Everyone has trauma and everyone has lost someone, which is why I actually think it’s really important to release the song because it’s real
The music of AYA YVES is an expressive coming together of airy vocals, and brooding soundscapes. I was so interested in the person behind music that was so evocative and powerful, and deeply enjoyed the conversation I was able to have with Vendulka. We spoke about reincarnation, geometric crafts, and the awkwardness around singing about one night stands when you know your mum is listening. I’m so grateful to AYA YVES for being so open and vulnerable with me as we spoke about her music and her experiences, and if this conversation brings up any difficult emotions for you, please consider finding support
Support Act: 1300 731 303
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Life must be pretty different in the ACT compared to Melbourne at the moment
It’s kind of normal in a lot of ways? I’ve been able to do a few shows which has been great. There’s obviously reduced capacity in the venues, and everyone has to be seated during shows which is a little sad
No dancing is hard!
It’s hard watching people sit still during these high energy shows, it’s hard to boogie in your seat!
Aya Yves isn’t your first project, and you’ve made a bit of a transition from folk-pop, to darker electronic music. How did that come about?
I’d wanted to experiment with more of a pop sound for a long time, because I had been doing folk music for most of my life, it was too familiar, too comfortable. I didn’t feel like I was pushing myself to be the best artist I could be. I grew up in the folk scene, I would only listen to acoustic music, and my parents had the idea that music made with a computer wasn’t ‘real’ music.
I started listening to London Grammar when I was a teenager, and that was a bit of a bridge for me in terms of being exposed to more alternative indie-electronic music. It had all these acoustic elements which were familiar, whilst having a new electronic sound that I found different and exciting. Florence and the Machine was another really influential band for me in that way too- the Lungs and Ceremonials albums were huge peaks of my teen years.
I think they were two innovative bands that really broke into the mainstream and connected with a lot of young people at that time
Listening to their music was a real turning point for me! It was all around 2012 that I started discovering this kind of music, and I knew I wanted to make something like that one day.
My first boyfriend’s brother had this synth I would play around with, and I remember thinking it was so cool and loving the sounds. I kinda wish I experimented with it more back then, but I guess my musical journey has gone the way it was meant to. I think I had a nervousness about it because I was still very much staying in my safe space of playing folk music. I was very comfortable being the girl with the guitar.
What do you think was intimidating about this new style?
It sounds silly – but I think a lot of it was just being worried that my parents wouldn’t like it! (which they didn’t haha). When you’re a kid you really care what your parents think about what you do, but it felt like the right time to start doing something new, and I stopped caring so much about what they thought.
I had been performing under Vendulka for my whole life, and I had grown up on stages with audiences that had known me since I was a little kid. I felt a little uncomfortable for people to hear me sing and talk about more mature experiences. It kinda felt like singing to a crowd of parents, which they all kind of are in a way!
You don’t want that to be the thing that’s holding you back from saying what you want to say
I love these people, I love them so much, but I had to let go of what people think and expect of me. I think it’s hard for people who’ve known you your whole life to let go too; let me become an adult in their eyes.
I wanted to feel free to sing about anything, write about anything- including sex and my sexuality, and not feel awkward about it! So there were a lot of reasons as to why I wanted to change my name; why I wanted to separate church and state so to speak.
How did you land on AYA YVES?
I had a dream maybe three years ago- I was at my friend’s house and I woke up in the middle of the night from a super vivid dream, I can actually still remember it which is pretty out of the ordinary for me because I usually forget all my dreams.
I was in the wings of this stage, and I was peeking out to the crowd and there were thousands of people –maybe 20,000 or so I’m not super sure- and they were all chanting AYA! AYA! AYA! I ran out onto stage and started singing, and then I woke up but I knew it was me, even though obviously my name isn’t Aya. I wrote it in my notes in my phone because I knew it was something I needed to pay attention to.
I looked up the meaning of ‘Aya’, and it means ‘to fly swiftly’. When I read that, I had goosebumps. It didn’t feel like a coincidence. I kept that information stashed away on my phone for ages, but I wrote the first track ‘in(Sanity)’ in April last year, and it was one of those songs that just really fell out quite quickly. As soon as it was written, I knew it felt different. It just didn’t fit into this folk pop ‘Vendulka’ realm. I just knew that that’s what Aya was for. It’s weird to think about myself as two different people in that way!
Yves came along closer to release because I wanted something super unique and there were a couple other ‘Aya’ profiles on spotify- although they were inactive. I was playing around with a few different options and landed on Yves (pronouned eves) because my sister’s name is Eva- and I wanted to always have a little reminder of her, no matter where I go.
Music is so much of a personal journey, you can genuinely compartmentalise your life like that! You have this established project, or a strong sound ‘identity’, and it’s hard when you don’t identify with that anymore. It’s great that you found something new that you really connected with. Let’s talk a little bit about ‘(in)Sanity’, tell me a bit about this track
So I had just started seeing someone, we were maybe three weeks in, and I knew going into it that they said that they weren’t ready for a relationship and they didn’t want anything serious- all that classic stuff. I really liked this person, and I saw it potentially going somewhere, so I thought fuck it! let’s do it anyway! I really should have seen the giant red flags because I knew that they didn’t want commitment, but I went against my instincts.
We had been on and off again for about three months, and I knew it was going to end really badly. I remember when we had our ‘break-up’ conversation, I was sitting there and staring at the wall while he was talking at me – we’d already ‘broken up’ before, and it was the same conversation that we’d already had. I zoned out and was in my own head, and I started laughing! He insisted on knowing what I was thinking, and I blurted out, ‘maybe we met just for me to write a good song’. Was kinda brutal looking back but I think I was just trying to see the ‘bright side’.
It was a pretty messy relationship, but I we’re on good terms now which is a bonus. Glad we both grew.
It’s funny with those sorts of situations because when you’re in the middle of those feelings, the risk seems so worth it because part of you doesn’t believe that there might be a consequence. But at least as songwriters we can monetise that!
True! I mean, part of me is kind of worried to have a happy relationship! I’m not going to lie, I don’t know what I would write about (laughs). I don’t only write about relationships, but it’s an experience that you can draw a lot of emotion out of, and one that’s pretty universal.
Just start drama in your life so you always have plenty of stuff to write about
The music video for ‘in(Sanity)’ has a huge focus on you as a voice and a character. What did it feel like to take up that kind of visual space?
It was kind of weird to have so many people work on something where I was the focus. I used to work as a makeup artist so I was more familiar with working on the other side of the screen. There were all these people whose job was to make me look good, and that was a really strange feeling.
In terms of taking up a lot of visual space, it kind of felt right for that song. It was the song that launched AYA YVES out into the public, so it felt like I was introducing myself! I wanted a super witchy vibe- like I wanted people to be attracted, but also intimidated at the same time.
It was fun to try and represent that through the makeup, styling and lighting. I love playing with visuals and makeup as a tool of expression. Moving forward, I think I want to make visuals with a bit more narrative and meaning behind them- I like art with depth, so that’s what I want to make. I want people to find something new every time they watch, every time they listen.
The video is great, and I think it’s got a great contrast with the ‘large-ness’ of the song. The track has a lot of big production elements, but the video primarily features you. With something like ‘Smart Girls’ the production is a lot more minimal, but the visuals of the video are a lot grander and more involved
I’m really proud of that anti-drop in the chorus of ‘Smart Girls’! It sets you up for this big chorus, and then it’s all close and whispery. One of the biggest things was that we didn’t have much time to plan the video for ‘in(Sanity)’. For ‘Smart Girls’ I really planned a lot of that myself, and I was planning props and designing it for months before getting a team together. Everyone who worked on the video worked ridiculously hard on it. I still really love the video for ‘in(Sanity)’, but I definitely learnt a lot from that experience, especially around believing in my ideas and standing up for what I wanted. For the first video, I was very nervous because I’d never done a music video before, and I lacked a lot of confidence, whereas with ‘Smart Girls’, I was really determined to get my ideas across!
The music video for ‘in(Sanity)’ was fun, but it’s also a little generic, and I know I’ve seen 100 videos like that before. As long as you look good, and there’s good lighting, you can’t really go wrong. For ‘Smart Girls’ I really wanted to elevate every aspect of the video, and create a lot of depth and interweave layers of meaning in the whole process.
I really love Jaguar Jonze and her use of colour, so I wanted to include a strong colour theme in the video- which led to the teal room being one of the building blocks . I had this solid teal visual colour scheme, and I pulled that through the whole video. In the dining scene there’s teal fruit and teal wine, even in the club scene everyone has teal drinks- kind of a bummer that you can’t really see it! The books stacking up in stop motion was one of the first ideas I had for the video, to represent feeling caged in by traditional ideas of intelligence. The geometric masks came from the idea of having a really uncomfortable dinner scene- I tried to think of how I could make it weird and arty. I referenced the Phantom of The Opera film and Kanye’s ‘Runaway’.
The masks take 5 hours each to make, and there’s 20 of them which is just insane. I will never stop being proud of that music video, and I really feel like all the hard work paid off because I just think it looks incredible.
It’s such a huge production! Everything is done at a really high standard and you can tell it was a lot of fun to make. I really like the lyric
There’s a dissonance in the vividness
There’s infinity in the midst of this
What are you communicating with this song?
I wrote this song with Bri Clark and Jordi White who are incredible writers- I co-wrote four of the songs on my upcoming EP with them. I went into the session with the intention of following the message from ‘in(Sanity)’ with this message of wanting to wish my ex well. I mentioned that to Bri and she was like ‘fuck that! he sucks! Let’s not write a song about wishing him well!’. So it kinda ended up way more sassy than originally anticipated.
Initially we had a different chorus for this song, and I was sick the day we were recording and I was really struggling to get through it, and it just wasn’t sitting right. We decided to completely rewrite the chorus, and the lyric,
you wouldn’t know a good thing
if it hit you in the face babe
Was originally just a joke! But Bri jumped on the piano and started playing the melody, and the lyrics were just falling into place over it. It really just worked together so well and it felt right. I love writing songs with those two, and every session is always a lot of fun.
It’s so beautiful when you can find people that you work well with, and who have your best interests at heart and can understand your vision
I felt like I lucked out because they really set the standard for what a great session feels like. Another great session I’ve had was with LANKS; Will is a really great person to be around and is very easy to be open and vulnerable with. We wrote a super heavy track together but it’s one of my favourites.
So that’s the song ‘Dear. E’ which you wrote with him. You’ve mentioned on Instagram that you’re a little nervous for people to hear it
You know, it’s not so much I’m nervous for people to hear it because I do think it’s a good song; I’m not worried about people’s opinions of it. If everyone said they didn’t like the song – which I don’t think will happen – it wouldn’t matter because it’s my favorite song that I’ve written.
I’m more nervous because of the subject matter. I wrote it about my sister who currently has terminal breast cancer. I’m nervous because it’s not like this is over- it’s still happening right now. I’m not writing a song about someone who died a few years ago; she’s sick right now and she’s still alive.
Releasing this song affects my whole family because they’ll hear it and I know it’ll make them sad. It’s not something I’ve talked about much to anyone besides my close friends, and the song doesn’t explicitly talk about the cancer, but I think you can feel the grief and the hope at the same time in the music. It’s a sad and hopeful song.
I’m nervous about everyone knowing my sister is sick, and I’m nervous about the imminent sympathy that comes with that. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, it’s just life. Everyone has trauma and everyone has lost someone, which is why I actually think it’s really important to release the song because it’s real. Everyone has someone that they miss, and everyone has someone that they didn’t get enough time with, even if it’s not someone who died, you know? Like, maybe it’s just been a long time between drinks, or maybe it’s someone who you used to be friends with, or someone who lives on the other side of the world. That’s what it’s kind of about.
The song came about because I was driving to my session with Will, and I was really nervous about it because I’m a really big fan of his music. I was driving up and my mom called me to say that the results came back, and the cancer had spread to her bones and there was nothing that could be done. I pulled over and just had a huge cry, pepped myself up and continued driving. My session was the next morning and I walked in the session with the intention of leaving everything I was feeling at the door. I couldn’t bring that into the room, it was too heavy!
Will laid down this vocal drone which was kind of an emotional place to start, and he asked me to do some mouth percussion into the mic, I felt so awkward, my mind went to boots and cats and– I just didn’t know what I was doing! I felt so awkward and I laughed into the mic, the laugh ended up accidentally being in time and in pitch- so Will asked if he could keep it in there.
By this point the track has this super emotional, melancholy feeling to it. He asked me what I wanted to write about, and I told him the laugh I recorded sounded really similar to my sister’s laugh, and I ended up opening up about everything that was going on.
I’ve been on this long journey with my sister, and she’s been struggling with mental health her whole life. The past three years were really hard for us, and she had some pretty serious struggles with addiction, and we’d made a lot of progress and gotten her to a stable place.
That’s when I was finally able to convince her to go to the doctor to check out this lump on her boob because it was something she would never see a specialist about because she just didn’t care about herself at all. She didn’t have enough self-worth to think she was worth looking after. It was a long journey to get her to that point of feeling like she was worth looking after, and that her health was something she should care about, and by the time we found out she had cancer, it was too late to do anything. It felt like all this work that we had done for three years was for nothing. Anyone who supported someone through an addiction knows you take one step forward and five steps backwards. It’s so, so difficult. A very difficult journey to be on. One of the main things that got us through that period was giving her hope that there are reasons to live; that there are good things in the world and there are good people. It felt like I’d been lying to her because she has terminal cancer, and there’s nothing I can do. Why was I telling her there was a reason to live?
Everyone diagnosed with a terminal illness will take it a different way, some people have their last year on this earth completing a huge bucket list and making the most of the time they have left, but when you’ve seen some shit and you’ve gone down a really dark road, it’s almost like you got this tiny, tiny spark of hope back, and then someone comes and just blows it out.
I told all of this to Will, and we didn’t really know where to start, but he kept building the track while I was writing. He told me to write a letter so that’s what I did. I just sat down for a couple hours bawling my eyes out, writing this letter about all the things that I wish I could change and things I’d do differently next time and kind of apologising that I didn’t do more. I couldn’t do more.
Thank you for sharing this with me. This is why music speaks to us because words can really fail sometimes. It’s so hard to think that anything that you can say with your words can be enough to express how you feel and everything you want to say.
How do you fit a lifetime of love, a lifetime of grief into a song? How do you encompass all of that?
Sometimes you can’t and that’s what really hurts. I think that it’s beautiful that you want to commemorate this moment, and it must be so rough when you’re genuinely in the midst of the experience. What we feel is what makes us human, and in 10 years time you’ll have this song that captures the rawness of this moment. I think your future self will be so appreciative of this snapshot
Yeah, that’s a nice way of thinking about it. There’s this line in the song, – next time around – because that was something I wrote in the letter and Will said he really liked it. I like the idea of reincarnation, I don’t know if it’s real, but I like the idea that we will find each other again because we have unfinished business. That’s really beautiful to me. The chorus is,
next time around, we’ll sit in the garden,
laughter around us, hands in the dirt
next time around, I’ll share what you’re holding,
Keep our lines open, share in your hurt
I think it paints a picture of peacefulness and sunshine, it just feels warm. It’s a really sad song for me. It’s really painful, but at the same time maybe a butterfly is going to land on me sometime far in the future and I’ll know it’s her. I don’t care if it’s cheesy. I like the thought that you’re not actually going to be apart. That’s comforting through the grief.
Music can play a part in that as well. There could be someone who knows exactly how you’re feeling who’s gonna listen to this song and know they aren’t alone. Music is so communal in that way.
You were saying before that you were really influenced by musicians like London Grammar, and Florence and the Machine, what do you think it was about those sorts of musicians that really spoke to you?
I think I was so inspired by Florence and the Machine because she’s so vocally driven. I aspired to be a powerful vocalist, and create music that was really emotional and vocal driven. London Grammar were huge influences too, as were Bon Iver. They all just have these incredible ambient soundscapes, and the music just sets the mood straight away. The storytelling is so integral to the music, and even if the lyrics are super metaphorical they still get a visceral reaction out of the listener.
All these musicians that you mentioned really fill the room with their presence in a way that is kind of intimidating, but also very friendly. Kind of like an Aslan vibe- big and epic, but gentle and kind and friendly
Yeah, 100 percent. I think it was easy for me to love Bon Iver because ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, and the self-titled album are quiet, acoustic based albums, and it really tapped into that folky realm that I loved. When ‘22, A Million’ came out it blew my world, I just thought, oh my god I love this- I want to make THIS kind of music! Having that feeling when you listen to something is huge! I don’t think we get that feeling as musicians very often. I really love a lot of artists, and I pull inspiration from them, but it wasn’t until that album came out that I realised what direction I could go in with my music. It kind of shattered everything that was instilled in me, everything that I thought I knew about music.
Our upbringing has such a huge impact on the kind of music that we make or what we’re inspired by, but I think it’s those musicians that you find yourselves that help you shape a pure understanding what music means to you individually – beyond your parents or siblings interests- those are the musicians that stay with us
Yes exactly! And I feel like I’m only waking up now to the fact that I really enjoy music and fashion and makeup that’s a little arty and strange. I love those things so much now and I’ve been incorporating that into my style like with my bright red lashes and bleached eyebrows and kind of ‘high fashion’ styling. I have such an appreciation for art in a way that I wasn’t really encouraged to have when I was growing up. It was a big realization for me when I learned that fashion isn’t necessarily just made for the everyday person to wear, it can be a real way to express yourself.
That feels really clear with your project and the effort behind making the music more than just sound, is so beautiful. To figure out what does the music look like as a fashion piece? What does the music look like as a music video? What does the music look like as a makeup style? I think that that is so creative because you can tie so many different feelings into the whole experience rather than just relying on the music
One hundred percent. I loved being the girl with the guitar, and there’s something beautiful in how stripped back that is, but I really wanted to express more with my artistry. There are so many more possibilities when you choose to express yourself beyond the music, and it can be more representational of what you’re trying to communicate. I also think that when your visual ‘branding’ is yourself, you have to be that person all the time. I was Vendulka on the stage, and I was Vendulka off the stage too. As AYA YVES, I can be expressive and weird and strange, but I don’t have to be that all the time. I want people to connect with what I do, but I also want to be able to get off stage and leave her there. It makes me feel like I’m not trying to sell myself as a person, because it’s a much more inflated and artistic representation of me, and when people don’t like it I don’t have to feel so personal about it. It feels less like they don’t like me.
It takes a lot of confidence to make your project a visual and creative experience beyond the music, but it’s interesting how you can kind of detach that from yourself, and be aware of how its performative and designed to enhance the project as a whole.
Do you have any pieces of advice for other emerging artists?
I feel like it’s such a hard question because the journey is so different for everybody. Work with people who don’t make you feel like shit. It sounds so obvious, but sometimes you worry about getting into rooms with the biggest writer or the biggest producer, but if they make you feel small then you’re probably not going to have the best time, and you’re probably not going to like the song. Work with people who you gel with and who believe in you and don’t make you feel small. You have to try and work with a lot of different people to find the people you want to keep working with, but it’s worth it because you’ll thrive when you’re around the right people. It’s also important to work really hard on believing in yourself, which I know sounds super cheesy!
It’s quite freeing knowing that I have to be my biggest supporter, because no one else is going to support you as much as you support you. If you don’t support yourself, you’re screwed. When there are a thousand people trying to be heard (and we really know it’s a lot more than a thousand) you have to really believe that you are worthy of asking people to give you their time. You have something to say!
What do you want people to walk away with when they listen to your music?
I really want my music to express meaning to people. I don’t want to write for the sake of writing, I want to say something to the people who listen. I think vulnerability is such a key part of what I try to communicate. I think some people look at being vulnerable as being weak, and when you hear the word vulnerable, you might think of someone who can’t defend themselves. I just think there is real strength in vulnerability. There is so much mental and emotional strength in that, and I think it’s just so beautiful when someone can show themselves and trust that others will catch them when you jump out into the unknown.
You can find AYA YVES on the socials below