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‘My relationship with Los Angeles is hot, funny, surrendering and calm.’
Gems in this
A newcomer to Los Angeles, UK-born Kiwi songstress and multi-instrumentalist Naomi Ludlow — better known as Ny Oh — spent nine years in London before upping sticks and rerooting to the West Coast.
No stranger to new environments, her musical ambitions first took her from New Zealand’s Tauranga to the UK capital at just 18 years of age. After years spent as a touring musician, including her ongoing gig as Harry Styles’ guitarist, Ny Oh released her first EP, The Garden of Eden, in early 2022. Living by the mentality of ‘what is meant for us will come to us’, her approach to travel and music is much the same: considered and open-hearted. We chat with Ny Oh about childhood ambitions, writing on the road, her newfound love for sparkling water and her Los Angeles Travel Playbook.
On early memories
I was about three years old when we moved to New Zealand and on the way we stopped in Israel. Those are my earliest memories because I remember the heat. I remember the snakes. I remember just seeing crazy shit for the first time in my life.
On finding music in a time of need
Music has always been in my family. My mom's a flutist and my dad's a huge music appreciator, so it was always around. I first found it for myself when I was four. I’d just broken my leg and I was in the hospital by myself a lot of the time. It was my first time as a kid that I didn’t have my parents there, so I really found music, singing especially, to be the most comforting thing. It was also the first time my singing had been appreciated in the public sphere. Everybody in my ward wanted to hear me sing. They’d wheel me out to the fish tank so I could sing to people in the hallway and I was like, ‘This is great. People are happy and I'm happy. I want to do this’.
On leaving Tauranga to pursue music
I was 12 when I started writing my own songs, and I was looking around Tauranga and thinking, ‘I'm not going to thrive musically here’. It's important to be challenged in life. You want to look up to other songwriters and I just didn't see anyone in my immediate world that was writing music that I wanted to write. So having the British passport, I thought that's where I'm going to go. The day I turn 18, I'm going to England and I'm going to make music. I saved up for four years prior. My parents thought it was a bit of a pipe dream on my behalf, they said, ‘You don't have any money and you're in school!’ But I worked my ass off and I got there.
On joining Harry Styles’ band and tour life
In 2018, I was touring with a guy called Jonathan Wilson. I'd met him and been a huge fan of his music for years so I just asked him out of the blue, ‘Can I be in your band?’ And he said ‘Sure, come on for a tour’. I really appreciated that because he brought me into the greater world of touring that I had never experienced before. So I was on that tour and some of Harry's producers and friends were at the gig, and obviously thought, ‘She's the guy!’ That's how I got that gig.
‘I'm in the process of allowing the music to take the shape it wants to take, I'm trying not to mold it at all.’
On how travel influences your creativity
I am still in the process of figuring it out. I traveled a lot when I was younger in a very different way — backpacks and hitchhiking, and I had a lot of free time for creativity. I could just sit on the side of the road and strum my guitar for as long as I wanted. It’s more of a juggling act these days. There are so many beautiful benefits to every aspect of my musical world now — whether that's co-writing, writing for myself, producing things, being a session player, being a touring musician — and I'm really keen to learn all of those things. I find it's working so far, because in the moments when I'm not on tour, there's so much that wants to come out of me.
On how life on the road changes your process
I had a lot of time during the pandemic to refine the songs that you hear now on the Garden of Eden EP. I'm creatively clearing a bit of a backlog of music that I hadn't released for many years because I was not meeting the production standards that I wanted to meet. Garden of Eden is giving those songs that brought me through my early 20s a chance to live. Now that I'm on the road my writing process has to change. It can't just be sit down and hash out a new song over six hours and get in the bath. You can't romance them as much. At the same time, if it's a really strong idea, it forces its way out of you. Sometimes when you're really busy or tired, it’s like an overwhelmingly magical moment that has to come out of you and I just make sure I have the equipment I need to quickly get it down. At the moment, I'm in the process of allowing the music to take the shape it wants to take, I'm trying not to mold it at all. As my life progresses, I'm learning to take the pressure off.
On leaving London for Los Angeles
I just moved from London to LA and it's really exciting to jump into a new musical scene and a new musical world. It gives you the opportunity as a person to know who you are in more depth. There are patterns that didn't serve me in the last place and I don't need to bring them with me here. For me, it's always a bit of a confidence thing. When I moved to LA, I decided to try harder at being confident in my own abilities. I think there's something about the American way that encourages that — everyone's very forthright and quite outspoken. There's also so many music studios in LA, it's like a musical playground. I've connected with an amazing bunch of female musicians here and I think that's really helped inform and settle my sense of being an artist, especially in the studio world.
‘When I moved to LA, I decided to try harder at being confident in my own abilities. I think there's something about the American way that encourages that.’
On finding inspiration in a new environment
Every different place that you go will bring out different aspects of your own observation. British culture has a lot of space for melancholy introspection, and the weather reflects that. Then a place like LA, there's a lot of very outspoken, intellectual people. It's affronting in a way that’s quite fun to socially observe. It's also been interesting to re-listen to some of my old loved songwriters as a lot of them spent time in LA. I always kind of wondered how they had that perspective in their songwriting. It's been cool to be living in LA and get it. It zooms you out to get a wider perspective and helps you keep zooming out.
On showing friends around LA for the day
We would go to the beach in the morning. I like to go up the Pacific Coast Highway, as far as I can be bothered, because the water just gets cleaner the further out of LA you get. My favorite beach for a swim in LA is Topanga Canyon because it's my local, but if I'm feeling adventurous, I like to go up to the Malibu Pier. I like to go for a little skinny dip because I think the tourists there really appreciate it. I know they're horrified, and it's amazing. It's also a great place to jump off if you're keen as well. I think it's illegal, but so far so good. So we go for a swim and a run along the beach.
We then get an overpriced smoothie that doesn't even taste very nice before we get back in my 1999 Toyota Camry, pretend it's a convertible and carry on back into LA. I love going to Griffith Observatory. I love the view of LA from up there. The observatory is beautiful. It's just a nice place to walk, sit and think. I’m a heavy vintage shopper so we'd go to some weird places in the Valley because that's where the good cheap shit is that people haven't found yet. Then onto tacos, got to get tacos. None of this fake Americanized Mexican, we’d go to a real Mexican place. My favorite place is Sabor Mexicano, it’s right beside Gold Diggers just off Santa Monica. The food is so fresh. Then we’d go and see a gig. I love the nightlife in LA — it's socially fascinating to me. Even if I am that guy just standing in the corner watching everyone.
On the best spots to shop
For an area that has a lot of different vintage shops that aren't necessarily ridiculously overpriced, I would go to Echo Park. There's one that I love in particular, it's called RAVEN Things Collected. It’s great because they only have a couple of racks of vintage, so they're always really good picks. They also have a lot of local and native artist works, jewelry, ceramics, posters, stickers, all sorts, and the lady that owns it is just awesome to chat to. For records, Endless Color in Topanga has a really great record collection to purchase and also sells a lot of local artists. I'm a big fan of scrolling through their tapes and records when I'm there. It's weird, wonderful and has sort of a hippie leaning. I think what I love about it is I can order an extremely good pizza, then scroll the records while I wait. For books, it’s got to be Stories in Echo Park. Once again, it also has food. Any kind of shop that has food and something I love, that's where I'll be. I love to spend a lot of time at Stories. They have a great section on sort of spiritual text, and a great nonfiction section as well. They also have a great range of postcards and I'm a big postcard buyer.
‘On any given night in LA if I want to go and see some good music, I'll head down to Zebulon because there is always something to be found there.’
On where to head for an evening adventure
On any given night in LA if I want to go and see some good music, I'll head down to Zebulon, because there is always something to be found there. Experimental to jazz to rock to pop, it changes every night. It's really a fun vibe. People go to listen, which is what I want from the venue. For a bar, I'll always go with my friends to this little French-owned bar called La Poubelle. The owner is wild and hilarious and he’s always open super late. It's just an interesting hotspot. We end up there quite a bit.
On the transience of LA and how it impacts you
You get what you want out of a place. With Los Angeles, I think it gives me space to have a better sense of myself. In another way, I don’t know how much of that is really LA. What is LA? Is it the people? The land? The ocean? It's probably a combination of all of those things. It's alchemy, whether that works for one individual or whether it doesn't. It's also timing. If I'd moved to LA when I was 17, I don't think I would have been able to cope. England was a little safety blanket for me and meant I could then move to another place and appreciate how I find myself in that space. It all comes back to growing in confidence slowly — it's not easy.
On your relationship with Los Angeles
I would describe my relationship with Los Angeles as hot, funny, surrendering and calm. Hot and calm usually don't come together but they are today. After a few months of living in LA, I moved to the outskirts and that's worked really well for me because then I can choose the days that I want to face a city of that size and nature. LA has been unexpected for me — I have allowed myself things that I've always wanted. For example, a piano or a place of my own. I've allowed myself to grow roots in LA in a way that I hadn’t in London, because the housing situation was always so transient. That's the biggest thing for me really: having a base.
On a window or an aisle seat
If I'm getting a plane I'm going window baby! I want to look out. I want to cry for seven hours and just be like, ‘I'm a tiny speck in the big scheme of it all’. How can you do that from an aisle seat?
‘You get what you want out of a place. With Los Angeles, I think it gives me space to have a better sense of myself.’
On a song that best represents LA for you
To me I think about getting in my car and driving. You spend so much time in your motherfucking car in LA. It's wild. It's got to be ‘Woman’ by Little Simz [featuring Cleo Sol]. I love representing England as well as Aotearoa in LA.
On Los Angeles in one word
It’s definitely two words, but it's the name of the best sparkling water you've ever had. Sparkling water is Los Angeles for me. I never drank the stuff before and now I can't stop.