"Feels just like velvet," she sings. Layered harmonies melt into each other, filling a void you didn't realise was there until after you hear them for the first time. They're the first words penned and divinely delivered on NAO's debut album For All We Know, an anticipated opus scheduled for release near the month's end. The first words to softly stroke your eardrum as she effortlessly coos them onto wax. And fittingly, the first words used to describe that voice: Smooth, soothing and sensual velvet.

Two weeks away from the release of her debut full-length, (an 18-track NAO-soul opus brimming with brilliantly constructed wonky funk R&B compositions intricately written, produced and performed by the 28-year-old artist,) NAO sits in her studio with a newly finished product. It's a limbo of sorts – the minuscule moment between how far she's come to get here and the calm before an unwavering surge of success that seems to be on its way. The LP certainly is.

Just a few years ago, NAO was a vocal coach and a back-up singer for artists like Pulp and Kwabs; still putting her creative gifts to use but not in the capacity she's always been capable of. With the recent release of soulful digi-funk anthems like 'Bad Blood,' 'Girlfriend' and 'Fool To Love' that are all her own however, NAO has garnered a fitting reputation as one of R&B's most prominent promising talents with global momentum behind her leading up to the introductory album. And her time to take centre stage has come when a soothing voice and sensual thematic R&B are needed the most (in and outside of the music and political landscape.) For all we know, it's fate.

Describe this past year if you could and put this breakout year into words. How has it been navigating your breakout year and how does the spotlight feel?

I like that. Breakout year. I think that's cool. I always feel like I haven't broken out yet. It feels like I have so far to go. My following is still relatively small and I feel like there are still so many people that have yet to hear the music but I think it has definitely been an important year. In the UK, we have a thing called the BBC Sound poll, which means they choose a few people who they think are going to make a good impression within the music world and so I came third in that, which was really lovely to be even thought of. But to come third was really special. It was really nice. After that, I did my first European and American tour, which was all sold out. It was something that I didn't think was possible. In between that, I've been writing the album, so a lot of studio time and a lot of hard work. But a week and a half ago, I finally completed the album, so now I get to focus on some other stuff, which is really nice. It's been quite an epic year so far.

In an interview earlier this year, you were talking about transitioning from a back-up singer to putting out your own music and most importantly, the concern over the type of person you were coming across as while you made that transition. What has been the most important aspect of yourself that you're sharing on your debut album?

I kind of feel like one of the most important things for me was to come across as a musician, not just a singer on a track, but a musician. It's about the music, it's not about me. I produced a lot of it. I wrote all of it and sung all of it. And I did it all at home and I had some really wonderful people who helped me to see it to life. It's definitely an album that comes from me and so I just want people to listen to the music. The way we see artists today has changed what with social media and Twitter. You get more from artists, so much more, whereas back in the day, when we used to love Stevie Wonder, you just had the album and the pictures and the album sleeve. I didn't know what he was having for dinner. And I think I'm still a little bit in that mind frame of just trying to make it about the music and not to try and sell myself along with it. To just be able to know it's genuine and that it comes from me.

What's been the most difficult part of your transition with that decision in mind?

I think the most difficult part of that is just trying to find a space for my music to exist. Although it's quite catchy, at the moment, it's not super radio, like house tunes or something that the radio can pump all day every day. But it's not super on the left. It's not really niche. It sits in between the two. It's kind of me working out a way for the music to exist beyond radio and touch as many people that it can. I'm still working that out with putting out this album now and it still feels that my audience is still quite small in a way. So, it feels pretty low-key. Hopefully it will spread now and hopefully the album is good enough that people want to share it and then it will find its way.

What has the vibe been like for you leading up the release of your debut album and what does it signify for you?

I've been working so much that I think that has taken over everything leading up to the album. Everything has been about the album – finishing it, recording it, choosing the songs, if I put out music, it's about spreading the word about the album. It's been a lot of hard work, but I feel like the vibe is good. I feel like there's more to come. When the album is out, that's when I'll hopefully see the rewards of all the hard work. It's been confusing at the same time. I'm still trying to find where I sit and how to reach people. I think that will come to light when the album is out, but right now, I can't see it just yet. I'll leave it to the gods, as they say.

While listening to the album myself, I categorised it as one of the most soothing projects in a year filled with so much tension and exhaustion in and out of the music industry. What was your mission and philosophy leading into putting it together?

When I sat and thought about which albums I loved, and the recent albums that really touched me, like Frank Ocean's album, (well, everyone does,) but I wanted to break-down what I loved about it. That album was a feeling. It had skits and it all tied in together. It wasn't just track after track. It was moments that glued things together. It was poetic. It had colours. It was sometimes dark. Sometimes beautiful. Sometimes ethereal. I wanted to kind of put all of that into my own album and try to express all of that colour and just make people feel. That's all I can do really. I just thought about the albums that touched me and what they said and tried to say the same thing but in my own way.

What I love about what you have to say in your own way is the way you write about love. You write about love from such a euphoric place. Even through your most relatable songs about heartbreak, it still comes from such a peaceful perspective. Where does that come from and how do you feel about writing about love?

I think I use love in its most normal form sometimes, the most obvious, which is heartbreak. But also, I use love in other ways. 'Fool To Love' is a song about insecurities and things that hold you back. That devil on your shoulder that tells you that you're not good enough or this will never work. It's about saying to that thing that I was a fool to love you, why did I let you into my life? We could have had it all if I hadn't listened. We could have gone so many other places or done so many more things if I hadn't listened to that voice. I use love as a representation of other meanings, but on the surface, it sounds like a heartbreak song. I like that about love. It's super open and can mean so much but also mean super obvious things at well. I like that you said peaceful. I think that's what love is. It's acceptance. Sometimes it's unrequited. Sometimes it's really beautiful. Sometimes it's work, but it's just accepting that that's what love is and just moving from it and learning from it. And I get peace from that. I've had some really amazing relationships and I've had some really rubbish ones but I use the music to express that.

You also made sure to use voice-notes throughout the project. Was that a way to document your creative space and the energy from your jam sessions?

That's exactly it. When I was thinking about the albums I loved, I love skits and intros. I didn't want to put too many in, but just a little glimpse of some really nice moments when I was just jamming with my friends. I feel like it's a nice inside, because that's kind of how I did the whole album. I just left my phone running and just jammed a lot and improvised a lot and then listened back and took those moments that I felt worked, and then turned them into songs. I guess that was just a way of letting people in a bit more into the process of how I got there. And then I have one more skit, which is me and a singer called Kwabs. I used to be his back-up singer just before I started doing my own thing. And I found this voice memo which I think was one of our last moments singing together and it's a really nice harmony. I love harmony of voices. I wanted to put that in as kind of a thank you to the past and saying that that was a really beautiful moment doing that, but also, a really nice nod to the future and the fact that I've arrived here, doing the album and being at the forefront of a project. It's really lovely.

That ties into what you said earlier about wanting to bring things back to the music. We've also heard you talk about your cohesive blend of what you've named Wonky Funk, so I wanted to know how that sound you've created – Wonky Funk – is a direct reflection of who you are?

The music is Wonky Funk, because I love music from the past and it was a question of how do I interpret that to now but without it sounding retro or that I'm doing a Prince funk tune. The wonky part of is about tripping up the music a bit and creating a new interpretation of the things that influenced me before.

With the production and writing skills and obviously that incredible voice, on top of years of experience, it's hard to picture this moment not happening. Of course you were going to be successful and of course you would be here, anticipating the release of your debut album. Through your path to getting here, what are some moments or distractions that could have almost changed this situation for you?

It was about knowing what to say yes and no to, I think. And maybe some of the things I could have said no to, may have excelled me a bit further. I just don't know. Maybe some of the things I said yes to have held me back. But, I think it's the power of choice and knowing what you can do is what is right at the time. I'm really happy that I said yes to writing 'Firefly' for Mura Masa, because at the time, I actually made the decision in my head that I wasn't going to do collaboration. But I heard the beat and I said, let me just see what I could write. He loved it. And I thought maybe another singer would sing it, but he said, I want you to sing it. I just went, yes, even though in my head I made the choice not to do collaborations anymore. That was a really lovely moment. It is such a lovely song to perform live. It gives me so much joy.

Now that the world is getting ready to hear your project, what has been the most rewarding thing about the path you've been on?

I'm in my studio now, and I'm really blessed, because all my friends work here as well. Everyone has just been on the hustle for years and we've been on that grind, trying to make it. I think it's really nice to be one of the people who have been actually starting to make a way. Because, my friends, they see "Woah, Nao's doing it. It's tangible. It can actually happen. We've been working for so long and we were wondering when something was going to happen." When you see one of your friends doing it, there's hope there. I think about myself that, I feel quite normal. It's not like I'm a really beautiful pop star and I have an act to sell. It's not that I have so much sex appeal and that's what sells me. I'm just a normal person. When they see me doing it, it's like, "Nao's doing it. She's our friend." It makes everyone have hope and keep working. That makes me really proud to be one of those people that can inspire my friends and other musicians to keep working, even if they don’t fit the mold of what a pop star is nowadays. I don't think I'm a pop star. But, someone who is making it. I think before, when you have images of someone like Rihanna, who is obviously so beautiful. And beyond her music, she's got her whole self to sell, in a way. She's so cool and she takes really amazing photos. She can do modelling. She can sell brands. She can do so much. When you see that, you're like, oh gosh, that's something I won't be able to do. I don't have that sort of charm about myself. So it's nice to feel normal and be making a way still.