yeule is the Singapore-born, Los Angeles-based nonbinary musician, performance artist, and painter also known as Nat Ćmiel. First self-releasing songs at age 14, they have since emerged as a cult art icon, whose experimental pop songs of emotional excavation and self-reclamation have attracted a dedicated following of fellow outsiders who seek catharsis from physical and mental struggle. A chameleonic auteur guided by a multidisciplinary ethos, they craft entire worlds and personas through their music, weaving together everything from the classical canon, hypermodern internet cultures, academic theory, the esoteric, and their own carnal desires.
While their critically-acclaimed 2022 breakthrough album Glitch Princess was driven by the digital realities and intimacies they discovered to cope with the reclusion of their teenage years, yeule found themselves careening back into another self-made world—this time, more somatic and tactile—during the isolation of the pandemic.
In 2020, yeule was forced to return to Singapore while in their final year at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London to finish their degree. In the midst of pandemic chaos and broken ties, grief was abundant when they lost a close friend from an overdose. They poured out their anguish into a total of eight journals, filled with handwritten dissections of these potent feelings. They began playing acoustic guitar obsessively for the first time since they were a kid and relistened to the early 2000s alt-rock music they grew up on, increasingly becoming immersed in their memories.
By setting these inner musings to cathartic punk riffs and ethereal electronics, yeule crafted Soft Scars, their debut album on Ninja Tune arriving September 22. On the blistering project, they closely examine the anatomy of their long held emotional wounds, making for their most penetrating and daring work yet. By liberating their repressed memories through images of blood, flames, porcelain, and angel wings, they honor the way that pain has shaped their past selves and built their instinct for self-protection.
Throughout, yeule also writes of relationships, either with themself or others, that were so transformational they feel almost metaphysical. “sulky baby” sees yeule having a conversation with their younger self, rekindling a childlike connection that they had long forgotten, while “ghosts” is written from the perspective of someone who is untethered to the physical realm, talking to the only person who can see them. Meanwhile, “aphex twin flame” is about meeting someone so familiar, you can’t help but suspect you were the same person in a past life.
“I took the metaphor of the scar to represent each song, and each scar remains soft,” yeule says. “Whether you’re healing from emotional trauma or a physical wound, time never heals a scar completely. There’s no more pain, but you can still see the mark afterward. I have a deep feeling that the things my ancestors went through got passed down; there’s some trauma that just sticks. There was always decay and distortion in my life, there’s always been something wrong or ugly. So the scar reminds me that I’m being protected, and I should protect myself.”
Though its subject matter is heavy and arcane, there is a sense of joyful catharsis that emanates throughout the project, which was written and produced by yeule and their best friend Kin Leonn, with additional magic from Mura Masa and Chris Greatti’s production (Yves Tumor, Willow Smith). Driving it along is yeule’s shape shifting vocals, sounding more assured than ever in all of its jagged edges and haunting whispers, relaying the imperfect process of healing. A gentle moment of solace arrives with “fish in the pool,” a melancholic piano interlude that serves as a dedication to the instrument, which they started playing at age 6 and call their “first love.”
Soft Scars also marks a new era of yeule embracing their musical project as who they truly are as a person. “I was forcing myself to separate myself from my artist persona and trying to tone myself down, because I felt like people wouldn’t like me if I was really that,” yeule explains. By becoming the otherworldly figure that once was of their imagination, they have now bridged the fractured identities that could only exist through different contexts and forms.
The bold actualization of yeule’s vision serves as a model for anyone else who wishes to break the mold and step into the next version of themself. “I feel like we’re always so silenced and turned down by everything in this world,” they add. “Don’t wear this, don’t do that, people always say. But once you stop seeing those as barriers, it’s like your whole life blossoms.”
SASAMI (Sasami Ashworth) will release her second studio album, Squeeze, on February 25, 2022 on Domino Records. Squeeze hammers home a sentiment of “anti-toxic positivity” and showcases her vicious honesty and brutally uncompromising vision, partially inspired by the Japanese yōkai folk spirit called Nure-onna (translation: wet woman), a vampiric deity that has the head of a woman and the body of a snake.
On Squeeze, SASAMI explores her wide spectrum of moods—from raging at systemic violence to wrestling for control in her personal relationships. Throughout, the singer-songwriter and producer surveys the raw aggression of nu-metal, tender plainspokeness of country-pop and folk rock, and dramatic romanticism of classical music.
Based in Los Angeles, SASAMI is a descendent of the Zainichi people on her mother’s side, a diaspora of ethnic Koreans who lived in Japan during Japan’s occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Though some Zainichi moved voluntarily and others were forcibly kidnapped, these people and their progeny continue to experience systemic discrimination and oppression in Japan to this day. While conducting a deep dive into her family’s mixed Korean and Japanese history and culture, SASAMI stumbled upon stories of Nure-onna and was immediately drawn to the water creature’s multiplicitous nature. According to legend, the deity is feminine and noble, yet powerful and vicious enough to brutally destroy victims with her blood sucking tongue.
The fluidity of the Nure-onna can be felt in how Squeeze naturally flows through musical influences—from System of a Down to Sheryl Crow and Fleetwood Mac, to even Bach and Mahler. A classically-trained composer, SASAMI constructed the LP in the form of an opera or orchestral work that has different “movements” that take the listener on an emotional journey. Compared to the introspective indie rock of SASAMI’s 2019 self-titled debut album, Squeeze is a full-throttled expansion.
The dark, fantastical elements of the Nure-onna legend feeds into SASAMI’s use of heavy rock elements throughout Squeeze. She hopes that listeners will identify with this new sinister, intense sound and use it as a soundtrack for processing their “anger, frustration, desperation, and more violent, aggressive emotions.” Her ultimate desire is for marginalized folks, including femmes, BIPOC, and queer people, to listen to Squeeze and find catharsis from the oppression and violence that they experience.
In reclamatory fashion, SASAMI assumes the form of Nure-onna on the record’s Japanese horror film-inspired cover art, designed by Andrew Thomas Huang (Björk, FKA twigs) and Rin Kim. She chose to pair this Japanese folklore-referencing image with Squeeze written in Korean calligraphy by Myung-Ja Ashworth, SASAMI’s mom, as another act of Zainichi empowerment. On the back, the title is written in Japanese script.
Squeeze was produced by SASAMI, with a handful of the tracks co-produced by Ty Segall at his studio in Topanga, California. Other notable contributors include:
No Home (“Squeeze”)
Fashion Club aka Moaning’s Pascal Stevenson (“Say It”)
Christian Lee Hutson (“Tried to Understand”)
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy (“The Greatest,” “Not a Love Song”)
Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko and Patti Harrison (“Skin a Rat”)
Barishi (“Sorry Entertainer”)
Megadeth’s Dirk Verbeuren (“Squeeze,” “Skin a Rat,” “Need it to Work”)
King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas (all songs besides “Sorry Entertainer”)