“Freedom to pursue the life you want because your mind is familiar and trustworthy.”
LA based trio yOya brings us ‘The Half Turn’ due to be released the 20th of this month. The band combines classic folk song writing combined with electronic beats. Alex, Noah and Ian have influences such as The Dodos, Jeff Buckley and Joni Mitchell. They have also shared a stage with the likes of Avi Buffalo and Moses Sumney. We caught up with Alex and Noah to chat about music, health and growing up in Oregon.
What are you listening to, reading and watching at the moment?
Alex: At the moment I’m listening to Michael Rault, the last book I read was The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, and the last movie I watched was Hereditary (twice).
Noah: In addition to music (Half Waif, Snail Mail) I listen to way too many podcasts: The Memory Palace, Revisionist History, and Reply All are some favourites. Alex and I read that Ursula Le Guin book together in a group after she died. I recently saw some remake of the A-Team on a plane without the sound, it looked truly terrible.
What has been your biggest life challenge so far and what did you do to overcome it?
Alex: A few years ago I hit a big wall with my writing, and I moved more into the music production world for a while. It gave me a creative outlet while getting some new musical experiences. It also allowed me to build on my avid interest in recording and production, which I’ve had since I was a teenager. But after a while I realised that I had a true need to write, and avoiding it was having intense adverse effects on me. Getting back into writing was a real slog, and at times it was very disheartening to think I had lost a lot of time. It’s not really a challenge you can overcome, because every day you have to do something to stay on the path. But it was a bit of a breakthrough to look at it from that perspective.
Noah: The challenges I’ve overcome in the past have seemed big, and sometimes they’ve been overwhelming. Having music as an outlet has been really important. But when I think about these things, a lot of those past challenges strike me as acute, while the things I wrestle with now strike me as chronic. Overcoming them means changing my own behaviour in small ways: recognizing success and not just punishing myself mentally, maintaining a regular schedule, looking for the root cause of anger and anxiety rather than letting it perpetuate itself.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
Alex: I’d wake up early, and it would be cloudy. I like to write for the first few hours of the day when possible. Make breakfast, throw the ball for my dog, and then check in on the stuff I wrote earlier. Sort of review it, make some changes. After that I’m usually ready to be out in the world, so I’ll go to a coffee shop or something; I kind of like just being around other people while doing my own thing. I love to listen to music on headphones in those places, or maybe read a bit. Then I’d go back home to write some more or make demos. By the end of the afternoon on a “perfect” day, I’ve made some headway with new song ideas and can at least temporarily put to rest the constant voice saying I need to write more, write more. I love a golden-hour walk in some natural environment. I love being out where there are no lights when the sun sets and dusk settles and you don’t use a flashlight, you just let your eyes adjust for as long as you can, until it’s really pitch black or the moon is bright enough to see by. The end.
Noah: I’m an indoor/outdoor kid. So give me some real running around in the wilderness, and also some hanging out watching like, Drag Race. I also love some time alone as well as time with a big group of friends. Put it all together with great music and food of all kinds and that’ll basically make me very content.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
Alex: The joy I can get by listening to music that I really love, at a concert or in my car or at home. It’s my window into the infinite.
Noah: My health. All of our lives could be dramatically different, or could change suddenly, due to factors we have no control over. It’s not fun to think about but it’s certainly something to be grateful for.
Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”
Alex: Being able to live and create presently, without getting too distracted by the past or the future.
Noah: Freedom. From intrusive thinking: was that an okay thought to have? Am I reacting right to this? Freedom to pursue the life you want because your mind is familiar and trustworthy.
What do you eat to stay healthy?
Alex: Pizza and burritos, mostly. But I also eat yogurt with berries and granola every single morning.
Noah: Real food… some of the time. We cook dinner at home most nights which I’m not particularly great at, but it definitely makes a huge difference. Stir fry with tofu and veggies, lentil bowls.
Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?
Alex: I’ve tried several times to maintain an exercise routine, but nothing has really stuck. The closest I got was jogging every day, because it was a great way to listen to a new album. I’d listen to the same album for several days, and then move on to another. I should do that again.
Noah: Taking public transit in LA is a good baseline! Though it doesn’t add up to enough steps for me. I add in hiking but not as regular exercise.
Here at The Mind Map we remember playing football and ‘tag’ – running around the playground everyday and loving it – can you share a similar memory?
Alex: Riding my bike through the meadow behind my childhood home was something that gave me real joy and a sense of freedom. I did it a lot between the ages of 10 and 25.
Noah: We should build protected bike lanes in our cities so that riding our bikes isn’t a terrifying adventure. Alex and I used to go for bike rides in the summer in the forested hills around our hometown in Oregon, and then we’d coast downhill to American Dream Pizza just in time for lunch.
What three songs lift your spirits?
Alex: Lovely Rita by The Beatles, Let It Happen by Tame Impala, Death With Dignity by Sufjan Stevens (yeah, I know. *shrug*).
Noah: “Chelsea Morning” by Joni Mitchell, “She Don’t Use Jelly” by The Flaming Lips, and “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed” by Silver Jews.
What is your favourite self-help book, or motivational quote?
Alex: I don’t find myself returning to a single source for that. When I feel like I need something to give me clarity or motivation, and listening to music isn’t working, I tend to find interviews of my favourite musicians and read those.
Noah: In what’s clearly not a coincidence, like Alex I get my motivational messages from songs. I remember thinking in early high school about this Radiohead B-side called Lift, in which Thom Yorke sings about isolation: “you’ve been stuck / in a lift / we’ve been trying to reach you” and closes with a super-trite quote: “today / is the first day / of the rest of your days… / so lighten up, squirt.” I remember thinking that if Thom Yorke of all people can say those words to himself and make them mean something, there’s hope for anyone.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?
Alex: It sounds a bit like a non-answer but I usually ask them to think about what they, in turn, would say to someone, some specific person, in their position. Maybe their partner or best friend. I think the worst effect of being overwhelmed is non-action, a sense of paralysis. And for me, nothing has been better at defeating that than getting out of your own head.
Noah: My biggest problem trying to help friends has been being too analytical. Looking for a problem to solve with a series of concrete steps. That’s a useful approach sometimes, but the first thing that a friend does is establish that they’re on your side, listen, and provide comfort. Be available. Advice comes later, and it seems to be a very useful thing to just reframe the problem. So many times I’ve been overwhelmed, a friend has immediately said something like, “well, why don’t you just say X to Y?” and in retrospect it’s the most obvious thing, I was just under my own spell.