By Nicholas Jason Lopez
From her crazy red lipstick and vivid tattoos to her magenta-esque hair color and borderline gothic fashion style, Chicago-based industrial electronic songstress I Ya Toyah knows just how to grab everyone’s attention.
Ever since her 2018 start, the “one-woman army” has been out to spread a different kind of disease – music.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with her about her latest EP ‘Out Of Order’ and more.
Music Bugle – How did you decide the name for your project?
I Ya Toyah – I Ya Toyah’s, when spoken out loud, in Polish, my native language, means, “It’s just me.” Toyah was always my nickname when I was growing up, something that stuck all these years. When I started my one-woman army project, it only made sense that I name it something that reflects who I am personally, what I do musically and how I do it – meaning solo. Funny story – I often get asked if the name has any ties to Iranian ayatollah. Nope. It’s just me. No ideology associated.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
I Ya Toyah – It is definitely a potential to do an endless amount of things, being able to translate the ideas into the sonic landscape. Create the sound from the scratch, like, record yourself walking on crispy Fall leaves – and then transform it to a snare sound in the studio. There are no rules. The only rule is to break all the rules, to be as disruptive as possible and this is a perfect fit for me, I don’t like staying within the frames of being “this” or “that” or sounding like “this” or “that.” Rather, while remaining as eclectic as possible, I try to naturally insert that “i ya toyah-ness” into my sound, aiming for the blend of familiarity with an element of surprise. The world of electronic music allows for that without much strain. The other thing is live performance. Sometimes, I am asked, “Why no band?” People are used to this concept of ‘one person per instrument’ or so, but to me, it is such an outdated way to look at live music and this particular style – or rather, a mix of style that my music is – allows me to actually play all the instruments live, incorporating some on-the-spot programming and triggering and looping. It is crazy intense, but also super rewarding to be able to do it like that. Also, when I came up with the concert of I Ya Toyah, it wasn’t like, “Okay, now I’ll make industrial music.” It’s a total opposite, actually. I started producing and writing to tell my story of a human condition the way I sensed and observed it, without any obligation to fit anywhere, really. It was the flow of creativity, uninterrupted and registered at my home studio. When I released the debut album, ‘Code Blue’ in late 2018, it started coming to my attention that the sound I make is somehow identified as industrial and goth, but then also punk electro, alternative, dark pop, rock, even metal. That is my favorite part of it all – being able to just be, musically and still find such a massively positive reception.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Chicago to someone who has never been there before?
I Ya Toyah – For a naked eye, Chicago is full of contrast – the light and darkness, the beauty and ugliness, peace and chaos constantly amalgamating in the multicultural pot this city is, but then, there is this whole underground world – the world of art, music, humility, honesty – and this is what makes Chicago a very special place. It’s people and their creativity.
Music Bugle – What was it like making your EP ‘Out Of Order’?
I Ya Toyah – The ‘Out of Order’ concept came to me when the pandemic took over our reality and … freedom. Suddenly, I found myself in the lockdown, surrounded by four walls when all this time, my mindset was all about touring preparations and being out there – one city per night – as my 2020 was supposed to be devoted to road life. The routes of the tours I was scheduled to be a part of were to take me to places I’ve never been before, including many Canadian cities. Obviously, I was very excited and focused on these preparations and then … all was canceled, as we know. So, the ‘Out Of Order’ EP is a product of lockdown and pandemic and all the mentality surrounding this difficult time trying to deal with the new challenges. Making this album saved my sanity. I poured all the dark and dangerous emotions into this record, which was sort of a cleansing experience, but it saved me on another level as well. The worst thing to me would be to give into the fear of the unknown and sit and wait for a sign that the world as we know is coming back without making any progress. I feel many of us who fell victim to this temporary pause got far more affected by the pandemic, mentally. I was lucky to be able to pull through and keep at it. At times, I forced myself to keep going. Making this EP gave me much-needed escape, catharsis, but also joy, a lot of fun, trying different things, ideas, rerecording, re-tracking, adding last-minute layers. I also wanted this record to reflect the stages of isolation. It is not a compilation of five songs, but rather, it is a storybook consisting of five chapters, one depending on another, emotionally, building up to the final chapter – the “Vast Spaces” song. The artwork for this album reflects it, as well. As I started writing and producing, still in demo mode, the vision for the whole release was slowly shaping in my mind – the cover artwork, the videos and also, the way I actually put the music out – Bandcamp first, streaming one single per month. I figured, “It is out of order, right? Let’s break all the rules, then. Let’s make it weird.”
Music Bugle – How else have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I Ya Toyah – Well… quarantine and lockdown hit me hard, at first. The lack of security and certainty made reality quite tough. I’ve had a very busy year planned for 2020 – West Coast and Canada shows as a direct opener for Stabbing Westward, a bunch of independent shows all over the United States, then, a longer and more intense tour in August … and suddenly, all of it was not happening, so I had to do a massive evaluation and adjust the mindset to the fact that 2020 is a different kind of animal. Luckily, I adapt pretty smoothly to changes. This skill set comes from the fact I’m an immigrant and my upbringing toughened me up in many ways, so I was able to shift my mind from surviving to creating and remaining positive. I focused on what I have control over and I can honestly say, I made the best of this disastrous year and then some. I created and released the ‘Out of Order’ E.P., am in the process of releasing the music video for each song that is a part of it, did some collaboration work with amazing talent within the musical scene, as well as film score production world allowing me to work on my first score for an independent film “The Artifact,” got into remixing and did some remix work, started the Fuck the Virus fashion face mask line and recently, I released my brand’s lipstick line, Death’s Kiss by I Ya Toyah, as a tribute to the title of the fourth track on my E.P. I’m still staying very busy, currently focusing on live shows preps for performance that will include new record’s material.
Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need a break?
I Ya Toyah – I love nature and outdoor summer sports and my escapes always include both. Whether it is lake, ocean, mountains, or forest, I love activity, so the best are the places that combine some sort of hiking or rock climbing opportunities and also water sports. I usually travel with the wolf pack of close friends and my dog Benek, so it is usually an intense day in nature and then party by night. I come back recharged. My love for nature is so obvious. I moved to the suburban forest recently. There is something very healing and calming in the surrounding wildlife. Now, I get to wake up every day, watching the trees and everything that hides within, all the animals making their way through another day. It’s very inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, I love the upbeat vibe of the city too, even though we haven’t had much of it lately due to Covid. I spend a lot of time in the hype urban areas, where life pulsates 24/7, but it’s just nice to come back to a place that sort of grounds me and reminds me to reflect on things and to take a breath.
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
I Ya Toyah – I am currently obsessed with vinyl. Something I got into when I got my record player – I can’t believe it took me this long to actually do it! Spinning now is Mr.Kitty, Ankaa, Igorrr, Drab Majesty, Boy Harsher and Mozart.
Music Bugle – What is something that you’ve been working to improve on?
I Ya Toyah – My whole life, I have been impatient and wired to run through the day right into the night and then keep running, with the mind constantly spinning and processing the flow of ideas coming in indigestible speed. It’s a great way to live life when you are 12, but as a grownup, suddenly running this whole machinery I Ya Toyah is, being an independent artist, solo act that could easily compare its daily operations to many nine-to-fives, except it is 9 am to 5 am with the four hours of break. It can be challenging to put a stop sign out and say, it’s a pause, but at times, you are forced to just stop and wait and I noticed I haven’t been too good at that. With everything that has been happening lately, with a big emphasis on pandemic, I realized this became a problem for me, a source of actual anxiety and mental wear. The deeper I went into analyzing this cycle, the more I understood it is something that only I can control and change, so I have been working on it since. I feel like I am making progress, but I am also on the continual hunt for techniques embracing the relaxation techniques, deeper self-assessment and an ability to accept the fact that some things I just can’t control at the time given. It is not an easy quest, but it helps with the inner growth that focuses solemnly on well-being, mental strength and the fact that we are what we give into this world. The stronger and more peaceful our mind is, the better the way we affect the world around us.
Music Bugle – What is something that you wish happened more in today’s music industry?
I Ya Toyah – Like many other industries, the music business operates on many stale rules and gatekeeping. A lot of it has to do with the generation gap and the fact that as young players enter the scene, the existing ones have trouble understanding the new ways, the values exhibited by newcomers. There is this invisible conflict bringing a regress factor to our industry in the forever changing world, even though we live in times where tastemakers and influencers can literally sway the way a product or persona is perceived, overnight on a global scale. Even so, it would be healing to see more open-mindedness, kindness and less ideology and power play come into our industry and the good thing is it is already happening, only in slow motion.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
I Ya Toyah – It is the old simple “Carpe Diem,” powered up by the high-voltage of passion I have for life, and “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed” credo by the father of cyberpunk, William Gibson. I treat every day as an opportunity to do something meaningful, something that helps me make the best of this moment, so that it becomes a strong echo forever engraved in my brain’s memory card and hopefully, also a small footprint left in the outer world that someone gets inspired by at some point in the future. I just want to live this life to the fullest – happily, bravely and with no regrets.