Talking anxiety with Nin-ja

Most alt-R&B tracks are centred around more or less the same thing – love. Love in all its agony, love in all its euphoria. But Nin-ja wants to dig deeper than that. The singer-songwriter’s just released her new single Lockjaw where she sings candidly about her struggles with anxiety. Nin-ja’s been in the music game for about four years now, but after taking a brief hiatus, she’s back with a new single and more honest than ever. 

I’m loving the new single Lockjaw; can you tell me a little about it? 

It’s kind of a conversation between me and my anxiety. It’s something I’ve humanised and it’s something I’m speaking to. We tried to reflect that in the music video too when we cast an actor in the clip. People may assume it’s about an ex or something but the actor is playing my anxiety. 

So when you sing “you’re gripping a little tight”, you’re asking the anxiety for some relief? 

It’s me asking it to release me and leave me alone for a bit. It also speaks to when I have a panic attack and I feel like I can’t breathe. That’s an image I return to in the chorus, this imagery of something grabbing me by the neck and not letting me go. 

Sounds tough.

It is, and anxiety makes me feel so vulnerable, like it can make me feel weak sometimes, which is why I find it hard to talk about. In the song when I sing “I don’t need you to see right through me”, that’s a reference to a fear I have that people can see me and see my anxiety. 

Are there moments when you feel like you’re in control of it? 

Yeah, there are moments when I feel like it’s in my grasp and that I have control, but it does still manage to creep up on me despite those moments. But I do have techniques of calming myself down, like stepping back and assessing the situation and trying to reason with it. In the end you just have to try and get through that moment. 

Music tends to help? 

Massively. Listening to and making music really helps. In the mornings I like to listen to gospel too, to help reconnect me with God and ground me for the day. 

Is anxiety something you’ve always had to deal with? 

As long as I can remember. 

The mental health conversation entering into the mainstream has been a long time coming, but did you know you had anxiety when you were younger? 

No, I really lacked the vocabulary. I literally only knew it had a name in university when I applied for a job to help people with learning disabilities. I was sitting in the training course and they were listing all the symptoms and I was resonating with almost all of them. That was a big revelation…I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the meeting!

You previously released an EP with the producer Alcatrz, but you’ve since gone back and re-released this single with new edits. Why the change? 

The songs were good, really good if I can say that. They were kind of like my babies. But when we released it, we weren’t experienced enough. We weren’t sure how to do the marketing and attract an audience at the time. Then I took a break from music for a year and a half.

How did you feel coming back into this single?

I felt like I couldn’t really release my previous single as it was because when I listened to it during my time off I would think, “Well, I wish I could revise that lyric or redo the harmonies here and there.” So releasing the single this time round is basically an opportunity to do better and make those revisions. Especially because the new music that I’m working on is so different. I think it’s improved and I think the music, much like me, has grown.

Looking forward to hearing the rest of it then! Thanks Nin-ja!

You can stream Lockjaw now on all major streaming platforms.

Tiffany Lai