up.