After working with Massive Attack and her own band Phantom Limb, Yola Quartey/Carter was something of a known quantity before the release of her critically acclaimed Walk Through Fire album earlier this year. But the British singer-songwriter freely credits the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach — who produced the album, signed Yola to his Easy Eye Records label and jams with her on the title track in a video premiering below — with raising her profile.
“He’s just such a visionary producer,” Yola tells Billboard. “When it comes to his aesthetic it’s just so in the wheelhouse of everything I appreciate sonically. Going through music history I think we’re very much fans of similar aesthetics and similar eras. I definitely found a kindred spirit in what I was hoping to achieve with this record.” It went beyond sonics, too, as Auerbach co-wrote 10 of the album’s tracks, including “Walk Through Fire.”
“He’s someone who’s kind of plowing the same path I want to plow creatively,” Yola explains, “not being locked by a single genre, really trying to keep things varied and very interesting and reflective of how we feel about music. I was super fortunate in that regard as well, and to have the freedom to write a song on my own or co-write with amazing people and to be able to mix and match to make this record as honest as possible.”
In the wake of Walk Through Fire’s success, Yola says she’s “actually at the point where I’m finding impossible to absorb it all.” She doesn’t have much time to dwell on it, however. She’s in the midst of touring the U.S., with major performances coming up at the Newport Folk Festival (July 26), the Hollywood Bowl (Aug. 4) and Brandi Carlile’s Girls Just Wanna Weekend next January in Mexico. Yola is also a featured guest, along with Sheryl Crow, on the upcoming album by the all-star Highwomen, with whom she’ll also perform at Newport.
“It’s been just one great thing after another, and I’m so grateful for all of it,” says Yola, who was raised poor and, for a time, was homeless in England. This year, however, she played Glastonbury and supported the Killers in her homeland. “Everything’s just been really positive, all those appearances and people just so willing to get behind this. It’s nice, and it dawns on me that a lot of this is rare.” It has also whet her appetite to make more music — which Yola’s doing regardless of when it will be time to make her next album.
“I’m always writing; That’s kind of how things roll with me,” she says. “I’m very polar; I’ll go in to write one day and come in with no preconceptions or anything prepared, and then one day I’ll wake up and a song’s in my head in, like, its entirety. That’s what happened with ‘It Ain’t Easier’ from the album; It came out in about five minutes, one big, long exhale, my hands couldn’t move quick enough. Those are the best ones, to be honest. I just want to have a lot to choose from when it’s time (to record) again.”