From the meteoric rise of Royal Blood, to seasoned veterans The Wytches and the city’s current torchbearers Black Honey, Brighton has become a true creative hub for British guitar music in recent years. But now, there’s a new player in town worth screaming off the pier about.
Formed in 2015, Yonaka have steadily been making a name for themselves over the past two years like most of the acts from Brighton do, through incendiary live performances. However, drummer Rob Mason explains that success in Brighton doesn’t just come from drinking the tap water. “Brighton is a weird city to be a band in. When you’re first starting out, there’s so many other bands that are competing at the same time and there’s so many venues” states Rob. Continuing, “It’s quite easy to fall into this trap of two distinct genres that go with Brighton. Like you’ve got the surf pop and the garage rock stuff. So it’s quite inspiring to try and do something that’s not like that and kind of makes you stand out.”
And stand out they do. After a string of successful singles, Yonaka have finally released their debut EP ‘Heavy’. An EP full of snarling vigour, Yonaka have well and truly arrived to conquer. But how do Yonaka themselves feel about releasing a sizable project for the first time? “It feels so good to actually get some new music out” says Rob. “It was a while after we put ‘Drongo’ out that ‘Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya’ came out and we’re kind of excited for the world to hear us now. That reception we got for [‘Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya’] was awesome for us, we weren’t quite expecting that many plays and being that well received.”
Leading the EP’s tracklisting is the punchy and spiralling ‘Bubblegum’. Immediately showing the band’s progression from their early demos, Rob recalls how the track came to fruition. “We were all in this room with a vocal sample and we kind of just worked it around that.” However, the final product didn’t come easily. “We worked on it quite a bit, we’ve gone through three different recording processes for it and worked with different producers. It’s taken quite a long time to perfect.”
This idea of Yonaka perfection relies heavily on the outfit being able to replicate their live sound in the studio with people who realise how integral it is to the band’s psyche. The latest to experience this is producer Rodaidh McDonald. Having worked with the likes of King Krule, Sampha and The xx for all of their albums, Yonaka played their live set to him before he took them under his wing. “It’s a really refreshing way of doing it because this way the producer can sit down and see how you all interact on stage. Trying to capture that aspect of it, but still have the benefits of being in a studio and a recording environment and the bits you can do afterwards.”
Two other aspects that are fundamental to Yonaka is their willingness to incorporate a variety of genres into their aesthetic and their underlying darkness. With the latter linking with the band’s name (Yonaka means dead of night in Japanese), how dark can we expect Yonaka to go? “There’s always been an element of darkness in our music, not necessarily in a heavy aspect, but some of the lyrical content that Theresa writes about is personal to her and isn’t always the most light-hearted stuff that she’s singing about. We’re not opposed to writing happy songs, but there’s always that underlining element of dark themes.”
As for the other genres that they want to try in future tracks, Rob says “I want to try something entirely electronic. Come out with something with a really lo-fi and almost trip-hop kind of thing. I think the guys could translate that really well with the way they play, and Theresa’s vocals can fit on pretty much anything.” But where does this desire for variety stem from? “We all come from different musical backgrounds” says Rob. “Theresa is really into her Motown stuff, like The Shangri-Las and 60s and 70s girl bands. Myself, George and Alex kind of come from backgrounds where we listen to kind of heavier stuff.”
Speaking with the NME earlier in the year, Yonaka stated that they were “aiming seriously big, the biggest” in regards to their future. But is there anyone in particular whose rise to the top that they really admire? “We all have a lot of love for the Arctic Monkeys, both musically and from watching their progression and career” says Rob after a moment of deliberation. “Seeing them develop as artists, they’ve grown so much and still maintain this entirely recognisable sound and style of songwriting. Although from album to album, the production has changed and you can tell they've worked with other people, they still maintain this iconic sound to their music. I think that doesn’t just come from Alex Turner and his voice, but also from the band and how they play together. Something like that would be amazing.”
Continuing on the subject of success, but returning back to the topic of Brighton, Rob says “seeing bands like Royal Blood and Black Honey playing in venues, especially when they did Concorde 2, it does make you want to do that.” Then after a pause, Rob laughs “and I reckon we can.”
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Words: Liam Egan
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