The singer-songwriter’s soulful new album is named after Saturn Return: the astrological period between ages 27-31 when you grow the hell up
In my astrology work, as The Voluptuous Witch, I get to look behind the curtain of people’s outer lives through the lens of their birth chart. Everyone has one (based on the date, time, and location of your birth), showing where the planets were positioned at the moment you were born. Each part of this picture reveals something about you and tells a bit about who you are and what you are likely to experience in life.
This week, I got to speak to singer-songwriter NAO for Dazed about her new album Saturn, named for the infamous Saturn Return astrological transit that occurs for everyone somewhere between the ages of 27-31. Saturn Return is when we all become adults, sometimes through a major leveling-up (if we’ve been somewhat on the right track prior to this), and sometimes with a crash into crisis (because becoming an adult is also really hard).
I loved listening to Saturn, because it really captures the classic Saturn Return feeling of needing to destroy some aspects of our lives so we can be more free and true to ourselves, experiencing huge highs and lows along the way. Saturn is the follow-up to NAO’s 2016 debut For All We Know, and retains her unique, sensual soul-pop style. Keeping with the astrology theme, I did a birth chart reading for NAO while we chatted about the album, and what impact her Saturn Return had on her.
I’m so excited to take a look at your chart. I love the album, and as an astrologer, I get excited when planetary themes are expressed in the culture. I’m curious what the connection is for you?
NAO: It’s the community, the people around me; all my friends are hippies and artists and really open. I’ve always been a spiritual person, and I was raised in church. Aspects of Christianity made sense to me, but some of it didn’t, and I found that when I opened myself up more to different sides of spirituality, that resonated with me more.
I remember my friends started to go through their own Saturn Returns, and I was like, what’s that? They started talking about the spiritual side of it, how Saturn is the planet of growth, and lessons, and rebirth. I feel like that’s really beautiful. Even if you’re not spiritual or you don’t believe in astrology, I felt like everyone can relate to this idea that when you get to your late 20s, big changes happen. You have another rebirth, and you have to let go of some old ideas in order to become new. I felt like that’s such a beautiful concept to write about, and everyone can connect to it, whether you’re going to go through it, you’ve been through it, or you’re in it.
I think that’s really true. From the perspective of astrology, Saturn Return is when we come into adulthood. It’s an interesting way to think of it, because we have all these other markers we presume to signify adulthood, but there is something that happens at the Saturn Return that’s very distinct. And I could really hear that in your music. It sounded like there was an important love and relationship piece of this experience for you, specifically. What do you think your Saturn Return taught you about love?
NAO: Huh. (Laughs) It was a few things. It was that... love is complicated. Love comes in different forms. Love can be confusing, conflicting.
It brought up so many different layers of love for me. I definitely learned a lot about myself. I was in a relationship for six years, with someone who was kind of perfect, in a way, and for some reason love just wasn’t enough. And I had to go on my own journey to understand why. Or maybe it was enough, but I wouldn’t know until I left the situation and I could look at it from afar.
I do think Saturn has that effect of giving a push, of having to be your truest self, or creating an urgency to make significant changes. You had an extra dose of that as a Capricorn Sun, actually, because last December as soon as Saturn went into the sign of Capricorn it was influencing you. A lot of identity searching can go on at that time.
NAO: Yes, and knowing that this was happening helped inform what I was doing, informed the artwork, the performance, and it informed the writing and the music. It was really useful to have this concept to hold onto and always come back. If I ever got lost musically or I ever got stuck writing, it was like, okay, what other angle can I use? It was amazing to write about it and be going through it at the same time. It really tied it all together.
There’s a great song on this album, “Yellow of the Sun”, that has so much lightness and freedom, it feels really magical. It made me think about how that’s part of it too – sometimes as we go through some losses or restrictions, we can also experience a really heightened feeling of freedom.
NAO: Yeah, I think that song comes from one of those brief moments of clarity, that are just like, ‘woah – it’s really just you now. You can go anywhere you want, you can live anywhere you want, you can walk any path that you choose to.’ I think that “Yellow of the Sun” comes from that moment of freedom.
I also got inspired a lot by the movie Thelma and Louise, which I feel also inspired a lot of the artwork. You know, in the film, they’ve been driving across America and they’re on the run, and they get caught by the police, or they’re about to. They have to make a decision: are they gonna get captured, or are they gonna drive off the edge of this cliff into – I guess into death, but for them, it also meant freedom. I was watching that on a plane, while going through America, while making this album, and I thought, God, I love that. So that’s why in that tune I talk about “Thelma and Louise and I…”, because I just wanted to be right there in the car with them.
Another major factor here, which we haven’t talked about yet, has been Jupiter in Scorpio. Jupiter is like Saturn’s polar counterpart. While Saturn is all about sorting, restricting, refining, rules, you were also having a Jupiter transit that’s all about expansion and abundance, and having your work in the spotlight. Have you been feeling that Jupiter influence?
NAO: It’s interesting you’re talking about visibility, because one of the things that’s definitely shifted in the last few months is the amount that people recognise me. That’s gone up significantly. So this idea of fame is nothing I ever craved or wanted, but I understand now that it comes with the territory (of making music). Yesterday I thought, wait a minute, literally every time you’ve stepped outside someone has said ‘Are you NAO?’ Maybe that’s where Jupiter’s come in.
“It’s something that just comes with age: you realise you don’t need like, 20 billion friends. Four will do, really” – NAO
That’s a pretty significant life change. What’s that like for you now then in terms of relating to your work and future projects? What do you think is on the horizon?
NAO: One thing I don’t know and can’t predict is what’s on the horizon. I hope the album does really well, obviously, and shoots me off into space and does amazing things. But I think I’ve stopped predicting what’s on the horizon, (I’m) just letting things be and just being a bit more present. Once I start going into the future, I get worried. I get anxious. So I’m actually not going to think as much about that, and just try to stay present and see what happens.
I mean, honestly, I feel like when you’re in such a pivotal time this is a good idea. Not that you can really ever go wrong with being present, but when you’re in a really significant moment of your life, like Saturn Return or another milestone transitional point, there’s a lot to be said for just really deeply experiencing it. Just allowing that.
NAO: I feel like just experiencing it as and when it comes is definitely my rule for the moment.
Apart from romance, how have your relationships in general been shifting over this period? There’s usually a lot of change there as well during Saturn Return. Is your social life changing too?
NAO: Yeah – people have been moving and shifting in and out of my life quite significantly over the past few years, and as far a being someone that’s becoming in the public eye, you attract a lot of people. It was about building up kind of a bubble around me so that the right energy could get through, and the wrong energy could stay away. ‘Cause you never know why people are coming around you, so it meant having to eliminate a few people from my life that I didn’t think had the right intentions. My friends and family have gotten a lot smaller, and also a lot stronger. It’s something that just comes with age as well. You realise you don’t need like, 20 billion friends. Four will do, really.
Your Moon placement actually makes think that you’re probably highly intuitive. You have a Capricorn Moon in the 8th House, where lots of spirits and esoteric topics live, and where there’s a lot of psychic mastery. Do you think of yourself as an intuitive person?
NAO: Now I do, but it took a lot of trust in myself. Intuition is trusting yourself. And I didn’t have a lot of that. These last couple years have been learning how to do that, how to tap into it, how to feel it, and then also the next step is trusting it.
I always remember this time, a year ago, when I was alone on this beach on a really small island, and I was looking out to the sea and I felt like someone was watching me. I kept turning around, and I didn’t see anyone. And I thought, huh, I don’t see anyone – that’s so weird, because I’m pretty sure I feel their presence. I was doing yoga, and I just carried on for another 15 minutes, and I thought, this is so weird, because I can feel them! Then I picked up my mat and turned around, and through these bushes were these two men just having lunch, they were on their lunch break and eating their sandwiches, and they were watching me not in a creepy way but just because I was the only person on the beach. And I felt like, yes, I knew there was someone out there!
I felt like that was a nice sign from my own trust mechanisms and intuition – I was right, my body was telling me and even though I couldn’t see it the first couple times. If you just stay with it it will reveal itself. That was a really beautiful lesson for me in terms of intuition.
My last question is about your Venus in Aquarius. Sometimes Venus in Aquarius gets characterised as being somewhat detached in terms of love – that’s not so accurate, in my opinion – but on your album there’s actually so much deep expression about love. It feels like a huge source of inspiration for you. Do you process your feelings about love and sex through music?
NAO: I think of music as my healing tool. It’s like my diary. It’s definitely the way I learn about a situation, understand it, and heal it, and let it go. Because I’m really lucky to have music and singing as my vessel to be able to do that.