LAYA first stole our attention back when she released her viral hit “Sailor Moon” and her EP ‘Um,Hello’ (which we had the privilege of speaking about with her). The unique style, vocals and creativity of this R&B Diva continue to allow her to float above the flood of many rising R&B artists and songs. Clear influences of Aaliyah, Brandy, and even Missy Elliott help LAYA create a familiar yet original pocket in the genre, which is why we look forward to everything she drops. The release of ‘Bet That’, LAYA’s second EP under Warner Records, reassured us why we feel any true fan of R&B should get familiar with her name. From the smooth melodies in “Slide” to the motivational lyrical content of “Left, Right, GO!”, LAYA has a uniqueness that should not go under appreciated. After picking her brain and seeing how much she cares for her craft, we enjoyed ‘Bet That’ even more. We spoke to LAYA about what inspired ‘Bet That’, her evolution as an artist, what to expect from her in the future, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: First of all, love the project. Congrats on the drop, but most importantly congrats on it peaking at number two on the iTunes R&B chart. How do you feel? How’s the overall reception been?
LAYA: It’s been incredible. It was actually less than 24 hours that it happened. Just for that to be the start of Bet That season and this being how the project is rolling out was incredibly unexpected, but humbling and motivational. It was really kind of just confirmation for me that I’m doing the right thing and that people f*** with my sound. I peaked at number two within just some hours of it being out, so that really just told me they were waiting for it. I feel really cool. I feel really blessed.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You just posted on your Instagram story that you’ve gotten to a place where you can’t spearhead everything anymore and that you’re turning to others for help. Is that hard for you? Are you ready to let go of that creative control?
LAYA: Well, I’ll tell you right now I will never relinquish my creative control. It’s more so that there are certain tasks that I no longer have the time to do anymore. Now my schedule gets busier and busier as the weeks and months go by. Before I had all this time to be in my house to edit stuff, or I’d have plenty of hours to do my hair and my makeup. Now we need to get things done, you know? Like really, really fast. It’s really more so me trying to find other creatives who can see what I’ve already done and step in to help me elevate and execute that on bigger levels. It’s always going to be my vision. It’s always going to be whatever is in alignment with what I want creatively. I was one of these jack of all trades. I really just did everything out of necessity, not because I want to be a makeup artist, a stylist or any of those things. I would love to bring in people who that’s their passion and just unite forces with other creatives.
When I say I’ve spearheaded through everything, it’s because I was independent for a long time until I got signed. Now it’s just not realistic that I’ll be able to execute everything myself because I also want to grow. I want to take the styles and things that I’ve been doing but elevate them, make them bigger, make them better. For those kinds of things, you need a team. It takes a village. That’s really where I’m at, but I’ll tell you right now I’ll never sacrifice my creative control or vision.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I’m happy to hear that. The last time we spoke with you was for you EP, Um, Hello. Compare Bet That to Um, Hello. I see a little bit of an evolution, especially because this is technically the first project you’re putting out through Warner if I’m correct?
LAYA: Yes, I’ve had this EP in the tuck for some time because of that. I originally released, Um, Hello and it was just this call to the universe like “um, hello, look at me. I’m fire. Me and my producers, we’re cool, we’re dope, check us out” *laughs*. It did just that. It got the attention of the label. It got me a deal, all this stuff. Then we re-released it, but I always had these tracks that I had wanted to follow it up with. Now I kind of had the time and a few more resources to polish it up and make it better than it was when I originally wanted to release it. Anyway, as far as the evolution, Bet That is much more of a statement. It’s more of: “Well, now that I’ve got your attention, I have something to say and I’m gonna tell you. I’m gonna tell you real good *laughs*”. That’s really the energy for this. I’m an R&B girl. I’m a singer. I love singing. I just feel like there’s so many more things that I love to sing about in the genre. Everybody talks about the same things, you know, they’re either in the bedroom or they’re in the club – the get money and stuff. Mind you, I do all those things but not all of the time *laughs*. I also experienced emotions or there’s other things that I talk about with my friends or whatever. I think there’s something really cool and relatable about that because it gives an opportunity to people of all sorts to relate. It kind of narrows down who can really sink their teeth into your work. Records like “F’d Up”, for example, I don’t know anyone that can’t relate to that song. It’s like, you’ve got me F’d Up, and it’s applicable to so many things. It’s not just about relationships or whatever. It could be somebody at work or somebody just cut you off on the highway. Everybody can relate, everyone feels that way. Even though I’m a R&B singing songstress diva sometimes I just wanna cuss somebody out. Sometimes I just feel that way and I think it’s okay. I kind of just wanted to have a project where I could aggressively… talk my s*** and get a message across while also empowering people. I feel like when people sing these lyrics it’s not just talking s*** for the sake of talking s***. So yeah, as far as an overall theme for me Um, Hello was like, “Hey, look at me”. This is more of a statement like now that I’m here, I have a lot of f***ing s*** to say. That’s the difference for me.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s really dive into making Bet That. Something I always ask everyone is: were there some artists or albums that you were listening to when making this project?
LAYA: I listened to a lot of Michael Jackson and a lot of the Bad album in particular. One of my favorite records of all time, even before working on this project, is “Speed Demon” by Michael Jackson. For some reason, I played that record a lot when we were making all the final touches and putting it together. It’s got the motorcycle and the automobile sounds and all that stuff in it. It’s just like, you know… it’s called speed demon. It just makes you want to drive real fast and it’s bops and all that. I listened to a lot of that record and just a lot of other Michael and Rick James. I was listening to a lot of funk stuff. Also while I was working on this project, I’m making it a point in my general life to not listen to so much current music. It’s not like for it to be shady or anything like that, I really just don’t want to unintentionally or subconsciously pick up what other people are doing. I’ll kind of go back and listen to stuff from like 30, 40, 50 years ago. Throwback, vintage tunes. I think that that also helped influence this project because first of all, I don’t use autotune and they weren’t using autotune then, and secondly there’s a lot of live instruments that we use in this project. Back then they were using all live musicians for everything, before it was digital and you’re just pressing a couple buttons to make a beat. People had to play that music and it feels different. So, there was a lot more of that incorporated into this project. In certain records like at the end of “F’d Up”, it didn’t originally have strings at the end. I just told the producers, please, like, can we get some, giant, cinematic, petty a** strings? It just makes it feel so much bigger. So yeah, I was listening to a bunch of that stuff and I feel like that definitely influenced the vibe a little bit.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Honestly, I love every track. I wish we could talk about each one, but what was your inspiration behind “Need 2 Know”? And why did you choose it to be a single?
LAYA: That was just one of those songs… it was just kind of easy for me. It just came right out of me and it didn’t take me very long to write it. I think sometimes the beat just speaks to me and I know exactly what to do with it. I could just hear it in my head right away. That was just one of those records that was like sometimes you don’t really know what’s going on and I want to know what’s going on. Like I’m not trying to judge you, i’m not even trying to shame you, but just keep it a buck with me. Let me know what the tea is, which is how I am or that’s the way I prefer to do things anyway. I’m a very understanding person, so just keep it real with me, you know. So I feel like this song, that’s pretty much what I was going through at the time. I was like, I just need to know what it is. The reason why I decided to go with that as the second single was that, based on all the feedback from my first EP, it was like everybody’s so enamored with this 90s R&B feel. I love 90s style R&B and I know I have fun doing it and pulling from that energy, but I don’t want to be tied just to that. I knew that this EP, most of it, doesn’t really give that. It really is broader in a sense. It’s still rooted in R&B. I’m always going to give that energy, but I wanted to kind of go a bit left. I used “Need 2 Know” as the second single because that was the only record I felt like gave that 90s kind of feel. I was like, “just so you guys know I didn’t forget about you. Everything else that comes after this, don’t ask me what happened” *laughs*. I just felt like that would be something for them because I love and appreciate my fans, and I don’t want to go completely left that they feel like I’ve abandoned them. Picking the songs for this EP was really based on theme. It’s just an energy like I have something to say, I’m talking my s*** or getting something off my chest. That was the overall theme, so if the songs didn’t have to do with that to me it didn’t go with this project. Although they all sound different, they all have the same rooted theme.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I definitely see through all the other songs you have the root of R&B, no matter the decade. Let’s talk about the title track, “Bet That”. What was the inspiration behind that?
LAYA: If anyone isn’t familiar already, ORA, they’re a duo, they produce all my stuff. Dante Carter and Chad Paul. They had made the beat and sent it to me. It was more like the skeleton and bones of the beat, it wasn’t like what it is now. I believe it was Chad that said to me, “I want you to like, go nuts”. When I originally wrote it, it was still before I was signed. This was still before anything really started clicking for me. I was still in this place of trying to prove myself, and getting my name out there. At the same time while I’m trying to get my name out there, I’m seeing other bigger acts being inspired by things I’ve done. Then before I can make it my own, it’s like someone else is doing it. I’m like “Ah, f***. Just somebody please look at me. I swear I’m doing my own s***. I’m making my own s*** ”. So it’s just like this very angsty, kind of girl rage. I put that all out onto that record. We had the track for a while and then there was one day while I was on tour that we were playing the record in the car and a fire truck and a bunch of cops went speeding by. It was all these sirens and s***, as it was going by. The song was playing and that started going and we all looked at each other like “yo, that was hot”. In that moment, it felt like I could see the whole project. Then we got a guitarist to shred the s*** out of the ending of it like oh my god cus’ again listening to like Michael Jackson and all these things. I love creating theater of the mind, like when you listen to music or audio and how you can paint a picture for somebody in their head just with sounds. I felt like that whole opening was the opening to my little indie film.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That’s awesome. Shout out to the production on that song for sure. Another standout that I’ve been seeing on IG a lot is “Left, Right, GO!”. The production of this song is like Tyler The Creator to me, what was the inspiration for this one?
LAYA: That was another one that kind of just flew right out of me. I mean the beat had this whistle and these drumline drums, so right away I just heard it in my head like “Left, Left, Right, Left”. It was still around the same time that I wrote “Bet That” and I was still trying to prove myself. I wrote it in a perspective of my inner self or my higher self motivating me. You put the work in, you know, you deserve it, but I had been taking blows. I felt like every time I turned around, I was being knocked down or something was being taken from me. But, then at the same time being like “Okay so what they knocked you down? So what they took this and that from you?” Like, “Boohoo, get off your a** and do it, keep going.” Just put one foot in front of the other and just keep it moving, cause that’s always the tea.
You’re gonna fail sometimes, but you will not fail overall if you keep going. You know what I mean? As long as you get back up and you keep going. This record really was just all of that energy and claiming what you deserve, and knowing that you deserve everything that you want and that you’re working for. I like to motivate people with my lyrics and with my music. I feel like there’s too much sad s*** out there and self loathing stuff. I love me some ratchet tunes and some wild s*** too, but I think there’s a time and a place, you know what I’m saying? I like to twerk and all that, but I just don’t do it everywhere. I think there’s a time and a place.I want to be one of those people to provide those other moments and those other pieces of work that people can pull that strength from.I remember the first time I played the complete version for my best friend, she started crying because she just felt it. It’s something that touches people when it’s the truth. So even when that happened, cus’ this was long before it was released, that told me this one’s good. Like, okay this is going to do something for people, more than just being a song.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you’re from Staten Island, so do you feel like that’s influenced your sound at all?
LAYA: I definitely do. I mean, it’s still New York. I feel like the rest of New York loves s****ing on us all the time and playing with us, but it’s still part of New York City. It’s the forgotten borough and the underdog essentially. There’s definitely that energy and that has carried kind of through my coming up in a lot of ways. It’s like I’m the underdog always having to prove myself. Growing up part of the city that you constantly got to prove yourself. You gotta boss up like, “watch your mouth and blah blah blah”, it’s this whole energy of being strong and having to know who you are. It definitely has influenced me and just my life. I was just laughing with my friend earlier today about how it’s hard to really relocate and live anywhere else. It’s something about New York. It’s just, I don’t know. I’m a Gotham City girl, so It’s going to be hard to get me out. Staten Island has definitely influenced my spice and charisma for sure. And, my love for Italian food, because you know Italians is out here and I love me some Italian food.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything special coming for the rest of the year?
LAYA: There will be a lot more visuals coming for these songs. I would like to say that Bet That will be the gift that will keep on giving as far as cool visual content and fun things to look forward to. I have some shows that are starting to form but I can’t necessarily say anything yet. Definitely I would say to anyone out there, stay tuned for upcoming shows because there will be. I’m hoping to do some actual touring. I know my team is working on some of those things now. I’m just excited to continue to create for this body of work, push those things out and then get on stage and perform all this live. That’s what I’m really excited about. That’s what I would tell people to look forward to really, is for me out in the streets *laughs*
YouKnowIGotSoul: My last question for you, what is your favorite song on this project? I know that’s a hard one.
LAYA: It is! Everybody asks me the same thing and I feel like I have a different answer every time.
It depends on my mood, because yes, I love them all. They’re all my children. They’re all my favorite, depending on what day it is. Today my favorite is… “Slide”. I don’t know, “Slide” is always in my top two or three. You know what someone said on Twitter? They were like, “you make being mad sounds so smooth”. That’s how “Slide” makes me feel. I’m one of those artists that don’t just listen to my s*** all day, but “Slide” I will listen to. I really, really like it. It just gets me moving. It’s like “It ain’t nothing, you should get on, Slide!” I don’t know, that one gets me in my bag *laughs*.