An Interview with YAZ

  • 8 min read

With sold-out shows at London’s iconic The Troubadour and Mercato already under their belt, a headline slot at Camden Rocks Festival this summer, and being in the running for Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent competition,YAZ's distinctive blend of indie-folk, paired with deep introspective lyrics, all wrapped up in lead singer Yassine’s captivatingly soulful vocals is something that deeply resonates with their audience.

Recently, the London-based fourpiece burst onto London’s music scene with the release of their tender new single, ‘Beauty Hidden In Pain’, and today, we were lucky enough to sit down with the band and learn a little bit more about them.

Great to meet you guy, you've come a long way in a very short space of time. How did YAZ first come about?

"YAZ was actually born out of a coincidental meeting between Yassine and Krishna following the second COVID Lockdown in London. Having met through mutual friends in university from King’s College London, we connected over music and hosted a few jam sessions together. What started off as a fun activity soon became bigger as we started playing regularly at our student union bar and got approached by promoters to play slightly bigger shows. Having fallen in love with the creative process of making music alongside performing and connecting with strangers through the medium of music, we both decided after graduating to pursue a career in music. Having eventually met and incorporated Tony and Oscar into the band, we have made our first significant step and released our first single ‘Beauty Hidden in Pain’."

"However, the seed for our love of music was planted in our childhood. For both Yassine and Krishna, music was the most consistent thing in their lives. Given a significant period of mental health struggle for Yassine, he found solace in creating music. It presented him with an opportunity of self-therapy where he really connected with the process of creating music. In Krishna’s case, music helped him overcome his third-culture identity by providing him an avenue with which he can relate with anyone anywhere."

The single has become a breakthrough anthem for you so far, how would you describe the sound you've created?

"This is a question we have always struggled with because when we look at all the material we have created, we seem to be almost schizophrenic in settling with a genre. That being said, we suppose we sort of embody indie-pop characteristics. The defining feature of our music is the deep and introspective lyrics that implore listeners to reflect. We write songs as a form of self-therapy so more often than not the underlying message of the song often resonates with others as we navigate similar challenges in life. These lyrics are also often coupled with warm sounds that try to match the emotional energy of the lyrics. For example, our new release ‘Beauty Hidden in Pain’, the instrumentation is warm, spiritual and empowering to exemplify that message. Given that a lot of our music deals with similar themes, we do tend to resort to similar instrumentation that is somewhat characterised by long reverb decays and delays, delicate drumming and an almost acoustic feel. Nevertheless, as we release more material you will see what we mean by when we say we struggle with defining our sound."

On that topic of the new single, can you tell us a little more about it?

"We live in an age where it is easier to be a nihilist or a pessimist than it is to express kindness or practice empathy. It seems everywhere we look, general discourse always tends to focus on the failures; whether that be on an individual or societal level. Although discourse is good, the level of negativity that characterises them often comes at the detriment of hope. We seem to be proactive in identifying flaws and sharing criticisms but very little is done to ameliorate them. Our latest release, 'Beauty Hidden in Pain', challenges these pessimistic tendencies."

"The idea of the song actually came about towards the end of 2021. Walking around Harrow Road near Maida Vale, Yassine took notice of the homeless population within the area. Despite the regrettable conditions (sub-zero temperatures and rain) these homeless individuals still had the energy within them to greet passerbyers and wish them well. Moments of deep struggle provide people with two options; to persevere or succumb to the pain. Given the negativity we find ourselves in, one would expect to observe people giving up or hopelessly complaining. However, more often than not, it's human nature to fight through adversity in the hope that it will get better. In this case, regardless of the deplorable circumstances the homeless individuals find themselves in, they continue to find opportunities to overcome their challenges. The inspiration for the song really stems from this observation. We all face challenges within our lives. Big or small these challenges often have considerable impact on our mental state. However, instead of resorting to pessimistic tendencies, the song implores listeners to embrace your vulnerability because it is within moments of deep struggle that we really understand who we are."

What influences most define your music?

"Our main musical influences are actually The Lumineers and Coldplay. That should be no surprise because they also happen to be the artists we grew up listening to and still listen to quite religiously. Our instrumentation is very reminiscent of early Coldplay from the Parachutes and A Rush Of Blood To The Head era with a very strong acoustic base from which the rest of the song is built upon. The addition of keys, stripped back guitar riffs, and soft synths really resemble this. Similarly, our lyrical content and phrasing evokes a similar folky feel to The Lumineers, especially when we first write the song in its acoustic form."

What is your songwriting process? How does it all come together?

"Our creative process is odd in that the music and lyrics are often developed completely separately from each other. Yassine often has bursts of inspiration where he’ll write down words and lyrics that flood him in that moment on his phone. This could be whole songs or just a few phrases, but it nevertheless exposes and sometimes fleshes out what the general message/theme of the song will be. On the other hand, Krishna comes up with melodies by messing around on the guitar. Noodling around with chords or scales, he usually has a few ideas that he conjures up with a general idea of the kind of emotions he would want the song to evoke. The songs really take shape when both Yassine and Krishna jam together and share their ideas that they've been working on. For example, Yassine will sometimes share his new lyrics and Krishna will pickout one of the melodies he's been working on that roughly matches the emotions of the lyrical message and together they start to incorporate their ideas to create a cohesive and coherent song. Alternatively, Krishna will sometimes share a melody and Yassine will filter through his database of lyrics to identify an idea that matches the emotional energy of the melody."

"Once the basic structure and melody of the song are established, Oscar and Tony play the crucial role in materialising the full potential of the song. Their extensive expertise in music and production works wonders when developing a song. Whilst Yassine and Krishna provide the lyrics and general melody/theme of the song, it is really Oscar and Tony that develop the song into what it really is. Their addition of interesting time signatures, chord changes and instrumentation realises the potential of the song."

What’s the most important thing for you when you’re writing a song?

"For us, the most important thing when writing the song is we believe in the message or the theme it promotes. Music is a form of creative expression that is personal. People write music to express how they feel about current events or verbalise their frustration in finding love. Whatever it is, good music always has an element of authenticity that is derived from the genuine expression of emotion from the creator. In our case, we write music as a form of self therapy. It allows us to voice our emotions and in inadvertently doing so, help other individuals also find meaning with our material. Therefore, for us it is all about the authenticity of the message because after all we write songs for ourselves first."

Now that 'Beauty Hidden in Pain' has put you on the map, what's next?

"We have a large backlog of material that we are getting ready to produce and share, and ‘Beauty Hidden in Pain’ is the first of a series of releases we have got planned. In the coming months, we have three more songs that we are excited to finish and debut to the world. Additionally, we have a few summer music festivals lined up that we are scheduled to play at, the prospect of which makes us ecstatic."

"However, for us, the crucial goal for 2023 is to just share our music with the world. We have waited very long to find the right people to materialise our vision and now that we have a team of believers, our most important goal is to get these projects out first. Whether that is through streaming releases or live shows, just getting the message across and enjoying the process whilst doing so is really the end goal."

Do you have a moment that stands out in your career?

"In June 2022, we had sold out the Troubadour in London for a show. As relatively unknown artists, and at that time as a duo (Yassine and Krishna), it was quite an achievement for us. Up until that point we were only playing shows at our student union bar and we had never really played a proper show in a renowned live music venue. Furthermore, we only had four weeks to promote the show and generate ticket sales."

"Given our infancy and short promotion timeline, to sell out the venue on that night was easily one of our biggest moments in our music career. However, what really stood out to us on that night and what we are most proud of is how our music had engaged the crowd. We played to a room that was mostly strangers, but within half an hour of playing the crowd was fully immersed in the music. People were picking up on and singing the lyrics  to music that had not even been released yet at that point. This sense of connection, almost in a community sense, we felt with the crowd really exemplified the power of music and it is a moment in our career which we will forever cherish."

One last question before you go, what advice would you give to band’s who are looking to make it big?

"It would probably be to focus on the art of making music itself. Don’t set out with the aim of making a popular song or one that will propel you to fame, but make music that you enjoy playing. Explore ideas you think are worthy of exploring and experiment around. The point is that music is a form of artistic expression and the best kinds are often rooted in one's attempt to genuinely express themselves through this medium of communication. By immersing yourself in the process of making music, there will be people who will resonate with the ideas communicated in your material and success will eventually follow. However, the key is to enjoy the process."

"Additionally, It would be to just stick with it. Being musicians, especially as international students here in the UK, is extremely hard. We spent a considerable amount of resources doing and achieving degrees only to pursue something completely unrelated by creating music. At times your confidence can crumble when a gig doesn't go well or success seems almost unattainable. But it's in moments like these that it's more important than ever to simply reflect. We started off as a duo just having a jam, and two years later we have written, produced, promoted and released our first single by ourselves. Two years ago that would’ve seemed absurd and unattainable and yet here we are. So who is to tell what two years from now will present you with. So just stick with it and hopefully your dreams as successful musicians will eventually materialise."

With YAZ standing for You Are Zen, the band create music to promote change from within. Drawing on their multicultural roots, their music fuses several philosophical attitudes together to try and negotiate life's challenges. Focusing on silver linings, their message encourages listeners to recognise and embrace hope.

Made up of Yassine Belkhou on vocals and guitar, Krishna Kasim on electric guitar, Oscar Joe Gross on bass and Tony Lesage on drums, to see YAZ perform live is to truly experience their magic.

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