June 26, 2020 - Kim Hansen
Interview with I Ya Toyah
Image from Bobby Talamine
Ania Tarnowska, also known as I Ya Toyah, is a one-woman army force to be reckoned with. Originally from Poland, I Ya Toyah is accomplishing her goal of spreading the disease of music and infecting the human race. Now based in Chicago, her unique industrial electronica sound will guide you through many powerful emotions and feelings which of course is amplified by these unusual circumstances where our society currently finds itself.
EP: Could you please explain the meaning of your name I Ya Toyah?
I Ya Toyah: When spoken out loud, in Polish ‘I Ya Toyah’ means ‘It’s Just Me’. My logo art IYT emerges from peace and anarchy symbols which highlight my true nature- rebel psyche.
EP: What are you doing with this unexpected time?
I Yah Toyah: Well...quarantine and lockdown hit me hard at first. The lack of security and certainty made reality quite tough. I’ve had a very busy year planned, West Coast and Canada shows as a direct opener for Stabbing Westward, a bunch of independent shows all over the US, then a longer and more intense tour in August with a star I cannot reveal the name of… and suddenly all of it was not happening. So, I had to do a massive evaluation and adjust my mindset to the fact that 2020 is a different kind of animal. I started with a major redesign of my live show production, with touring in mind, with an idea to speed up my setup and tear downtime and make everything super swift and convenient when live music returns. It was not easy but I managed to achieve that goal with the help of brilliant minds that are my behind the scenes team. At this time I was wrapping my very first movie score involvement and I was working on creating the soundtrack to Artifact movie with its director, Ralph Klisiewicz, at his studio in Pilsen, Chicago. With the virus outbreak, I was forced to continue this work from my home studio and it was so refreshing to be challenged like this, building this important thing I have never done before, using the tools I had. It was fun to step out of my comfort zone and be part of this greatness. I then started to feel an urge to do something with creativity caused by the sudden chaos and emotions associated. So, I began writing and now I’m wrapping the production of my 5 piece EP to then have it mixed/mastered and...get ready to release it. I’ve just finished location scouting for the video that will be a part of this release, and we start filming with Lumbra Productions in July. Other than this, I continue collaboration with the project I’m a part of, The Joy Thieves, I’ve released a remix album of my debut record Code Blue featuring amazing artists such as Tim Skold of Marilyn Manson, Rhys Fulber, Adoration Destroyed, Xentrifuge and many more. I also designed Fuck The Virus face mask that is selling like hot buns- that keeps me busy as first and second batch sold out in no time so I had to focus on delivering more- they are now available (until they aren’t again) on my Bandcamp merch page: https://iyatoyah.bandcamp.com/merch. In May I released a video and cover of my favorite Depeche Mode song, It’s No Good, to further express the moods of the pandemic and the fact that it really is not too good right now. I’m really happy with how my amazing audience reacted to this song and video- btw THANK YOU all so much for being a part of my artist’s journey! I also recently started putting a little memoir/lyrical art book together. As I began writing and painting, it hit me I could involve other artists and have them paint a piece to a chosen lyrical content of my discography to aid a cause. All these art pieces will then be auctioned and all the money gathered will go to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with a focus on aiding those affected mentally by the COVID-19 situation. As you probably already know, the suicide prevention cause is very dear to my heart so this whole pandemic thing immediately worried me, as it takes a big toll on our mental health, and suicide numbers are spiking, unfortunately. This brings me to another thing I’ve been doing during this pandemic. I have been focusing on my mental health, inner balance, making sure that regardless of extreme circumstances and hardship I still am able to keep my sanity and fresh perspective, seeing all the beautiful and good things around. I spend time with close loved ones in nature and give a lot of attention to my dog Benek who is my best friend and a big reason for endless joy every day ( see why: https://www.instagram.com/benek_the_dog/ ). But I do other things to maintain my mind in check- I actually put a little video together sharing some of the survival tips, in the silly manner: https://youtu.be/S9DIR-v05e4 During quarantine I put some other videos together as well, one featuring my dog Benek and the book about his adventures called Benek’s Adventures in Petlandia, and another one featuring my Fuck Sleeves T-shirt design- you can find them on my youtube channel as well. This being said, I hope everyone who reads this is staying well and safe. I’m sending good vibes your way! I hope to see you at one of my one-woman army live shows when this is over. Meanwhile, I’m sending lots of love your way, please take care of yourself!
EP: You mentioned that the current chaos has stirred an urge in you to create. How have the current circumstances changed your creative process?
I Ya Toyah: My creative process hasn’t really changed. I write music at my home studio which means I have access to working on my stuff whenever I desire. What changed, though, was a general mood caused by the outer reality. That gave me the need to express emotions that were born as a result of hardship, struggle, and vulnerability. I use music creation as a sort of therapy. This is my outlet for dark and uneasy things. Putting a song together in times like this, times of distress, makes me aware of my emotions, gives me an ability to find inner balance, helps me clear my mind so that I can be my usual self during regular life’s hours. So, I’m always thankful when creativity calls me to work. It is a catharsis each time.
EP: I was first introduced to your music while you were working on the Joy Thieves project. Would you please discuss the unique nature of that collaboration?
I Ya Toyah: The Joy Thieves is a musical family, it is a collaborative project started by Dan Milligan and including about 30 artists right now- there is Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Pigface, Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, Nitzer Ebb, KMFDM, The Machines of Loving Grace, Skatenigs, Mary's Window, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Blue October, Ashes Divide, W.O.R.M., 16VOLT, 13MG, and many more. What is amazing about this ‘band’ is, we often collaborate from different parts of the world, via the internet, sending the files back and forth. What is even more amazing is the vibe amongst us. There is no place for ego, stardom, attitudes. These interactions are just so amazing, naturally, and I guess it is a secret sauce to great music that comes out. I’m very honored and happy to be a part of this collaborative powership. The Joy Thieves steal your joy, but only to return it right back, tripled. It is purely positive energy, just like anything that touches music and human lives should be.
EP: Your video and cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘It’s No Good’ is amazing. What is it like to rework one of your favorites and still keep the vibe of the original?
I Ya Toyah: Thank you so much! Covering the legends is always tough, yet tempting. It’s the familiarity of the tune that makes you wanna perform it, but at the same time you know that an original is already the best possible version- that is why you love it in the first place. Taking that piece and making it ‘your own’, adding your character and twist, has its own power. In this case, Nick Palazzo of Evolution Recording twisted my already twisted version even further by remixing it and in result, this cover is a powerful blend of different personalities- including the original Depeche Mode vibe which is still present there.
EP: Your lyrical memoir art book being created, and then involving other artists to create physical artwork pieces to benefit suicide prevention is an inspired idea. Would you please share more about this important piece of art?
I Ya Toyah: An idea of writing a lyrical book was with me for a while. I recently started painting in canvas and it hit me that I could express some of the meanings of my songs via this visual medium, and publish the book that would tell the stories behind the lyrics and their inspirations, along with artworks, digitalized. Then I thought, well, it’s true I need a merch item to sell to make my living, and I want to create things other than music but related to it. But what about everything I care about, besides surviving? How about doing something involving a cause that is close to my heart? I then thought of inviting various artists to paint to a chosen lyrical content of my discography, and then auction all physical pieces for AFSP(American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), a suicide prevention cause with the focus on people affected mentally by COVID 19. I was surprised how many amazing talented creatives wanted to take part! To me it makes perfect sense- I’ve been all about suicide prevention ever since I lost my Mom to suicide. As a suicide loss survivor, I have many emotions and triggers connected to the subject, but I truly feel that with different steps organizations such as AFSP take to fight suicide, the change is coming- it is here, it just takes time and continuous efforts. As a field advocate for AFSP, I constantly follow and take part in actions targeting different legislative issues that are the problem slowing the changes down. There is so much to do, and a big important part is to talk about it, as the conversation brings awareness concluding the simple yet very important message: we are not alone in this. We have the right to feel not good, to not be ok. We all do at times, but some of us more for various reasons that are not of their choice, and they need to know we are here for each other, and there are ways of getting help. I started talking about suicide prevention openly with my debut record Code Blue, which is essentially a record about mental health. 15% of physical sales of it go to AFSP, but the lyrical content is heavy on various subjects oscillating around our struggles with maintaining mental wellness. That’s why it made sense to me to combine the book project idea with something more, something not for me or my brand but for all of us, for a big social change. So the vision is to have all physical art pieces here in Chicago (I still have to figure out how to cover shipping costs and other logistics but these things won’t stop me) and then run an auction ( either live- during annual AFSP Out of Darkness Walk, or- if pandemic won’t allow it- online) with the patronage of AFSP to raise the money by selling these pieces. All money from the auction go to AFSP but there is more- there is the whole ‘talk about it’ thing, and I hope as we do talk about it, we bring the comfort and awareness to all who still take suicide and mental health as a difficult, taboo subject, and make them understand that this is what makes us, allows us to function, and we cannot ignore it by thinking the problem disappears just because we avoid it. It is my goal, and I hope it becomes a goal for all of us.
EP: What other ways have you found to maintain your own balance and healthy mind?
I Ya Toyah: As I mentioned before, definitely creating new music. Other than that, any small things every day that make me happy and boost my mood. Because these small things are really big ones, in the full spectrum of things. Also, letting go of the things I can’t control, understanding my triggers, not letting drama and blame into my life….all these things, together, work wonders to me. I think it is important to have a distance to ourselves, and while taking things in life seriously, also know when is it time to loosen up and laugh at ourselves, just because we are all humans, we are to make mistakes- as long as we learn from them, it is a growth, making a good life. And a good life equals good, balanced mental health.
EP: It seems as though you are true to your “one-woman army” name with many meaningful projects to keep you productive. Where do you find your inspiration?
I Ya Toyah: Honestly, my inspiration comes from everyday life. It is my experience but also observation of everything around me. I live through my senses, perception of things but also realizing that stuff can seem to be one way, seen through my pair of eyes, and completely different through someone else’s eyes. I then like to, through empathy, imagine other scenarios and the reasonings behind them. The result of these journeys played in my mind often becomes the subject of my creations and ideas.
EP: What other musicians have influenced you and your style?
I Ya Toyah: It is very hard to tell. I honestly don’t know. People compare my music to Depeche Mode, NIN, Tool, Crystal Method, Prodigy, my voice to Lady Gaga, Kate Bush, Sade, Sandra Nasic...But I personally take the music I choose to listen to as a soundtrack to my life, to the moments, moods and emotions experienced. When making music, writing lyrics, working on production, I never aim to sound like anybody. I aim to express emotions I feel, and tell the stories I want to share, that is why it is so hard for me to say who influences my style on a conscious level. I’m sure there are inspirations happening all the time and I’m unaware. Also, I am a big soundtrack and cinema person so it must be a part of my influence as well, a significant one. There is something very magical happening to my mind when I pick up certain sounds while watching a movie. This is also a reason why I myself am big on visual arts and why you see me doing all these videos, but also perform live with the background of visuals created for each song. What inspires me and my creations is broader than other artists creating music. It is in the color, smell, small sounds hidden in between the big sounds...I don’t know why it is like that but I’ve always had that going on, and I don’t mind.
EP: What artists would you like to create with in the future?
I Ya Toyah: Anyone who is driven, true to themselves and wants to create something beautiful, impactful, bigger than ourselves, without any expectation, but simply for this creation itself. One of my big dreams is to work with David Lynch and compose and perform something for one of his movies.
I YA TOYAH