La Femme Interview: “It’s always been peaks and troughs for women as R&B artists”

Three brilliant and talented scouse women – Miss Deep, Iona Fazer and Nicola Jane – collaborating on a new, female-led hip hop and R&B force to be reckoned with. Shaun Ponsonby speaks to the trio.   

By Shaun Ponsonby
Wed 10 April, 2019

What happens when three individual women – singers and rappers – join forces in Liverpool?

Miss Deep, Nicola Jane and Iona Fazer all have their individual projects and most of them have been performing throughout the city for a number of years.

Regular Planet Slop readers may recognise some of their names. We have written about them, interviewed them, they have performed at events we’ve run or have even sat on diversity panels that we have hosted in the time since we went live. So the prospect of these three women joining forces was one we couldn’t ignore.

They have had their successes individually – Miss Deep has even found herself supporting the likes of Lady Leshurr, and Nicola opened this year’s Threshold Festival with her MC partner Saint.

Iona, meanwhile, was able to convince Bido Lito! to let her host one of their social events. This, of course, seemed like some real progress, though perhaps telling that she revealed during our diversity panel at Threshold that it was she who had to approach them, and not vice versa.

Coincidentally, this interview was conducted on International Women’s Day, which only seems appropriate, as we discuss female empowerment, the difficulties faced by hip hop and R&B artists in Liverpool, their individual work and, of course, their incredible collaboration.

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PS: I think the obvious thing we need to ask is how all of this came together!

Iona Fazer: We all came together through working with Miss Deep. She wrote a song called U Got Me which featured a verse from both me and Nikki, after that we just decided to meet up and write together.

Nicola Jane: Me and Miss Deep met at a Hushush Media gig supporting Shystie at 24 Kitchen Street. I was complimenting her on her performance when we got chatting and she told me she writes songs as well as being a performer herself. We hooked up afterwards and she wrote three songs for me. One being Man Like U, which she also featured on. She met Iona during a separate project…

IF: I mainly worked as a videographer whilst studying when I met Miss Deep. I was filming at a Hush Hush Media event. She asked me if I could sing and I actually said yeah [Laughs]. So she showed me a song she wrote called Smooth Sailing and I loved it. She loved my voice on the track and it just went from there!

NJ: And then the three of us ended up collaborating on U Got Me. We got such great feedback from that track and the video that accompanied it that we decided to do a project together.

Miss Deep: After we recorded U Got Me and how good we sounded together, we decided to work on another track, then it was a done deal then [Laughs]. We decided to drop a mixtape together as we felt, there wasn’t many female artist in Liverpool collaborating together.

PS: So you obviously enjoyed yourselves on U Got Me!

MD: It was exciting to do as it was our first song together and first video! To top it off, the weather was nice that day we were all in good spirit! It took the entire day with Kof to film. A very long day but definitely worth it.

PS:  If you are three individuals coming together, then you obviously have your own projects too. What were each of you involved in before joining up?

MD: I was doing shows and writing for some unsigned artist in Liverpool. Hushush Media was sponsoring me and helping me with radio play, events. Mary and Nick from Hushush Media helped me be supporting acts for many artist like, Bugsy Mallone, Lady Leshurr, SOX, Shystie.

NJ: I was working on tracks with Saint and trying to network with other artists and promoters in Liverpool’s urban music scene.

IF: I was just singing in the shower! Not recording or performing at all.

PS: You don’t seem like you have a name for the project yet. Are there any contenders?

MD: We have been struggling with find a name for us, because we’re only collaborating together. We were thinking something that represents us individually as artist but as one, in a group. We haven’t found anything that stands out to us yet, we thought once we get some songs recorded, a name would come to mind, but that hasn’t happened yet, maybe you have any suggestions for us? [Laughs]

PS: I don’t feel qualified!

IF: We didn’t even know if we wanted a name and now we can’t decide on one!

PS: How would you describe exactly what it is that you’re doing?

NJ: I would describe us as three creative females who have joined forces in order to collaborate on a project which not only showcases our individual writing styles; but also allows us to support and encourage one another’s strengths with regards to creating the project. I believe we all bring something to the table. Hopefully resulting in something unique.

MD: We feel female singers and MC’s within Liverpool don’t work together as much as you see males! We want that to change, since doing shows together, and our two videos, there has been female artist that want to do music with us and feature on our mixtape, which is a target. Sophie Bond being one of them. We want to network and connect with different artist. Many artist want to be in their own lane and get competitive. I get competitive sometimes but only when I’m rapping and spitting bars alongside males, as I feel I have to go harder when it’s predominantly males.

IF: We’re producing diverse music that comes out of collaboration. I’d describe our process as a way of addressing the issue that there are not enough females collaborating within the Liverpool music scene!

PS: Why do you think that is?

MD: I feel so many people focus on growing themselves as an artist. They’re not thinking about collaborating unless it’s with someone who can help them out with exposure.

NJ: I think girls are just less likely to reach out to other girls when it comes to collaborating. Maybe everyone wants to be the one to be asked, or perhaps some girls are afraid of being turned down, I’m not quite sure. But in our case we all have quite confident, bubbly personalities and find it easy to bounce off one another. I like to think we’re all really approachable people and it feels natural when we work together. We’ve become really good friends in the process so now it doesn’t feel like work, it’s all fun! That being said, I have worked with other females in the scene including Sophie Blood who is really nice and has an amazing voice! I’d also really like to work with DJ CC who is also a wonderful person. Her mixes are insane, I think she’d be able to do something sick with one of our tracks!

IF: Also, Liverpool’s urban scene doesn’t have its own space to call home, so there’s less potential for networking and interaction in what’s already a male dominated scene.

PS: I want to talk about that in a moment, but just while we’re still on the collaboration, can you tell us exactly how it works? Like, if one of you write a song that you think will work better for this than your own projects, will you bring it in? Do you write together? Does one of you take the lead?

IF: It’s all of the above, the collaboration is very relaxed and creative. We can bring in songs as a whole, or sometimes even just a chorus and we can all write together or separately.

MD: I wrote U Got Me, our first track, so I brought that to the table and for An I, I had the beat and two bars of the chorus then we all put input and finished it. The other tracks we have was all of our inputs. So one person would find a beat, then we come with a chorus, then we all write are verses, then practice together.

NJ :Yeah, we just started collecting beats individually and coming up with concepts that we thought would suit us all but also giving us a chance to bring our individual styles to the project. We tend to come up with the ideas on our own and then we’ll have little jam sessions where we’ll show each other our ideas and then we build on them together. Amy is a track that we decided to write when we we’re all together as we felt there should be a track on the project that had equal input from all three of us.

MD: It’s funny, we never decide who’s going where on a verse, it’s usually who finishes their verse first and it kinda stays in that order on the song.

PS: You mentioned An I, which is your current single.

IF: YES! It’s a song about getting lit, turned up, on a vibe!

MD:  When I heard the beat, I was smoking and drinking at the time “an’ i” was very waved [Laughs]. We wanted our next video to be more uptempo and we didn’t want our next video to be based around love or heartache. We wanted it to be more around us, our outfits and effects on the visual. We was all a bit drunk when we did the video…well I definitely was! [Laughs]

PS: Your next song, Diamonds is yet to be released, but can you tell us what it’s about, and how it plays in to your whole vibe?

NJ: I think that’s a good question for Iona to answer as it was her original concept. But from my perspective it’s a song about female empowerment. Having the courage to leave a relationship when its not good for you and also how men often only realise their wrong doings once it’s too late.

IF: I wrote my verse and felt stuck after that so I took it to the girls and they help me transform it into a track.

MD: It’s actually one of my favourites out of the tracks we have for this mixtape . My perspective of Diamonds, is about having a good person in your life – a diamond, someone who is your ride or die, supportive, caring and someone not realising it until it’s too late, and then losing that person. A bit like the saying “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone!

IF: It’s inspired by my love for Steely Dan and it holds a nice metaphor about the value of a woman, the rest is down to interpretation. It plays into the vibe of having singing about our own experiences as women.

PS: Given that between the three of you, you work within R&B and hip hop, how difficult do you think it has been for yourselves, and artists like you, to make a name in the city – especially when compared to guitar bands?

MD: I feel it’s hard in general as, I feel R&B and hip hop has not been pushed in Liverpool as much as other genres. I don’t know why this is, but I would like change. I feel it’s even harder because we are females in Liverpool singing R&B and hip hop music. If there was more of a platform around urban music in Liverpool, it would be great, because there’s a lot of talent up north!

NJ: It is difficult to make a name when the majority of events around the city are tailored more towards bands and indie music, however over the last year there have been more events targeted towards our genre. Iona organised and presented a Bido Lito! social, so hopefully the frequency of these types of events continue to increase which means more people will be able to hear our music. I’m sure there are loads of R&B fans in Liverpool, I know I’m one, I think it’s just knowing where to look.

PS: Do you think you’ve faced further problems as women in a very male dominated scene? If so, how?

IF: I think it’s harder to appeal to the general public with this type of music anyway, but then with being a woman, it probably means that we feel more pressure on how we present ourselves in our visuals.

NJ: Maybe with regards to exposure. I think there is more focus on the males in our city at the moment, but that’s also a great motivator for what we’re trying to do!

MD: I’ve been in situation in the past, when there’s been males spitting bars, and no females alongside. But I know there are females in crowd, but they have felt the men were being competitive. I mean, things like that make me want to grab the mic, because I know I have bars, an am always up for a challenge, but not everyone is like that.

PS: How do you combat all of these things and force your way onto a platform in the way that you have?

MD: Three heads are better than one! I’m quite a confident person, and in my music I surround myself only with positive people, so Nicola Jane and Iona are my support and vice versa.

NJ: Yeah, we’re stronger as a trio with regards to attracting attention. It also nice to have one another as a support system.

IF: I think we just ride the vibe of doing it for shits and giggles but at the same time, not letting that hold us back from believing that we have great value and we want to contribute to our creative communities and industries.

PS: Is it getting better, either as women or R&B artists?

MD: There’s still loads of room for improvement, and there been so many female artist that have paved the way and inspired me. But I still feel females don’t  have the same recognition as males. I  remember being 10 or 11 and Lil Kim, “Left Eye” Lopes, Da Brat and Angie Martinez brought out Not Tonight. I think then when I saw the video, I was like, I want to rap! [Laughs]. As for R&B, that’s definitely better. But within Liverpool, again, there’s room for improvement.

IF: I think it’s always been peaks and troughs for women as R&B artists. I have no idea if it’s actually getting better for either but I can safely say it feels like things are improving at the moment, but the long road ahead will keep us plodding on.

NJ: I think it is getting better. As Miss Deep said, so many women have already paved the way in R&B and shown us how to be strong females, from Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women to Jill Scott’s Hate on Me and Christina Aguilera’s Can’t Hold Us Down featuring Lil Kim. There’s too many songs to mention that have inspired me to know my self-worth as a woman, and I think as long as women continue to support one another and build each other up we’ll be taking over the world before you know it. Just like Queen Bey says “Who run the world? Girls!”

PS: What more needs to be done?

MD: We need to finish this mixtape, get another video out or two, get some radio play, and do some more shows!

PS: Do you play shows together?

NJ: We do perform together, usually our collaborative tracks but often on the same show we’ll also perform our solo tracks as well.

PS: Do you have any more projects lined up together?

IF : Not at the moment, we’re focusing on getting this project finished first as we still have songs to record and we also need promote our social media page a bit more than we have. We have been slacking!

PS: How about individually?

MD: I have my mixtape Unspoken Voices dropping soon. Iona’s song Smooth Sailing is on the mixtape and Nicola is singing a song also called Hold Your Man Down but it’s mainly has other people singing. That mixtape was more to show case myself as a writer, am in the middle of doing my mixtape with my vocals on this time and I plan on doing to music videos. It’s a 12 track mixtape, with different artist singing songs that I wrote, as I love writing for people, I actually prefer writing for people than singing or rapping myself. It’s an R&B, urban vibe. Many people are used to me rapping, I wanted to bring the old school R&B vibe back to this mixtape.

NJ: I have a new EP with Saint called The PrEvolution EP which will also have some new visuals to accompany it.

IF: I’m channeling some sort of East Asian entity at the moment, she’s called Queen Yue and she’s dropped her first track Golden Triangle on Soundcloud.