Interview by Freya Bennett // Photography and Styling by Sara Regan
I had just moved back to my hometown on Dja Dja Wurrung country when I first heard Ny Oh’s gentle yet expansive voice, her cascading vocals embracing my tired mind through my headphones.
After an incredibly tough few years navigating the world’s longest lockdown with a young child, diminishing mental health (due to previously mentioned lockdown) and a new chronic illness diagnosis, moving to the country was the medicine I needed. And Ny Oh’s voice accompanied this new, tender lifestyle I was creating for myself and my little family.
I began taking walks at dawn, in the middle of winter – the grass crispy with frost and the sky unassuming before the sun’s company. A playlist of gentle, wise women accompanying me as I watched kangaroos graze in the fields near my house. Garden of Eden was always on repeat.
Ny Oh sounds like a dreamy Beth Orton or the love child of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Her song writing deep like Laura Marling, her voice velvet honey like Lianne La Havas. I can’t get past her vibrato which is so mesmerizingly perfect, it makes you hold your breath till the last oscillation.
We got the chance to interview Ny Oh for Ramona during her recent whirlwind stay in Melbourne as she accompanies Harry Styles around the globe as part of his Love on Tour show and in the leadup to our chat, I was lucky enough to listen to her new song.
I first listened to You Are late in the evening, my five-year-old daughter, resisting bedtime, sat on my lap. We let the soothing melody wash over us and I asked her to give me three words to describe the song. She responded with ‘calm’, ‘original’ and then later, ‘big’. I agreed wholeheartedly.
The song starts with just piano and vocals, a chromatic melody weaving a tale which soon resolves sonically delivering brain tingling contentment. Goosebumps were noticeable on both mine and my daughter’s legs and we agreed we were very excited to meet the voice behind the song.
When the day of the interview arrived, I felt nervous excitement, unsure of what to expect Ny Oh to be like but hoping I’d read her right through her music. The minute she arrived on set, it was as if the sun had just burst through the clouds. Her warmth was unmatched- she had such generosity and graciousness for everyone in the room.
We sat down, accompanied by our cups of tea and I started by asking Ny Oh how she creates a sense of home while touring the world.
“I have a travel home in my suitcase which is really well refined now.” She begins. Sharing that she always takes a kettle and her preferred tea with her wherever she goes. This resonates with me as tea feels like home and being able to make tea the way you like it, is worth the bulkiness of taking a kettle around the world.
Alongside her kettle, Ny Oh always has her favourite incense [of which she graciously gifts me some] and pounamu stone saying, “I try and just have a corner of the hotel room that’s peaceful, where I can meditate.”
I’m amazed at the effort that goes into creating her home away from home as she can often only be in a city for a few nights.
“You have to commit to the repack though,” Ny Oh adds with a laugh.I ask her how she got into music. A rudimentary question yes, but an important one as she not only sings but is a multi-instrumentalist, looking so comfortable playing her various instruments on stage at stadiums all around the world.
“My mum is a flautist and a music teacher, so she was my early music education.” Ny Oh begins, following up with the tale of her broken femur at age four which required her to spend months by herself in hospital. “The only thing I could do to make myself feel better was sing,” and that was the moment she fell in love with singing, “it was making everyone happy; it was making me happy.”
Although Ny Oh’s mother wasn’t her main instrumental teacher, she taught her little tricks to understand rhythms and interpret the rules of music in an alternative way.
Ny Oh shares that when Pauli Lovejoy first started as Music Director of the Love on Tour band, she had to say to him “I learn so differently, if you want to change the way I’m playing something, then you’re going to have to make it interactive for me.”
I ask if she ever gets nervous playing to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, something I cannot even fathom as a very anxious girly.
“When I’m doing the Harry gig, the energy I get from him, really erases how I’m feeling. Because he’s so charismatic and energetic and he’s having so much fun… you feel like you can trust this shit.”
I ask Ny Oh about the intention behind Garden of Eden [her debut EP], she responds “All of those songs were written around the same time. At a time when I was feeling at a crossroads musically.”
Having lived in London for eight years, slogging away at her music, Ny Oh came to a place where she started to question where she was going in life and in music. “Garden of Eden was an ode to my guitar, a reminder to just write the music.”
We talk about ageism and the insecurity we both had as younger women to ‘make it’ while still very young but how we’ve come to realise our age and wisdom is our power.
“All of the women that I look up to in the music industry, who have amazing lifetime careers, are all women who didn’t really make it till they were in their 40s and 50s and their music is so good because no-one fucked with them. That’s the dream.”
I feel like Ny Oh’s new song You Are has a wandering, fairy-tale like feel. When I mention this to her, she responds, “You Are is taking more of a step in the direction of where I want to go musically. Sort of sound-scapey, meandering, weird, strange journeys.” I wholeheartedly support this direction as a lover of anything dreamy and otherworldly.
I ask if my reading of You Are is accurate in that it feels like a wiser version of herself singing back to the Garden of Eden version. “That was fully the intention.” Ny Oh responds, continuing that You Are is about “Really, fully accepting myself.”
“Since I started this job [playing in the Love on Tour band] in 2019, it’s been a big journey to really see myself and accept myself. I had mad imposter syndrome when I started, and I nearly let it take me down.”
We talk about the lyrics for You Are and how soothing they feel to me – her words like an affirmation. Ny Oh responds with, “I’m really into songs being spells at the moment, if I’m going to have to sing this song for the next five years, then I want it to manifest something great.”
Later, after our interview and photoshoot were done, I brought my daughter Rory to the set to meet Ny Oh.
Ny Oh immediately got down on the ground to connect with Rory, sharing stories about turtles and magic. As Rory admired the many rings on Ny Oh’s hands, Ny Oh pulled off a ring she had on her pinky, placed it on Rory’s finger (it fit perfectly) and told her she could keep it. Seeing my daughter light up from being given full and heartfelt attention was the best part of my day.
We still listen to You Are most evenings at bedtime where Rory will always request we both make a wish on the ring she was given by the rockstar, Ny Oh. Her wish of a unicorn in her bedroom has yet to come true but she doesn’t mind, she’s just happy twirling her love heart ring, gifted to her by a special friend.