Let's just get it out of the way and say that Andrea Landis is really pretty. Sitting at this Hollywood cafe eating eggs and wearing yoga pants and a cutoff Metallica t-shirt, the 23-year-old singer/songwriter is one of those exceptionally beautiful people -- clear skin, big eyes, perfect teeth -- who would be kind of annoying if she wasn't also charming, well-spoken, and quick to laugh. All of the male waiters are quick to ask Landis, who goes by her artist name Nylo, if she needs anything.
Maybe they just know she's about to blow up. Nylo's music is a convergence of electronic and R&B, a nascent genre being made popular by folks The Weeknd and Banks. It is a style that has been influenced by singers like Lauryn Hill, Janet Jackson and Aaliyah. Nylo has been compared to the latter; her voice is both rich and feathery, floating over spare, sexy production, much of which she writes herself.
Her story starts in Chicago, where she was raised, first downtown and then in the suburbs. Going to church sparked her interest in music, and she says singing in the choir taught her both the fundamentals of singing and spirituality itself. "Music was my definitely my idea of God for awhile. It was like, 'This is the best thing there is, so surely this must be God."
When she got older, she was in a series of "crappy bands" that played open mics around the city. When her parents divorced, Nylo, her younger brother and their mother relocated to Texas, where they moved from town to town -- Dallas, Irving, Carrollton, Grapevine and Fort Worth -- as Nylo's mother chased the job market, working three jobs at once to pay for their "shitty apartment."
Nylo hated Texas. The kids in school were mean to her, and she often felt like a freak. Her one friend was into audio engineering and taught her the nuts and bolts of the recording process. A straight A student, she nonetheless dropped out when she was 17 because high school made her miserable. She worked 18 hours a day to get her GED online while also working as a receptionist at a doctor's office.
All the while, she was performing at open mics, developing her singing voice and sound. Nylo's mother wasn't sure, but saw evidence of her emerging popularity when she came to see her play an open mic. "I had totally come to terms with the fact that I was never going to have support form my family," Nylo says. "To finally get her approval was a huge moment for me."
Then one day a friend in L.A. asked her to audition for a play she was putting on. Nylo had never been to L.A. and had never done musical theater, but she could sing, and she wanted the hell out of Texas. The call came on a Saturday; she was in Los Angeles by Monday afternoon and by Monday evening she had the part.
She did not, however, have a place to stay, so she ended up crashing with the families of kids who were in the production. She learned the ropes in recording and writing sessions around town, and never went back to Texas.
She needed money and took a position working for an older man who sold rare and collectible guitars. "He made my life miserable," Nylo says of her former employer, who would call her dozens of times a day, at three, four, five in the morning, to tell her she was an idiot for handling the business improperly. Her mother urged her to quit the job.
Through the misery, however, Nylo saw a clear path to her artistic ambitions. She was living cheap, staying with friends and subsisting mostly on "peanut butter and water." She knew if she could sell a particular $80,000 guitar, she could take her ten percent commission and she'd be set for a while. The day she made the deal, she was escorted to a third party location by an armed security guard to exchange the guitar for the cash. She got her $8,000 and quit the next day.
She was now free to pursue her own music full time while also picking up gigs writing songs and doing vocal sessions. Despite her good intentions, she was soon entrenched in the industry grind, and it was bumming her out. "I was so tired of music and songwriting and doing the process over and over again. I'd watch people write a bad song every day and brag about their catalogs."
One morning in 2010, around 5am, Nylo was driving home on the 101 from a late night studio session when she fell asleep at the wheel, crossed four lanes of traffic and slammed into the guard rail. She was fine, but emotionally shaken. "I was leaving a session where I was writing a song I liked but working with people I didn't like and driving home to a person I knew for a fact didn't care that much about me, and that was about to be it."
She quit all of her industry gigs, broke up with her boyfriend and sat on her couch for months listening to favorites including Nirvana, Radiohead, James Blake and Diana Ross, which she says reignited her love for music. In time, she began driving out to the Inland Empire to make 'just for fun' music with some friends from her studio days. It was from this musical rehab that she came up with the handful of songs she posted to Soundcloud. She was almost immediately pursued by big name labels.
With the bitter taste of her time in the industry still lingering, Nylo wasn't interested in signing with a huge corporation. She was, however, still hungry. She let the labels take her and her friends (posing as managers) out to expensive dinners around town. "I would get salmon and a shot of tequila and espresso and a dessert," she says. "It was so fun."
The game got real when she and her crew were flown to New York to meet with R&B svengali and Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid. Nylo was escorted into a conference room on the 23rd floor of the Sony building to meet with the famed producer and a crew of executives. Still wearing his sunglasses, Reid told her to sing. She did, and he cut her off mid-song. She was then escorted out of the room and into a waiting area, where she sat waiting. Eventually, Reid came into the room, took off his sunglasses and, she recalls, "gave me this look. The next thing I know we're in the office for nine hours negotiating my contract and they're ordering me my favorite food."
Nylo says her contract is artist friendly; she performs around town, with the party for her recently released EP Indigo Summer being hosted by Nas at the Viper Room. She's currently in the midst of a east and west coast tour, and a companion EP Indigo Rose comes out in October.
Nylo's apartment building is going to be demolished while she's on tour. She doesn't know where she's going to live when she gets back, and she's kind of excited about that. At heart, she's still a gypsy.
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