12 Aug 2016


L-R: Rob Mason, George Edwards, Theresa Jarvis, Alex Cosby
Brighton quartet Yonaka first made waves on the indie scene at the end of last year, spurred by ‘Run’, an unforgiving debut track that grinds and crunches in places, and floats gracefully in others. ‘Ignorance’ followed with a similar sense of intemperance, dismissing any suggestion that this band don’t have something special about them, and a consistent something at that. Now, they’re readying an EP, which will surely see them skyrocket to big things from the wings they’ve been patiently waiting in. Pre-show in Norwich last month, we nabbed them for a drink and a chat.

“We thought we’d been here but it was Nottingham we were thinking of. There was just one corner that looked a little bit like a corner somewhere in Nottingham”, says drummer Rob Mason. “It’s great though, there’s a great reduced section in Sainsbury’s. The one-way system’s a bit weird. The pedestrianisation of Norwich…” jokes George Edwards, the group’s guitarist, slipping an Alan Partridge reference in nice and early. Rock ‘n’ roll, obvs.

The foursome sit outside a location Mr Partridge would be more than familiar with, the city’s somewhat less than picturesque Castle Mall shopping centre early on a warm summer’s evening. Across the road, ‘spoons buzzes with activity but here things are serene – a far cry from what tonight’s show supporting the mighty Black Peaks promises. “I actually played with Liam [Kearly], the drummer, for a bit. So I know them through that”, explains Theresa Jarvis, the formidable driving force and frontwoman of the band. Perched next to her band mates she’s the epitome of cool, in dark, round sunglasses, which she peeks over with every word. “We didn’t really have a name; we were kind of just jamming out. There’s a big friendship group in Brighton where everyone knows everyone.”
As any indie fan will know, Brighton is the hotbed for new talent right now, with acts like The Wytches, Black Honey and The Magic Gang all releasing fantastic records when they aren’t playing to excitable crowds up and down the country. But what’s it like to live and operate right in the eye of that storm? “It’s quite good in the sense that there’s a lot happening, but it’s also a negative at times because it’s such a saturated, tiny city with so many bands”, says Rob. “It urges you to make a name for yourself”, George adds. “It urges you to be different because there are a lot of trends that happen there. At the moment there’s a lot of grunge and garage rock stuff. So it’s quite good to be different in that aspect, in such a small town.”
For anyone lucky enough to have caught these dark rockers live, you’ll agree that what Yonaka do is certainly different from their more happy-go-lucky contemporaries. The last time we caught them was at Flying Vinyl Festival in April, where their broody performance certainly turned a few ears. That festival was so much fun”, Theresa chirps. Flying Vinyl release a monthly box set of 7” singles featuring tracks by upcoming musicians, including ‘Run’ and ‘Ignorance’ back in March. “We’d never heard of them before that. I think they were quite big before then but now it comes up a lot more for us personally. They’re great.”

Since then, writing has been the number one priority, as the tracks that drop jaws live take shape on record and new ones come into existence too. Alex Cosby is the band’s bassist. “We’re still a relatively new band so we’re still finding our sound and trying to make a name for ourselves in a lot of ways”, he tells us, of the “incubation period” the foursome have been undertaking. “This is the first time we’ve had an opportunity to just write and get focussed.” We wonder if an end product is in sight, and what Yonaka have planned for the future. “We’re going to release an EP near the end of the year. Not the end of the year but near the end of the year. The last three months, around that area. But there is one coming, which we’re fucking well happy about.” Though the band is based in Brighton, they’re also working a little further afield; “We’re off to Sheffield tomorrow to spend a week with Ross Orton who produced ‘AM’, so that’s quite exciting. He did Arctic Monkeys, M.I.A, Kagoule…”
“I just want to talk to him about Matt Helders all the time”. Like myself, George is a big Arctics fan, but less so the group’s side projects it seems. “I’m not really into The Last Shadow Puppets. There was that one song ‘Bad Habits’ which really stuck out to me because I liked the jagged string parts but I’ve never been really into them. Or ‘Post Pop Depression’ [Iggy Pop’s record that Helders plays on]. I liked ‘American Valhalla’ but that’s about it.” As producers go, Orton sounds like the perfect fit. Combine the attitude of M.I.A, the grungey aggression of Kagoule and the slickness that ‘AM’ oozed by the bucket load, and you’re well on your way to making this band.
But what of the group's more mainstream ventures, like playing at this year’s Radio 1’s Big Weekend in Exeter? Being on a bill with the likes of Coldplay and Jess Glynne can’t win you the most credibility points as a band with a generally more adult audience. “It was really good. We want to appeal to everyone, not just ‘cool people’”, Theresa explains. “Everyone who goes to Big Weekend is cool! I feel like it was good for us because I wouldn’t just describe our music as ‘indie’ either”, she clarifies. “And we saw Skepta. I fucking love Skepta.” A beautiful segway onto my next question, about the strong hip-hop sound that can be heard in the band's music. “Yeah, we all love hip-hop, we love pop, we love rock. I love moving between big melodies and almost the verge of rapping. I want to play with loads of rap artists as well. I was thinking the other day that if we had the chance to do a collaboration I would 100% go for a rap or grime artist. I just like hard, dirty sounds.” As Alex puts it, “That kind of music for me evokes a similar feeling to when you listen to heavy or metal music. It makes you move. You get that same kind of vibe from it.”

We’re eager to talk more about the new EP. It’s difficult to know what to expect from a group who’ve only released two songs to date, giving us a taste of what Yonaka are about whilst keeping us eager for more. But it’s always a good sign if you can remember a band’s songs just from seeing them live, and having caught these guys a handful of times this year, we can say that’s certainly the case. There’s a lot of what makes ‘Run’ and ‘Ignorance’ great in the unreleased material: huge, sweeping choruses, massive riffs, vocals that jump from screeches to rapping to serenading in the space of a minute. “In the new stuff, the sound and the tone is still the same but the structure and songwriting is better. Compared to say ‘Run’, which was one of the first songs we ever wrote”, Rob explains. “Previously it was Theresa and George who would come up with the structure for a track and bring it to me and Alex to do the arrangements and so on. But In the last few sessions we’ve had we’ve been writing together, which is challenging but also really rewarding, because although we’ve never done it before we’ve come away with four or five really good tracks”. As George puts it, “We’re quite high maintenance in that respect because we don’t just settle, we keep going for twelve-hour days sometimes. But it’s proof that we all want it to sound good, rather than going ‘oh, that’s another song done’. We’ll keep going until we get what we want”.

'Run' and 'Ignorance' are out now. Catch Yonaka on tour this Autumn.

Sound & Vision Festival, Norwich (15/10) w/ Let's Eat Grandma & INHEAVEN

Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham (12/11)
Oporto, Leeds (13/11)
Stereo, Glasgow (15/11)
Think Tank, Newcastle (16/11)
The Castle, Manchester (17/11)
The Cookie, Leicester (19/11)
The Crofter Rights, Bristol (21/11)
The Cellar, Oxford (22/11)
The Old Queen's Head, London (23/11)
The Frog & Parrot, Sheffield (25/11)


Words & Photos: Alex Cabré