Glamour: What made you want to be a musician?
Yebba: I grew up in a really spiritual household. When I was a baby, my dad used to pray and sing to me all the time. My dad’s a pastor, he plays the organ, and my grandparents used to have a gospel trio. It was my grandma, my great aunt, and a very close family friend. I would go over there, and they would be teaching me how to sing in a three-part harmony. They’d play the piano for hours. It was never like one big grand moment or anything, there were just a lot of little ones.
What was your idea of what it meant to be a successful musician when you were a kid?
Because I grew up in church, and I grew up singing in church, I always thought, “Alright, Holy Spirit, wherever you want me to go, I’ll go.” I’m always open to whatever God signals for me to do. Right now it’s music. I’m doing this because I feel like it’s where I’m supposed to be. But I think our purpose as human beings transcends, whether it’s our career, or how people see us and what they think of us.
My whole life has been like that. I was planning on going to school to be a music teacher. At some point, I was open to being a worship leader at my dad’s church. My dream was to sing background for Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu, and D’Angelo. I’d sit around and daydream about that. My life and career still can look any way—I never really decided that I was going to be an artist. I have always felt like everyone’s an artist in our own ways, in one way or another.
Who has been the most influential person to you in the industry?
I have to definitely say Mark Ronson because of the amount of time, the quality of time, his patience with me, and him always letting me be unwaveringly myself. He was one of the few people that really didn’t feel the panic of any theoretical pressure so he was a very healthy person to be around in the making of this debut album. I’m really excited that he stuck around to be Executive Producer and Album Producer.
What was it like meeting and working with Mark Ronson for the first time?
I went to Electric Lady studios to meet him through a friend, and it was really just an introduction. I just remember waking up really late in the day and coming in wearing a Kendrick Lamar hoodie. Mark was wearing a blouse and wide-legged pants. I always joke and say Mark is dressed like he’s from the ‘60s or ’70s. We were sitting there in the studio talking and just kind of clicked. I just sat there in silence for a while, and he was like, “Well, do you want to write music? I didn’t think we’d sit here and just stare at each other all day.” So we went into the other room, and he started playing bass, Andrew Wyatt started playing drums, and I just improvised. It ended up being a song. I love improv; I write mostly that way. From that day on, every time Mark came to New York he was calling me into these jam sessions and trying to really get a feel for what creativity might come about.
Walk me through the process of creating your album Dawn.
The whole process took me about four years. I moved from Arkansas to New York, just after my mom passed. I was planning on singing background and enjoying New York City. Then all this grief really struck me as I came out of shock and I just started writing in my bedroom. Life, grief, all of that is a very private experience. I was really isolated, and I started writing songs and saw what it felt like to complete things out of pure reflection with no aim of broadcasting it. That’s how I wrote most of my songs.