Long pegged as a Denver artist to watch, Yasman Azimi—also known as YaSi—was starting to hit her stride when the world came to a screeching halt last spring. The sultry soul-pop vocalist had just joined R&B chameleon iyla on a national tour. She had also signed with a major talent agency mere months before COVID-19 put many of her big plans on hold.
After the initial shock of the pandemic subsided, however, YaSi used 2020’s downward spiral—as well as constant cold brews and the running global disco soundtrack in her ears—as inspiration for her next steps as an artist. “I’m trying to have more belief in myself to really take this thing to the next level,” she says. “When you’re releasing [music], you hear ‘no’s’ more than you hear ‘yes’s,’ and it really hurts. So it helps having actual people who you make the music for. I just really appreciate when people reach out to me and tell me how my music has helped them.”
The first-generation American and born-and-raised Coloradan knew she was destined to pursue music ever since she was a kid belting Disney songs in the kitchen—which she jokes was much to the initial chagrin of her Iranian immigrant parents, who would’ve preferred she pursued a career as a lawyer or doctor. But she hasn’t looked back since.
And this time, she is using her previous slew of “sad girl bops” as a jumping-off point to provide a different kind of antidote: an “apopalyptic” album, as she likes to call it, or dark pop songs for the apocalypse—with plenty of her R&B and hip hop roots sprinkled in as well. Before the release of that fiery new EP, Coexist With Chaos, which came out on April 2, we caught up with the 27-year-old budding star to talk about exploring a new sound and turning last year’s lemons into lyrical lemonade.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
5280: 2020 was a difficult year for many reasons, but for many creatives, it sounds like it was especially hard to feel inspired. How’d you manage to stay sane and keep creating this year?
YaSi: I got home [from tour with iyla] the day before everything shut down. And I remember texting her and being like, “I think we just did one of the last full tours of 2020.” It was really depressing. I was supposed to be on the road all of 2020, and I was supposed to be traveling to cities and working on music. So I had to grieve the loss of the year that would have been. And that took a while. I can also have this perfectionist mindset of, if I don’t have a hit after every session, then I suck. But you just have to show up, because you will learn from every [studio] session that you do. So what kept me sane was going to the studio and learning. Right now, I haven’t worked in a studio since January, and I’m literally dying.
One of many projects that came out of those sessions was your most recent single, “World Is Burning,” which seemed to speak pretty well to our current hellscape. What was the vision there?
I actually wrote “World Is Burning” before COVID-19 was a thing. I more or less started writing it because I was having friends who had friends who were overdosing and passing away. Then Trump was tweeting about how he was going to go to war with Iran. And, of course, my whole family lives there. So I was having a really hard time. But I wanted the song to be dance-y because the lyrics are so dark. Then COVID-19 hit. I performed the song for the Underground Music Showcase in July to raise money for Denver musicians, and my guitarist did some cool shit, and my drummer did some cool shit, and the energy felt like it really picked up. So I sent that performance to [my producer], And I was like, “Hey, we need to match this energy on the actual record.”
How did that “apopalyptic” energy eventually translate to this new EP?
I knew I had to make something that was of the time. And at the moment, I felt like everything around me was destroyed. So I wrote the opening track “Troubled Mind,” to kind of explore that. But then with “Golden Disco,” I was just trying to make another fun pop song—kind of like a last dance of the apocalypse. I also have “Drama Queen,” which it’s maybe the most formulaic, but it’s my favorite song. I wrote it in like 20 minutes, and I think it just needed to be on the EP because sometimes coexisting with chaos means that you’re a bit of a drama queen in the middle of it as well. The EP needed that kind of palate cleanse.
Did you explore the darker side of that chaos anywhere in the record?
The final track on the EP is called “Inferno.” It’s very serious—my most politically charged song—and it’s the first time I’m singing Farsi. That was a therapeutic track for me because I kind of tried to write it from the perspective of my grandpa who passed away in war, and my grandma, who had to deal with the grief of losing her husband and watching her daughter immigrate to another country. I also tried to write it from the perspective of me and my parents, kind of watching our homeland from afar. The last lyric is “you can’t kill a martyr,” and I think that’s something that’s so universal in everybody’s fight—you have these people that you look up to, and for me, that martyr was my grandpa. Someone who has fought the good fight. And I wanted to end it on that note.
You’ve described your music as being drawn from both your Eastern and Western influences. How did that lend itself to this latest project?
I’ve become more comfortable with exploring my Persian side sonically. So we added a couple Eastern sounds throughout this whole [project], and it’s definitely something that I want to explore more. In Iran, [the internet] is blocked off, so it’s really hard to try and connect with an Iranian fanbase. But the Iranian diaspora of kids who live in Europe and Canada have been so awesome to me, and it’s just made me want to experiment more. I want Middle Eastern music to be at the forefront of the next wave because I think our scales are so interesting, and I think it’s just time.
Now that Coexist With Chaos is out in the ether, where are your sights set? Is there anything you’re looking forward to as we emerge from the pandemic?
I would love to tour—I’ve been seeing people booking tours, which is sick. Hopefully that can happen. But I’m just looking forward to releasing more music and meeting people—virtually, in person, whatever—who love my music. Also, I think if this year taught us anything, it’s that shit can change, and how you adapt really says a lot about you. At first, I wasn’t adapting very well. Now, I’m just learning to adapt on the fly, and I’m appreciative of that time and getting to know myself. So I’m just hoping to release more music, become a better musician, and become a better person.
Coexist With Chaos is available to stream on all platforms.