What is there to be afraid of? Everything I put forward is true. I’m not playing a part.
CYN is not quite the person we’d imagined meeting at Terminal 5 in New York City last month. We had scrolled through her colorful Instagram feed. We had watched all of her bubbly YouTube interviews. Certainly, we were well-aware of her undeniably pretty vocals already, and how virtually every publication was too keen on labeling her “saccharine,” albeit with good intentions.
Less saccharine and more the firecracker personality that she exudes in person—note her Little Red Riding Hood teddy coat—she’s a down-to-earth tornado, dashing us from one dark venue corner to the next to find some quiet (the soundcheck was out to sabotage our audio recording!) CYN, née Cynthia Nabozny, just wrapped up her tour, supporting Years & Years in North America.
So how did she get here? The Detroit native was signed to Katy Perry’s imprint, Unsub Records, in 2017 at age 24, after CYN reached out to the pop star’s friend, DJ Skeet Skeet, on Twitter. It’s an inspiring and well-worn tale that CYN seems all too ready to move beyond. With her acoustic ballad “I’ll Still Have Me” out now and a debut EP in the pipeline, it’s an exciting time to be CYN.
CYN’s debut EP arrives in early 2019.
You’re on a complete roll right now. From an outsider’s perspective, it looks as though you’re having a meteoric rise. Does it feel really fast to you?
It doesn’t feel fast to me because I’ve been wanting to play these kinds of shows and living this kind of lifestyle and having this career since I was a very small child. But I’m very glad that it didn’t start happening until now. I’m 25 years old now and I’m so thankful that I went to college and lived a very normal life. I wouldn’t want to be a child star—and I didn’t know that then. So thank god it’s happening now. So yeah, it did feel slow, but this year definitely felt like some momentum picked up. I’m just thankful for the opportunities. I hope it keeps going!
You were always writing and on the piano. What kind of music was in your household?
A lot of Motown because I grew up outside of Detroit. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson… My grandma gave me a cassette of Patsy Cline and I listened to that on my own little cassette player when I was 4 or 5 years old. I love Jewel. I was listening to the album that came out in 1995—
I remember that album cover. Pieces of You, right?
Yeah! That really shaped the way I write, I believe. There were just so many crying moments on that album and I think that probably influenced my latest single, “I’ll Still Have Me,” which, even now that I’ve come out of that experience, I can still listen to and cry over something that I’m—over! Do you know what I mean? [Laughs] Those are kind of the basics. I really love Carole King and a lot of the stuff that she’s written.
I just recently learned that your moniker also alludes to “sin.” It didn’t register at first because there’s an overriding softness to your voice and your presentation. I think it makes more sense now that I’m meeting you. It gives you that edge to balance out a certain fragility.
Definitely. But when I think of the name CYN, I don’t think about the religious undertones. That doesn’t have anything to do with me—it’s just my name. It definitely adds this badass vibe and I think a lot of the releases that I have planned for later this year and early next year will cater to that more. A lot of my new stuff is bitchier, I think. It’s still sweet, but there’s a lot of distortion in the production and a lot of electric guitar, and I think the name will help bring that full circle.
When did your love of music become, “I want to become a recording artist”? Fairly early?
Yeah, it was. I remember being in the car and Jewel would come on the radio, and I was just convinced that every time she came on the radio, she was singing through the microphone and that it was live. I had no idea that it was recorded. I didn’t even know that was possible! I remember thinking in my mind—I had to have been about 4 years old—“Whatever she’s doing, I wanna do.” I don’t know why. Nothing else influenced me but my emotions. It’s that this is how I like to spill them—through music.
I know you’re super grateful to Katy Perry and there’s obvious, mutual respect there, but it’s been dominating your narrative for a while now. Are you sort of ready to put that to bed?
Yeah, I mean, I am my own person regardless of who signed me. I’m just using my music to further my identity. I definitely hope to have many fans outside of Katy’s fanbase as well. When I first signed to Katy, I thought to myself, “She will be brought up in every interview. Am I going to be okay with that?” And you know what? I am, because she’s fucking amazing and does so much for so many young people. She’s an inspiration for everybody, including myself. She was a big part of my high school experience and she’s influenced me as well. I’ll never throw a fit if I hear a question about Katy—ever—because I’m so thankful for her helping me do this. She’s a big part of it. So I don’t mind it. I definitely want to be the center of attention when it comes to my art, but I’ll always answer questions about Katy, for sure.
The thing is, you had the ambition—the gumption—to reach out to DJ Skeet Skeet.
Yes, exactly. I did. Someone didn’t stumble across me.
That would be a different thing.
Totally. I was proactive about my relationships and it wasn’t like I randomly woke up and had an email from her. I was doing the most to get my music, not in her hands, but people like her—people who will help facilitate a career like mine. It was a surprise and it made so much sense when she reached out. I was ecstatic. I cried! [Laughs]
Where are you living now?
I live in L.A.
Did you move there for acting as well? Is that another aspiration?
No, I had been living in Chicago before this. I was still in college when I signed my deal with Katy. I only moved to L.A. because of singing. I wasn’t trying to act, I wasn’t trying to model… It’s always been about singing and then a lot of things have kind of spiraled from singing. I was part of a Prada campaign and I have a song in a movie now [“Moment of Truth” for Smallfoot], and I’m sure my career will extend to other places, but really, I’m a singer. Everything else comes second.
I only asked you that because, apparently, I’ve been on the World Wide Web of Lies again.
No, that’s the record. That’s the record straight.
You’ve said you like to put a soundtrack to your life. What does music mean in that context?
When I say I wanna put a soundtrack to my life, I believe the emotional experiences we go through can be furthered through song, even if they’re not too emotional or it’s just me walking down the sidewalk. Having that in your headphones just furthers your experience. So that’s what I meant. I think sometimes we hear songs and we’re feeling heartbroken, but because we hear the song, we understand more of our heartbreak. We’re listening and applying ourselves to the song and letting the song be an extension of our own lives.
You mentioned earlier that your new material will be “bitchier.” “Alright” is maybe your only non-love song. “Moment of Truth” is something you didn’t write yourself and it’s part of a soundtrack. “I’ll Still Have Me” is acoustic-driven—a change of pace. What different thing are you keen on trying out next?
I will never get away from—I mean, god, I don’t know if I can ever say never, but—from the voice that I was on “I’ll Still Have Me.” I think it’ll always be a very delicate, simple expression. But in my new songs— one of the lyrics are, “You’re like my best friend/Except for the sex.” I’m just tongue in cheek and sassy. When I’m alone with my friends, I’m like a firecracker and this is something that I don’t think my audience realizes. I’m not as sweet as the girl who sang “Together.” I’m way more multi-faceted than that and that’s something I wanna bring out in this next music. I mean, it’s just more grown-up.
So that’s what we can expect from your upcoming EP.
Definitely. I believe in the real testament of being 25: going through a break-up, falling back in love with somebody, having real adult experiences… It’s really not apologetic at all.
Do you have a title for the EP?
I don’t want to reveal that yet. [Laughs] But it’s a good one.
“Believer” is such a bop. What are you looking for in your songwriting with a track like that?
I’m really inspired by statements. I wanted to say, “If you love me right/Maybe you might just make a believer out of me.” That sentiment alone will inspire the rest of the song. That was especially true with “I’ll Still Have Me.” When I wrote that song, I was really bummed out in my apartment—quite devastated. I kept thinking: “The only thing that makes me feel good about this is that I’m happy about myself and who I am.” The song goes, “If I don’t have you/I’ll still have me.” The whole song stemmed from just that one statement and we were able to build around it.
What would you ask one of your favorite songwriters about songwriting?
If I were to be with any of my favorite songwriters, I would probably ask them how they disconnect from their conscious because some of the best ideas come from that place of being aware of what you’re doing and being completely unaware of your choices. Somewhere in the middle, there’s this happy median of letting go and holding on. So I would just like to know if anybody had any real tools or techniques to get there. Sometimes I think certain chord progressions or if I’m very inspired or if I’m just feeling a lot will get me there naturally. I don’t necessarily know if it’s something that can be turned on. I think it would be interesting to hear how Pharrell or Quincy Jones—people who really influenced me in the industry—does it.
I think everyone is curious about everyone else’s process. It can be such a private thing, also.
Definitely. Honestly, I would love to just sit in a session. With someone like Pharrell, I would love to just sit there. I want to see how he speaks his ideas and how he communicates with a producer. If there’s an instrument he doesn’t play and he has someone come in, how do you tell a saxophone player that you hired the mood you want? A lot of the times you’re in there, it literally feels like, “This thingie and that thingie and, no, no, in this place.” It’s so complicated, especially with musicians who—we’re not using score music. We’re not writing it down, so we need to have this make-believe, full idea in our mind as to what this song is that isn’t there yet. It’s not like we can refer to page 2. There is no page 2. We just have to know the structure.
That would be cool if you wound up doing a track with Pharrell.
One day… I’ve been saying it for a little bit. Hopefully in the future.
You’ve said your girl crush is Tove Lo. Your vocals and songwriting together would be madness.
That would be amazing. That might happen. I don’t like to put things on record, but I have faith.
What was the transition like to the stage when you started sharing your confessionals with audiences? It’s obviously something every artist inevitably goes through, whether they’re comfortable with it or not. I think it can be a big ask for some people, especially if they’re not predisposed to it.
I mean, I’d performed a lot, but not my own original music. Going from barely doing that into doing it more was difficult. But the more that I’m true to myself—even on my social media when I’m updating my Instagram story or whatever—there’s no reason to be scared of being on stage because people know me. I’m never putting up a front, even in my word choices in my songs. So what is there to be afraid of? Everything I put forward is true. I’m not playing a part.
If you’re being authentic and someone doesn’t like it—too bad.
That’s exactly right. I try to do that in music: “This is the honest representation of me, and if you don’t get it—goodbye!” [Laughs] I strive to have that kind of approval, but in a healthy way.
Your music has broad appeal. I can also see it’s important to you to inspire and empower girls—the same way you were by other artists when you were coming up. You’re putting out music that you didn’t have yourself, too. What’s something you did have that helped you in your earlier years?
I think “Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry was one of those songs. It’s just an incredible pop song. I was obsessed with “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys. That song came out when I was in the fifth grade and I sang it for my fifth grade talent show. I’d never been in love before, but for whatever reason, I knew everything she was talking about. That song I feel like is one from the soul and it’s like you don’t have to know the experience to hear how powerful and magical it is—if it aligns with your taste. I love that song. I also love the song that goes [she softly breaks into song]: “There she goes/There she goes again.” That song I always play when I’m getting on a plane.