Get To Know: Native Nashvillian & Neo-Soul Songstress Arlana Discusses Debut Album ‘SONGBIRD: UNE’, & More

In a city where country music reigns supreme, upcoming artist Arlana is pushing the boundaries with her debut album release SONGBIRD: UNE

Having described her unique style as Neo-soul and R&B, she is certainly showcasing fresh and exciting sounds in Nashville and beyond. Prior to her recent album, she has released five singles since 2019. As a newer artist on the scene, she is on a roll with three vibrant singles released just this year.

Her debut album includes ten songs representing an ongoing story as the next one plays. Topping off the album with, “NIECEY. (Intro), she introduces a short and compelling beat letting you in on her current emotions in her love story explaining that she could be anything her love wanted. From everything in between, she has a song for all the emotions love brings such as love, anger, doubt and even questioning. With lots of honest lyrics as well as warm tones, she invites you in on her journey throughout the album.

With a fitting final track titled, “THE END.”, she gives a sad yet hopeful ballad of letting go of everything and moving on, as her evocative, sonic journey concludes.

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She was kind enough to fill us in about the making of the album, future plans, and much more.

How do you feel after releasing your debut album, and how long had you been working on it?

I’d been working on this body of work for about two years (give or take). It was a process for sure. I didn’t expect it to take as long as it did, but the perfectionist in me wanted everything to be as close to perfect as possible. After releasing, I honestly felt a little anxious, not because of the response, but because I was already thinking of ways I could outdo myself. I’m already excited to start working on the next thing. 

What made you decide on the cover art of SONGBIRD:UNE, and is there any special meaning behind it?

I’d envisioned the cover art probably a year and a half ago. In the south, there’s this superstition about red cardinals, and that when you see one, it’s a reminder from heaven that a loved one is thinking of you. My mom died when I was 16, so every time I see a cardinal, I like to think she’s letting me know she’s thinking of me. That’s initially where the idea came from. I’m coming into my own, but I’m still a reflection of her. She always loved to sing, I think this piece of work would have made her really proud.

While it may be like picking a favorite child, do you have a favorite song or two from the album, or that you were most excited for fans to hear?

That’s always a hard question! “ONLY HEAVEN KNOWS” is probably my absolute favorite, the writing is some of my best ever, and of course, it has sentimental meaning as well.

Other than that one though, “LUNE” would probably be the next one on the list. It was the most fun to write, I produced it in Garageband and recorded a sample using my record player. Literally started from the bottom, but it’s a fan favorite, all my supporters say it’s their favorite off the album. Also, it just grooves so hard!

Where was the album produced, and who helped bring it to life?

I produced the album with my producer friend Josh Ashley. Most of the production took place in his home studio. A lot of the songs started out as voice memos and hodge-podgey ideas I had scribbled in notebooks. I’d come to his studio and I’d say, “So I got a new song,” and he’d just roll his eyes and we’d piece it together. He was really great at bringing out the creativity in me. Sometimes you feel stuck when all your ideas come from your own head. You question your creative choices, you get blocked, or you can’t gauge whether or not what you created was really that good. It helps to have someone honestly critique your ideas and then kind of filter them out into something that heightens your creative potential. 

How would you most accurately describe your overall sound, and what specific artists do you admire most that have influenced your style?

I always struggle with this kind of question, because I derive so much inspiration from a lot of different types of music. I like to say I’m a cross between Alt-Soul and Jazz. There are a lot of Jazz and Hip-Hop influences in my music. 

I’m extremely inspired by Jill Scott. She’s probably my go-to Soul artist of choice. Aside from being an incredible singer, she incorporates spoken word/ poetry into her music in a way that almost feels like rapping, but stops short. She’s the blueprint for Neo-Soul in my opinion. I also really love Robert Glasper, Anderson. Paak, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Sade lately.

What made you choose Nashville to pursue your musical dream as opposed to another big music city market?

I like to think Nashville chose me! I was born and raised here, and every time I tried to leave, the timing was never right. I took it as a sign that this is where I need to be, at least in this season of my life. Nashville is in this really cool transitional phase right now, and a lot of different genres (outside of Country) are finally getting their moment to gain footing. It’s a bit of a challenge still, but I’m meeting so many amazing musicians here in the city that make incredible music, and I believe it’s only going to grow.

Has there been any personal musical mentors who you feel have helped you develop as an artist?

There have been a couple. My parents, first and foremost, were really big on music when I was a kid. Both my mom and dad used to dabble in songwriting and performing before my dad decided to become a minister. I’ve been writing songs since I was nine years old because of it. My dad and my older brother, Nick, have really amazing musical ears, and they give me a lot of advice and critique. Also, one of my professors in school, Bruce Bennett, was probably the most influential “mentor” I’ve had. He knew how to light a fire under my ass, never beat around the bush, and always gave me honest opinions. I don’t know that I’d be as determined as I am without him.

In a previous single, “COMPLICATED.”, you collaborated with joshua. What are your thoughts on co-writing versus writing for yourself? Pros and cons?

Co-writing can be fun if you’re writing with the right people. It really depends on what you’re trying to say. I prefer to write for myself because I usually know exactly what I’m trying to say and how. If I don’t, I can do some self-exploration and figure it out. Co-writing requires a little more flexibility and patience. But it puts your work through the fire, and you definitely grow as a writer. My next body of work will probably have a lot more collaborations, which I’m looking forward to.

Do you have any upcoming live performances fans can expect this summer or fall, and if so where?

I’ll be playing a showcase at Analog at The Hutton Hotel on August 20th. I’m also releasing a virtual show sometime next month to celebrate the album release.

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