Yonaka – Interview – 2016

If you're looking for a Brighton group destined for big things in 2016, I’d be hard pressed to think of a band more of a safe bet than dark pop four-piece Yonaka. In March they head out on tour to support their debut single ‘Ignorance’ and the track is a belter. Throwing together stuttering electronic drum sounds with relentless guitar riffs and soaring melodies. It demonstrates their knack for bringing together sounds you would never think of combining and then leaves you wondering why no one else had thought of it before.

I crowded around a small pub table with Theresa (Vocals), Alex (Bass), and Rob (Drums) to talk about their upcoming tour, their shared love of hip-hop, and getting stoned with Killing Joke. Which has been edited for clarity below.

We’ll start at the beginning, how did the band get together and where did you guys meet?
Theresa: We all met in Brighton and got together about a year and a half ago but we’ve all been friends for about 5 years. Me and Rob were playing together a little bit in different line ups and then I started writing with George, our guitarist.

Alex: We’ve basically all been in the same musical circle and doing various projects for about 5 years with different line-ups and all different kinds of music. And then we found a chemistry that just worked and the songs came out really quickly.

So where you all from originally?
Theresa: I’m from Folkestone in Kent.

Rob: North London.

Alex: And I’m from Essex.

What was it that first got you into music in a big way?
Alex: For me it was when my dad showed me Led Zeppelin when I was 13 was when I realised music was what I wanted to do and that’s when I really began to devote myself to it.

Theresa: I’m more Motown: The Shangri Las, the Marvellettes, The Temptations, all of those girl groups. I only really discovered things like Pink Floyd and Nirvana a couple of years ago, which was quiet late but good for me, because I love it.

Rob: Yeah for me definitely Nirvana was the first band that I heard that just blew me away. But also quite a lot of hip-hop like The Marshall Mathers LP, when I first heard that I just thought ‘shit this is cool man’.

It's interesting you say you have a Motown influence because there’s quiet a contrast in your music between the dissonant noisy bits and then the soulful vocals, was that intentional?
Theresa: No, it felt very normal and natural actually.

Alex: But that’s what I like about it, the contradiction between hooky melodies but with jarring heavy riffs and heavy rhythms.

Rob: We’re all drawing on our own influences and putting them together.

So what’s the name from? Is it Japanese?
Theresa: Yeah it means ‘the dead of night’, the songs are about things I don’t usually talk about or express because really I’m quiet a happy, sunny person. I wanted something to do with midnight and one of my really good friends who is half-Japanese told me yonaka meant midnight in Japanese and I just thought ‘that’s perfect!’ I just felt it matched us really well.

So you’re about to go on your first headline tour after only playing live for about a year, does it feel like it’s going really fast?
Theresa: Yeah we were really sceptical but our manager convinced us that we actually really want to do this.

Alex: We felt like it was a bit early to do a headline tour.

Rob: But there’s an insentive to do it what with our single coming out, to go on a headline tour looks and sounds good for us in the industry.

Alex: Regardless if there’s hundreds of people or fifty people you still learn from every gig you play, so they will all still feel essential and important.

So the new single is ‘Ignorance’ tell us about the song and what’s it about.
Theresa: It's about trying to be yourself and be your own leader but getting pulled down by your own thoughts and the people around you. You might try and change to please them but you have to learn to look out for yourself. About realising your own self-worth and listening to that instead of other people and everything around you.

How does it compare sonically to your music we’ve heard so far like ‘Run'?
Rob: There’s more use of samples and an electric sampler when on ‘Run’ it was mainly acoustic drums.

Alex: It’s an interesting song because it’s almost like two songs. The verse has an electronic and sample based feel whilst the chorus is more straight-up rock and heavy. I guess that also comes back to Nirvana, that loud and quiet dynamic.

Rob: That’s quiet a common theme in our songs. Not outrageously so, but we try and keep a contrast between the verse and the chorus.

I like the heavy tribal drumming and the fact two of you are playing, was there a particular inspiration for that?
Theresa: No I’ve just always really wanted to play them, about four years ago I remember saying I wanted to learn and then Rob started teaching me.

Rob: Also just the rhythm of two drummers playing is undeniably driving and it’s nice to be able to bounce off ideas for drumming with someone else.

There is definitely an accessible element to your sound, would you like to be really big?
Theresa: I’d love to be able to do big tours and have the crowd sing the lyrics back at me.

Rob: Just to be able to be comfortable enough to do this full time and tour and gig as much as possible.

Alex: I’d like to be big without having to compromise the music we do. I mean we all love pop music and are really into it. But really we just want to do what we want to do and not be pushed into something just for financial gain.

What’s your song writing process?
Rob: George and Theresa usually get together and write.

Theresa: Yeah we’ll write the skeleton and then bring that to the group and then it’ll change as we begin to structure it. That’s always worked really well so we just kind of stuck with it, but we want to try and write all together from now on. Yesterday we just came in with a verse to start with and ended up with what we felt was a really good song.

Alex: You (to Theresa) and George are more the initial songwriters and then Rob and me discuss more the arrangement and production ideas. But we’re trying different things all the time.

Rob: I’m looking to go away for a couple of days after the tour. Locking ourselves away in the countryside and taking a hiatus and write without any distractions.

Describe your sound in three words
Theresa: Loud. No, I want another one!

Rob: Dark.

Theresa: I’m trying to think of the word… like in your face and demanding that you to pay attention to it… a bit like sassy.

Alex: Fierce?

Theresa: No… Abrupt?

Alex: Visceral.

You went on tour supporting Demob Happy at the end of last year, how was that?
Alex: It was brilliant, we’re really good friends with them. We all squished into the ‘Demobile’. It was a really good first proper tour for us.

Theresa: It wasn’t even very smelly was it? Rob and me live with Barry (Demob’s guitarist).

Alex: It was really good to watch them every night. I never got bored and every night I felt I learnt something new from them. And then on the last night Rob got up on stage with them and joined in [They all laugh].

Rob: Yeah I got a bit carried away; I was just joining in on a snare drum. It was the first tour I’ve ever done, so it was special.

You're quiet an intense live show, have you seen anyone live recently that impressed you?
Theresa: Well we did a few shows with Drenge a couple of weeks ago and they were fucking mental. I saw Siqor Ros and Mø and they were both very good.

Rob: Foals at Bestival. Actually I was also really surprised by The Garden as well, because I didn’t know anything about them.

Theresa: They’re amazing it’s just two guys. They jump off the stage and pretend to stab people. Alex could be their triplet but he won’t dye his hair blonde!

Do you think living in Brighton or being involved in the scene here has any effect on you as a band?
Theresa: I don’t know if its effect out sound but it’s a really good place to be, because London is so massive. Brighton isn’t too big so you can build a bit of a name for yourself here.

Rob: A lot of the bands down here are our friends as well, which means everyone has opportunities in terms of touring and gigs. It’s also good for us because I don’t feel like we fit into any of the main categories of Brighton bands. There are a lot of genres coming out of here repeatedly like the Grunge revival and the psych sound. It’s good for us to be here because we might take influences from those scenes, but we don’t fit into those categories easily.

What are you all listening to at the moment?
Theresa: I’m constantly listening to Mø and Tame Impala recently. And always Jeff Buckley and Santigold.

Alex: I just started listening to the recent Alabama Shakes album. I love the production. It’s got that raw rockiness to it but also this huge hip-hop bottom end on it as well.

Rob: I keep listening to Art by Everything Everything, just the harmonies, the production, the song-writing, just everything about it. That or Holy Fire by Foals.

Theresa: And also loads of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly

Alex: We all have a common ground on hip-hop. When we’re in the car we tend to play a lot like Kanye and Kendrick.

What do you take as inspiration outside of music?
Theresa: In the terms of the lyrics, family events and past events are a big inspiration. I write a lot about my mum so it’s very personal.

What was the highlight of 2015 and what would you hope to achieve in 2016?
Alex: Playing the Haunt with Demob Happy as a homecoming gig. It was the end of the tour and we had lots of friends there. It felt like we were best as a band. Also playing two gigs with Killing Joke.

Theresa: Then we got stoned with them on their tour bus and they asked us what our music manifesto was.

Rob: They said to us: “ours is ‘no compromise, no surrender!’”.

Theresa: Me and George went in one of their tour buses and got in one of the bunkers and then their tour manager came and told us to get out. We thought they were going to hate us after that, but we got along with them really well.

Rob: Concorde 2 because I’ve always wanted to play there.

Theresa: I really enjoyed the little gig we played at Marwood’s Café, it was the sweatiest gig which are always the most fun.

Rob: It was upstairs and about a 30 capacity space it was totally packed.

Alex: I was a bit sceptical expecting a tiny little sound system in a coffee shop but it was great.

Theresa: And to achieve this year? We want go outside of the UK, try and maybe play some shows in Europe.

Alex: Just gig as much as possible. Write as much as possible.

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