NAO, née Neo Jessica Joshua, is a spiritual person, surrounded by friends she describes as “hippies and artists and really open”.
When her friends began to experience their Saturn returns — the intense period of growth, often likened to a rebirth of sorts, between ages 27–32 sparked by the slow-moving Saturn’s return to its place in the sky at the time of one’s birth — NAO felt it was a beautiful astrological theory.
Thus was the inspiration for her sophomore release, Saturn.
“I feel like everyone can relate to this idea that when you get to your late 20s, big changes happen. You have another rebirth, and you have to let go of some old ideas in order to become new,” NAO told Dazed.
“I felt like that’s such a beautiful concept to write about, and everyone can connect to it, whether you’re going to go through it, you’ve been through it, or you’re in it.”
NAO’s sound is — in one word — transcendent.
Her East London upbringing was marked by music, her influences including Gospel, Funk, Jazz, Garage and Grime.
These varying styles are evident on her sophomore release.
Tracks like “Make It Out Alive (feat. SiR)” and “Saturn (feat. Kwabs)” bring a more traditional R&B/Soul sound, while “If You Ever” offers the listener a bouncy invitation into NAO’s self-aware, sky high existence.
“Everything will be alright, you just didn’t let it go,” she sings on “If You Ever”. “There’s a stairway to Heaven / And maybe we can climb together.”
On “Orbit,” amidst a plucked electric guitar, NAO finds herself released from a failing relationship.
The track — number seven out of thirteen — propels the listener from the “before” to the “after” of NAO’s Saturn-induced evolution.
In the first half of the album, she is reflective of her past self.
But in the second half she blooms, set free from the memory of who she once was.
Perhaps her greatest offering on Saturn, “Yellow of the Sun” places NAO in the backseat of Thelma and Louise’s turquoise 1966 Ford Thunderbird, flying into what NAO describes as “I guess…death, but for them, it also meant freedom.”
For NAO, it is paradise, beautiful, magical.
Freedom, the kind that comes with learning to save yourself, is like flying through the yellow of the sun.