Screaming at a world in disarray, Yvette Lera returns after a period of inactivity, and invites ReGen‘s readers along her creative journey.
An InterView with Yvette Lera
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
There are numerous individuals in the artistic and musical community whose presence has persisted over the years, who played small but integral parts in the foundations of a scene – a loud voice in the background of a recording or onstage at a pivotal show, a muse who inspired a poetic lyric without which a great song would be a mere dud, an unknown but unforgettable face adorning some cover art or in a music video… all of these things and more could describe Yvette Lera. Actress, model, writer, singer/songwriter, podcast host, cultural deconstructionist, visionary nomad – she has been all of these things and more, moving almost like an ethereal specter through the annals of rock, metal, industrial, goth, punk, and all points in between. It would be better to ask who she hasn’t yet collaborated with, having worked with the likes of Glenn Danzig, Hide of X-Japan, Die Robot, Chris Vrenna, Taime Downe, members of MINISTRY and Killing Joke, Lick, Zilch, filmmaker Charles Band, and even more as a solo artist. It’s been three years since the world last heard from her, having been a co-host on the MKUltraSound Podcast helmed by Alex Zander of MK Ultra Magazine, and providing backup vocals to Chrome Pipes’ “Lights Out!” single in 2020.
In September of 2023, Lera returned to reveal her premonitory and cautionary industrial/rocker “Burning Planet.” Co-written with Will Gannon in 2012, and now supplemented by a video shot by Brandy Powers Crowe, the song sees Lera screaming at a world wasted by madness, toxicity, addiction, pollution, “breaking under constant tension.” It’s no longer science fiction, and Lera won’t go down quietly, promising even more music and videos to come. ReGen had a chance to speak with Yvette Lera about her artistic pursuits, her outlook on the current state of the music industry, life as an artist in the age of social media, her collaborative process, and dropping a few hints of what she has yet in store for us.
First of all, how are you? How’s your health?
Lera: Thank you for asking. My health is good. I had a few rough patches over the years, but for now, I am feeling great and stronger than ever… ready to take on the next chapter of my life.
Let’s start with ‘Burning Planet,’ which you originally wrote and recorded with Will Gannon back in 2012, and whose themes are sadly still (even more so) relevant now. What initially inspired you to write this song? How do you feel its themes still resonate today?
There was quite a bit of doomsday fear revolving around 2012 based on its significance in the Mayan calendar; did that play into your perception of the song’s themes at all?
Lera: Actually, during that time and other times like the Y2k era, it seemed a little scary at first, but never ended up panning out; we all went on ahead with our lives and didn’t think much about it. I read The Celestine Prophecy and other end-of-the-world books, and watched movies and videos, but again, didn’t think much about it until the past three years when we have witnessed some pretty intense events that we have never witnessed in our lifetime, and it’s gotten way out of control.
Especially in industrial music, bands like KMFDM, MINISTRY, Killing Joke, etc. write about social, political, and cultural concepts that seem to remain pertinent after so many decades; is it ever a concern for you that the message you and these bands have been trying to convey isn’t being heard?
Lera: My whole tribe and musical world was the era of KMFDM, MINISTRY, Killing Joke – they really set the standard with songs that really resonated with me like ‘N.W.O.’ by MINISTRY, KMFDM with Lucia sounding loud and fierce about ‘WWIII,’ Killing Joke with their amazing songs and lyrics as well. As an artist, I think that it’s our calling as visionaries to put the message out there with our music and lyrics, and hopefully at some point, it clicks and people realize that it’s a calling to the bigger picture, that it’s go time, and ‘Tik-Tok, it’s a clock. Time is running out.’ I don’t think it’s about the message not being heard; more so that it’s time to get louder and make people really take it in and listen.
Regarding your tribe, we’ve mentioned those bands and the whole industrial/post-punk scene. Meanwhile, in the digital age, there is more crossover than ever – in terms of the musicians, producers, the cross-pollination of styles, and even the diversification of the audience (or perhaps, we’d like to think so). What are your thoughts on validity of ‘genres’ in this day and age? I’ve asked this a lot, and many say it still matters for marketing purposes… do you think so?
You’d also written ‘Red Skies’ and ‘Digital Kiss’ with Will Gannon. Would you tell us about your working relationship with him, how it began and in what ways you feel his writing/production style benefitted what you hoped to express in your music?
Are you still in touch with him? Are there any other songs you created with him that have yet to be released?
Lera: When I met Will Gannon, I was living in Los Angeles. He had just moved there from Texas, and I posted an ad on some musicians platform looking for a programmer to collab with. Will answered the call, and so began our journey to write and create some really great tracks. We worked really hard on getting together to discuss the concepts and book studio recording time and do what we needed to get the songs finished. I really thought Will and I were on the same page – he had an electronic programming style that I liked, and we just began the process. Unfortunately, things started to fall apart when he wanted to talk contracts, splits, and royalties that I wasn’t comfortable with. My argument was that we were supposed to be a collaborative team working together, because the industry was going to be difficult to go up against in the long run, and I just wanted to have a fair split between us. He wasn’t in agreement, so we ended up going our separate ways and we haven’t spoken since we recorded the only three tracks we managed to create together. As we all know, it can be hard sometimes trying to start a band and work with other musicians, especially if one or another has a difference of vision of where things need to go. This is why so many bands and artists have multiple rotations on projects, unfortunately. I wish it weren’t the case. I would love it if you could just work together without having to part ways.
You’ve described the video for ‘Burning Planet’ as ‘Tik-Tok on crack,’ and you worked with Brandy Powers Crowe, shooting at some locations in Antioch. Would you please tell us about how this video came about?
Lera: So… (laughter) When I had that moment of realization come to me that I had to finally release ‘Burning Planet,’ I reached out to my friend Brandy Powers Crowe and said we have to shoot this music video now so I can release it and put it out there. Brandy and I met when she was an On-Air Personality working for a radio station in Portland called XRAY.FM on her show called Gothique Boutique. She interviewed me when I was playing keyboards in the band Die Robot. We kept in touch, and she was my only friend I knew after moving here earlier this year. We had been talking about doing creative projects together, and when I decided to film the video, she was the first on my list to call. I had some ideas already of locations to shoot at, and since this was a no budget production with no studio or crew, the outdoor backdrop had to do. We had a few phone calls and set a day and time to get together and do this, and we made it happen. I was hoping for a cooler, more overcast day. But alas, we got gifted with a super-hot 90-degree sunny day to do the shoot. We jumped in the car and headed to the cemetery for the first location; we did a few takes, then drove around until we got to the abandoned Checkers location and did round two. We didn’t focus on perfection. We just did multiple, full run-throughs of the song. She played the song on her phone and filmed with my phone as I sang along. When it came down to editing, I am not really a skilled editor, nor did I have any editing software like Final Cut Pro. I just had iMovie on my Mac laptop. At that point, I just went for it. I uploaded the footage, made short clips of current world events, and threw it all together. I wasn’t able to sync up the vocals with the music because the sound speeds weren’t aligning with the audio track, so instead, I sped up the videos with my singing, overlaid to the current events in the background, put the audio track in, and boom! ‘D.I.Y. Tik-Tok on crack’ is born. (laughter) It’s kind of one of those things that you are trying to perfect the video without knowing what you are doing, and it actually ends up working out in the end. Tik-Tok seems to be a popular resource, so the fact that it has that vibe and feel to it I think ends up being a good thing.
I personally have noticed in the age of social media that there is an even greater propensity than ever for people to latch onto certain ideas without any consideration for context or nuance. What are your thoughts on this consumption of ‘information’ today?
Lera: I think we have all fallen into this thirst trap era of selfies and more content – the desire to constantly keep relevant with content or risk falling into the abyss of the algorithmic rabbit hole of obsolescence or losing followers. We are all part of the social media age that does this. When you need to promote and advertise and get your music or brand out there, it’s great. We all want to know what’s going on and feel like we are a part of that in some way. But I also agree that context and nuance is also very valuable and important to consider when you want to make it count with the amount of information that is out there today.
I know that you’re now in ‘go’ mode and more interested in releasing your music and videos without too much concern for polish or precision. Nevertheless, is it at all part of your plan to pursue a more streamlined production with them in the future?
As an independent artist and not tied to a record label, what are your thoughts on the industry as it exists today? Do you think we will still be bound to record labels?
To what degree do you feel that the changes in the technology and the means of consuming art must affect change in the institutions that distribute them? Number of units sold, number of plays/streams on Spotify, etc. will it continue to just be ‘product-by-numbers?’
Lera: As an independent artist not tied to a record label, I am okay with that. I think the industry has changed a lot since the days of having to be on a major label and a signed artist. In the end, you don’t really have too much creative control as an artist when you are on a major label, and you become a cog in the wheel to just be the product and making the sales to fulfil your obligation to return on your investment loan that the record label gave you, and when you no longer serve the overlords and crank out material, you are at the end of your career with them. On the same note, the music software apps that play streaming music make it also hard to account for the number of plays and what you actually make for your percentage. The one thing about any business is that it always takes advantage of the artists and profits off their talent without giving too much in return, but expects everything from the artist. At the end of the day, you have to be your own brand and try to do the best you can to get your music out there. Sometimes, that means posting up on sites not just for the money, but for the exposure. I know that doesn’t pay the bills, but you have to know how to work the system and the algorithm for your own brand and benefit in the long run.
You’ve worked with so many people over your life and career, but are there any that you’ve not had the chance to collaborate with that you’d like to in the foreseeable future?
Lera: I’ve had the chance to work with an amazing group of musicians over the years. I am so glad that I was able to share that experience and got to have those moments. At this time with so much going on in my life, I cannot think of anyone that I would like to collaborate with name wise. I do know that I would like to work with an amazing producer that shares the same vision as I do, and would be able to create music and a sound that I would vibe with.
It would seem that you’re somewhat nomadic, working with numerous people in music, movies, modeling, etc. and seemingly not sticking to one place for very long. In what way has this appealed to you on a creative and personal level? Is it the adventure or the thrill of constant change, or is there ever a desire to stick around that just hasn’t happened?
Lera: I feel like I am being asked that question a lot these days. I literally have been living my life like a gypsy with a Penske truck for years – a traveling nomad going city-to-city, place-to-place. This happened because of my constant seeking for something better, something new, somewhere I felt like I belonged. I lost a lot of people along my journey, and always had to find new ways of supporting myself, but I also was just trying to find my tribe and place I belonged. As the economy and world shifted and changed, I had to roll with the changes, and it also took me with it, like a butterfly in the wind. I went where the Universe took me. I listened to the signs and changes and kept going and traveling, not knowing where I was going, but couldn’t wait to get there. I never wanted to stay stuck and stagnate in one place. Life is too short. If things weren’t working out, I would have been onto the next, and just have been on a path to self-discovery and where I will truly find my ultimate calling. I am again grateful to have met many artists and fellow travelers along the way, and I’m lucky I got to have these experiences that helped my creativity and to grow as an artist. It is a combination of the adventure, thrill and constant change, but also a desire to find a place to stay and call it home.
What do you feel has changed most over the years in terms of your approach to songwriting, if anything at all?
Lera: I have always been a writer and storyteller. If anything, the only thing that has changed is my address and more life experiences that will help me be an even better artist with more stories to share in my music.
How about playing live? Obviously, there are logistics involved in getting a band together, which in a way relates to what you said earlier about royalties/splits/etc. What is your vision for a live band to bring your songs to life on the stage?
Lera: I would love to finally get to a place in my life to be able to invest in some more gear and equipment. I would also like to be able to reconnect with other fellow musicians to be able to have a group to play live. But also, if I had the equipment and tools that I needed or just another fellow programmer, this could be done digitally with a smaller, more scaled down setup.
What do you think are the biggest difficulties with live performances right now? What do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the pandemic and use or think about going forward?
Making videos, performing livestreams, and creating ‘content’ is more prevalent thanks to the current technology. In your estimation, what are the biggest pros and cons of the way bands, labels, promoters, etc. are utilizing new technologies in the proliferation of the arts?
Lera: I myself am really grateful for the digital platforms that are available to us independent artists to get our songs and material out there now. I have been lucky to have the accessibility to record and edit my own content, be able to upload it to platforms, publish it, and send it out on streaming services without needing a record label to do it for me. I think these are really valuable tools for artists to have to create content and put it out there, but also it does become saturated at times. And the cons can be what content is being created. At least make it meaningful and worth putting out there, not just something to release just to fill your dopamine fix. Even so, if you want to be creative and put it out there, then do it. Nothing is stopping you from creating your art and sharing it with the world.
Outside of music, what do you most enjoy? Movies, books, hiking, cooking, etc.
Lera: Outside of music, I really enjoy reading books, watching all kinds of movies, especially David lynch movies that always make you think… hiking, cooking, talking to and spending time with friends, traveling when I have the funds and means to do so, playing with pets and animals, reading tarot cards and using my pendulum, do my meditating and manifesting, working out and yoga, going to see shows, thrift store vintage shopping, interior decorating, going to see beautiful places in nature such as waterfalls and parks, going to the spa – I absolutely love being in water, especially hot springs and mineral pools. I love burning candles and incense and drinking a hot cup of coffee in the morning while I am getting ready to start my day. I hope to start writing a book that I have always wanted to do for a very long time to tell the tale of my life journey and those who have been a part of my story over the many years along the way.
What’s next for you? What new songs, projects, videos, plans, etc. do you have in mind that we should be on the lookout for?
Lera: I have plans to start making more music videos to put to the songs that I have in my archives. I want to start pulling out music and projects that have been on the shelf for some time now and get the ball rolling by finishing what I started. I am also ready to try and work on some new music and projects as well, and find new people to collaborate with now and in the near future. I have been silent for far too long now, and I am looking forward to getting back to my creativity and making art again.
Photography by Brandy Powers Crowe, provided courtesy of Yvette Lera