Six Of The Best: YVA | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Native Geordie and solo-artist YVA (formerly known as Eva Stone) drops Fountain Of Youth, the first single from her upcoming debut EP HYPE MACHINE. This enigmatic offering is a critique of social media and our obsession with staying young and sees the vocal (recorded in a wardrobe for a more intimate feel) take front and centre as the ominous tones lurk in the background, evolve into a more harmonious form as the track progresses.

Here, YVA tells us about some of the inspirations behind her EP with a six of the best…

Shakespeare described getting older as a ‘hideous winter.’
A lot of the inspiration behind Fountain of Youth was, unsurprisingly, centred on the myth of the Fountain of Youth. It is probably one of the longest lasting, self-perpetuating myths to ever have been born, and it is one that seems to have focused its aim over the course of hundreds of years solely on women. Men turn silver and sexily distinguished while women lose their appeal once their uterus’ run out of eggs. I stopped scoffing at the idea of a biological clock when I learned that a woman is born with all of her eggs and slowly, over time, loses them. The feeling of no longer being viable is ingrained deep within us as women, it made a cold kind of sense to me why older men prefer younger women and why we’re the object of inappropriate affections from such an early age, and it’s no wonder that our capitalist society has found the perfect way to utilise the myth of eternal youth, succeeded at it, and that a twenty eight year old artist such as myself manifested that grief and frustration into a song. Our entire society is built around this very primal insecurity; a music industry prefers younger, fresh artists to promote, the beauty and fashion industry has (until very recently) only ever used young faces to promote brands. Our innate belief is that older people simply aren’t beautiful. We might as well give up now, right?

Social media perpetuates this belief even further; in a culture that values being kind over all things, we’re hardly kind to ourselves. Frequenting social media is self-punishment, in a way. We constantly compare our beauty regimes, haircuts, aesthetics, homes, every facet of our lives. Social media manipulates us into staying addicted to this insecurity of not being good enough.

I won’t be told that beauty is only skin deep. Our greatest legacies live in our choices and actions, not how we look. I think the intrinsic fear each of us feels about getting older -and in this men and women are united- is just a front for our fear of our own mortality. We’re scared of dying. Ageing equates to death, right? Wrong. I think once we accept that there is no putting that off, in any way, we can enjoy living life that isn’t dictated by youth serums or an insecurity that has us sighing each time we look in the mirror, inso doing seeing ageing as something that brings us liberty and more life.

We have a responsibility to ourselves not to be duped, not to be fooled by these empty promises. They just want our money, and that’s all it comes down to. Is it worth the price we pay? When we buy that cream, are we sowing the seeds for our own future insecurity, for that self-fulfilling hideous winter?

The fountain of youth doesn’t exist. And if it does, I won’t spend my fragile human life chasing it, losing what it means to live a full, happy life in the process.

Even though HYPE MACHINE was written before The Social Dilemma came out on Netflix, I had already read a lot of the accounts in the documentary a few years ago when I was researching for the book I’m writing called The Dreaming Room. When I watched the documentary, the EP was already mastered, but I felt vindicated. Everything I knew to be true about social media platforms and how they operated was now mainstream knowledge, and I’d written an entire EP based on it! The documentary weaves cleverly between accounts of former CEO’s, engineers and founders of some of the major platforms that have become part of our daily lives; Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et al. When they introduced the scroll down to refresh feature on Twitter, for instance, it was based on a slot machine. They designed it intentionally to addict us to their apps, so that we’d never leave.

A lot of the EP is me struggling to come to terms with this, and how so much of our lives feel performative now. Positive activism comes across as self-serving or simply lip-service to protect brands, and we call out people with good intentions for not being good enough. Affirmations feel more like guilt trips than honest tools for self-love.

In its truest essence, Instagram is now a marketing platform, Twitter an outrage machine, and Facebook a news outlet for opinions as fact. I personally feel like we’re moving towards a culture where our very lives are brands with an aesthetic and a focused content. Pets, homes, hobbies all have profiles. In our very simple desire for notoriety, for meaning, we feed a machine that is ever hungry for it, manipulating it and feeding it back to us, so we need it more and more. There’s a certain level of privilege attached to this too, which begs the bigger question as to why someone else’s soul searching should affect the self-esteem of a working class person. Regardless, I would love to get to the point where we all see the truth that The Social Dilemma was trying to show us, and realise there is no comfort for restless souls on these platforms. 

A huge influence on Fountain of Youth and the upcoming EP as a whole, specifically Burn The Witch, and the album In Rainbows. Radiohead have always bucked trends to say what needs saying. Their music is transformative, ever evolving from one carefully orchestrated sound to another. Thom Yorke’s otherworldly falsetto, the thread that ties the band together, taught me to use my voice as a vessel for my emotions, rather than using it to show off.

Radiohead as a band have also never shied away from pointing the finger at governments, corruption, and standing up for the planet, for our very souls and lives. I think that’s important as artists, to say something important. I spent a lot of time in my early twenties writing about men, about my own very insular experiences. It took a breakdown and therapy to emerge from a chrysalis a little more fragile but otherwise changed. That’s when I discovered Radiohead properly, when their music made sense to my new ears, and I realised I had to say something important with my music or say nothing at all. But Radiohead reminded me of what it meant to write music that meant something, and overall that changed how I ultimately approach music and my creativity. It isn’t a practise for me so much as a catharsis, and sometimes I can go for weeks or months without writing a single thing. But when it comes, it pours like a waterfall. That’s what Radiohead’s music sounds to me. The purest form of catharsis, of the most meaningful and difficult emotions made into perfectly imperfect, transcendent audio. 

How do I show you how much I love them? I’d heard of Kae over the years, not sure how I felt about spoken word, but then I discovered Books of Traps and Lessons. Holy Elixir popped up and my ears were pricked. They spoke of something eternal, sacred, so universally pure and yet understated. Kae has an ability to speak truth to our mundane experience, and profoundly called me out on my pretence: 

“All your solutions dissolve under scrutiny
And you can’t stand a note of derision
Instead seek approval to justify your existence
Have opinions but have no resolve or conviction
Just keep your head down
Breathe the fumes and indulge your addictions
Routine is healthy, ignore the affliction
The cost to the soul and the constant constriction
Don’t consider too closely, have no intermission
Keep throwing your fists in slow repetition
Most of us manage, what makes you so different?”

I raised my head and saw things clearly. For me, Kae was speaking from the perspective of the new gods of social media, from modern culture itself, and yet it felt like they were speaking from some archaic knowledge, like they had indeed sipped from the well of wisdom and had seen something we hadn’t. Kae sees corruption from the most powerful of governments right down to how we treat our own selves. When it came to writing the lyrics for HYPE MACHINE in general, I was inspired to be truthful, to be real, to not be afraid of being strong willed. I was afraid, as a woman, I’d be seen as angry, unreasonable; I was afraid of changing my position from the back of the boat to the helm. To be in control. But Kae taught me how to be true to myself, so that’s what I did.

When I listen to The Book of Traps and Lessons I feel quiet and chastised. I feel as though I’ve taken ayahuasca and I’m being shown what’s real, what matters. The come down is beautiful and revolutionary.

If I was to worship anyone, it would be Kae Tempest.

Jonathan (my partner) bought me a print by Tim Doyle of Bjork’s Homogenic tour a few Christmases ago. Homogenic is one of the only albums of Bjork’s that I’ve really gotten my teeth into, for my sins. In my shameful defence, Bjork’s music requires emotional intelligence and I find as I get older and evolve, I find particular creations of hers at the moments when I need them most. Homogenic found me at a similar time as In Rainbows, and it clicked in a way I don’t think it could have when I was twenty.

In any event, I kept staring at the poster when I was writing HYPE MACHINE, because there’s this sense of the music becoming increasingly digitised as the EP goes on, and I wanted the artwork to represent that. I adore Studio Ghibli and became quite fond of finding free-lance illustrators and digital artists on Twitter during lockdown; I love- ironically, given my apparent disdain for social media and technology- digital artists because they capture a kind of fantasy and beauty in life that I think we miss in day to day. It reminds me of the magic and the unknown in life. It’s interesting to me how visual cues can then inspire a work of audio because I see my music visually, in palettes. I don’t think I have synesthesia, but I definitely see music. It can conjure tall, harsh monuments, dust floating through a shaft of light, an empty building that knows ghosts. For me, the visuals on a project need to compound what you hear on record.

Bjork has always had strong visuals to tell her stories, and I love her for that. One of my favourite of hers is the 360 degree virtual reality video for Stonemilker; it’s so beautiful. So whenever I write anything, I have to visualise where it’s taking place, the room or landscape the moment the song speaks of is happening in. If I can’t see it, I can’t write about it.

An artist called Jessica Lee had taken a couple of my instagram posts in late 2019 and drawn whimsically over the top of them as a present to me. When I checked out the rest of her work though, I was in love. We became admirers of each other’s art, and then very recently she posted a series of works she’d created based on her friends’ strange dreams. They were minimal and dark, and I knew immediately I wanted her to create the artwork. A lot of my ideas and inspiration comes from the strangeness of my dreams, so it just felt quite serendipitous. I gave her the brief; four individual works that represented the four singles, but all evolving into one final image that was the full EP. What she did was amazing. I had no corrections for her; she listened to the EP and got the drafts back to me within a week. She decided to give each piece its own artwork, but you’ll see when the EP is out that each element is from the main image. 

This is probably going to come across as bias, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jonathan. This is six of the best, after all, and he is the best person I know. He’s an amazing guitarist, that much I knew when I first met him, but he’s also an amazing engineer and mixer, something he picked up from his time with Lilliput and just from an annoyingly natural ability for the technical side of music. He’s incredibly talented.

Historically though, we didn’t work well together as a couple at all. I was an emotional writer, couldn’t translate my feelings into words, and he was theoretical, mathematical. I could never write that way, so we’d butt heads a lot. But then one day, he had a go at rearranging my song I Won’t Wait, which up until that point had sat gathering dust on the metaphorical shelf. What he did to it was so sensitive and he never did anything without my say so; in my experience, any co-writes or sessions involved me being at the back of the room and a guy at the desk not really taking me seriously, so the notion that everything passed by me was refreshing. Jonathan listened. We found a way of working that made sense; his shortfalls were what I was great at, and vice versa.

Fountain of Youth was the first song we sat down and wrote together, right from the genesis of the idea to the chords, the melody and the mix. Everything was changeable and evolving constantly, and I’d never written that way before. It had always been a solo, very isolating experience, so I could never get my songs past the point of a demo. I’d developed a lot of anxiety around writing music, often burying my head in my hands, physically, every time we’d write. I got sleepy suddenly and became very unreasonably sad, but each time he very carefully and patiently lifted the fog from my eyes. He taught me how to write and mix every aspect of a song without being condescending, pulling me out of the hole I was in. Most importantly, he showed me how to enjoy the process.

So HYPE MACHINE would not have existed without him. It is very much a joint project, and I’m so proud that he is my musical partner as well as partner in life. He is the best of the best, and, incidentally, who I Won’t Wait was about all along.


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