An artist of Not.Fay’s caliber shouldn’t be denied. Not only is her music captivating, but, as I learned during our conversation, so is her life story. Living all around the world has given her life experiences that the average person could only imagine. Not.Fay started making music publicly in 2017, dropping her first EP, Purple, which gained some nice traction for her. From there, she was dropping single after single, making her way in the industry as a super talented R&B artist. In the latter part of 2019, she followed a structure of dropping singles more than usual and fans started to increase in droves. The current pandemic hasn’t stopped her from working either; she sits in her room with a microphone to her left, ready to go.
I sat down with Not.Fay (via Zoom of course) to learn more about her early beginnings in music, the culture shocks she’s experienced, how she connects with her fans and the struggles that come with making music. We even touched on opportunities to perform at festivals and almost opening up for rapper Bhad Babie in Jordan. We also got to break down her music in a genre where you have to let your emotions spill out to be taken seriously.
So tell me where are you from Not.Fay?
Do you want the full version or the easy version?
Give me the full version, for sure.
So basically I was born in Switzerland from a Swiss mother and an Egyptian father, and then I moved to Jordan. So then I grew up in Jordan and then I moved to [sic] UK where I spent the second half of my life. So it is a whole, confusing identity crisis, but I just say I’m Egyptian because that is where I relate to most in terms of culture.
That is crazy, wow. Tell me what it is like living in Jordan, what the culture is like there and moving to the UK. Because I knew you lived in Oakland too-
Yeah, that is where I live but I am currently in Switzerland visiting my mom.
So you are just everywhere right now.
Exactly, but it doesn’t fit in my bio. But yeah, living in Jordan was some of the best years of my life. In terms of culture, I come from a family where it is half-European Christian and the other half is Arabic and Muslim. So I am in that department where I am used to both of them but I wasn’t forced into any lifestyle if that makes sense. When I went to Jordan it was kind of the same thing because I went to a French school. So I was in that environment of Europe, but living in a Muslim country. It was interesting, different from what everyone thinks it is.
Right, is it always a culture shock going from one place to another, or are you used to that?
It is at first, but I adapt pretty quickly. I was really young when I went to Jordan, but I remember crying about going there like “no I don’t want to go to school on a camel,” but you adapt pretty quickly. Going to the UK was hard because it was my first time in a big city. Also my English wasn’t that good back then, it was good but not that good. Then I moved to Oakland which was really recent, it is still pretty different. But I adapt quickly.
You reside in Oakland now?
Yes, technically but it is hard for me to say that because I just moved there two months ago. Then this Coronavirus thing happened and the Swiss embassy was telling all of there residents that you have to come back because you don’t know how long travel restrictions are going to be. So it was like, what is the point of staying there and paying rent when I can just go back home and wait until this whole thing is over.
It must have been very weird, so Switzerland isn’t having any issues with the Coronavirus?
It is, but my mom lives alone as do I, so I figured might as well quarantine together. For a while, we had the highest rate per capita in terms of the virus. But we follow rules, you guys don’t follow rules here.
No, not even a little bit. They enforced rules but they didn’t do much about it. More of a suggestion.
Exactly, you guys go outside. People will look at your weird here. Like “what are you doing? You are disgrace to humanity” type of thing. And look we are getting better here.
Yeah, hopefully, that happens soon here. So when did you move to the UK?
So I moved to the UK right after high school, which was 18. I left my family back in Jordan and I was like “fuck it I am going to the UK and I went to a music school at first called Tech Music School (now called BIMM). I did three months of music business because I fucking hated it. Then I did a year by myself in the UK doing small jobs just so I can stay there. Worked as a fundraiser in the streets and got fired because I sucked, mostly because I wasn’t trying. And then I worked as a waitress and bartender. Then I went back to school and did three years for Journalism. I stayed six years in the UK.
When did music come along in that time?
Music was always there, I was doing it as a hobby in Jordan. When I moved to the UK, I discovered soundbetter.com. You ever heard of it?
No, I never did hear of that.
So I think Spotify bought it now, but it’s a place where you can hire people to work as a songwriter, and all that for music collaborations. So I discovered that and I always wanted to do that but I had terrible confidence issues. I didn’t want to put myself out there yet. So I started getting hired, I got my whole set-up here. Was doing demo-recordings and featured on DJ tracks. I wasn’t telling anybody about it. I was so shy. Then I went through a difficult break-up and it gave me the confidence like “I can’t feel any worse than I do right now!” so I just put myself out there, created an Instagram and released the songs that I had secretly recorded. It was gradual, but I was in London and put myself out there, it felt good.
Where did the name Not.Fay come from?
So my name is Nour, an Arabic name it isn’t fake. My Instagram name was Not.Noor and I got this nickname “Fay” because this girl couldn’t pronounce my full-name which is Noorfahmy. So it stuck and I really liked it, this sounds good. And back in 2018, I signed with Empire, a distribution deal. So I met with Ghazi and he said “why don’t you change your name to Not.Fay” and I was like that sounds super lame. But if you type in Fay on the internet I can’t find you. Just change it to Not.Fay for now so people can find you. It was weird at first because you go up to people like “hey my name is not fay anymore.”
You have to say it like Not Dot Fay basically.
Oh my god, if I had to go to industry parties and they are asking me what my name is and I’m like “Not.Fay” and they are like, so what do I call you then? And it is like no, Not Dot Fay.
That has got to be annoying because you are saying your name and everyone is confused. You have to explain it out.
Exactly, so that is my struggle. But hopefully, when I get bigger I’ll change it back to Fay.
Right, so who are your inspirations when making music?
So a lot of my inspirations were from when I was a teenager. Obviously Jhene Aiko, everybody’s R&B inspiration. I remember hearing “Beware” with Lil Wayne and Big Sean and being like “Oh I want to do that!” and that is when it started. When I first really started making music, Halsey was coming up and I really fucked with her, and I still do. It inspired me how I write as well as how I do melodies. Those two are the main ones.
So your first EP was in 2017, Purple, what was the meaning behind that?
Wow, yeah I am impressed. So that was my first time ever doing a full project. When I go back and listen to it, it makes me laugh a little bit in terms of quality. There are a lot of songs I like, but in terms of quality I am like “should I delete it?” But Purple was very personal to me. One song was “Feeling High” which I re-released it and it was in Triple Vodka Coke. But there was “Cobain” which is for me is like one of my little babies because it was really personal. I was in a bad place and didn’t have anything to write about besides I am writing about what I know if that makes sense. I didn’t have the experience to write about things I am imagining.
Is it always difficult to find inspiration in R&B?
Yes, so if you go through my songs it is mostly R&B then you have some like “COOL KIDS” which is very off-genre for me. Those are tracks I do when I lack inspiration basically. It is feel-good music, but it is hard to find inspiration in R&B. I try to pick a topic of what I want to write about, but it doesn’t relate to what I am going through at all. Then I feel like it is a bit repetitive, but you have to keep trying until you get something right. My favorite song that I have made is “i hope it was worth it x” and I love that song because it feels very real to me and people can relate to it as well. But in order to get that song out, I have to write a bunch of “COOL KIDS” I just can’t force it.
I feel like in order to make music in this genre, you have to go through and feel something. It’s all timing-based.
So 2018 you only dropped a single or two and 2019 you dropped a whole lot. So was 2018 a year of laying low and 2019 sharing those experiences?
I think these records were dropped more towards the end of the year (of 2019). So yeah it was a really difficult time for me and laying low. And beginning of 2019 I had to look for a new place and I was lost in terms of personal life. I was struggling with mental health, I was going through terrible, terrible anxiety where I thought I was going mental because I was working too much and putting too much pressure on myself. I felt like I was going to lose it and I couldn’t focus on my work. At the same time, I was booking shows for the summer so while I was under a lot of pressure, I was putting pressure on myself rehearsing for these shows. I was supposed to open for Bhad Bhabie in Jordan and it was a lot of pressure with opening for her and going back home. So I was basically paralyzed I couldn’t do anything. I felt like I was going blind because the lights were hurting my eyes. That’s how much stress I was under.
Wow, that is a lot.
Yeah, obviously it affected the music. It did get better. Middle of 2019 I also got to open for the Strawberries and Cream Festival in the UK. That made everything better, but at the same time, I went through another difficult break-up. 2019 was a roller-coaster of emotions, so I was in Italy when I found out I was being broken up with. So I was so happy and sad at the same time, so that is when I got a triple-vodka coke, and that is what inspired the EP. It was a really emotional year, but I am grateful I went through it because I got some great songs out of it. It got me to where I am today.
You got a pretty big following after that EP. Was that a way of lowering the anxiety seeing how many people were rocking with your music?
100 percent, that always helped me so much. Because I always have a home-studio wherever I go. So it really does help a lot, because before I release a song I feel so anxious and when I put it out people show me love and it feels amazing.
So was that your first time opening for shows?
Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about Bhad Bhabie. So Strawberries and Cream was first then I was supposed to fly over to Jordan for Bhad Bhabie. It wasn’t my first time opening for a show, but for a festival. So I do the festival and as I am flying over to Jordan, her show gets canceled because she made comments about Palestine and saying “I support Isreal, bitch!” and there was a conflict. They had to cancel it because she started getting threats and so did I because I was Egyptian. She shouldn’t have done that. They were right but I was bummed I didn’t get that opportunity. But I went over anyway. I already had my tickets, might as well.
So you went over there anyways after the death threats?
It wasn’t necessarily death threats, it was more like “we’re coming for you” which is still scary. But it got canceled and it ended my year in a really shitty way. So I was bummed out and it would have been a great opportunity for me. But whatever.
Did this virus hinder anything coming for 2020 in terms of projects or was it just singles?
Yeah, on the contrary, this bad thing that happened did a lot of good for me as well. It got a lot of people to know about me. I did connect with the agency for the show and they love me and the next show they have I get to open. So I was able to build relationships. In terms of 2020, I actually didn’t have any plans. I was in such a bad place that I didn’t know what to do. I just figured if I kept dropping music I could get back on track. So I visited my mom for a bit, got my shit together and went to San Francisco for two months last year. I worked with a bunch of producers last year and I said I am not going to let this shitty year bring me down. I got to meet with Empire people there and got my shit back on track. That is when I decided to move out here.
Then it went to hell due to Corona. Was this your first time in America?
No actually, my manager lives in New York so I had a little team out there. I went from UK to New York then went to Los Angeles for a bit. But when I was [sic]in New York I recorded non-stop, which I didn’t really get to visit, but I hate touring so it was okay. People asked what I saw I said “studios!” But yeah it wasn’t my first time, when I went to San Francisco I fell in love with it.
What made you love San Francisco so much?
It’s just so beautiful, the people are amazing. So many different cultures. The music scene, I love Bay Area music. Empire is also there, so I know a lot of people there so it just made sense.
Makes sense. So when are we getting an album?
So I am currently in this idea where I am trying to follow Russ’ model about dropping a single a week. I am not doing it every week but I am dropping a bunch of singles. So I have been following his model, and it seems to be working. I [sic] been dropping a bunch of singles, and it is helping me build a following. That is what I thought I should be doing for a while to gain momentum. There are songs I am keeping for an album because I been making songs. So when will you be getting an album? Maybe the end of this year.
Okay, because I review albums so I will be looking out for it.
Ooh, pressure. Can’t wait.
So Russ is right in that sense of dropping music and gaining the following. What song have you seen where fans say this is my favorite.
People have been saying “Voodoo”. People love that song. I had Empire support putting it on playlists, but it was very short-lived. People said they love and then it died. But when I did “potion” people said they loved it and it is growing bigger and bigger so it is going [sic] good so far.
I saw you on Instagram live and it seems like you love to interact with your fans. Is that the main way of doing that?
Yeah, so you haven’t been following for that long but I have a bunch of sexy pictures where I put make-up on and all that. But my fans know me on Instagram live wearing pajamas and doing daily shit with no filter. I value that genuine interaction human to human. Sure, I like to wear make-up and sexy clothes but it isn’t what I look like most of the time. It is just me like I argue with my fans on live. I am very open with my fans, except for my age.
Yeah, I saw you respond to a fan’s question about your age and it confused the hell out of me.
Yeah, the two main questions I always get are “how old are you” and “are you really Egyptian?” Like I am so sick of these questions. If I screenshot my DM’s it would all be asking if I really am Egyptian. Like a lot of girls get dick-picks, I don’t get that, I get the Egyptian question. But yeah I get mostly love, I am lucky in that sense. People love that I talk to them and not hiding behind something. They know I am sitting at home making music and drinking wine.
What artists are you dying to work with moving forward in your career?
Childish Gambino, Smino, obviously Drake, Russ, pretty much anyone on my playlist. Some french hip-hop artists. KAYTRANADA and Mick Jenkins as well.
Great group of artists. Shoutout to Mick Jenkins. Do you have any plans for music video’s moving forward? I really only saw one there.
I only did two in my entire career and I am very critical so I deleted one of them. I had a music video booked for “potion” in April, but because of Corona, we didn’t get to. But when I come back we got a good budget for it so we will film that. So far, yesterday I did a little visual for “i hope it was worth it x” on Instagram. I really want to work on visuals, I love doing it. Love the creative process behind it. So I want to do more down the line. And I also want to do one of those video albums, that would be one of my goals for this year or next year.
You have worked with a few artists in your career, who has been your favorite to work with?
Ooh, that is tough, probably Shouly. He is featured on two songs “Touch” and “Kingdom”, he is a childhood friend of mine. He is pretty big in the Middle East. He is an Arabic rapper. I think that was my favorite in terms of working with my friend and he is dope as well.
Plug yourself, I’ll put the links down below.
Instagram is Not.Fay, and on Twitter as well. Please follow my Twitter, I was honored you followed my Twitter first.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.