You're Only Great Always II is out now! We caught up with the musician to chat about the release and more.
Image: Black Dog Institute.
Last week, Y.O.G.A. unveiled his sophomore EP, You're Only Great Always II. The vulnerable and self-reflective release explores love, addiction and death, within an overarching conceptual thread of mental health.
The musical project of Reuben Styles, one half of ARIA Award winning electronic duo Peking Duk, the musician moves away from the dance floor sonics of the duos releases, instead leaning into psych-rock influences, with moments of spaghetti western. Serving an alternate creative outlet for the artist, Y.O.G.A. is just as much about building a community as it is about the music. The project encourages healthy conversations around mental health, with Styles sharing stories from the community on a dedicated Instagram platform.
Alongside the release, Styles has launched TEAM Y.O.G.A. for Mullets For Mental Health, an initiative heralded by the Black Dog Institute. Fans can join in by growing their own mullets, or donate to help raise funds for mental health research and to encourage community conversations around one’s own mental wellbeing.
You're Only Great Always II is out now! Read our interview with Reuben Styles below.
First off, congratulations on your great new EP! Conceptually, You're Only Great Always II is quite a vulnerable and intimate collection of songs, opening up about mental health and personal stories touching on love, addiction and death through a self-reflective lens. How important was it for you to use this project as a vehicle to share those stores and create an open space for discussion?
The project for me, I don't think I ever saw going down such a personal route. I never thought I could possibly be capable of releasing stories that are, you know, personally driven and from personal experiences. All things can dabble on personal experiences, but in songwriting, in my life, normally I've just always written a song based on a perspective of a character that I've just made up. I find it quite easy to go, 'oh, okay. I'm just going to imagine some guy who is a pilot and he now is joining a war or something'. Then it's like, 'okay, so he's just saying bye to his family'. Or a kid who's just like, 'you know what? Screw this, I'm running away from home.' Getting into those characters just makes it really fun and really easy. It makes songwriting enjoyable or the lyrics side of it, at least, you know, melodies is always fun I think. But writing lyrics has always been a bit of a challenge and that's just a way to make it easier. Getting down a personal route, I don't think I ever really saw that coming.
I've been writing songs about personal things here and there for a long time. Depending on what the situation is, it can be a really nice coping mechanism, as corny as it sounds. When one of my friends passed away recently, I straight away wrote a song. I've written songs about friends in the passed before and it's weird at my age to have multiple friends that have passed. I don't know what's going on in the damn Canberra water, it's fucked. I've never thought about releasing the music that I've written about someone close or even about myself. This is hilarious, I saw the Disney movie 'Coco', um, where they really explain the way people live on after death. It's not all about repenting for sins and stuff. It's about your friends and family, just putting photos of you everywhere and sharing stories about you every time. And it's so true because it's like, that's literally them right there in the conversation on the wall, in every situation. So it just really changed my perspective on putting personal things out there. It's like, well, if that's a another place for him to live, you know on Spotify and on YouTube or whatever.
It's like they're immortalised forever.
Yeah, exactly. It's just putting more picture frames on more walls. I really felt really happy after seeing that movie. It just gave me this huge like, 'woah. I really want to do this' moment.
That's such a lovely analogy, and that movie is so good and it makes you cry [laughs].
Lots of tears!
This EP kicks off with undertones of spaghetti western, which I’m absolutely loving, and moves more into psych-rock which obviously differs from your music as Peking Duk. How did you arrive at the sounds and sonics of Y.O.G,A and what influences and inspirations did you lean into whilst creating this new EP release?
Yeah, I guess this EP is based all the things I love in music, theatre, film and art that are not dance floor bangers. I bloody love dance floor bangers of course, it's who I am. This is just like all the other things in life that I love as well. I guess Quentin Tarantino is, since I was born I straight away fell in love with Pulp Fiction and Death Proof and then pretty much every movie. He's always had this like sound to his movies. There's always surf rock. There's always a little Western tinge to it. Especially when Django Unchained came out, then it went full Western. Pulp Fiction was all surf rock. They just create these moods. So Tarantino is an obvious one.
I guess Gorillaz were something I really loved growing up, and The Strokes. I always really loved a lot of that 90's grunge sound. Anything from like Radiohead to Marcy Playground, even Cake, not that that's like grunge, but just fun riffs done cool. That's kind of like all I listened to. I only discovered dance music when I was like 18. So all the rock music in my life is now finally coming through and I'm able to do that. I've got a platform now where I can just do things that are the polar opposite to what I've been doing with Peking Duk for the last, you know, 10 years. The greatest bit about it is it's making me enjoy making Duk songs 10 times more because. I get to go into this side of the yin and yang and delve in there until I'm like, 'oh, I need to do some dance music', and then I go back to the dance tunes for a bit. It's pretty much just made the studio fun. Every day at the studio I'm having fun after doing 10 years of the same sort of thing at the studio. So it started getting like, 'okay, what am I going to do?' [laughs].
It's so nice that you get to tap into these different parts of creativity and navigate the kind of like heaviest songs with Y.O.G.A, and then the more lighter stuff with Peking Duk. Y.O.G.A. is just as much about building a community as it is about the music, encourages healthy conversations around mental health, but also so many turn to music as a source of inspiration and support. Especially now with the country in lockdown and a rise in mental health numbers, so this EP is arriving at a great time. How do you think music provides solace and a sense of escapism, also creating a sense of support?
Now that you've said the word escapeism, another huge part of the inspirational things behind the EP is Studio Ghibli and pretty much Japanese anime film. There's just such a strong sense of escapism when you see films like that and the way they all follow these crazy chord structures. Joe Hisashi is one of the main composers for Studio Ghibli films. Him and Ennio Morricone, who is the main Western composer, they do have this way with chords, which is just unlike anyone where you just you'd never expect the next chord that is coming. When it comes, it's just like, 'oh, my giddy giddy, gosh.' So the escapism, I think a lot of that comes from just a big, big love and Ennio Morricone and Joe Hisashi, which I wouldn't have discovered them, had it not been for the films that they wrote for.
You're Only Great Always II is a very personal body of work. Quite a lot of it is self-reflective. The Boat I Left is about addiction and something which I remember really, really clearly, going through. I think expressing myself, so personally might just have the occasional positive effect, but I can't say that it will. I don't know. I can't say anything right now because I'm so anxious about for the first time actually putting out personal music, it's just freaking me out! If You're Only Great Always II leads you to discovering more about the project and if it makes you feel like you want to get engaged, and then you were to go to the Instagram account and see every two weeks I put up a new mental health story from someone who has reached out to me or I've reached out to them. That's something which You're Only Great Always did as it started. We started doing mental health stories every two weeks, and that will continue for the lifetime of the project. It's something which I feel is a really important part of the project.
So I think, if it does lead you to learning about other people's stories, maybe there's something in the lyrics which you might connect to or just the sounds of the music, like the Joe Hisashi inspired chord progressions There might be sounds chords which you might find solace in. I'm not sure.
You’re also taking part in Mullets For Mental Health. Yeah. Look at it, so good. One of the best mullets, I'm going to give you that!
I've cut it myself. I thought my partner would cut it for me, but then I just started to. I was like, 'now I'm going to make an instructional video', but it's pretty red hot [laughs]
I think it looks good! And the highlights on the end as well, rocking it.
Yeah. Because it was blonde once upon a time, and that was so long ago.
Yeah, I get that. My sister dyes her hair and she hasn't been to the salon in months so it's brown up to here and then just blonde [laughs].
It's a great look! Like only blonde right at the very end as well. It's good, everyone's learning how to do their own hairstyles.
So true! So how do you think initiatives like Mullets For Mental Health help make an impact and bring attention to the cause?
Mullets For Mental Health, the campaign itself is very loud, you know everyone getting mullets. You're not going to not notice that, and then if that opens up the door for you questioning, 'what's this about', then straight away you're going to learn a few really important facts about mental health, which is great! A lot of friends are doing Mullets For Mental Health. They don't realise it, but them doing that is they are now mental health advocates and it's such a great, great thing. It just means any one in Australia can become an advocate for mental health just by cutting a mullet and trying to fundraise money for Black Dog Institute. And that's the other thing, you get to raise money for one of the world-leading researchers in mental health. That's one of the main problems I think, we just don't know enough about mental health yet. So more research is obviously gonna lead to more understanding, which can then eventually lead to presenting more things that facts. For example, the government say we need way more funding and I think after the pandemic, it's pretty obvious that Australia is suffering hugely.
For sure, which is why this initiative is taking place at such a great time! Shifting to the visual side of the EP, taken on the role of creative director on this release, particularly self-directing the music video for See It In Your Eyes. What was that process of taking full control of the visual due to lockdown? Honestly, I think if I was filming myself skating it would end up being a compilation of me tripping and falling off the skateboard [laughs].
Oh my God. We had a whole clip booked for the snowy mountains and it was going to be great. Sadly it didn't get to happen because of the lockdown and all these things happening. So instead of doing that, I just invested in whatever the latest iPhone is, and then go to a gimbal and chucked on my roller blades and just found an empty street, the street with Yulli’s Brews on it, and started rolling down the street. Oh my God. I'll tell you what, after I think my third take, I was like, 'I can't do this anymore. This is like, this is too much.' I feel like I've set up a camera with a tripod and I'm on my own in the middle of a busy street doing a TikTok dance. I just can't do that. You know, bless people who can, but I cannot. After filming, I was just like, 'okay, I definitely messed up a bunch of words, but not enough for me to go and do another take'. So I put down the phone, took off my roller blades and just walked up to Yulli’s Brews and grabbed an eight pack of beers and drank them on the street [laughs].
Amazing! [laughs] Now, obviously we know you as one half of Peking Duk, but you’ve introduced us to a whole new side of your songwriting and musicianship with YOGA. Why was last year the perfect time to undertake a solo project? Was it kind of by the pandemic and being at home and having all this free time on your hands? Or was it something you were always leading towards?
Well, I'd always been writing lots and lots of songs and Peking Duks output is on a good year three songs. So when you're writing, you know, 100 to 150 songs a year, it starts really eating away your confidence in the studio when you're rocking up knowing, 'Hey, like there's not much point being here. You've got the next 10 songs ready, you can do whatever you want'. You may as well be playing GTA or something on the PlayStation, because it's about as useful, but GTA might be more fun because you don't have this lack of confidence. So I guess, yeah there's always been that in the back of my mind, that I want another creative output musically. In 2018 we started writing kids books and doing all sorts of non-musical things. Opened up a bar in Melbourne and you know, I started thinking like, 'cool, I had fun with music', and stopped thinking that that's what I wanted to do in life.
And then it was really great, Adam sent me this email roughly three months after we opened the bar saying like, 'Hey, I've decided that I want to do a side project'. And I was like, no way, oh my God I've been like freaking myself out about the idea of bringing this up for like three years. I'm glad he said something, cause I don't know if I could have! I was so nervous about the thought of it. And I was like, 'ah, is that just like some weird thing? Like, would that be me betraying us or something?' But, oh my God, I can't believe how long it took for one of us to say something because I was like, 'oh my God, I've been waiting like years for a moment like this' and he was like, 'dude, same I was so scared to send the email'.
So yeah, it's so crazy now we have so much fun writing Duk songs together. Now, we're like actively engaged in getting on zoom sessions and doing shit, which is a little bit more effort than it's worth sometimes, but we're so keen and so pumped for it now. It's just made making music so extremely fun again, going and doing spaghetti Western songs or ambient country, or just a nineties grunge rock song, like 'See It In Your Eyes', and following that with a day of making dance floor bangers. It really is like the yin and yang that I've always dreamed of. I'm so stoked and so, so happy that Adam hit me up that day and sent that email.
To finish up, what's your favourite lyric off the EP?
This is hard because I've got to think quick, Straight off the rip, I'm going to say this just because we were the most recently talking about the song, The Boat I Left. The lyric "I tried to wander in the boat I left, I'm now in a storm and I'm riding high with the wind". It's a hilarious lyric, it's a song about addiction and it's only because we were just talking about it. Oh, actually in See It In Your Eyes as well, there's a hilarious one. The chorus of The Boat I Left is, "and I'm only moving in again. I'm all aware of the sound when it begins. I tried to wander in the boat I left. Now in a storm, I ride high with the wind" and I think it's hilarious. It's like, I just tried to dabble and then ended up in a storm, just blitzed. It's just such a real scenario, which, you know, you can't wander. If it's addiction, you fully need cold turkey. And then See It In Your Eyes - this is why I'm answering both. This one, no one has really caught on to yet, but at the end of the song, I go "see my own pain, watch me tip out some of my heart and I look out. Where are you now Rihanna? I need your umbrella. I am the fool, I understand. I hope you can allow. I just want to hang out". snaky little Rihanna drop that no one has really caught onto yet and I'm glad.
You're Only Great Always II is out now!