West Melbourne’s PANIA is a new face in R&B you need to tap into. From opening for Kehlani to being nominated for an ARIA Award in the R&B category, she continues to go from strength to strength within the genre. Her infectious melodies combined with the nostalgia of 2000s R&B blend effortlessly with the array of sounds on her latest EP ‘WE STILL YOUNG’.

Kat: How does it feel to be putting this EP out? 

It’s a lot more like introspective compared to my last EP, so it’s cool. I’m happy and I’m glad that I got to work overseas on this EP as well with a few different producers. I feel good, but I feel relieved that it’s out. 

Kat: I heard a plethora of different sounds on WE STILL YOUNG, what was it about the genres you tapped into that inspired you to blend them with R&B?

I’ve always loved the rhythm of Afrobeats and growing up in a Polynesian multi-household, all they listen to in New Zealand is reggae, so, growing up with that Island music – it’s very similar – I think I’ve always felt like connected to that kind of rhythm. I’ve always wanted to incorporate things into my music, but honestly with music, I always want my music to come from my voice and melodies. With the beat, it’s just whatever I’m feeling or whatever I’m inspired by, exactly in that moment, so it’s just a combination of all of that stuff and whether I want to make people feel upbeat, downbeat [or] make them think about something I haven’t thought about in a while. I just try and use my voice to do that and whatever the beat is saying – I leave that up to whatever I’ve been listening to in that moment. I think for me to make it easier to explain, an artist that I’ve always looked up to is Drake because I feel like his main thing is like his melodies and just him, his voice you hear [that] it’s Drake and no matter what beat he’s on it’s still his and it doesn’t feel like Drake on [a particular genre] – it does, but it still feels like Drake. People won’t say “Drake on Afro” they’ll say “Drake – Hotline Bling” or whatever the song is, so I’ve always had that approach and I’ve never wanted to like box myself into one genre. I’ve always wanted it to be Pania and Pania’s voice, Parnia’s melodies, so that’s why I feel comfortable, like going in with Toddla T and jumping straight on drum and bass, ‘cause I always try and find a way to still make it my own. I’ve always wanted my voice and melodies to be the drive of everything that I do with my songs.

Kat: What music shaped your sound, and what music inspired your EP?

When I started writing music, it was like Erykah Badu, Amy [Winehouse], Adele, mixed in with the music I grew up on, which was like Ne-Yo, Usher, Aaliyah and then as I’ve grown up, I’ve discovered older artists as well, like Sade – I only recently started listening to Sade a lot more; Drake, The Weeknd – those artists inspired the sound. What inspired this EP was still very much everything I’ve been feeling mixed in with wanting to strip back the production. I think when I did my first EP, I was still learning how to sing, learning how to write, all of that stuff got thrown into it pretty fast. So [for] this one, now that I’ve like discovered my voice and melodies, I’ve pulled back on production and kind of just put my voice at the forefront and wanted it to be a little bit more acoustic, adding live bass, live guitar, live harp on some songs. I guess just bringing it to life a lot more and making people feel something a bit more with the instruments, as well as my voice.

Kat: What was it like working with Toddla T and Miko Mal on ‘BURNA FONE’ and ‘DNT NEED YOU’?

Working with Toddla T was lit, that was probably one of my favorite sessions I did in London because he’s super high energy and I guess I just wanted to do something different and something that represented London as well as me. We literally went straight into the drum and bass track, and then when the drop hit, he’s like, “You needa rap,” so it was cool trying those different, different things. I was like, “Alright, say less,” so it was fun, it was super high energy. I had like a few people from my team in the room, so it was a good time. He’s really cool. He sent the videos for the music video as well. He’s super dope, super accommodating as well, so that was really fun – to work with a legend.

And then Miko Mal is a rapper who’s from my city as well, I feel like he is one of the best. He’s doing something different and he [also] blends sounds really well and I wanted to get him in a different pocket than what he’s released so far because a lot of it is like drill beats, but also wavy beats – I wanted to get him in his emotional bag. So shout out Miko Mal, he’s lit.

Kat: On ‘PLAYLIST (ROCK DA BOAT)’, you mention how the person you’re speaking to feels like “your favourite song that you don’t play no more” – what song is that and why don’t you play it? 

Probably stuff from Frank Ocean – Blonde, because it just reminds me of a person and a stage in my life, so I can’t listen to that album anymore, but that album is so good. 

Kat: I was in the Frank Ocean Reddit for a little bit, and I feel like you’re definitely not alone. I think a lot of people have that same experience. Earlier this year you opened for Kehlani, what was that experience like? 

That was cool, Kehlani and her team [were] sick – super nice. It was cool because she brought her own acts from overseas but in my city, they put me on still, and her team asked me to do the rest of the tour after doing the Melbourne show, so that was super sick, and her fans took me in really well, so it was really cool to see someone at that level, selling out huge arenas, having everyone sing the words back, and be so professional. It was inspiring to see how far you can take it, being a woman doing R&B.

Kat: How was being brought up in West Melbourne shaped your music taste and your sound as an artist?

Growing up in West Melbourne – it’s super multicultural – I feel like because I grew up around so many different cultures, I got to experience so many different like ways of living, different music, different food, so I feel like for me, growing up here is shaped the sound more than people would think and it put me on to so many different perspectives. Everyone grew up with ethnic parents and ethnic aunties who are listening to stuff from their culture, but also stuff from America. My aunty was listening to stuff from America – Tupac, Missy Elliott – so I feel like we got put onto a lot of that: music from our own culture where our parents actually migrated from and also our aunties, which [were] listening to all that American, UK music. Growing up here, I feel like we got a whole global sound experience and it definitely shaped my music – you can hear the American influence [and] the UK influence, and also a whole mixture of stuff from from my culture and even the culture of people that grew up around me. 

Kat: How does your Indian and Maori heritage come through in your music?

I think it’s something that I’d love to like delve into more, but a lot of my inspiration comes from where I grew up – the area that I grew up in, the people I grew up around and the music I listened to growing up, which was Drake, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah and all of that stuff. 

Kat: How does it feel to be putting Australia on the map with R&B? I haven’t really seen many R&B artists come out of Australia and I wanted to know how it feels to be pioneering that movement.

It’s definitely on the come up here and I’m excited for people to hear the sound and I’m excited for people to hear as not just Australian R&B, but R&B – I’m excited for us to kind of like open the door and get through the gates to that global level, so everyone hears it as just R& B. I’m really grateful for the artists that opened those doors, like Kaiit, Tkay Maidza, and people doing music now like CD, Agung Mango – all the people from my area, it’s cool to see the come up and the progression. Even with ARIA Awards – which is a big awards thing in Australia – they never really had an R&B category, but they added one this year and I just got nominated, which is a huge change for Australia, so I feel like in a couple of years it’ll be a big thing for sure.

Kat: Congratulations on your nomination! Who are some of your favourite Australian artists at the moment, particularly but not limited to R&B?

I would say definitely Miko O’Mal. This guy called Craigiewave – one of the best writers. CD – everyone from the West – these boys called Ace and Manny [Müla], they do that trap wave. Of course, people like Kaiit. I can make you guys a playlist.

Check out Pania’s playlist of Australian artists to keep on your radar: