Hannah George | 15/08/2023
I joined rock band YONAKA following our shoot just days after their performance at Reading and Leeds; with lead singer Theresa still feeling the rush of it all. “It was our favourite one we’ve ever played; I felt comfortable and confident. I knew what I was going to do, I was aways going to have a perfect time.”
Opening up more about the festival experience as an artist and the pressures accompanying it, she communicates the reality of performing to such large audiences, saying, “You have no idea what the turnout is going to be; everyone's there for the festival but there are so many different acts. You get a little bit like, I wonder if anyone will come.” Having seen YONAKA’s Reading set, which included much of their new material from their Welcome to My House EP, I wanted to know more about how they have embraced a newfound confidence in their recent music. Theresa goes on to tell me how the EP “visits quite a few areas, there is some kind of angrier radio songs, and then there's a really kind of sweet one.”
This is a reflection of how she and Alex write and listen to music, often crossing into different emotional spaces in their work.
Interestingly, this is something the band were critiqued on in a recent review that stated the EP “lacked consistency”, as Theresa tells me, opening up about how she felt about this: “I thought yeah, but it's real and it's honest and it's art, so if it does lack consistency, then that's just a new piece of art you're listening to. When I first read it, I was like what? To be honest they got in my head a little bit. I remember speaking to my friend. She said it was an external thing. She was like, you know what's good, and you know why you wrote it in the first place. We also feel very strongly that we don't want to make a body of work that has the same vibe the whole way through; that's not how we work.”
Wanting to know more about how this EP fits into YONAKA and the bands identity, I asked them how this EP feels to them.
Theresa instantly says it marks the time for now. "I don't know, it's weird because we started writing some of those songs maybe a year and a half, two years ago. I feel like we're already at a different point.”
"It's always a snapshot of that period." Alex notes, "Whenever you put it out, it's always just maybe like a little delay. We are in quite a different place now.”
It's exciting getting a front seat view into the band's relationship with their music; Alex elaborated on how feelings arise from listening to older music, telling me, “I struggle with that. I still can't listen to the whole thing; I need a little more space from listening to it so much, It takes a minute until I can fully enjoy it from a different perspective other than just analysing it. Otherwise I find myself thinking, oh, that's now that's too loud or something like that? Just overanalysing it.”
As for the relationship the music then has to their audience, Theresa allows me insight into how this feels for them, in terms of letting go of something you have such an emotional involvement with and the vulnerability in giving people access to that. She tells me, “I feel like we when we write it, we know when we know the point when we need to let it go; I feel good about it because I'm ready to keep moving on, on to the next one. Don't get me wrong I wonder how people will feel about it as well. It's quite an exciting but nerve-wracking moment for me thinking this is my favourite, but what’s their favourite? It's always nice to find out.”
Talking more about this relationship between the band's music and their listener, Theresa talks about the way the music manifests once it's released in terms of how it is interpreted and received. Being one of her favourite parts of the whole process she explains “creating music you can connect with is such a special thing for us, we got a message from a fan, and they were like, you've saved my life. And it's like, how mad is that? How incredible is it that someone like us can help someone through something with our music.” I find this ability to put words to a feeling that can feel so unique to someone's life experience in a way that creates this deep resonation, genuinely magical. So it was lovely to hear how amazing that also feels them.
Reminiscing on a panel HATC hosted a few years back that YONAKA was involved with, I can remember how vulnerably Theresa spoke about her struggles with anxiety and how that has fit into her career as a musician; we touched on this again as she opened up to me saying “I couldn't leave the house on my own, I mean bless Alex like he had to support me because my whole world just like flipped. I was a very independent person before that. I would go everywhere on my own but then literally out of nowhere I was just like, I don't know what to do because I don't know who I am. I felt so weird. I just felt I was drowning in this world that was on fast forward, thinking what the fuck is going on?”
Reflecting on how anxiety has changed the way she lives, Theresa then goes on to say “I work differently now, and I understand things differently. The worst thing is that before I had that, my little sister had anxiety, and I didn't know what it was. I'd often get pissed off because I was like, what are you doing? Just sort yourself out. I just didn't understand it. And I felt terrible. It's invisible struggle. But I feel I've come a long way now. I've got so much more to go. But it's a start.”
Returning to how living with anxiety has affected how she creates music, Theresa then positively states, “Because of these experiences I've created art in a way I wouldn't have written hardly any of those songs if not for those struggles, especially "Don't Wait Till Tomorrow". That was my worst time; it was like a diary entry for me. Literally every song on there is about, not feeling okay. And that used to be the place I was in."
It's an insightful way to deal with her struggle, using it to fuel conversation cathartically. Talking about mental health struggles is always essential for us at HATC. Opening up the conversation about the realities of living with these hardships is critical, especially when in discussion with artists. I find it breaks down this wall we have when it comes to our relationship to people we admire, taking down the pedestal we hold them on. Theresa explains how this pressure has affected her and how she copes.
“It was at live shows that we would do when we were on tour with Nothing but Thieves where i'd struggle. The whole tour, I had a terrible time. I was uncomfortable on stage, and I wanted to get off, but I was like, you can get off if you need to, go. So there's a lot of those moments. But the best thing for me after that was I remember speaking to my therapist, and the words she used was, it's just energy, and I was like, okay. After that I started using that, and it helped me loads. I would just be like, it's just energy, just let it flow.” Seeing how Theresa discusses her struggles, it is clear how she can write in such a way that captures these feelings and hardships of anxiety.
Wanting to know more about what is in store for YONAKA in the next year, they unveiled their plans for the extensive upcoming tour, which now includes America and Canada, spanning across 20 shows, something exciting to hear about, especially after the release of their latest EP which I can imagine will feature heavily. It's something we can't wait to see included what else is in store.
Words Hannah George
Photography Aaron Hurley
Styling Lois Jenner
Creative Alice Gee
MUA Phoebe Taylor
Photography Assistant Liam Belton
Photography Assistant Liam O’Sullivan