‘Intelligent, Hard-Working And Classy AF’: Meet NAO From London

Katja Ogrin / Redferns
NAO performs at The O2 Institute Birmingham on Oct. 30, 2016, in Birmingham, England.
Damn, the list is endless,” NAO told Pollstar, when asked about her greatest inspiration. “I don’t think I have one greatest inspiration, inspiration comes from so many different artists, so many individual songs and genres.”
The singer from East London is in the middle of working on her next record, which is expected to drop in autumn and which will be followed by a tour in 2019, her biggest yet.
“NAO’s first headline run on her own was 200- to 500-cap rooms in the U.S. We have a tour coming top of 2019 that will see us go into the largest rooms yet, up to 3,000 tickets in major markets,” CAA’s Joe Hadley, who represents NAO in the U.S. alongside Alex Becket and Shirin Nury, told Pollstar.
The biggest milestone in achieving this growth was the release of NAO’s debut album, For All We Know, in July 2016.
“She put out an incredible body of work that resonated with her fans and helped her gain new ones,” Hadley said.
According to Pollstar’s Boxoffice data, NAO sold out the 550-capacity Independent in San Francisco, grossing $8,250, when she came Stateside just prior to the record’s release. She managed to sell out the 700-capacity Social Hall ($12,600), when she returned to the city in September after For All We Know had dropped.
During her last run in April and May, after playing Coachella, she sold out 1,424 seats in San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom, grossing $30,796, and 1,814 seats in New York’s Brooklyn Steel ($50,153).
It’s a textbook example of sustainably growing an artist’s live business through playing the right-sized venues and festivals since late 2014, when CAA’s U.S. office started working with NAO.
CAA’s international office in London got on board in early 2015. “Our first meeting was in a cozy coffee shop on Mare Street,” recalls Rebecca Nichols, NAO’s international agent alongside Claudio Lillo.
According to both agents, the singer is now comfortably selling 700 to 1,500 tickets per show around the U.K. and Europe, and substantially more in her hometown. “Our first London show was at Heaven [in December 2015], great space; 1,100-cap. Totally sold-out show, an exciting moment as it affirmed what an amazing live artist NAO is but also the potential of where it could go,” Lillo remembered.
The man credited with discovering this potential in the first place is NAO’s manager, Sam Stubbings at Native Management. He first saw her play London’s Corsica Studios in 2014. “I grabbed her as soon as she got off stage and asked her who she was. She said she wasn’t an artist, just a singer helping out a friend. I pretty much begged her there and then to start writing songs and let me manage her.”
The artist agreed, and the rest is history. Stubbings remembers “a moment about halfway through 2016 when NAO played one of the hardest to reach stages at Glastonbury, The Park Stage, and about 10,000 people turned up in the pouring rain, singing every word. That same day NAO also sold out her first Shepherds Bush Empire show in London.
“At that moment I realized she was connecting outside of the Pitchfork tastemaker world and reaching the man/woman on the street. The next milestone came a couple of weeks later [in November] when she sold out Shepherds Bush Empire for a second time [and twice in a row]! Selling 4,400 tickets in London without an album out was mindblowing.”
While hard to pick a favorite gig, NAO agreed to share one memory she’s particularly fond of: “It would be in 2016 when I played the first show of the For All We Know tour in New York at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
“I was so sick in the week leading up to that show – I was bedridden for days and had to miss rehearsals. I went on stage completely raw and the response and the energy of the audience as soon as we stepped on stage was something other-worldly, so much so I think it brought me to my knees. I didn’t realise until that moment how much of an impact the album had. They gave me life when I was feeling so lifeless from the previous couple weeks before.”

For All We Know peaked at No. 17 on the U.K.’s official album charts. According to Stubbings, however, “Chart positions don’t mean anything, having 400 million streams does” – a number that includes NAO’s collaboration with Mura Masa on “Firefly.”
NAO gained her earliest fans on Soundcloud, which means she and her team are used to “analyzing data and applying that to everything, most obviously show planning,” Stubbings explained. “We’ve done it from the start and it’s why we went into the U.S. so early for a proper tour, even before the first album was out. We knew where the fans were.”
While a release date for the follow-up album hasn’t been set, Stubbings is aiming for October, followed by a tour from January to April and festivals in the summer. NAO revealed a couple of details about her idea for the record, with the working title of Saturn.
“Essentially Saturn, the planet, takes around 27 years to go full orbit from when you are born,” the 30-year-old singer said. “Saturn is the planet of lessons and growth, so around the age of 27 to 32 something big usually happens within your life causing you to rethink everything, shed skin, grow up, make some big choices about who you are and what path is your own.”
Whatever rethinking NAO has been doing during her second coming of age, it has worked to her benefit, on stage and off stage, where she is described as “amazing, down to earth and super kind” by Nichols, “a dream to work with” by Lillo, and “charming, funny, talented, intelligent and incredibly hard working,” by Stubbings, who added: “And she’s classy as fuck.”