Aya Yves' debut EP What We Look Like With the Light On, is out now! We chat to the musician about the release and more.
Image: Jenny Wu
Canberra-based singer/songwriter Aya Yves has unveiled her debut EP, What We Look Like With the Light On. Produced by Xavier Dunn, the EP is centred around its lead single, Brave. The pop-ballad asks us to face difficult moments with courage and begin moving through life unafraid.
Across six tracks, the musician explores the human experience, with a particular focus on relationships and human flaws. Her powerful vocal abilities and songwriting talents shine on the release, which came to be after the musician was rewarded with a grant from Arts ACT to work on the EP with the team she has previously collaborated with.
Recently, Yves was announced as a finalist for the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition Top 40. Speaking to MILKY, the singer spoke of the honour: "Vanda & Young has been a goal of mine for 10 years, so to be in the top 40 this year feels like one of my biggest achievements. It also feels like a nod that I’m heading in the right direction - which is huge"
Aya Yves is the musical project of Cooma born musician Vendulka. Born from a love of pushing boundaries and breaking expectations, Aya contrasts light airy vocals with dark, brooding and quirky production. The project has been taken far from Vendulka’s folk music roots, however, still manages to keep the vulnerability and unifying connection that folk music is known for.
What We Look Like With the Light On is out now! Read our interview with Aya Yves below.
Tell us a bit about how you began your musical journey…
I feel like this is a hard question to answer! How long is a piece of string? Anyone who knew me as a kid knows that I was always adamant that I was going to be a singer- even when I was tone deaf. I sang all day every day, much to the dismay of my music-teacher-with-perfect-pitch mother. I started playing cello at age 4, and roped my brother into performing with me at Folk Festivals from age 6. Any stage that’d have me- I jumped onto. Theatre, musicals, open mics- you name it, I put my hand up for it. There are also CDs out there of my brother and I singing Czech folk songs. We didn’t mess around haha! I decided I had to start writing songs at age 13- because in my head, serious performers were also songwriters. My entire musical journey has been shaped around making the live show as good as it can be - so you can expect I can’t wait to get this EP on the road!
Congratulations on the release of What We Look Like With the Light On!
The record conceptually touches on the human experience, with a particular focus on relationships and human flaws. What prompted you to explore these themes?
Thank you so much! I can’t believe it’s finally out. I honestly think it’s because I’m a really emotional person and need an outlet for it first and foremost- but also I’ve come to this place of acceptance that love (in whatever form) is seeing people for who they are, and allowing them the same space of forgiveness that you would want for yourself. To me part of forgiveness is talking about what happened, how you were hurt. Releasing those emotions so you can move past them. I didn’t go into the writing process with a plan, but after the songs were written I could see the common theme and thought What We Look Like With The Light On was a really great way of encapsulating all the themes.
What was the hardest part about creating a body of work that is so personal and documents your own experiences?
Firstly - finding collaborators who facilitate a space to be vulnerable and go there with you. Songwriting sessions can be a therapy session - so your co-writers have to be people you can be open and honest with. I’m super lucky that everyone I wrote with were open and supportive of the vulnerability. I remember the day before our first session where we wrote Body That I Break, Bri (Clark) and I went for breakfast and just talked about life. We’d both just gone through breakups- so we bonded over that. When it came to the session- we already knew what we could write about. Jordi (White) was so supportive and genuine too. I was lucky enough to write Dear E. with LANKS- and that was a super heavy write- but he was so kind and supportive throughout the process.
How did you arrive at the dark-pop soundscape present on the EP?
I was rinsing BANKS’ album III at that point in time- I thought it was so powerful how she expressed her anger- and anger is an emotion I struggle to express. I love things that sound beautiful, but have a dark and moody undertone. London Grammar, Bon Iver, Florence & The Machine and BANKS have all been artists I look up to and love- I knew I wanted to make music like that. Xavier (Dunn) was so integral in helping shape the ‘Aya Yves sound’- I really feel like he helped me find my voice.
You’ve released some great visuals throughout the EP’s rollout! How important are the visuals to you when it comes to conveying the story and meaning present on the track?
I think they’re just as important as the audio. Obviously the music comes first- it helps shape the world you’re inviting the listener into- but the visuals are so integral to taking your audience into the headspace you were in, the story you’re trying to tell. Plus - I have SO MUCH FUN making them. I love visuals- I’ve really gotten into making them throughout this artistic journey- I’ve even started helping other artists create their own. Visuals are such a huge part in telling your story as an artist and showing the world who you are.
You worked with some talented musicians on the release, including Xavier Dunn. What were these collaborative experiences like and what do you think each artist brought to the project?
Xav is such a beautiful person to work with. In an industry that operates on ego- it’s really refreshing to find a producer to work with who’s open to any idea, supportive of trying things (even if they don’t work) just so you can see what you want/don’t want. It was really great to see my own artistic development along the way- our first session, I was so nervous and didn’t weigh in too much. By the time we were finishing the EP, Xav had helped me build my faith in my ideas and I had a stronger idea of what I did and didn’t like. He really stretched me as an artist, vocalist and musician. This EP couldn’t have been what it was without everyone who contributed. My co-writers all brought incredible ideas to the table and stretched the songs out of my comfort zone to a place I wouldn’t have gotten to on my own. Each artist brought their own musical expertise and creativity to the table- which elevated the songs to a world class body of work. I’m endlessly grateful to everyone who contributed.
If you had to pick one song off the EP to play to someone who had never heard your music to make them an instant fan, which song would they be and why?
Brave. I think it’s the one that everyone can connect to and find the meaning they need. It’s emotional, hopeful and has the feeling of ‘something bigger’. Brave feels like coming home.
What messages do you hope listeners take away from What We Look Like With the Light On?
That it’s okay to be vulnerable. In fact, it's strong to be vulnerable. It’s easier to hide how you’re feeling, but it takes courage to express how you’re feeling. I hope they find connection with the lyrics and know that there are lot of other people who go through the same things they do.
If What We Look Like With the Light On was a piece of visual art, which artwork would it be and why?
Oooh tough question. I mean I feel like the cover shot encapsulates it quite well, but if I had to pick something that has nothing to do with the EP- I’d say anything by MeOhMy Girl (Charli Burrowes).
Did you encounter any challenges whilst creating music during the COVID-19 pandemic, or did it allow you the time and space to immerse yourself within this musical project?
I think the toughest part has been that I haven’t really been able to get the show on the road- I’m so ready to tour with the band. I found it hard to be creative throughout the pandemic as my mental health was in a pretty awful place from losing my income (gigs).
I’ve started picking up again creatively but it was pretty tough for a hot minute.
Australia has a diverse and vibrant music scene, who are some of your favourite Aussie acts?
Ooh. Bri Clark for sure, y’all aren't ready for her album. Gordi is phenomenal, ‘Our Two Skins’ is so stunning. Genesis Owusu is killing it. My fellow Canberran Lucy Sugerman is one to keep your eyes on too!
You’ve been announced as a finalist for the Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition Top 40. What does it mean to you for your abilities as a songwriter to be recognised in such a great way?
Vanda & Young has been a goal of mine for 10 years, so to be in the top 40 this year feels like one of my biggest achievements. It also feels like a nod that I’m heading in the right direction - which is huge. It’s taken me awhile to believe in my own songwriting ability - I always felt like my songs have only been good because of my co-writers, but I’m coming to accept that I also know a thing or two, which is a really cool feeling.
You’ve just been announced as part of the line up for Fresh Produce! What can audiences expect from your set and do you have further any touring plans for 2021?
Ahhh I’m so excited!! I don’t want to give too much away but we’re planning a big show. I just want to keep building our set and making into a show we can tour internationally. Touring plans- it’s a little hard to make them at the moment, but I have big hopes for a national tour in 2021.
BANKS, Bon Iver, London Grammar, Florence & The Machine
Album that has had the most impact on you?
22, a million - Bon Iver. Changed my life.
How do you define your musical style in 3 words?
Emotional, ethereal, bold.
A musical release you’re most looking forward to in 2021?
Bri Clark’s debut album!
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
The secret life of Walter Mitty
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
Miley, for sure.
Album you would listen to on repeat on a road trip?
Heard it In A Past Life, Maggie Rogers
Best concert you have been to?
Last concert you went to?
Reverend Bones and the Exvangelicals
If you were a Spice Girl, what would your spice nickname be?
Guilty music pleasure?
Not sure I have guilt about any of them hahah
If you could support any artist on tour, who would it be?
Oh man so many. Can I pick three? BANKS, Bon Iver, Maggie Rogers. Also Lady Gaga. TOO MANY. Billie Eilish. All of them are dreams of mine.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry. Recently - Billie and Finneas.
What advice would your current self, give your future self, for a year from now?
Don’t take yourself too seriously, remember to stop and celebrate the wins. Celebrating is important.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
As soon as I could think.