A stolen bike. A golden cage. The coral reef where a lonely flower shop employee swims away her woes. Nilüfer Yanya has always begun tracks with intriguing mental images like these, letting her imagination run away till a hazy, dream-like story surfaces and a sparse, arresting song is born. "All my favourite music is elusive like that," explains the hotly tipped 22-year-old, who is from West London but has Turkish, Irish and Bajan heritage. "I like songs that have stories and situations that you can almost catch, but you can't quite ever catch properly. It's more a vibe... a feeling."
It may be hard to pin down the people and places in songs like Yanya's breakout anthem 'Baby Luv', named one of Pitchfork's songs of 2017 in a year that also saw her surpass 5m Spotify streams, share stages with The xx, Broken Social Scene and Mitski and win praise from The Guardian, The FADER, i-D, Noisey, Nylon and BBC 6 Music, to name a few. The reasons for her current ascent to success, however, are easy to grasp. Since her 2016 debut EP, 'Small Crimes', Yanya's raw, romantic, soulful indie - hailed by the New York Times as full of "mounting intensity" and "devastating hooks" - has grown in ambition, her unique way with sumptuous melodies and evocative poetry constantly sharpening.
"I write everywhere," says the Londoner, who was taught guitar at school by indie cult hero and producer, The Invisible's Dave Okumu.
"On the tube, at the home, anywhere I might find something that sparks an idea." Inspired by Nina Simone and Jeff Buckley as well as modern influences like Connan Mockasin, her songs are threaded with spacious echoes, subtle sax flourishes and husky vocals that tell intimate tales that escape through your fingers like sand. People have likened her command of jazzy chords to Amy Winehouseand her inventive, stripped guitar work to King Krule, but Yanya's determined to carve her own path. "I can never really sound like those artists, so why would I try to?" she smiles.
"When I wrote 'Baby Luv', I was seeing someone, in this relationship that was kinda a bit toxic, that wasn't really working out," Yanya says of her current calling card hit. "They were bad with money, throwing away money recklessly, and it made me question what is money? How much do I cost? How much does life cost?" Like her debut track 'Small Crimes'("about my bike being stolen from where I live, and why people need to steal") and fellow fan favourite 'The Florist'("about realising a relationship is gonna end, and not wanting it to end but also knowing you need to face up to that") the song asked questions of herself and of the world, through the lens of someone who's seen a lot of it over the last year.
As well as touring in France, Germany, Holland, Turkey, Spain and Iceland before dates in the US last year, included sold-out shows at New York's Mercury Lounge and LA's Hollywood Forever, the songwriter has spent a chunk of time in Athens over the past 12 months, where she runs a refugee aid initiative with her sister, Molly. The initiative, "Artists In Transit", organises art workshops for displaced men, women and children offering sewing, doll-making, painting, photography and drawing lessons. Their efforts were documented in 'My Friends', the organisation's first zine, proceeds from which went towards further workshops. "Doing that definitely broadens my horizons," says Yanya.
Though she's travelling more and more, her heart remains in West London, where she spent her childhood dragging her artist parents around the many museums of her native Chelsea, an area she describes as "a bit of a bubble. Nothing really happens." Here, Yanya filled her time with Harry Potterbooks, 'Now That's What I Call Music!' CDs borrowed from her sister and classical piano and cello lessons till her teenage years, when a love affair with indie-rock bands like The Libertines and The Strokes inspired her to pick up guitar. "That's where it started," she says.
After expanding her tastes and her talent, Yanya put her first track 'Waves' on SoundCloud aged 18, followed by her first proper release, the 'Small Crimes' EP. 2017 saw her drop another EP, 'Plant Feed', which cemented her blossoming reputation as an artist going places and going there fast. She was working a part-time job in a fancy dress shop in Hammersmith the first time she heard her music on national radio.
"I heard it on my phone, while customers were trying to talk to me. I was like, 'shhhh! That's me!' It was kinda mad."
Yanya has won equal plaudits for the collages and artwork which she hand-makes for each release and the videos which she self-produces with her sister Molly and Molly's partner Patrick. "We're making one at the minute that's like 'The Handmaid's Tale' meets 'Pulp Fiction'," she teases, adding that "it's special to be able to work with them and have the creative partnership we do." It's truly a family affair at this stage in her career.
With a place on the BBC Sound of 2018 poll to her name, a string of worldwide tour dates ahead of her further fuelling her creativity, Yanya is looking forward to a busy 2018 that will also include work on an eagerly anticipated debut album, which she hopes to be recorded in the wilds of Cornwall. "It takes up a lot of energy. I don't know what it's going to be, how it's going to sound, but it's exciting." Whatever it sounds like, expect Yanya to remain firmly in control. "I feel like the last year was a practice," she says, confidently. "Now it's the real thing."