This is: Joyia
assandra Nunes, known professionally as Joyia, is a hidden gem among Toronto’s thriving music scene. Joyia has always known that she wanted to be a musician, and enrolled in classical vocal/piano lessons at the age of ten with the help of her parents. Though she started off as a singer-songwriter, she had a brief stint in her teens as a house/techno artist, which taught her the fundamentals of navigating the music industry.
Although she still dabbles in the world of electronic music, Joyia has since returned to her roots as a vocalist and songwriter. Her current style blends dark RnB sounds with jazz and hip-hop, and her music has been noticeably evolving with each release. The technical knowledge that she learned from producing EDM has also allowed her to craft unique beats and collaborate with other producers more seamlessly.
Joyia’s debut album, Legends, garnered acclaim from Complex, Sidewalk Hustle, and Exclaim Magazine. In the title track’s music video, she gives off the air of a seasoned pro: talented, sincere, and effortlessly chic.
Learn more about her background and the creation process of her sophomore album, Genesis, below.
Joyia performing "Stay" on CBC First Play live with HMLT and KEI-LI
Hi Joyia, thank you for sitting down with us today. Your most recent release was the Genesis EP. Can you tell us about the story and production behind it?
So to back up, I had been writing songs for a good year before my Legends EP, which was my first release as an artist. I was coming to a place where I knew the direction I wanted to take my music in, but was still figuring out how to develop it. When I released Legends (I was around 19 or 20), I was growing not only as an artist, but as an individual. I found that I was being inspired by so many different genres, but I was going back to my jazz roots. The main producer that I work with, HMLT, was bringing more of the jazz sounds and live instruments back into my sound (which had darker, more mysterious Toronto RnB vibes at the time). When I mixed that with my own RnB, it became something really cool that I felt was unique to me - that’s where a lot of the inspiration for Genesis came from. I really wanted to combine those acoustic and digital sounds in my own way.
Genesis was originally supposed to be a four song EP; the first song in there, “More Than Us” was finished and added just a week before we sent everything in for mastering - it was so last minute. A great producer named Ish D, had randomly contacted me on Instagram and sent me a bunch of beats. I heard the beat for "More Than Us" and I sent him back that track written maybe an hour later. I told him that I was planning on releasing an EP soon and that what I had written would be really dope as the intro song; I wanted to get his thoughts because I respected that it was his art just as much as it was mine. But he insisted that I take it and run with it because he genuinely liked it so much.
After that was done, everything just kind of came into line. Genesis was the first project that, from top to bottom, I felt just really encapsulated who I was as an artist and as a human being. I listen to all the songs and all of these songs are different as much as they are the same. They are so different sonically, but they each speak to a different facet of who I am as a musician.
I think that's why I kind of wanted “More Than Us” to be the intro because it had so many of those hip hop elements that were a part of my Legends EP. It showed that this new project still relates to who I was when I released Legends, but now I'm going to build on top of it using sounds that I've developed and what I've been exploring and how I've evolved as an artist.
Toronto has been going through an “R&B revival” over the last few years with the come-ups of people like Majid Jordan, Daniel Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Jessie Reyez. Have they been an influence on you?
I’d say that Toronto has really blown up within the last five years, because before that, Canada was more known for like, folk music and Shania Twain. People didn’t think much about Canada, they’d just be like you’re from the north. And now it's like Canada. Oh, you're from the North.
Then Justin Bieber happened, and I can't say that OVO didn't have a huge part to play in that, too; Drake and the entire OVO crew had an influence on the modern RnB sound that I and so many other artists were leaning towards.
I was also influenced a lot by artists like Daniel Caesar, who takes more of that live sound and those more traditional, old RnB/soul sounds and kind of modernizes them. So I was into a lot of it. There's just so much inspiration everywhere. It's crazy.
How did your journey with music start?
When I was young, I’d sit on my dad’s lap and bang away at the keys of his old Yamaha keyboards; it was one of the ones that had a bunch of buttons with the pre-programmed percussion beats. Every time my fingers hit the keys, my eyes would light up - my dad would always tell me that I was born for this. I always sang around the house, too. My parents have always been supportive with everything I wanted to do without being forceful, which I'm very grateful for.
When I was a bit older we started going to a church with a children’s choir. My parents asked me to start in the choir and see how I liked it before enrolling in lessons. I sang there for around three years, and I was like, yeah, I love singing - like I LOVE music. This is what I want to do. I want to take lessons. So then I started with piano lessons.
Everything just kind of spiraled from there. One of my teachers (my vocal and piano teacher at the time) was like “why don't you try writing a song?” I was like, what do you mean... I'm 13, I have no problems haha - what am I going to write about? And she was like, “I don't know, just start writing.” I started off doing the Alicia Keys thing with just me and a piano, but eventually started going into EDM production. EDM was a good place to start because it taught me the technical elements of production that I’m still able to use today, and it also comes in handy when I’m in the studio environment because I can communicate a bit more easily with my collaborators and tell them exactly what I may be hearing. Most importantly though, I feel like I can empathize with them as an artist; there’s a lot of work that goes into production and it’s really important to respect that.
So this is what led you to attending Ryerson? How was that experience?
I think going to Ryerson is when I kind of “found myself.” I met a lot of really good people who helped me grow out of the high school problems that I thought were so big. It was the same thing musically: when I was in high school, I was so attached to this trend of EDM because it's what everybody around me was doing. As I got older, I realized that I really only got into EDM because I thought people would think I was cool if I was a DJ.
So, yeah, university really caused me to grow up a lot. I went to Ryerson for a new program called Creative Industries. When we got there, the professors were like, we don't really know what this is either, but we're all going to try to define it together ahaha. It was a brand new program at the time so it was a bit of navigating for everyone. I was really fortunate to have some awesome professors who taught us a lot about things like concert and festival marketing, management - that kind of stuff. There some courses where I found myself thinking, “these 12 weeks could have been summed up into one sentence.” But there were other classes where we learned a lot of practical music industry knowledge, and I met a lot of really amazing people. It was really valuable in that sense.
And it was really beneficial in the sense that everybody who was going into the program was aimed at kind of working in these artistic industries. So you made like you made a lot of good connections with people that you could work with in the future.
So you got a lot of good practical knowledge out of it?
Yeah! University is of course a bit more theory based, so a lot of it consisted of assignments and everything, but it was still great - it required an internship which I scored at an awesome entertainment company in Toronto, and I still keep in touch with all of my coworkers. I’ve worked Veld Music Festival for the past four years because of it, and if you’ve ever worked behind the scenes at a music festival, you gain an insane amount of knowledge and respect for how much goes into them.
Would you recommend the Ryerson program to others? Why or why not?
So if you're looking for something a bit more technical in terms of production, I actually wouldn't recommend it - my only reason being is that it focuses more on the working parts and business aspects of this industry.
If you wanted something a bit more technical for production, I'd suggest a college. Ryerson does have a program through their RTA school, which is Radio-Television Arts, but I believe the production is still kind of more in terms of sound for broadcasting and not actual music production. I’d also suggest something like Humber College, which now has a joint university degree program that's actually more jazz based. And of course, there’s Fanshawe out in London. There’s also a place called Metalworks. They’re basically just a music production school and they do certificate programs. I know a bunch of people that have gone through there.
I actually auditioned for the Humber vocal program when I was 18. Knowing that it was more jazz-based, I didn’t think I’d get in, but I just wanted to do it and say that I auditioned, because none of the other university programs that I applied for had an audition process. A month before my audition, my vocal teacher was like, “hey, let's learn some jazz for your audition.” Being classically trained, it wasn’t anything I had done before, but growing up I listened to a lot of bossa nova / Brazilian jazz when it was playing in my house. I never really knew it, but I guess jazz was always subconsciously playing in my head.
I ended up getting in, which put a huge fork in the road for me. The Humber program had elements of music business, but you also had jazz classes and classes on music production. But, I think I ended up choosing Ryerson because I felt like I’d be boxing myself in a program with people that were all doing the same thing at Humber. I wanted to go into a program where I would meet people from different areas of life that could bring multiple perspectives into my learning. And the other thing that I didn't really like about going to a music production program is the idea that I was going to be graded on my music, because to me (and I think a lot of artists can say the same thing), art is something that is judged and consumed so subjectively. I didn't like the idea that my work was going to be graded by somebody who just may not necessarily have the taste for it. You know what I mean? I think that music and art is something that should be enjoyed by people for individual reasons. One person could love it, and one could hate it - I didn’t want or need a grade to reflect what someone else thought of it.
At this point, I know the message and the art that I'm creating is authentic to me - if it speaks to me, then that's what matters. And if it speaks to one group of people and I ‘m able to affect them in a certain way, that's amazing. And if it doesn't speak to one group or other groups of people, that's totally fine, too, because, again, music is something so subjective. I think it’s amazing that there’s something out there for everyone.
We know you got started with mixing after a Swedish House Mafia show. How did you end up transitioning more towards the tech house rather than pop EDM?
So that's a funny story, and HMLT can probably speak to that. I met him when I was young and at the height of my house music obsession, and at that point I was listening to a lot of Swedish House Mafia and big room house. He looked at me and he was like, “you're going to turn like twenty or twenty two and you're going to be like, ‘this shit sucks, I only like techno.’”
I looked him dead in the face and I was like, "What are you talking about?" That's never going to happen. Lo and behold, I turn like 20 years old and start liking techno.
But yeah, I think when I was producing a lot of bigger house music, it got to the point where it was starting to get very redundant - like it was the same thing over and over: make an intro, try to write a little hook, a build up an interesting drop... I took a step back and realized that I was producing all this house music and writing all of these little hooks, but I hadn’t written a full song in forever. And with songwriting… if you don't use it, you lose it.
Fast forward a few years - I met this amazing songwriter (who ended up becoming my mentor), and she told me that if my song can’t be stripped back and played on a piano, it’s not a good song. She taught me to make sure my songs have substance when there's nothing added to it first, before going crazy with it. In retrospect, I think I was drawn to people like Swedish House Mafia, because if you completely strip down a song like “Don’t You Worry Child,” it’s an absolutely beautiful song.
Kind of like the Above and Beyond Acoustic series?
Oh my god yeah. I was like, this is absolutely crazy. I think that that's what I respect the most - you get two completely different styles of music - dance music and classical - all using the same material? You need a ton of creativity for that. For Above and Beyond, they had to completely orchestrate every single song, which goes way past making it acoustic. They composed everything for every instrument and arranged everything completely differently. I have so much respect for that.
Anyway, back to the question - I started transitioning to techno after I began listening to people like Disclosure. When I started listening to them, I became exposed to more UK garage sounds. That's what opened my eyes to this whole other side of UK Garage which is basically tech house with a bit of soul, you know what I mean?
What I dig most about tech house is that you can make a lot of impact with something really simple and subdued - not everything needs to be extra or obnoxious. There's more of an emphasis on the bass line and the actual kind of rhythms of the music, which really interested me because it’s something that's really rhythmically based, similar to the bossa nova that I grew up with. It makes you move - you don't know why, but it does.
What about DJing or making RnB mixes since you also have a lot of knowledge within that genre? What keeps you away from making something like that?
I think it provides my brain a little bit of a nice break. I feel like having those two separate worlds of RnB and electronic music increases my creativity for both. When I’m spending time on RnB, that’s when I’m in my creative element, whereas when I DJ, I use that as a break to discover new music and have some fun. I think it's important to give your brain breaks and just remind yourself of how much you enjoy doing what you do, so that we don't just constantly get caught up in the pressures of creating.
It’s great because when I’m in music-discovery mode, it reminds me of all these other cool genres that exist. So that way, when I go back to kind of songwriting and creating, I'm inspired because I see all these cool things that other people are doing. It inspires me to keep creating in my genre as well, and to not be afraid of taking risks and taking these influences from things that I enjoy.
Can you tell us about navigating the Toronto music scene and how you’ve been finding collabs/ bookings?
I started out self-managed; I was in this mindset of wanting to be the one that was doing everything. I wanted to be the one that was songwriting, producing, singing...everything. I was very closed off to the idea of collaborating with people because my ego wanted me to say that I did everything myself.
When I started working with HMLT, it was very different for me because I was now putting my ideas into the hands of somebody else. We had already known each other for about four years before that, s, in my head, I was putting my ideas into the hands of someone I already trusted. He introduced me to people that he knew, other amazing instrumentalists, other amazing guitarists, writers - homies that he's worked with in the past. I started seeing these amazing collaborations that were just happening in the studio... you know, fluke instances that ended up turning into amazing songs. I started seeing the value in getting so many different perspectives together in one room, because everyone has different influences and listens to different types of music. There’s SO much that collaboration brings to the table that I was missing out on before. And, not only that but, I’ve come out with so many amazing friendships because of it.
So after that, it just became so much fun to meet people, write with new people, and to just work with new people in general. That ended up leading into connections - some obvious, and some completely coincidental - that got me other shows. No connection is ever too small.
Who or what is the most influential artist/album/song for you?
Oh god, my heart is having palpitations right now! Genre wise, bossa nova - it reminds me of my childhood feels like a subconscious influence that has always been there.
But I have to say, I think the one song that had the most effect on me is the Flume remix of You and Me by Disclosure. I heard that song when I was at the peak of my whole house music era. I listened to the original song afterwards and it just blew my mind how different they were. Up until hearing that song, I equated electronic music with house music, but the way that Flume combined electronic music with the orchestration, those drums... Flume’s drums are like a world of their own. He can put drums off time and somehow it’ll still sound like it fits.
That song was pivotal to me because it broadened my perspective in regards to electronic music not just being house music. It also introduced me to Disclosure, which as I mentioned earlier, played a part in reintroducing soul back into my electronic music and such. Songs are so captivating when they're able to just transport you to a different place, and to me, that’s exactly what that song did, and still does.
Anything you do to prepare for a studio session or performance?
I don’t really do anything special to prepare for studio sessions because I feel like it tricks my mind into believing it’s something more than it is. If I hype up a studio session or set up all of these expectations for myself or others, then I feel like I'm not giving my authentic self to the creative process.
I've been to studio sessions where there are people like that, and you just have to adapt to the vibe. But I've also been in studio sessions where it's been just completely organic. I think that you get a much cooler process when it's like that, because at the end of the day, you don't know what you're going to get. You might get an amazing song, but if you don't get an amazing song, then you might walk away with a great relationship with four other people that you may have not known before. You're creating those relationships in that first session, and now that the egos are dropped, you can put all of our best selves into this one song. I think when people feel comfortable and free to give their two cents and give their expertise in a certain area, you get something that is way better.
In terms of preparing for shows, again, I really try not to do anything special. I'm not an anxious person at all, but waiting to perform makes me feel anxious. I don't like to do anything to prepare other than obviously rehearsals, but that's way beforehand. But I'm pretty simple - a quick vocal warmup, or if you’re with your band, then a conversation to level heads before you go on (like a team huddle). These huddles are valuable because they cement that relationship that you have with each other on stage and it kind of lets everybody know that “OK, we're ready for this - we're in this together. We got this”
It’s important because I feel like the audience is very, very receptive and they can sense when something's off or when a group is not fully comfortable up there. You know what I mean? Like, if the vibe isn't there, they know. And it’ll be reciprocated in how they interact with you. So it's just nice to kind of get everybody level headed before you go on and just remember that you’ve rehearsed, you’re all here for a reason, so don’t think it’s anything different. Let’s do it and have a good time.
Do you have a band that you work with regularly / consistently for live shows?
Yeah! Normally it's HMLT (and I’m going to preface this with the fact that I met everyone in this band through HMLT), Mikey on drums, Aubrey on sax, and sometimes we have our friend Daniel Dimito on guitar.
It's awesome because we all just understand each other so well musically. It's so funny how many times we'll go into a jam at the end of a song and just kind of all be in this synchronicity with each other without even trying. So it's just… it's great when you have a band that you're so comfortable around. I'm usually like the only female in a room, but I’ve never felt singled out. They’re all kind of like my brothers who are so much fun to be around, and are insanely good at what they do.
Which if any performance did you really enjoy doing?
The one I think that I enjoyed the most was actually the show that I played with Brahny, when we opened up for Grand Analog. It was one of those days where the crowd was so receptive to everything; we had the full band there, the lighting was great, the sound was great - the entire vibe just felt right. You could tell we were playing the music and that it was making a connection with the people in the audience, which is very important to me now that I've been putting such a focus on my songwriting.
To have somebody come up to me after the show and compliment my voice or singing skills - that’s amazing and I’m grateful for that, but when somebody tells me that my lyrics affected them in a certain way, that’s really the best. Knowing that people are paying attention to the words coming out of my mouth and that they’re resonating with people, that’s more than I could ever ask for.
So playing for that audience was great. There was a moment during a song where all of the instruments went silent and I went silent as well because I was taking a breath. And in that little space of silence, the entire room was silent. And I was like, bro…
Another one was the show with Epik High. We were sadly missing our dear drummer for that one, but that was also probably up there with one of my favorite shows. When we got there, we had our schedule - the sound check was at 6:00, doors were at 7:00, and the show was at 8:00. When we got there at 6, the lineup was already down the block and around the corner for people to get in. As an opener, you expect to walk out to a room that's maybe quarter full, maybe half full if you’re lucky. But when I stepped out on stage, the entire room was packed to the back.
I was like “no, this is not happening right now,” and, not gonna lie, I was kind of shitting myself. It's hilarious because HMLT was next to me - I’d known him for so long that one look and I knew that he was also shitting himself. But we looked at each other and knew we were gonna be fine once we started playing.
Everything ended up going really well even though we were shitting bricks, but that was also amazing because we got to open for a huge group that has a huge following. The audience had no idea who we were but was still really receptive to us, and they really enjoyed our performance. It’s also kind of cool to say that you played for a sold out Phoenix Theatre.
What’s the next step for you? What current goal are you trying to achieve?
So, there's actually been a lot in the works.
I guess it was a bit bittersweet that this pandemic happened because after years of refusing to book a trip to LA until I had a good reason to, I was finally going to go this year, meet all these people, and go to some sessions... but at the same time, quarantine forced me to take a step back and really reevaluate what I was making. I used the time to work on songwriting as much as I could, to develop that skill even more. I ended up challenging myself to write a song a day, and now I think I have almost 70 demos. Now I have all this material for future projects. And it's just like, every song is a song that I'm really happy with. So hopefully next year will look a bit better in terms of getting everything on the ground and moving.
I've met some amazing homies too. All of the projects that I've released so far have just kind of been me doing my own thing, but now I’ve met some great creative directors. I don't know if you know who WIL Studios, but they’re a creative direction studio here in Toronto that did some amazing stuff with Daniel Caesar, CDW...a bunch of amazing artists, but above all who are two amazing guys. I got the chance to meet them and they’re helping me put some creative direction behind this project. I feel like it’s going to be something really, really special.
I don’t think it’ll be a full album (it’ll probably still be an EP), but I’m putting a lot into it conceptually. When I made the song that we're going to be leading with, it was one of those rare Eureka songs that just happened. I showed it to my manager and he freaked out; the small group of people that have heard the song have also had the same reaction. It’s different, and I can feel it.
Any advice for people looking to go into music production?
For one thing, music is a relentless industry, so be absolutely sure that this is what you want. You have to love the journey and you have to absolutely love the process, because sometimes you'll work your hardest on something that you want to do and it might not come to fruition, it may not meet your expectations, or it will but it’ll take a long time. So you just have to really, really enjoy the process and not be focused on the destination. Another thing is, whatever you do, do it with integrity. I think this goes for any career, but it's something that I really try to live by. Always give your absolute best at everything you do, and any job you do, do it to its fullest potential.
And with that being said, just be kind every single day because you never know what anybody else is going through. I think that at the end of the day, being kind costs absolutely nothing, and being the most authentic and genuine person you can be will get you far.
Joyia performing her original track "Flavours" for Sideways Studios