Artist of the Month Spotlight: YAA! Koala

Photo and Video Credit to YAA! Koala

Reviews by Megan Vineberg Article by Rikki Red

Recorded remotely during the pandemic, YAA! Koala’s debut album is a promising start to an even brighter future. YAA! Koala had booked a trip to Cape Town, South Africa and ended up getting detained due to the borders closing. He was unable to return to his hometown in New York, or London. Left with no choice, he ambitiously made the choice to record and drop his album anyway while stuck in quarantine in an Airbnb—surrounded by cats! What resulted from that experience is like something out of a Technicolor dream. YAA! Koala’s music keeps you moving, even when you’re not much for dancing like me. The visuals in his artwork keep you tied into the atmosphere he’s created. While the EDM sound is not evolutionary by any means, YAA! Koala has conjured up a way to make each release a new, fresh find. Following a string of singles comes “Choir Boy,” which has landed him a spot on several Spotify Playlists, including Metropolis and Friday Cratediggers. From a production standpoint, YAA! Koala’s sound is quite polished already, despite a handful of cats getting into his equipment, and he’s just getting started. He’s even managed to amass quite the following on Spotify, garnering him 18,690 monthly listeners and 1,530 subscribers. As if that wasn’t enough to grab hold of you, YAA! Koala has also shot his own scenic music video for Cape Town, all within the last few months. Color me impressed!

YAA! Koala definitely knows the way to capturing your attention, and letting the music do the talking. “Don’t Stop,” is one of those instant hits that I could easily see topping the Billboard 100. It radiates that college “party” vibe, and we all love a good summertime bop. Influenced by artists like Diplo, Allison Wonderland, and Dillon Francis, YAA! Koala might just be your new favorite. YAA! Koala doesn’t include much for lyrics, instead opting for only a verse or two. Occasionally, he features other artists. Still, I found myself moving to the beat of the lovely “Bad Gyal.” I wasn’t skipping through tracks like I often do on Spotify, as I tend to get bored within the first 30-45 seconds of a song.

As an electronic artist myself, I can appreciate the liberties YAA! Koala took on the sound here. With only 7 tracks and 21 minute run time, “Choir Boy,” is packaged just right for the listener to get their taste of YAA! Koala as an emerging artist. Each track on the album is short and sweet, leaving something more to be desired. “Jamaica Interlude,” comes at a crucial time in history when we’re all coming together in the aftermath of the inspiring Black Lives Matter movement, and amidst COVID-19. If I were to rank each song by preference, “Do Mushies, Not Coke” would have to be at the top, even though I usually prefer melody over heavy bass. “Hi-Top” is another one that really caught my eye. It's tied for a close second in my book. I absolutely love when synth and vocal effect can be executed smoothly. I especially appreciated the mallets in the bridge, as it really broke up the bass. I was curious where he was going with the song by going off of the title, but I ended up really liking it.

“Chocolate” is like something that you might typically hear as a backing track on video games, or even playing at Coachella. There was enough variety in the song that I kept going back to it over all of the other songs. Similar to “Hi-Top,” I really liked how the mallets were peppered throughout the trackl. “Cape Town” felt like a song that never quite took off. It was probably my least favorite of all due to length and lack of variety but still it had its own moments to shine. While not particularly deep thematically, “Choir Boy,” gives us all a much needed breather from the reality of our world today. It’s an album that will get you up and moving, and feeling good!

-Megan Vineberg

Although in three very different parts of the globe, Megan and I were able to do a FaceTime interview with YAA! Koala last week. After listening to “Choir Boy,” there were some questions burning in our minds that we were hoping for answers to. Luckily, YAA! Koala gave us just what we were hoping for - great answers and lively conversation - and even a surprise visit from one of his adorable new cat companions!

To break the ice at the start of the call, Megan mentioned to him that in terms of sound, his music was similar to hers, taking atmosphere and ambiance into consideration. They were able to have an open conversation about their individual music styles, giving us a deeper understanding into who YAA! Koala is, and what he feels passionate about.

One thing that we found ourselves wondering was how YAA! Koala got started in music. He informed us that he wrote his first song at 6 years old - and it was about polar bears. Can you imagine how adorable that must have been? After writing that song, his parents took him to an audition for a Russian music school. In Russia, you have to pass an interest exam in order to study music. He then started playing piano and guitar (which he said was better than piano to pick up girls because he could carry it around.)

Megan told him that she started with piano when she was younger, but that she has a hard time with instruments. Commonly, people assume that musicians are jacks of all trades, able to pick up any instrument and play them - and that they can blindly pick up sheet music and flawlessly bring that sheet of music to life. This is often not the case.

YAA! Koala told us that he’s “shitty at sheet music” and that for the entirety of his seven-year-long piano lessons, he likely never did his homework. He’d show up and get his hands-on practice done, but didn’t care so much for doing his homework as long as music that sounded good came out of it.

We also learned that he started the YAA! Koala project by opening an event space in Lower East Side, New York. They did electronic parties and other fun things, but unfortunately, just about as soon as he finished the place, the landlord started suing him to get him out. After a few months, it became too much of a mental drain and he gave up the space and moved to London where he began “Choir Boy” in earnest. It sounded like an incredible venture, and you can see some fun footage from that era here and in the video below. Although it’s a shame that it ended so soon, we’re lucky that we got this music from him in the aftermath - but we do hope one day we can have a dance party with him!

Curiously, Megan asked if he intended on going back to his roots and doing any music in the Russian language. He told us that he would like to, but that Russian music tends to have darker vibes, which aren’t necessarily his “sound.” However, as with any good artist, it would depend who he linked up with and if he found a solid collaboration. If he found a way to do it, whether through or collab or all on his own, we’d love to hear it - and he thinks he could have fun with it!

This led us to mention how it seems that throughout all different countries, metal seems to have a darker sound. YAA! Koala was not surprised by this statement, but rather added, “Yeah, the metal scene is deeper in Western Europe, that’s sort of how I came up. A lot of dubstep guys also came up doing metal and screaming bands… like Skrillex.”

I always find it incredibly interesting to hear how people come up - who their musical interests and influences are as a child, as a teenager, as an artist. You can learn a lot about someone when you look at the genres that they gravitate towards. However, in 2020, there doesn’t seem to be as much focus on that. YAA! Koala reinforced this truth by saying, “One good thing about today is that there’s not a strong genre emphasis or orientation anymore, our generation kind of listens to everything.”

That led us into our next point. Would YAA! Koala like to stay on the same path he’s on now, or venture to a new sound? Where is he headed in the future? He told us that he actually started his career off in a band doing a hip-hop, rock, electro mix. Apparently those shows were a lot of fun to do, but once the band broke up, he ventured off to do his own things and find flexibility. In that he loves dancing, it made sense for him to take the route that he did.

We learned that he shelved his first electronic project. In the music world, electronic music is difficult because there’s a steep learning curve, production-wise. YAA! Koala said, “It’s like an arms race for quality and diversity.” The good news is that he’s gathered up quite a few vocals from previous projects that he can use in the future, once he determines how to make them sound consistent with the version of YAA! Koala that he’s evolved into.

As we previously mentioned, Russian music can come with a lot of darker emotions - and YAA! Koala told us that the people are no different, “I come loaded with dark emotions. I’m trying to control those as much as I can. I think maybe at some point I’ll do an electronic album with a heavier hip-hop energy to it, but still find a way to do it where it isn’t so angry.”

It’s easy to relate with YAA! Koala as he talks about teenage angst that he’s faced. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been there, dealing with dark emotions and trying to find a healthy outlet for them. It appears to us that YAA! Koala has tackled those head-on and has turned into a more peaceful, easy-going individual - and that’s clear in his music, as well.

Next, we moved onto the current situation in the music industry. Megan leads, “There are a lot of venues in the US closing down for good from the virus. What do you think is going to happen with that? How do you think that it would be best for musicians to go about continuing their work?”

As you probably know, life on tour is both exhausting and demanding. YAA! Koala admits that there were times when he thought it would be great to stay in one area and only do live shows there. It’s difficult for him, he told us, to tour without support of friends and family, and even to be forced to eat so unhealthy. However, he seems to have changed his mind because he told us, “I think fundamentally what humans connect to goes back to when we were all small tribes of 50-100 people. Everyone sat around fires,drummed, sang songs, and told stories - that’s the human experience. It’s innate for us to want to be around other people and share those things: music, dancing, stories. Doing it online, research shows, doesn’t fill the void. We need to feel other people, smell them, do primal human shit.”

I’m sure that you can agree with me when I say that I completely empathize with those remarks. There’s something magical about being in a room, or even at an outside stage, with a group of people and connecting over common interests. Even if you attend shows alone, you don’t feel alone.

He goes further by saying, “I’m sure things will come back eventually. They have to at some point. A lot of places will go out of business (during COVID-19.) But once the economy comes back and gets going, certain artists will be able to tour, some others will not be able to. There’s not a sustainable structure for a lot of artists these days. It’ll take time.”

But what would YAA! Koala like to see happen during that time?

“It would be nice if people did more stuff during the day.”

We tend to assume that concerts and parties have to happen at nighttime, but YAA! Koala believes otherwise. It could potentially be a great move for the music industry - adjusting to the changes that the pandemic has caused and taking the new normal by the reins.

YAA! Koala joked that we were asking him hard questions. Megan told him that we didn’t want to go with the status quo and ask him the age-old questions like who his favorite artist is. With a smile, YAA! Koala told us, “Obviously Justin Bieber. He’s everybody’s favorite.”

Fear not, Beliebers. He wasn’t insulting Justin Bieber! He continued, “I’m not even hating on Justin. His last album was brilliant. And “Purpose” was really good too. Skrillex produced half of it. On that front, the favorite artist thing is kind of impossible to answer… as an artist.”

Taking you back to much earlier when we were talking about YAA! Koala’s album, we got back to the basics and wanted to talk with him about being in Cape Town. Megan ushered us forward with, “Rikki was telling me that you were trying to come back into the US before COVID. What has that been like?”

“Craziest story of my life. I was in Spain in the fall and I went hiking. I was trying to impress this girl I was with and thought I’d show her I knew how to climb, so I went up this rock and it broke off... and I fell. I ended up with a mild concussion and broke my foot. I decided since the plan was initially to go skiing and I couldn’t go anymore, that I wanted to finish the project somewhere else. Most of it was done already but when you’re working on the same song and ideas, it’s nice to have a reset and if you can manage, a change of environment.”

He carried on with, “Everybody has always said amazing things about Cape Town, so I came. It’s been amazing. For the first month I worked on the album. I thought once I finished I'd enjoy the country and do all the things people go to Cape Town for. But then, flights got canceled, borders closed… We still have no idea about international flights. We’re speculating maybe the fall. I have no way to get back home. I don’t want to say I’m stuck because it seems ungrateful, when really, it’s quite lovely. I’m basically surrounded by oceans and cats - cats are amazing. I’ve never lived with them so just having them around all the time is heaven. They’re so clingy, they follow me around all the time.”

As if perfectly orchestrated by the universe, a cat appeared on the screen with him. We all became briefly distracted by the cute meows and obvious joy on YAA! Koala’s face. He joked, “I don’t know if they think of us as companions or warm furniture.”

After the short break, we got back into it and YAA! Koala continued, “I’m not complaining, but it was weird at first - I felt very out of control - I think everyone does. Not being able to move around is crazy - in lockdown here, people couldn’t go outside at all except for groceries - couldn’t exercise or do anything. It’s bizarre but people aren’t the most rational. It was weird. All my friends are in the US and Europe, and I can’t meet anyone here cos I can’t go anywhere.”

He also expressed a sentiment that I deal with daily; feeling a bit frustrated with the fact that people were fixating on one solution, when really, we should be taking better care of ourselves all the time. “People don’t really care about other risk factors. People still smoke, eat trash food, pollute the air, etc. Everyone got stuck on one thing but nothing else is changing.”

We knew that we were going to have to wrap up soon, so our final topic of conversation was about the ever-so-intriguing “Cape Town” music video. Although “Cape Town” wasn’t Megan’s favorite on the album, it was in my top three and the music video plays a part as to why.

“I shot the video here, basically in the backyard. There are mountains everywhere, it’s quite lovely. The video was very DIY, but it was fun. I can act a fool and do dumb shit for days so that was pretty easy. They also have penguins here which is incredible. Small African penguins - the most adorable creatures - one of them even bit the camera.”

All in all, getting to talk to YAA! Koala and ask him the questions that we had for him was an enlightening experience. He was a joy to talk to - and, truly, we could feel joy radiating off of him and causing us to feel joyous as well. Don’t just take my word for it, check out this podcast he recorded here. We’re very excited to see what YAA! Koala has in store for all of us in the future. Below, you can watch his video for “Cape Town” and read Megan’s review of it. Make sure you check out our “artist of the month” page where we’ve linked his Spotify and Apple Music! If you’re looking for a pick-me-up, afternoon dance party playlist… YAA! Koala is for you.

The music video for Cape Town comes to us in the day and age of TikTok, where just about everyone can be seen dancing, or lip syncing to a song. “Cape Town” opens to a scene similar to a TikTok video, with YAA! Koala dancing, and enjoying the music. It’s reminiscent of the various travel vlogs you see spread across the YouTube platform with lush greenery everywhere, making you want to book a tropical vacation pronto! The waves crashing on the shoreline are relaxing in and of itself. It helps to truly bring out the quite lush, chill vibe of feel-good music. Although the beach is isolated due to quarantine measures, YAA! Koala never seems to be alone.

Throughout the video, YAA! Koala can be seen having a good time and breaking it down. Candid moments such as him out and about in the streets of Africa help to tie into the story of seeing the beauty in an otherwise dim situation. The animal shots thrown in here and there help to break up the flow and provide an alternative perspective. No one wants to be in full-on quarantine mode, of course, but YAA! Koala is proof that just because we’re stuck in a weird situation doesn’t mean we can’t go within and be grateful for what we do have in these trying times. It’s the simple things in life that get us through the day, and Cape Town really showcases this in a way that’s not doing too much.

-Megan Vineberg

Enjoy "Cape Town" music video below.

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