Photo Credit: @neo816
The ‘90s gave the world so many gifts, one of them being Whoopi Goldberg’s Sister Act and Sister Act 2. The sequel was a constant in my childhood. My older brother and I would sing along as if we were inner-city kids in need of a music program. All the while wanting nothing more than to have their finale style. Elsewhere, a young Nao Yoshioka was also inspired by the film. Only it took her further musically.
While Nao Yoshioka grew up attending church with her grandmother, gospel music wasn’t on the table. It wasn’t until she sat and watched Whoopi that things changed and started to fall into place, “I first heard Gospel music when watching Sister Act and was just blown away by the music.“
At 21 she found herself in New York, spending her free time in churches where she “would just start crying with listening to the music.” Today, she’s moved from an appreciator to a bonafide performer as she’s wowed audiences from the Apollo Theater to Japan’s Super Sonic. She’ll do even more now with her latest release, The Truth, out September 14th. We talked about her start, evolutions and the whole truth of what’s to come.
Kendra: What changed in 2012 when you decided to drop your debut single and try music as a career instead of just as something to fill the time between a day job?
Nao Yoshioka: Before 2012 I was studying music in New York so I didn’t have a day job at that time. That was a big year for me because I decided to leave New York and return to Japan and it was then that I met my future producer Naoki Yamanouchi.
He came to one of my live shows and during the show, I sang “A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. Before I sang that I said to the audience, “I hope that a change is going to happen in my life” and this inspired my debut single called “Make the Change”. The message of “Make the Change” is “We shouldn’t wait for the change, we must make the change.” Releasing my debut single gave me so much confidence and I finally felt proud of myself. It was a long road to make that dream come true. That song really changed my life.
Kendra: It’s been a minute since your first album dropped in 2015. What personal changes have you had that you feel allowed you to go into your upcoming, The Truth, with a fresh perspective?
Nao Yoshioka: Since 2015 I have grown as a person and artist. For me to record an album and perform on stage has been amazing therapy that has changed me a lot. I was able to overcome my insecurities and really started to enjoy music more than before.
The US release of my debut album The Light in 2015 brought me so many new experiences and gave me the inspiration for my upcoming album The Truth. The inspiration came from my release party at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York for The Light. What really made me feel great was that the audience was so mixed race-wise. When we started to play, there was a moment where we all just felt the music. There were no borders or barriers, there was just music. Even though we speak different languages or are of different races when it comes to music we’re all the same…just humans. That night the music united us all as one.
I do see a lot of news about racial problems but music taught me that there are no borders or divisions among us. That’s the one “truth” that I have learned from my experience meeting other artists and performing around the world.
Kendra: Really quick, what is the one thing people should always be truthful about?
Nao Yoshioka: People should definitely be truthful about their feelings. We are currently living in a very complicated world where there is so much information that tends to cloud our own thinking which causes us not to be true to our own feelings sometimes.
Kendra: One truth is that you’ve got a real groove to every song we’ve heard thus far from the record. Whether it’s sensual with “I Love When” or playing it cool with “Spark,” your sound has innate…as the kids say, soulful swag. Was that influenced by the vibrancy of Japan while you were there, or are is your sound solely NYC?
Nao Yoshioka: I do not feel my music is really influenced by or can be described by a certain city or country. I have traveled to The Netherlands, UK, and the US to record with producers from those countries. So actually it’s the people who I have worked with in the past who have a big influence on my music. When I have recording sessions or live shows, they always influenced me and lead me to try new sounds and new styles.
With this album, we really wanted to experiment a bit and try something that I’ve never tried before. We approached each song with the intention of thinking outside the box sound wise and vocal wise. Each song on the album has a strong character and that’s what I love about this album.
Kendra: You’ve performed on pretty notable stages in both places; Apollo Theater and Summer Sonic. Which was more nerve-wracking when you look back?
Nao Yoshioka: The Apollo Theater was definitely more nerve-wracking. It was way before I started performing professionally in New York. I practiced one song for three months, every single day!
Also, I had always dreamed of performing on stage at the Apollo even before I moved to New York. I couldn’t even believe that I got an opportunity to perform there! I was thinking, “Is this really happening in my life?!” In the end, I was grateful to win second place and runner-up in the Top Dog competition during Amateur Night. It was a really tough competition but the experience gave me so much confidence.
When I performed at Summer Sonic it was more about enjoying the performance. I always wanted to perform at Summer Sonic. It was after I released my second album so I knew what I needed to do!
Kendra: The new album is out this month. What are your plans to finish out the year?
Nao Yoshioka: Yes, The Truth is out on September 14th on Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes. We are planning to do The Truth tour later this year so I hope to see you guys there! Also, we are working on a new album so stay tuned!