A ‘one-woman army’ of dark electronic music, I Ya Toyah will be releasing a new EP, Out Of Order, on March 26, 2021. Based in Chicago, I Ya Toyah is Ania Tarnowska, who was born in Poland and began studying music at a young age. Having fronted several dark rock/metal bands, she looked to electronics as a way to be self-sufficient as a solo artist. The first I Ya Toyah album, “Code Blue,” was released in 2018. Known for her strong live shows, Tarnowska had planned to tour extensively in 2020, but during the pandemic, she wrote and recorded the new EP instead. In the following interview, she discusses Out Of Order and her career.
What can you tell us about the new Out Of Order EP?
The EP is basically about all that dark mood that I’ve gathered since the beginning of the pandemic. And as we were progressing into the pandemic, I guess the mood was deepening. With this EP, these five songs are sort of placed in a five-chapter form. So one to five, they all tell the story of just being “out of order.”
So it was all done during the pandemic? Or did any of the musical ideas predate it?
It was completely done during this time. Honestly, I was not sure what my plan for 2020 was in regards to writing because I was supposed to be very busy on the road. I was supposed to go on two really big tours that were to be national, plus Canada. And I’ve had some offers for Europe for the fall. So I would not be able to really write if 2020 had been a normal year.
Beyond the writing, what effect do you think the pandemic had on the process of making the EP? Did the lack of live shows lead you to spend more time on recording/producing it than you might have otherwise?
Thinking about this, it’s almost like it was the opposite. It was extremely hard to focus during the pandemic because of all the problems that just arose, along with the pandemic itself—issues such as income, how to survive, worries about the close ones and their health status.
I basically don’t function very well in moments when I don’t feel control over very basic things of my life. The pandemic brought insecurity and uncertainty to each of our lives. This didn’t help; this honestly didn’t help. But I was focused regardless, and made it happen. When it comes to the time spent on the record, I collaborated with a mix and master genius, Nicola Palazzo. So that [was an] element that I had not encountered before. Prior to that, on my debut Code Blue album, I did it on my own. I’ve had mix and master assistance with that record from Brad Pack, but it wasn’t this intense, for sure. It was also sending files back and forth. With Nick, we did a similar thing because of the pandemic, but I feel like we spent more time just on that process—sending files back and forth, perfecting the mixes, making sure that they are where they need to be.
I had collaborated with Nick before on my live show production, and he’s just amazing; his ideas. I felt like I got to know him in regards to the live show production. I figured that he’s just very talented, and some of his input that he would give me … just like that, he would say something, and I was like, “Wow, this is actually genius.” He was the one that stepped out and told me, “Listen, I really would like to be involved. I really would like to help you with this record.” And, you know, I’m a one-woman army, so I’m like, I don’t know if I want help, but then with time, I figured, well, for the greatness of the music, I guess this is the best thing that could ever happen to me because what can be better than a single person working on anything? Two people working on it, right? It’s always that other side. And the best part of working with Nick was that he gave me absolute control. So I still produced this record; it wasn’t like he took it and made it something that would not represent who I am and what I wanted to say. I’m very happy and proud of how all this collaboration and this album came out, and I look forward to the future. We’ll see what happens.
You mentioned that you’d had touring plans. At what point were you in preparation for that when the pandemic hit?
Rehearsal was done. I was ready to go. And it was also because I just came off the tour with Pigface, I was just still in this heat of the road kind of lifestyle and mindset of my live show. I upgraded my equipment for those upcoming tours a little bit. I changed some of the things with my equipment. I learned on the road with Pigface, with the bigger band that I was opening for, that certain issues were making it harder for me on the road. So I wanted to simplify things and make it just quicker to set up and tear down. So from the moment I returned from the tour, from December until February/March, I was working on upgrading this live set-up. And once I was done, that’s when the pandemic came. I was also preparing; I was already organizing the transportation, trying to figure out how I’m going to do a day-to-day huge tour where it’s like New York one day Chicago the next. And then you hit Minneapolis. Then you go all the way through the whole of Canada. And then California. So I needed to figure out how I’m going to actually secure the travel and to be safe on the road. Meaning at least two drivers, someone who would film all this, someone who would help me as a roadie. So this was major planning and then…pandemic.
Did the touring you did after Code Blue have any impact or influence on this new music?
I think so. So when I was writing my first record Code Blue, it was before I did any show as a so-called ‘one woman army’. So I was writing the record first, and then I was trying to figure out how the hell am I going to play all this live on my own? So here came those decisions with the Code Blue album, where for example, I wrote a part on keyboards, but then I decided, well, I’m going to shred it on the guitar because this is a perfect space for a guitar solo instead of this keyboard sound. So, I was approaching it this way and now with Out of Order, because I’ve had all this road experience with how I do things live. Now I’m thinking, okay, I wanted to write this like that, but how will I play this live? Keyboard here? But guitar at the same time? Am I going to be able to loop this keyboard first so that it keeps going in a circle while I’m adding the guitar? So definitely, I think this affected the way I was writing my record. But also, I’m preparing my live show for the new record right now. And I’m going to be doing a lot of things differently than on the actual record, just for fun. And for giving my fans that come to life shows a different experience.
Having been in bands previously, what made you decide to launch this solo project rather than start a new group?
This came to me as a surprise. So I’ve been in bands before. I’ve been in bands and projects as a frontwoman for most of it, singing and writing lyrics and helping arrange songs. But I’d never actually produced anything and never did anything outside of that until my band broke up. And it was the second big project that I’ve had with a plan, and it just broke up. And I revisited this idea in my head. I remember sitting at home and shaking because it was just moments after the band actually broke up from one of the bandmates that just sent a text message. And I’m like, what do I do? Like how…do I find another guy? And then how do we build this chemistry again with everybody else? And what is the process? And I felt very tired, and I felt that I don’t want to do it anymore.
What do I do? So this idea came to my head, why can’t I just do it on my own? And I started studying production prior to that. I went to SEA Music Institute for the music business degree. And while there, I also acquired some technical knowledge; video filming and music production. So I decided that, well, I’m just going to deep end it, I’m going to spend time at home. I’m gonna just learn it and to get on my own. And that’s how it started. So it was nothing planned, and the genre that I picked or it picked me, I really don’t know to this day. I’ve always loved industrial music and electronic music, but I come more from the metal scene and the dark rock scene. So I figured, well, I can’t really do metal on my own. It’s going to be a little awkward not playing drums live. And I can’t play drums. I can certainly program drums. I can play a simple beat, but I cannot do crazy things, you know, with my feet and legs and hands at the same time. How would that work if I can’t do this? And then voice is my main instrument. So I figured, well this electronic with the dark note, heavier, darker, melodic, that’s what it will be.
Did you encounter any challenges?
The biggest challenge was to figure out how to actually make it happen. Because in my head, I knew that I wanted the show to be very interactive and multimedia. So I knew that I don’t just want to perform. I want to perform all my instrumentation live. So it includes the keyboards and synths and guitars, some live programming and live looping, and then voice. But, also I wanted to have live visuals, the video backgrounds behind me, and my own light show. I just feel like this is part of what I make. It’s not just audio. It’s also the other senses that are being involved. And I love presenting my songs in the visual form. So I’m all crazy about all the videos and stuff; you can see on my YouTube channel. But for the live show, it’s definitely hugely important to me so that it’s like each beam, each light movement, and the video behind me represents the feeling, the mood of the song and it helps me express it. But this was very challenging, very hard to do actually design it, find the perfect platform that will allow me to host all this. A good computer that will handle all the power. I use a lot of electricity during my live show. So I need two separate circuits, fully dedicated circuits for my show. I traveled with two power conditioners that have certain things connected to them, just so that my show can be handled by the venue. And I’ve had some downfalls of that; in two venues that were just very small venues. Everything went down, everything, boom, died. It was crazy, but I put it back up, and it was even better afterward. People were going crazy.
Could you talk further about your approach to adapting the material for live performance?
My approach is to do as much as I can and give myself as much freedom as possible during live shows. This wasn’t always the case with certain things. The way I have it all now, is sort of like, if I was recording all my show live; I arm the tracks that I’m performing. So my vocals, my guitars, my synths, my piano; all this is armed as a live track. So I can be changing anything I want. But when it comes to the actual length of my performance in each song, it’s been very challenging to actually be able to plan it to where I can extend it, or shorten it. I came up with some ideas, with some solutions where I build up intros that I can use or not use, depending on how much time I have, and I can play over those intros. I perform with in-ears [monitors]. So I have a click track constantly in my ear.
So it helps me keep the tempo of things that I do live. But in regards to the video file, it’s more or less locked. Recently, I discovered that the program that I’m using just came out with an upgrade, and it now allows additional looping options for live performance. So I am looking into this right now, and I’m hoping that I can also figure out how to loop the video and maybe have even more freedom. You know, I would love just to crowd dive or jump into people’s arms and have this freedom of performance. These are things I used to do when I was in a metal band, just the frontwoman. I was never tied up like this before, I never had cables on me. It’s crazy. I also think that I’d like to do an acoustic performance at some point, so do it just on the piano and just with like an acoustic guitar. That will definitely be different arrangements for those songs, but I would love to do this. I would love to do a very raw stripped-down show at some point and have nothing; just the beam lights and just those two instruments. Plus my voice.
What software do you use? Ableton Live?
So, Ableton is difficult with certain things that I wanted to do. I wanted in the beginning, when I was choosing the platform, to work with Ableton, but it just would not support my idea enough. I work with Logic, which actually is not even supposed to be a live platform. They have the MainStage, which is sort of their live show product, but I’m not using that. I’m using the actual DAW that I’m producing in. And it’s crazy what you can do with this program. It’s absolutely mind-blowing and I’ve played a lot of shows, and this didn’t let me down. The only thing that I’ve had problems with for a moment was the CPU and my laptop, which wasn’t even the DAW’s issue. It was just my laptop overheating. So I’ve had some problems with that. And then I sent my laptop to Apple. They fixed it quickly. And ever since, it’s been golden; it’s just like amazing. It supports the video; it supports the programming of the lights.
You talked about previously playing in bands, but could you discuss your overall musical background?
Yes, of course. So I think it’s music that’s found me rather than I found the music. And I know this from my parents because, apparently, when I was born, I would just scream and not sleep until they put the music on, and then it was golden. Perfect. So when I was three, I took part in some vocal competitions already, like for children. I barely remember this. I have some photos of it. Then when I was five .. I have an older sister. She had a guitar, and she was always inclined musically as well. And I looked at her when she was playing guitar and singing, and I was like, I needed that. So I picked her guitar when I was five, the guitar was giant, and I was tiny, and I learned how to play basic chords. I learned basic rhythmic patterns, and I started singing and playing and performing in preschool; at parties, and at school.
And my parents saw it and I guess they realized there is some sort of talent in me and they sent me to audition for the music institute. And so I went and they got me in. I started studying piano guitar, all classical, vocal performance and also music theory. But then when I was 12, I was in a car crash. I was in a terrible car accident with my guitar coming back from that music institute. And my guitar went to shreds, and I ended up in a long-term coma. It was a miracle, they said, that I woke up from that coma. And after I woke up, it was months and years of recovery for just regaining basic abilities, really. I saw triple for months after this; I couldn’t walk.
And I had to learn this stuff, and music was pushed aside. And part of me, I feel, was afraid to go back to music for a while, just because I felt like that’s why it happened to me. But part of it was because I just simply could not; my parents were struggling with finance to get me though so that I could actually function. And there was just no option to go back to musical school, to have another guitar, plus to have my mind dedicated to something else because I had regular school. And, at this point, I had to focus on the normal path of life. Music was always in me, and soon after I came to America, and I knew deep inside that this is what I wanted to do. This is the career I wanted to have, in the music and music industry. So I’ve been working towards this ever since.
In what ways do you feel you most draw from your formal musical training with I Ya Toyah?
Because I was exposed to classical music and music theory and the way music works at such a young age, I don’t even think about certain things; I just do them. And I was told by some music professionals that they really enjoy my songwriting style. And I don’t even know this. I’m just writing; I’m doing those things. I don’t think. I don’t plan too much when I’m designing a song ‘oh, this is where I’m going to do this, and this is where I’m going to do that.’ Sometimes I move the blocks after they are done to make it more interesting, such as maybe I will start the song with the chorus instead of an intro and so on. But in terms of songwriting, I just feel like classical training gave me this amazing ability, which I’m very thankful for, to just oversee the whole process without thinking and have fun while I’m doing that. So even writing in scales, just like the melody ideas, it comes from the training because, otherwise, I probably would have to struggle with those notes, but now I just know this, and I’m super thankful for that.
As this is a solo project, what made you use the name I Ya Toyah rather than your own?
When spoken out loud, ‘I Ya Toyah means ‘it’s just me’, and there is a deeper story to that. So when I was a child my nickname was Toyah. I’ve been asked and sometimes bashed for carrying the name of the all-time favorite Toyah from London. The amazing, super-talented artist married to King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. So, it has nothing to do with this amazing Toyah, unfortunately. It’s been always my nickname, Toyah. And then I thought ‘I Ya Toyah’, ‘it’s just me’ really reflects the idea of the solo project. And it connects me to my roots, you know, to the whole music history. I was called Toyah when I was in music school; when all this started, all this journey began in my life. But also ‘I Ya Toyah,’ is Polish, which is my mother tongue and part of who I am.. So I felt I wanted the name to represent something more than just Ania. I wanted it to truly mean what I’m doing right now and who I am, and I think it does this well.
To purchase music from I Ya Toyah, visit : https://iyatoyah.bandcamp.com/
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