Yonaka: ‘We don’t want to just be pinned to a femme rock category’
Alternative band Yonaka in the basement of Nowhere Man in Brighton

We get to know alt-pop group Yonaka in the first of our spotlight interviews from The Great Escape

Brighton band Yonaka are one of alternative rock’s most exciting new names, the latest fledgling force to emerge from the seaside city’s hectic music scene.

Their striking sound is brimming with energy: unashamedly catchy with immense riffs and the enrapturing vocals of frontwoman Theresa Jarvis.

Although first song ‘Run’ featured all of these stylings, it is ‘Ignorance’ that is their tour de force, a glossy underground hit of angsty pop perfection.

BBC Radio 1’s Phil Taggart picked up ‘Ignorance’ for release via his Hometown Records label, before the band dazzled last month at Big Weekend – a powerful sign of what’s to come in the years ahead.

Katy Blackwood met the band at Demob Happy‘s coffee shop for a revealing chat about the reaction to Ignorance, the difficulty of standing out as a band in Brighton, and what the future holds for Yonaka and their much-hyped sounds.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to us ahead of such a busy day! How’ve you all been doing?

Theresa: “We took advantage of the free drinks for bands yesterday, so we feel a bit weird…”

Rob: “It’s been a really great couple of days. We went out to Utrecht in the Netherlands and played our first European gig, and so to come back home and play The Great Escape right off the back of that feels really good.”

How does it feel, as a band from Brighton, to play at The Great Escape?

Theresa: “It’s amazing! Last year we played the Alternative Escape [a series of fringe events], so to actually be on the proper bill is really nice.”

Rob: “The best thing about The Great Escape is that everywhere turns into a venue.”

What’s it like having all of these bands from far-flung places descend on the city?

Theresa: “Everyone’s so cool! It’s a really good vibe.”

George: “Normally in Brighton most people are in bands anyway, but it helps this week that they’re highlighted by their wristbands. Anyone can be really famous. Like James Bay was outside of a bar last night, but he wasn’t wearing his hat…”

Rob: “Incognito Bay!”

Alternative band Yonaka in the basement of Nowhere Man in Brighton

For those that don’t know, what does your band name mean?

Theresa: “Yonaka means ‘the dead of night’, or ‘midnight’. It’s Japanese. We wanted to create this dark thing, this sense of darkness, but we didn’t want to just be called midnight. My friend – who’s half Japanese – pointed out the translation, and I was like, ‘That’s perfect!'”

Cool! But if you Google it at the moment, it comes up with cars…

Theresa: “Yeah, car parks! It’s good really, because you’re either a car park or a band.”

Rob: “It’s good to get anything that isn’t another band. Often with bands, especially with plural names I find, you get a couple that come up. But it’s better to look at a car than another band’s page.”

Your single Ignorance came out a few months ago now, back in February.

Theresa: “Really? I didn’t realise it was this year…”

George: “We weren’t told when it was going to be put online, and then out of nowhere people said they’d been listening to our song on iTunes. So we looked it up, and we were like, ‘Oh my god, there we are!'”

Theresa: “Oh yeah, it was coming up to my birthday! That’s weird, it feels like it was ages ago.”

Rob: “Alex recorded and produced it, and we must have listened to it one-hundred times each, so it feels like years since we released it.”

George: “Alex listened to it so much, he’s constantly walking in 132 tempo.”

Is there any story or meaning behind the song?

Theresa: “It’s about trying to find yourself and realise your worth, that you need to wake up to realise who you are.”

Ignorance picked up some really good support as well. Did you expect that kind of response?

Theresa: “No, not at all! It was amazing. We were like, “What the f***?””

Rob: “Playing with Drenge was amazing, and Killing Joke as well. I don’t know about the other guys, but Killing Joke was one of my favourite gigs, I hadn’t really heard of them but when I told my Dad we were playing with them he absolutely lost his s***.”

How did Killing Joke’s fans react to you?

Rob: “They loved it!”

Alex: “Our management told us before we played that their support don’t really get a good response, or get piss thrown at them…”

Rob: “But no piss was thrown and people clapped.”

Alex: “They left their piss outside.”

Are more songs ready for release soon?

Theresa: “We’ve got quite a few songs ready now, but we don’t really know when the next one’s going to come out.”

George: “We’re just deciding which one to release.”

Rob: “The good thing about recording them ourselves is that we can listen back and change stuff.”

So it’s all quite DIY, then?

Theresa: “Absolutely! Alex does it.”

George: “We’ve tried producing in different ways, but the best way is the cheapest. We’ve got this spare room where we can close the door, get all the guitar amps in there…”

Alex: “Pillows, blankets…”

Do you think you’ll still produce your own music in the future, or will you go in with a producer?

Alex: “I think we’re open to working with a producer, as long as we get a say!”

Rob: “It’ll be very important to maintain a relationship with any producer where it’s give and take, someone that takes the reins but also listens to our input.”

One of the most striking elements of your music, particularly on ‘Run’, is Theresa’s vocal range. What’s your background in singing?

Theresa: “I don’t really have one! I’d always wanted to sing, but in my hometown Folkestone there was only four people in my music class. It was a bit s***. So I just tried to sing, and I got so much better – I used to be really bad! Writing your own melodies really helps you to find your own voice, you go where you want to go.”

Brighton’s such a hotbed for alternative music at the moment, with bands like Black Honey and Demob Happy and many more. Is there any reason so many great bands come from this city?

George: “It’s so saturated! Everything’s so tiny so everyone wants to stand out a little bit more.”

Rob: “Everyone here’s an artist, in a band or doing something creative. It’s a double-edged sword really, because it’s so easy to get lost in the scene. But if you do something different you’re bound to stand out.”

George: “It goes through phases and changes like the seasons. There’s this garage rock scene at the moment, and you get the same kind of bands.”

Often female-fronted rock bands can be lazily compared to each other. Every band with a girl vocalist seems to be measured against Pvris or Paramore…

Everyone laughs

Rob: “They’re definitely our biggest two influences!”

Do you think you’re bringing something unique to music, that there isn’t other bands like you?

Theresa: “I hope so! We were asked yesterday who we compare ourselves to, but we don’t really want to compare ourselves to anybody. We’ve all got our own influences.”

George: “It’s hard to not just be in that ‘femme rock’ category, because that seems to be quite big at the moment.”

There’s a lot of bands coming through like that.

George: “Yeah, though we don’t want to just be pinned to that ourselves.”

Rob: “We all draw inspiration from different things. At my end there’s hip-hop, and stuff like Rage Against The Machine’s first album. We all love Kendrick [Lamar], we all love Black Sabbath.”

Theresa: “I love lots of old sixties girl bands, Jeff Buckley, and do you know ? She’s amazing.”

When you’re not making music, what do you get up to?

Rob: “Working s*** jobs that we don’t want to do. George loves his soaps.”

George: “Yeah, I watch soaps religiously, get the Radio Times…”

Rob: “Did you see Peggy died? Sorry, spoiler alert!”

Every review we’ve seen says that you’re a really good live band. What do you bring to your shows that’s so special?

Theresa: “We’re just quite energetic, the music gets inside us and we just get possessed for a while.”

George: “In our past bands we were kind of static on-stage, focusing hard on the music, but in Yonaka we’re careless and weightless.”

I read about stage dives at some of your shows?

George: “Oh, in Manchester? That was a bit exaggerated. But I did get my first crowd surf in London recently, just in the air playing the end of ‘Ignorance’.”

Where can we catch you in the coming months?

Theresa: “We’re at a couple of festivals, and we’ve got a tour being planned for around September.”

Rob: “There’s some support dates in the summer that we’re waiting to get confirmed too, so there’s going to be a few places to catch us.”

It’s still quite early days for Yonaka. Where does the adventure go from here?

Rob: “Onwards and upwards. After playing in another country now, it’s what I want all of the time. I just want to be able to play shows for people that actually care, and travel the world with three of my best mates.”

Everyone else: “Aww!”

Rob: “Shut up guys!”

Alternative band Yonaka in the basement of Nowhere Man in Brighton

Yonaka feature on WOW247 as our first spotlight interview from The Great Escape, as we get up-close and personal with several of Europe’s most exciting new bands.

Yonaka play live at the following dates:

9 June: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
10 June: Ku Bar, Stockton
11 June: ‘Ulltra Festival, Hull
18 June: Meantime Beer Box, Greenwich
14-16 July: Farr Festival, Hertfordshire
15-17 July: Beat-Herder Festival, Lancashire
15-17 July: Truck Festival, Oxfordshire
26-27 August: Knee Deep Festival, Cornwall

Photos: Katy Blackwood