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Guelph, ON-born and Toronto-situated artist, NEFE exudes an old-soul calm that belies her age. It could be confidence or comfort but is likely based somewhere when asked about a lack of the splash on social media. Precipitated by an unfortunate Instagram hack, NEFE had to reconsider not just what, but also how to use social media again.
“I like an old-school approach, like the days before social media. I like a little bit of mystery, but I struggle with how much I want to share. When I was signed to a major label, I feel like they kind of had more control over, not who I was, but my approach to things. I’m going through this process of wanting to share authentic things – being mindful and developing the person I want to show the world.”
Growing up with her mom in the small university town of Guelph, NEFE was raised hearing 90s stars like Shania Twain and Celene Dion as well as country classics like Patsy Cline. Coupled with a love of the Spice Girls, it was the discovery of her mom’s Yamaha acoustic guitar that pushed NEFE from loving music to playing music.
“I remember pulling the guitar out, putting it on my lap and trying to strum it. Music was something that was always pulsing within me and I needed to find a way to get it out. We had a piano and the first thing I learned to play was Here Comes The Bride. But when I was 5, I really wanted to play the tuba. I remember going to the mall at Christmas time, seeing (a brass band) with the tuba player’s cheeks blown out thinking that was passion right there. The tuba was the idea at first but I got my rhythm with piano then once I found out how to bust into my mom’s closet and open up her guitar case, it was all about guitar. She taught me C/D/G and I took it from there.”
NEFE’s place in music may have been very different. Instead of a genre-defying singer/songwriter, we may have found her as a much different kind of performer.
“Back in the day, I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t write, I just wanted to play guitar in a pop-punk band. There was a website called 519 that was a Kijiji for musicians, so I was probably 13 at the time and I would respond to ads and they would be like “You’re only 12, give up. Every 12 year old wants to be a rock star.” I got rejected so much that I said ‘Fuck you guys, I’m gonna write my own songs” and I started performing and singing. I started entering battle of the bands and it came full circle. I started performing against some of those guys and I ended up winning some of those competitions. In the moment, it was heartbreaking, but then you find your path and it takes you someplace else.”
It’s this mashup of influences and experiences that makes defining NEFE’s music tough if that’s what you need to do. Some of her music can be defined as acoustic soul on the surface but soon gives way to elements of alternative, pop, blues or even psychedelia. When asked about being put in a box, NEFE said,
“I like to call it three-dimensional music. If you think of a box, this side is blues, or this one is alternative or soul. If you combine the sides together, you get a cube. That’s a three-dimensional sound that you can’t put in a two-dimensional box. Genres are a marketing thing, for radio or a playlist.”
The back and forth of playing shows in the big city pushed her to move to Toronto in 2014. Around that time, she joined Honey Jam Canada, the all-female multicultural multi-genre artist showcase which provides educational and mentoring opportunities for artists and promotes women charities. This relationship led her to a workshop last summer in Nashville.
“There was so much support. All these women were like “I’m here to help, let’s do this”. I met so many lifelong friends through the program. In August, there was an opportunity to go to Nashville through Honey Jam. We were there for 4 days and it felt like a dream, especially out of COVID. We met with publishers and writers from Canada that live in Nashville. We did songwriting workshops and walked the strip. There are amazing players who go there because they love music. You could see Taylor Swift’s guitar player at some bar. Everybody is somebody who wrote something for somebody, it’s crazy. I can definitely see myself back there, thriving.”
When asked about her songwriting process, NEFE tried to define her style.
“I would like to say I’m a 9 to 5 writer, but most of the time I’ll feel an emotion coming over me and I’ll pick up an instrument. Then, I’ll let the chords play out and the words will start to flow. I’ll listen back and then create a story that comes to life. I think I throw concepts together, whatever melody comes out. There may be gibberish, but there may be one line that’s clear, so I’ll follow that trail and paint the picture of that one line.”
NEFE took advantage of being locked down to make new discoveries about herself and her abilities.
“Through the pandemic, I was wondering what to do and I took it upon myself to start producing my songs. When I did, it was a much different sound than what I would do with just guitar or piano. It was another side of me, where I’m in a place where I could see someone else singing something I wrote. I think I’m trying to play Prince right now, where I want to play everything on a song. I’m teaching myself how to play other instruments. I think the important thing about production is to find your pocket. If you’re playing every single instrument, you’re thinking ‘don’t crowd this too much’ or ‘lay back‘. I have to wear a different hat.”
Asked about plans for 2022, NEFE will be putting our her first full-length album and as she says with a chuckle “Maybe showing up on social media a bit more”.