Feraz, is a rising Jordanian-American R&B singer based in L.A. Channeling the sultry urban sounds of influences such as Kehlani and JoJo with a slight pop focus, Feraz aims to establish herself as a new face of honesty within the Pop underground by expressing herself in her own deeply personal way.
Feraz sat down with Pop Golf to discuss her upcoming EP, overcoming, understanding and communicating heartbreak, as well as an unexpected defence of one of music’s most maligned bands, Nickelback.
I know it’s quite hard to distill yourself down to one sentence but how would you describe your music?
I would say it’s today’s r&b with 90s vibes, with a little pop and hip hop fusion.
At what age did you begin creating music or pursuing it as a career?
So I always wanted to be a singer, but I grew up in a Middle Eastern family, who frowned upon any artsy career path. It’s either you’re a lawyer, or you’re a doctor, or you’re in a church, you know, like that’s just how Middle Eastern people and parents in general can be. So I got steered away from it because I was told not to go that route; It’s an unstable career. But I was always singing. I was even in an arabic church choir for a little bit. It wasn’t until I was about 22 years old, when an old friend from high school asked me to be on one of his songs. I left the studio as if lightning had struck my soul.
He got in touch and said: “I know you can sing, I’ve heard you sing. Write a verse, and I’m gonna take you to the studio.” I hadn’t written in a really long time. I would usually just write for myself as a hobby, so I wasn’t really used to this kind of thing. When I recorded my verse, he was really encouraging, telling me; “you have such a great voice” and “why don’t you try pursuing this?”, “it’s really possible for you to do this and I can see you being successful’. Which, triggered a fire and a light inside of me and I was just like, okay! So I practiced every day, writing fully structured songs, looking at people like Nelly Furtado and how she structured her songs back in the 90s and the early two thousands. Then finally, in 2015, I dropped my first single, called ‘Ashes’, which you can still find on SoundCloud, but that’s when I knew that I was going to keep doing this.
That’s really interesting, that you had a background in Arabic choral music, how much of an influence has your middle eastern heritage played in your music? Do you try to bring much of your culture forward into your output?
I’m not gonna lie, because I’m a little American-ized I don’t think I’ve explored that sound yet. I’ve been looking for producers to incorporate some of my culture into my music because I’m so proud of my culture, I think it’s beautiful and I absolutely love our music. But it’s been very difficult to find people that can authentically mesh Kelhani-style R&B with the Middle Eastern touches and do it justice. I’m also trying to add Arabic in some of my songs too, but I just want the right production before I try to address that and put it out into the world.
What is the first song that you can remember hearing and resonating with you when growing up?
I was a Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera kind of little girl. I wanted to be Britney Spears so bad. My father made me mix tapes back in the day, Those are definitely some of the clearest things I remember. I always loved pop r&b, I really remember listening to loads of Ashanti too.
If it wasn’t for music, what would you be doing as a career?
I would probably pursue videography and photography. I still do that as a hobby on the side. I feel like I would still try and be an entrepreneur. I’ve always wanted to do too many things at once, I can never really decide on one thing, but I love video and I used to love video editing. I don’t do so much anymore, but that was the route I was gonna go.
That leads on to a question I was hoping to ask later, which was do you have a passion outside of music that you still use to express yourself? Whether that’s art, or a sport, but something that helps you get your emotions out outside of the music?
Yeah, I paint a little bit. I’m an artist all around. Photography, Music, Painting. I also love making recap videos of trips that I have gone on. Preserving memories like that, actually I’m very passionate about that. Every time I’m on vacation, I’ll take my little GoPro, and I’ll film all the cool things across the time and pull it together. It’s a really good memory.
Is there one particular vacation that stands out in your mind, as the most beautiful, or special place that you’ve visited?
Okay, I would have to say in Portugal, they have this little city, called Sintra. It’s on the coast and they have legitimate huge castles that looks like Disney on crack. I’d definitely recommend Lisbon and Sintra. We rented a motorcycle and then just rode along the coast.
Is there a specific song that reminds you of your time in Portugal?
Ah, yes, ‘Summertime Magic’ by Childish Gambino.
What qualities do you think make a great musician?
Number one is passion; pure passion and willingness to be transparent. I think that’s really important because people are all going through something. I feel like as musicians, you have to be a healer and it’s important to aim to heal with your music. I think beyond training and your ear, learning music theory and stuff like that, I feel like being authentic is really important.
Who are some of the current living artists that you feel fit that description, for you?
There’s a lot. Sam Smith is definitely one of them and Adele too; I feel like she’s healing herself by writing these songs, but they’re also helping so many people at the same time. Sam Smith’s breakup songs have helped heal me for sure. I think they’re just today’s legends. But there’s so many others I can’t even think of right now.
What is the main aim or message that you hope to communicate in your music in being transparent?
At least with this upcoming EP, called ‘Who Hurt You?’ I want people to be able to resonate with it, and feel like they can overcome their heartbreak. In terms of when they’re feeling low or getting cheated on. It happens a lot unfortunately, and I am just trying to be transparent in each stage of my experience in each song. So it’s like, I’m angry, I’m mad, and then I’m getting over it. I want people to hear that and experience the process of the breakup and stages of grief. I have a song called ‘From Here’, I think it’s one of my favourite songs off the EP. I want that song to give people confidence and reassurance that things do get better. Even after, getting cheated on or lied to. I was listening to a lot of breakup music across 2020. So just in case anyone needs any new breakup jams, I made some more!
Do you have a favourite song to perform or one that really resonates with you that you love sharing?
I haven’t performed ‘From Here’ yet because of COVID, but I am really excited to share that with an audience. It’s the last track on the upcoming EP and it’s basically me talking to my ex, stating that I can take it from here, don’t interrupt my growth and my healing. Every time I hear the bridge verse come in, I always get goosebumps, reminding me I really got through that process, even though at the time I thought I was gonna die.
I know that sounds really dramatic, but I really could not imagine a life without him. So me singing that song and listening back to the song that I wrote, it gives me a reminder of how much I got through and I hope people can listen to that and feel empowered.
Do you have anything you’d consider a weakness, or something that you’ve been trying to work on improve on, be that musically or personally?
I have a lot of weaknesses.
One would be that I’ve now developed really bad social anxiety. Which is so strange for people who don’t know me, because I come off very bubbly and open. But really, internally, I’m just freaking out all the time. Even before COVID I suffered from anxiety, but COVID has definitely made it more pronounced. Another weakness of mine would be performance anxiety, I know Adele also has stage fright, so I know there’s hope for me! Also, sometimes, motivation can be a weakness of mine. It’s really hard to stay motivated, especially during times like these when you’re at home all the time, you can get stuck, and just get stuck in the same cycle. It can be really hard to gain energy or momentum.
So, when you find yourself in these unmotivated periods, how do you overcome writer’s block? Do you have any advice to other creators who have also been struggling with writing in a pandemic?
Yeah, the way I get over writer’s block is, to take deep breaths. What really helps me is trying to understand how I’m internally feeling right in the moment. For instance, if I’m a little nervous, then I go from there: Why am I nervous?
It’s kind of like peeling an onion, until I get to the bottom of how I’m internally feeling in the moment, or what I’m going through. I think; okay, I feel like this – why do I feel like this? Then I peel away another layer, and keep peeling until I get to the middle of what triggers me or my day. I start there.
Usually, sad stuff comes to mind but even gratitude comes to the surface sometimes. Sometimes it makes you think, what am I thankful for? And then you can write about that. Even if the song is not about that it can get you started with a lyric.
That’s really great advice. Speaking of advice, do you remember the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given was?
When I was about 14. I was at the Disney Store, and I really wanted this mug. I was paying cash because a card wasn’t a thing when you’re 14. I was in line with my cousin and I needed maybe, $3. I had to say to the lady at the counter that I didn’t have enough. This lady behind me heard me and she said “It’s okay, I have $3” and she said her philosophy was: If you give, you shall receive. So if you give good energy, you receive good energy. If you give love, you’ll receive love. What’s so funny is that on Saturday, I was at a friends video shoot in the park and there was an ice cream truck who only took cash. I really wanted something and I didn’t have any cash on me and then one of my friend’s friend, who I’d never met before, was like “I got you girl, don’t worry”, and she said along the lines of: If I give good energy, I receive even better. Those things mean a lot to me. So yeah that’s become a significant piece of advice I’ve tried to live by.
So, I guess you could kind of say that that’s one experience has kind of shaped your view and shaped you as a person. But are there any other standout experiences that without it, you wouldn’t be the artist or person that you are today.
Yeah, there’s a lot. I wouldn’t be the artist that I was today, if I wasn’t raised by my grandparents, they gave me the best that they could. Even though music wasn’t a priority to them, I feel like it made me really know that I wanted it, because I had to fight and convince them that I could do this. It made me want it more and made me try harder to really chase a dream that everybody
Have you picked up any new skills or bought any new equipment that you can talk to us about?
Yes, I just set up my little home studio. I’m trying to learn to produce my own music. COVID really made me get it together and this free time has encouraged me to try to produce my own stuff. Hopefully, I can incorporate the Middle Eastern stuff in my production myself, who knows? It would be good to have more control over my sound and vision.
Talking about the new EP that you’ve been working on over the past year. A lot of people say that, naturally, with so much more time at your disposal that you can dedicate to music, quite a lot of changes can happen within artists sounds. Have you noticed a big change in the way that your next EP is going to sound compared to the previous?
Yes. I would have to say, honesty and transparency is on another level. My first EP wasn’t as deep, But I feel like this EP, you really get to hear a side of me that you didn’t hear in the other EP. It’s much more emotional, genuine, angry, and hurt.
Has that been inspired by anything that you’ve been listening to over lockdown? Oh yeah, Jhene Aiko, Kehlani, Colette Lush. I have a whole breakup playlists It has like 135 songs.
Please include some of those in your playlist! We’ve kind of discussed how it’s been a bit of a creatively stunting year. But when do you usually feel most inspired to write, what is usually the most inspiring time for you?
Okay, I usually write when I don’t understand what my emotions are, or know how to deal with things. That’s the best time for me to write because then it’ll help me figure it out. A lot of these songs are like the song ‘Bitch Boy’, I was crying when I wrote that song. It’s definitely a diss track, but when I was writing it, I was actually trying to make myself feel better. It was very therapeutic. I found myself going from crying to laughing while writing the song and I wrote that whole track in like 40 minutes, which is crazy and a really short time for me.
The pandemic has definitely put a focus on how the internet has kind of connected people. But it’s also changed the music business in a big way. How do you feel that the internet and digital age has impacted you, or has impacted music in general and do you think it’s for the better to worse?
There’s obviously both negatives and positives to social media and the internet, some positives, are the multitudes of platforms and opportunities available now that people 15 years ago did not have. We now have opportunities to get seen or grow and establish ourselves on our own, we can now be independent artists, we do not need a label as much, we do not need to sign away our soul. In other words, now we have all these doors and opportunities we can use as tactical opportunities to improve our output and reach. Through Instagram, I’ve met and talked to industry people that I would never be able to meet in person. I just direct message them, say hello, introduce myself, and just start a humanly conversation even though it’s through the internet. Those are opportunities I couldn’t get back in the day, so there’s a lot of positives.
The negatives is, that you cannot be just an artist anymore. You cannot be an artist and not be on social media. You have to have to have all this criteria; you have to have a website, you have Tik Tok, you need to have an Instagram. You’re not just a musician, you’re also now a content creator and you have to be consistent, always on your phone, posting, scheduling, talking. So it’s not just about music anymore which is sad, but I mean, again, it’s the price to pay for more opportunities for you to push your music.
Are there any changes that you’d like to see in the industry?
It is still iffy to be a female in the industry. A lot of people will take advantage and I really want to cancel all the gatekeepers. I would really want all the gatekeepers in the music industry to be gone.
Being a female artist of Middle Eastern heritage in America, do you feel that there’s not enough representation of artists like yourself in Western music?
I feel like it’s getting a lot better now. There’s a few American Arabs that are doing well in the music industry, and it’s definitely been growing. I think we definitely need more, that would be awesome but I feel like we’re doing a good job so far trying to navigate through the music industry. There’s a really dope Lebanese American artist, her name is Elynna, and she is pure Arabic in her songs. She has a pretty good following and she’s only like 17/18, I met her the other day at a rehearsal space in northridge. Also Lolo Zouai, she is French with Middle Eastern heritage. She has a song called Desert Rose, where she incorporates a little bit of Arabic in there. I really love them both.
What is your go to karaoke song or your favourite song to sing along to?
I have a couple. For some reason, I always sing it anytime someone asks me to sing. That Bobby Caldwell song ‘What You Won’t Do For Love’. That’s my go-to song and I don’t know why I just love it. Another one would be early Chris Brown, ‘Yo’.
So following on from that, what in your opinion is the best pop song ever written?
Oh my gosh, the best pop song ever written?! It has to be the Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’. Like everyone knows it. I feel like that’s when the real rise of pop music was happening. I remember them doing a show, and they had no shirt on and I was like four, they had like long hair just covering their chest. And I was just like, wow, I want long hair like that as a little girl and they definitely left their mark, I wanted to be a Spice Girl.
Also, boy bands were more of a thing back then and I used to love Backstreet Boys, I grew up on them, I also loved *NSYNC but I was always more Backstreet Boys through and through.
Is there any style of music that you can’t stand?
Ah, yeah. There’s one, and it’s like that pig squeal, demonic, satan rock. It’s like, whoa, dude, are we summoning demons right now?! I can’t handle that in the dark. No, thanks.
Do you have a guilty pleasure song? One that you’re ashamed to say that you love?
It has to be a Nickelback song. I actually love Nickelback, and people always like to fight me over that fact, I don’t know why no one likes them! Why is everyone always hating on them anyway They started out strong. You can’t deny that, I mean I still listen to them. So yeah, I’d say ‘Far Away’ by Nickelback
What advice would you give to someone who is wanting to follow in your footsteps and pursue their passion?
Okay, I have a lot of advice. A key piece of advice is to also learn the business side of music, so that you can really know what you’re doing; musically and on the business side. The hardest part is getting started, if you don’t know what to do, I would recommend just singing over YouTube beats and releasing them just to get started, discover yourself and practice writing in that way. Also, meet as many people as you can and do collaborations, that’s how I learned.
So do you have any advice for how to start to write as well?
Yeah, the way I started figuring that out is by going to my favourite songs. I would print out their lyrics and would basically highlight each section: Verse one, pre hook, second verse, chorus you know. That certainly helped me in terms of structure, but in terms of writing, I would just recommend being transparent and being as real as possible, because people really resonate with that compared to the surface level stuff.
Which living artist, would you want to collaborate with the most?
Post Malone. I’ve been a fan since before he blew up. Firstly, he’s a funny guy and secondly, he’s honestly a musical genius. I think he’s really talented and it would be a fun collaboration, I’m super down. If you know him, send him my way.
But there’s a lot of collaborations that I would like to do. Kehlani would also be one of them, because she’s just so dope and I want to collaborate with females more, supporting females, females supporting females is more prevalent than ever and I feel like we can keep that momentum of females supporting females going. It’s not a competition anymore, especially because I’m doing r&b as well. You know, I don’t want it to be a competition, I want it to be more empowering and supportive. So, I think it would be great to collab with her and also get Timberland to produce.
Thanks so much for taking the time, is there anything else that you’d like to add anything you’d like to add to those reading this?
I would just like to tell whoever reads this and is not feeling content in themselves or their situation, that where you are right now is not where you’re going to be next year; mentally, physically, emotionally – so try to stay positive. Know you’ll get through this, I’m in a completely different place to where I was last year. I never thought I’d be here. Just stay hopeful and know things can change.