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Feel the realness: Exploring flowanastasia’s deeply personal Face Yourself EP

flowanastasia’s Face Yourself release lives in a world of its own…

Too big to be considered an EP. Too small to be categorised as an LP. And while it features D&B luminaries such as Nymfo, Loko, STRANJAH and Tyr Kohout, we’re pretty sure it’s the world’s first ever drum & bass release to suddenly break out into a beautiful piano interlude laced with Russian poetry.

Face Yourself is every bit unique as flowanastasia herself. Ukraine born but Toronto raised and based, since emerging as Anastasia in the early 2010s she’s appeared on pretty much every big D&B label you can shake a USB stick at from RAM to Critical.

This release, however, is a whole new chapter. Not only does it embrace her roots as a classical pianist, and explore her love for jazz with collaborations with local jazz musicians, it also taps into one of her earlier musical passions and ambitions – spoken word and hip-hop. Most pertinently, though, it deftly reveals a real human battering down the usual industry smoke and mirrors to tackle some of her biggest challenges: addiction and mental health.

Too big to be an EP. Too small to be an album. Too personal, emotional and inspiring to not be celebrated, Face Yourself is the sound of an artist pushing themselves through the darkest of times and coming out enriched, balanced and excited for the future. Out today on all platforms, we called her up last week on Bandcamp release day to find out more…

Your album is out today! That must be an awesome feeling?

Awesome isn’t the first word that springs to mind haha! But you’re right, it is awesome to finally have my debut album out there. But I’m also feeling nervous. Face Yourself is about shedding masks and being vulnerable, so perhaps it makes sense that I’m feeling a bit of anxiety now too. I guess that’s part of the process to get out of your comfort zone. And at least I know I tried my best, so maybe that’s all that matters?

Hugely! It’s a bundle of emotions whenever you put things out into the world. When did you start it?

I’d thought about doing an album for a while and wasn’t sure when the right moment would be. After collaborating with drum & bass producers for many years, I was grateful to have finally achieved some of my bucket list collaborations, and then during the early months of the pandemic, I started to ask myself ‘If I finally put out my own album, what would it look like? Who would I work with?’

I already had some of the title track Face Yourself written and that ended up shaping the whole vision of the album. Particularly because the pandemic brought a lot of my long-time mental health issues to the spotlight, I thought the goal of finally facing those issues would provide guidance in my daily life as well.

Yes! So is it an EP or an LP? Or in between?

I think you’re right, it kinda falls in between. It started as an EP with five tracks but landed at seven tracks, which is much bigger than an EP. Some of the original plans changed, and people I was collaborating with couldn’t collaborate anymore. That was a challenge at the time, but it helped me learn how to adapt. And it pushed me to come up with my own creative solutions. Like writing my own piano piece, which I’d been trying to do for years.

I studied piano growing up but whenever I tried writing my own compositions, it didn’t come naturally. So I made it a challenge for myself to really try again for this album. I ended up writing a Russian poem to recite on it too. I know that isn’t what you’d usually expect from a D&B release, but I felt like it represented other parts of my life outside of the genre. And that’s what I wanted this project to be – something that showcased all sides of me as an artist and person.

 

Totally. Let’s linger on that piano piece. That’s for your nan isn’t it? It’s a great palette cleanser in the middle of the release and shows of a whole other side to you and is a special dedication. Beautiful! What do you think she would have made of this? And did she move over to Canada from the Ukraine with you as a child?

Thank you so much! Yes, so I moved to Canada with my mom when I was four, then my grandparents moved over a year later. My grandma Jana was the biggest encourager of my creativity when I was a kid. I miss her and wanted to thank her in the form of a song and poem. Whenever we were together she’d say, ‘Sing a song for me!’ Or, ‘Perform a dance!’ Those memories were special because, as I got older, it felt like an impossible dream to be a musician and I ended up going to business school instead.

I’ve worked in offices for ten years and I’m still pursuing the dream of being a full-time musician. Looking back, I can see that my grandma’s encouragement was really important. All the other advice I was getting from society and family was, ‘Music is great, but keep it as a hobby, you need something more practical.’ But I’m still striving to make my dream a reality and it doesn’t matter if it happens or not – as long as I know I’ve tried my best, then I’ll have no regrets.

That’s really inspiring. You’ve posted about the album being part of a very personal healing process and your battles with addictions. What can you tell us about that?

Anxiety, depression, and addiction is something I’ve battled all my life in different forms. I was an overweight kid and my weight always fluctuated since then. There’s been tendencies towards eating disordered behaviour – stress eating, bingeing, a small period of bulimia at one point. The recent lockdowns exacerbated some of those habits big time.

Then in terms of addictions. I’d been smoking since I was 15, and throughout my 20s I was experimenting with lots of psychedelics and party drugs. But meeting my partner Tyr Kohout in 2017 changed my life. And I thought I was done with my addictive past at that point.

But lockdown brought some addictive tendencies back to the surface again. I was working from home and Canada had recently legalised cannabis, so there’s a weed shop on every street corner. I got super into edibles and weed again, and that became a morning-to-night thing. I also started drinking a lot more often, almost daily and earlier in the day too. I’d never had an issue with drink before and it felt like a new rock bottom. I could see things were starting to get out of control.

My addictive behaviours were a coping mechanism, but they kept getting in the way of me achieving my real goals. They weren’t helping me anymore, and they weren’t going to bring me long-lasting joy. I tried moderation in the past but always had a hard time, because it made me obsessed thinking about the “next time” I could engage in whatever behaviour I was trying to moderate. So I had to admit that wasn’t going to work for me either, and I just had to stop everything. I decided to go fully sober and clean starting January 1 2021.

Amazing! That’s outstanding. Congratulations. The first year is the hardest isn’t it?

Thank you. It was really tough and still is. When I stopped, I thought it would only get better from there, but it’s been an up-and-down journey. First, I injured my back and used it as an excuse to stop being active. Coupled with the poor eating habits, I ended up gaining more weight than ever before. Sure, I’d given up drinking and smoking and all other dangerous substances, but being really overweight was not the healthiest thing either. After feeling hopeless for many months, I was finally able to start going on a more positive path, incorporating regular exercise, meditation, and better eating habits. And addressing the underlying issues that were causing me to engage in unhealthy behaviours. It’s still a daily challenge, but I know I’m not alone; we all have various addictive tendencies and coping mechanisms whether it’s sex or video games or gambling, etc.

That’s so true. I can relate! Props again on reaching that path and props to Tyr – having support is essential and he’s on the album a lot with you, so it must be amazing to have your partner on such a personal project?

Yeah 100%! It wouldn’t have happened without him. He’s been the vocal engineer on all my drum & bass projects since we met and, beyond that, he mastered the whole album and produced some of the music. It was also through him that I met the jazz musicians who I collaborate with on the album. Tyr recorded us and filmed the River Flows (Live Acoustic) video. I also got him to sing a duet with me on Face Yourself!

Doing a duet! That’s beautiful! What’s it like creating art with your partner?

We learn a lot from each other, and we have different personalities and skills so it works out well. For example, he’s one of the hardest working people I know, he’s very focused and serious about what he needs to do. That’s always motivating to me. And my ability to step away from work and take moments to find peace and gratitude has been an inspiration for him, so we balance each other out.

The duet was super cool and full circle for us. We originally met through SoundCloud, a classic ‘wanna collab?’ story haha. That first track we collaborated on was a duet. He produces sick neuro stuff and doesn’t consider himself a singer, but I think he’s awesome. So yeah, to have our first ever track as a duet, and then the title track of this album be a duet too, was very meaningful to me.

That’s lovely. I wanna touch on the opening track River Flows. You’ve mentioned jazz a few times now and that track is heavily jazz influenced. There’s a 4 Hero / Ursula Rucker feel to it.

Oh sick! Thank you! She was a big influence on me back in high school when I dabbled in spoken word poetry. This was before I discovered drum & bass, I was exploring a lot of hip-hop and trip-hop and my favourite band was The Roots because they brought together a lot of rap and instrumentation. Ursula Rucker collaborated with them often and she was always such a goosebumps moment for me.

I performed some spoken word at school talent shows and assemblies and I did actually want to be a rapper but whenever I tried it, it didn’t really work out naturally. But spoken word gave me space to find the rhythms and have more freedom with the flow. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try in my D&B, but River Flows is the first time I’ve dared to. I’m extra glad the reception has been the way it has been, and it’s something I’d like to explore more of in future.

Awesome. I saw you post that T-Pain had checked River Flows. Now knowing your hip-hop roots that must have been a great co-sign. How did that happen?

That was surreal! Tyr’s uncle Brent was on Twitch and randomly came across T-Pain’s stream called Show Me What You Got, where people submit tracks and he listens to as many as possible. Brent submitted River Flows and T-Pain actually listened to it! I saw the screen recording afterwards and was absolutely blown away. But I think more importantly it was just great to see a mainstream artist like him listening to drum & bass. You know, D&B is so underground here and it’s great to see anything like that where the mainstream are embracing it in any type of way, because that just doesn’t really happen here.

Totally! I know it’s had its moments, but I think there’s definitely a buzz in North America now.

I think so. There’s such a strange relationship with the genre over here and, as you know, Toronto has a great history of drum & bass in the past. Some people say it’ll never be as big here as it was in the 90s and, sure, it will be different. But I have a lot of faith that it’s still got potential to be a bigger genre in North America.

D&B is mostly all I think about from the moment I wake up. And I want to be part of this new chapter for the genre over here and help spread the word and have a positive impact. We’re seeing little seedlings growing and it’s very inspiring. Justin Hawkes and Winslow are two big examples for the new generation and I have hope for the scene here. Even the big EDM DJs playing drum & bass has a positive impact. I know people argue that if it gets too big then it loses its special nature…

Nah I disagree. We can have the full spectrum and D&B can go as cheesy as you like but it’ll still have its underground sounds and subgenres and communities.

Yeah totally. They open up opportunities for people. And if a big touring artist comes over here, it creates chances for local artists to support and open for them and be exposed to big crowds. And for the crowds, it exposes them to underground D&B which they may never have heard before and then they might go down the rabbit hole of discovering more artists.

That’s it! So keeping with the North American vibe, the fact this release is on Deviant Audio is great. STRANJAH’s been killing it in all kinds of ways lately and he helped bring this album into existence.

Big up STRANJAH! I was a huge fan girl of his for so many years. He was one of those names I’d see on tracklists and one of the few Canadian names I’d see, so I’d always had a big admiration and respect for him.

Tyr and STRANJAH had worked together a lot before, so that’s how we connected and we’ve developed a great friendship and working relationship. I’ve helped behind-the-scenes at the label and I can reveal that there are some big things to come from Deviant Audio, including a new platform for the community and a rebranding!

Getting to know STRANJAH and working with him has been a very positive influence. He’s very mindful and has made some life-changing recommendations to me. He encouraged me to read the book Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle which I’d heard about for years but thought was a cheesy spiritual book. I finally read it last year and it had a huge influence on me. Nowadays, whenever I feel like I’m starting to fall apart, I’ll put on one of Eckhart’s videos on YouTube and it gets me back on track.

STRANJAH’s been inspiring in another way for me, too; Like me, he spent many years in corporate work. But with his content creation, he’s been able to carve his own path and create his own career, and also impart a lot of knowledge that empowers artists. That’s a very positive energy to be around.

Yes! We need to big up Nymfo and Loko too…

We do! Nymfo was a big fangirl moment for me too. I’ve been loving his music for years and we connected on Twitter a few years back. We worked on a few tracks and vibed really naturally, so then I asked if he wanted to be involved in this release and was so grateful when he agreed. River Flows came together so well and I’m so stoked he’s on the release.

The same with Loko, we connected online a little while ago and I think he’s an awesome artist. He smashed Higher Forces and I love the fact I have a soulful dancefloor track on the release, because it represents another part of who I am and the music I love. I love to rinse out and throw down to dancefloor drum & bass. So overall, with their input and our collaborations, it’s a great reflection of who I am and where I’m at as an artist.

Totally! So what comes up next from you as an artist?

I’ve got my first ever vocal sample pack coming out, and I’m very excited about it. It’s called “flowanastasia.wavs” and will be coming out in the Spring!

So we’ll hear your voice on lots more tunes!

I hope so! And I hope this project will help me spread positive energy and lyrics about mental health further afield. I’ll also be putting out some free sample packs throughout the year to say thank you to everyone who’s worked with me or supported me and to just spread as much love as I can.

That’s awesome. Any other else to hype up?

There are many cool musical collabs coming this year and that’s all I can confirm at this moment. For now, I hope you all resonate with some of the music on Face Yourself, or perhaps you’re going through your own journey to face your personal challenges. Wishing you strength, joy and peace!

flowanastasia – Face Yourself EP is out now on Deviant Audio

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