Richard R. Ross

Living the Fuck Out LoudMusic

yatta explores psychosis, pain, and presence

July 9, 2019

Yatta Zoker, who performs under the mononym YATTA, makes music that thrives on unpredictably. Voices can float in and out like vapor; or stay doubling, tripling, and quadrupling on top of each other. Poetry passages start and stop, sometimes stumbling on a word that gets repeated ad infinitum as if a record was skipping.

When the drums do make an appearance they call back to the industrial sounds of Post era Bjork. The use of pitch-shifted and chopped up vocals is nothing new from Grand Wizzard Theodore to DJ Screw. Their natural singing voice has a bright and brassy jazz tinge. The difference is that YATTA finds as much excitement in manipulating sounds as much as they are with making them. Songs begin as stone structures to get chiseled and worked on; growing and shifting as the music moves.

WAHALA, their sophomore album, combines these experiments with emotional payoffs. When an ice cream jingle fades in on “Francis” it gives the track a sense of innocence. The beautiful ambient synths that soundtrack the words, “I will feel good/I will feel joy” give the track “IWDFG” a fragile beauty. On “Bliss” they sing “The bliss on mania is being drunk on the infinite” with voices cooing in the background manipulated to be slightly off which fits the highs and lows of mania. As a whole, WAHALA places importance on musical textures and soundscapes in order to serve the underlying themes of the record.

On “Blues” YATTA sings “I sing the blues so well/ because I need it/ because it’s hell down here.” As the plucked notes of the song play voices start to come in the background; some singing along, some laughing, some talking. It feels like walking into the middle of a group conversation. While most experimental releases applaud themselves for finding new ways to push out alien sounds, on WAHALA Yatta uses technology to explore the feelings of being human.

Today AFROPUNK debuts the first single from the album, “Cowboys.” Sampled vocal hums and guitar tones serve as a disorientating drone until it makes way for a sinister sounding voice to say “Remember the one who told me that artsy Black girls are like Pokemon, gotta capture them all.” It’s a mournful collage of sounds that illustrates the album as a whole. YATTA was gracious enough to sit with AFROPUNK to discuss the creative process behind their work.

You are an artist who in their practice uses a wide variety of mediums. Were you always into music as a form of expression?

I think so. Yeah, it’s been the only constant in terms of what form of expression speaks to me. And I think that growing up around music and how accessible it is, yeah, it’s the most constant and present art in my life.

How did you decide that you actually wanted to make music?

I didn’t know I could do it, and I didn’t know that there was a way to do it without knowing an instrument. And I had trouble finding people being in a band, which is why I started to teach myself how to use Ableton, how to sample and produce. But I always sang, that’s the most important part to me.For your album, Spirit Said Yes! you used sounds that were organically collected over a period of time.

Did you begin the collection process anew for WAHALA?

I started new, pretty much. I started writing poetry about mania and depression. I took an online class with this writer and disability justice activist Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and in that class, I wrote about mania and depression for the first time. From there I recorded the poems using my loop pedal and spinning through different effects, then I layered those with Ableton and played around with them. Those are like digital poems in my mind. The more melodic songs, usually I only have one or two lines I repeat and I compose while performing and later I try to re-create what has been repeated again and again (live), which is a weird way to compose.

Do you record your live sets?

I don’t usually record my live sets. I think that might actually work better for me than actually trying to recreate what I perform and adopt [after the fact]. I think it’s because performing for me always comes first because it’s what excites me the most and it is what I am good at. I think the recording process is something that I had to be patient enough to learn. It’s not exactly what drew me to making music.

WAHALA tackles some heavy themes like mental illness and depression. I want to ask you what do you do for self-care?

I try to stay honest to what I am experiencing in that moment and try to incorporate it into the performance because it’s something that’s with me all the time. So how I am feeling in that moment is a part of it too.

What advice would you have given yourself starting out as a young creative?

If the reason that you want to [create art] is to fulfill something inside of you then you have the tools to do it. If you have a yearning to get something out in a certain way then it’s because you are capable of doing that thing. So trusting whatever the first impulse is. My first impulse was to get a loop pedal because I wanted to know what it would be like to make sounds from my voice on my own; I think I am grateful that I did that because it has allowed me to find a sound that I possibly wouldn’t have found if I had found a band to let me be the singer or something like that. So I guess the advice would be that, if you have the yearning to pursue something creative, I believe it’s because you are capable of it and if you follow that impulse just follow the next one and the next one and don’t try to figure out the big picture in the beginning.

YATTA’s new album ‘WAHALA’ will be released on Aug. 2 and is available for pre-order now.