I Ya Toyah speaks with ReGen about the importance of togetherness and connection as both artists and audiences maintain in the hopefully waning days of the pandemic.
An InterView with Ania Tarnowska of I Ya Toyah
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Under the banner of her one woman army of I Ya Toyah, Ania Tarnowska has been building up a considerable reputation in the electro/industrial music scene. Since the 2018 release of her Code Blue debut, she has garnered the adulation of not only the audience, but also of her peers; she toured as a direct support act for Pigface, she’s collaborated with some of the biggest names in underground music as part of The Joy Thieves, and she’s one of the rising female voices showcased by Julian Beeston’s new Featured project. All the while, she has dedicated her music and her performance to establishing true connections with her audience and providing a voice of support for those in mental and emotional turmoil; as Code Blue lyrically dealt directly with mental health and suicide prevention, she also launched a charity art auction in 2020 in association with The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, focusing on those affected by the global pandemic. Now, her new Out of Order EP continue these themes, tackling the issues of isolation and the resulting lack of togetherness due to COVID-19. Taking the time to speak with ReGen Magazine, I Ya Toyah now expresses fully just how important she feels these issues are, encouraging her fans to reach out and hold each other up high through these difficult times, for there are good times yet to be had.
Besides releasing the Code Blue remix album in 2020, along with a few music videos, you also participated in an art auction to raise funds for suicide prevention with a focus on those affected by COVID-19; you’ve explained the importance of suicide prevention having dealt with it in your family and those themes resounded on your first album. As we are hopefully nearing the end of the pandemic, the first thing to ask… how are you doing?
Aside from continuing to be active making music, how have you dealt with the crisis?
I Ya Toyah: It has been a tough ride, and thank you for asking. The pandemic brought all sorts of distortions, from the cancellation of great touring plans I had lined up, to the sudden worry about income – I am a vocal coach and vocal performance teacher in addition to being an artist and I’d lost all my jobs right at the beginning of lockdown, and it was pretty terrifying to suddenly have this lack of security and control over life as it would normally be. I was worried about people in my circle, worried about their health, including mental. Seeing the statistics and suicide numbers growing, it just added to those fears. And then came an idea of organizing the Art Auction for Mental Health. I reached out to a bunch of creatives and asked if they would paint a visual piece for one of my Code Blue album songs’ lyrics, and this outreach brought great results. So many people volunteered to take part. I painted a couple of pieces myself, but the way the community of artists reacted to this project was just healing on its own. All the pieces got sold – there was one that didn’t sell during the auction, but then the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reached out to me later in the year saying there is someone interested in the purchase to donate the money to AFSP, so I immediately shipped the piece and… yeah. I guess this is how I dealt with the pandemic and all the emotions caused by this. It’s proven that getting something done for a greater good can be a very healing experience. Basically, every person who created art for this auction reached out to me at some point and said, ‘Hey, thank you for having me as a part of it! It helped bring my inspirations back, I was so stuck in this pandemic, getting depressed, and now I am feeling great!’ It was exactly the same for me. You can check it out here.
The new Out of Order single and EP seem to continue the themes of Code Blue, focusing more on the need for connection against the isolation of the pandemic; to what extent do you feel the situation affected your outlook – how much do you feel the topics you approach on the new EP are just a natural progression of the previous album, and how much do you feel it might have been different if not for the pandemic?
I Ya Toyah: If not for the pandemic, Out of Order wouldn’t have happened. This EP is purely a reflection of the lockdown, isolation, both from my own perspective and from what I observed the pandemic did to others. If the pandemic didn’t happen, I most likely wouldn’t have much time to work on the album to begin with. I was supposed to be very busy on the road in 2020. This being said, I’ve started writing some things in late 2019 and early 2020 for what was supposed to be a sophomore album. The direction I wanted to take with the second release, pre-pandemic, was a more introspective trip and a dive into my roots. I wanted something very personal, intimate. But Out of Order, even though it happened out of the blue, is exactly that. Each song explores very intimate parts of mentality, while grasping the outer world’s struggle with this dark time. So, to answer the question, yes… in the way that it was a natural progression as the subject of isolation and the need for connection is something I naturally chose to explore in my writing, but at the same time, this album would simply not be if not for the pandemic. I wouldn’t even know the emotions needed to write and compose it.
You’ve been fairly busy between solo releases, contributing to The Joy Thieves and Julian Beeston’s Featured, and touring with Pigface. What would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned working with so many iconic figures, and how do you feel you’ve applied these lessons to your work in I Ya Toyah?
Or to put it another way, how do you feel the Out of Order single and EP best represent what you’ve learned and how you’ve developed as a musician/producer since the Code Blue album?
I Ya Toyah: I’ve been honored to work with so many amazing musicians and creatives and each of these interactions hugely influenced me and my growth process as an artist and as a human. The very valuable lesson, upon many, is to always be myself and keep integrity. This world is full of confusion and these character traits are priceless when it comes to any collaboration. And they paid off. Working with the Joy Thieves, we did some amazing stuff like the cover of ‘Cities In Dust,’ originally done by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and then the ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ cover for Riveting Music’s tribute to Pink Floyd compilation, in which we twisted the perspective from male to female to encourage a conversation about women’s rights and abuse, both physical and mental, that women all over the world are still exposed to. With Julian Beeston, it was just such an energizing project to be a part of! The ‘We the People’ song and music video, and then the Girly album by Featured are all just fantastic material consisting of all female vocalists and I’m grateful to have been invited to it. Julian works on the top level of the music industry; he is just an excellent talented creative and also a great human. The Pigface and tour… this was life! Everything on that tour confirmed in me that this is what I love. I love touring and connecting with fans in all these different cities. I could live on the road. All these collaborations made me stronger and wiser in many ways. Also, as far as the composition and production goes, they put me closer to realizing I want to do an album that hits stronger, darker, heavier on production and vocal performance. And this circles right back to what my first words were: to be myself and to keep integrity. I just love how everything aligns in this life.
Are there any musicians or producers that you’d like to work with that you’ve not yet had the opportunity?
I Ya Toyah: There are many musicians and producers I highly admire, and it would be amazing to do a collaboration with them. A lot of female artists and producers too; there are so many super talented women out there and I just love seeing more and more names representing girl power out there. And who knows what happens in the future? I got some ideas for an I Ya Toyah and ‘Featured Artists’ theme, and even though nothing is in works at this time due to the constant activities I involve myself in, I am super open and excited about the endless possibilities here. Time will show whether these are just concepts or actual reality.
Touring was halted throughout 2020 and much of 2021 as we await the vaccinations and relief from the pandemic. Having toured with Pigface, are there any particular tour memories that stand out for you? What do you most miss about performing live?
I Ya Toyah: Not having live shows and touring as part of life is making me realize how essential it is for me and my overall wellness. And it’s funny, because when I tour, I work all the time, and usually pretty hard. Load-ins, load-outs, setups, tear-downs, heavy lifting, ‘sweat, sweat, sweat’… (to quote one of my favorite music groups with the best live shows ever, Sweat Boys). Performance is that moment when I unwind, but the stress is there, mostly about the tech. As an only human performing with a bunch of machines onstage, I always try to predict everything that could go wrong, but sometimes, things just happen and then you need to navigate through that as it happens, live, following the rule that the show must go on. The reward comes in for brief moments, after the show when I get to connect with the audience and meet people in person by my merch booth. This seems like such a distant idea right now, when for over a year, we have been deprived of this connection and instead closed down in isolation. So, in all honesty, I miss everything about performing, and it’s not just the performance part and meeting the audience part, but also all the hustle – the prep and the cleanup. As far as memories go, there are so many that it would take me days to talk about them! All seem like fun now, but some of them were rather hard at the moment, such as arriving in NOLA and realizing that all the merch boxes got severely beat up inside the trucks due to the rough ride through the storm. All day before the show, we united and focused on organizing it all. We got new boxes, folded stuff… I can never stress this enough – never, ever get jewel cases for your CDs for the road! I always get the wallets or sleeves, so I didn’t count losses, but I would suffer huge ones if I didn’t know. From fuzzy and good memories, Kansas City comes to mind. The city is just filled with love and support for underground music. It was Thanksgiving night, and we were treated like kings. And so many people came out to this show! Mind blowing! It tells you something about the power of live music, and the connection that happens. The world will explode with love when we get this back.
Livestreams obviously don’t hold the same power as a live show, but they have become a part of artistic life during the pandemic. As a one-woman army in I Ya Toyah, would you share with us your thoughts on livestreaming? What possibilities do you foresee for live music to evolve in the wake of the current situation?
I Ya Toyah: I’ve been tempted to do a livestream, but I haven’t got to it yet. I guess part of it is that I miss the full, real connection, not the replacement of it. That real connection is an inseparable part of my show. With live lights, visuals, and sound comes the sweat, the heat, the expression. Jumping up and down on the stage, the crowd moving, my voice cracking from emotion on the sad song, the crowd frozen still, that vibe of togetherness, of feeling the same thing at that one moment, of knowing that we are understanding each other… I fear it is not achievable through the screen. This being said, once live music is back, I will be streaming some of my shows so that they are available to an international audience that cannot attend. This will be different though, as it will have the magic of live music captured.
We all seem to miss live shows, and there is the concern about how we will be able to ‘go back to normal’ with so many venues having to close down, everyone wanting to tour at the same time, getting people excited about going to live shows again, etc. What sort of difficulties do you anticipate for playing live again?
How do you feel you and/or other bands will be able to use new and online technologies to keep music alive and maintain the excitement of audiences?
I Ya Toyah: It’s hard to imagine how it will be to have something that was once such a normal part of our reality, and then was taken away from us for so long, back. I have a strong belief that with things like this, it is like with the wound – it heals faster than we anticipate unless something is wrong with the body. If the community is a healthy body, we will find the way. It will all very much depend on the virus situation and security measurements too. Social distancing means less fill capacity, which means more expensive tickets to help cover all the costs and pay everyone. A smaller cap doesn’t mean less people involved in show production, and it also doesn’t mean less expense on the venue’s end; it’s still the same energy, same bills to pay, but less liquor sales. New online tech can come in handy here, with an online stream of these shows available with ticket purchase, perhaps even VR experience and ability for some fans to attend virtually. But there are other scenarios too. It’s hard to predict which way things go when we are still in a place where the virus pretty much has the control, not just in a physical, but also mental way. The latter will linger long after the physical consequence of COVID-19 is gone, and how we go about it will define the future of live music.
What’s next for you and I Ya Toyah? Are there any other projects or collaborations that you’re involved in that you’d like to talk about?
I Ya Toyah: With the release of the Out of Order EP happening exclusively on Bandcamp first, I’ll continue to feature each of the singles off this release on streaming platforms and in video format. There is some more footage to film, so I’ll be busy doing that. Meanwhile, I’m starting to prepare the live show that will include these new songs. Programming and rehearsing will be taking my focus for a while as it’s a rather complex process, but I’m super excited as in the end, it will give me an option to perform these songs in, hopefully, live settings. I’m starting to contemplate a remix album for Out of Order, and also might have some more merch coming for this release, including vinyl, which is extremely challenging to create during these pandemic days, but I’ve been working on making that happen for months, following the request of my awesome fans.
As far as collaborations and projects go, I did my very first I Ya Toyah remix and it is for one of the pioneering artists in the scene, so I am super excited for when it’s legal to announce it – for now, I cannot say more. For other things, I’m hoping to be involved in the Out of Darkness Walk with AFSP. I’m not sure yet if this will be happening as an actual physical thing or an online one like last year; time will tell. Also, I’m itching to do another cover. Depeche Mode’s ‘It’s No Good’ got so much good response that I’m excited to twist another song by another artist. All this while silently waiting for live music to be back, and for that real connection to return.
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