Editor's Note: Yoya is one of three finalists in L.A. Weekly's Best Live Band contest, with a winner to be chosen later this month by our panel of experts. Read about our first finalist, Mars and the Massacre.
Over the objections of our copy editor, Yoya spells their name “yOya.” But why?
“We thought it was cool in 2010,” guitarist and vocalist Alex Pfender explains. “There's no good reason for the big 'O'. It sounds like 'yo-yo' with an 'A' at the end.”
Keyboardist and vocalist Noah Dietterich offers an alternative: “A girl came up to us after one of our shows and told us it means 'You own your ass!'”
Apparently, “yoya” also means “ethereal” in Mandarin. It's a good fit for the band's sound, which they describe as “folktronic.”
Whatever the case, one thing is clear: They kill it in the live setting. You can see from our original video of the band, below. It's funny.
Pfender and Dietterich met as 5th graders in Corvalis, Oregon.
By high school, they were playing in a four-piece rock band that was heavily influenced by the classic rock groups they were into at the time. That band split when it came time for college, but Pfender and Dietterich stayed close. They travelled to Los Angeles to study music; Pfender went to UCLA, Dietterich went to Pomona. That's when they discovered Los Angeles electronic music scene, and began incorporating an electronic edge into their Oregon-inspired folk songs.
But Yoya is still folk at heart. “We want the songs to stand on their own in a folky way,” says Dietterich. “We take the folk part very seriously.”
When yOya formed in 2010, they began posting covers and mash-ups on YouTube. They've recomposed renditions of The XX's “Crystalised” and MGMT's “Electric Feel,” as well as combined tunes like David Bowie's “Major Tom” with Elton John's “Rocket Man” into one seamless song.
They used to play a mash-up of Radiohead's “High and Dry” and Gary Jules' “Mad World” at their live show. (Now, they say, they have too much original music from their releases Go North and Nothing to Die to fit in mash-ups). At the time, they would ask the audience: “Who's ready to hear the saddest song of all time? Who's ready to hear that mixed with the other saddest song of all time?”
Whatever the case, though, their rendition is hauntingly beautiful. Pfender and Deitterich's vocal harmonies soar over the ting of a triangle, while tambourines, shakers, keyboards, and electronic and acoustic guitars mesh to form a saturated, yet gentle sound.
They even play the rims of glasses filled with varying levels of water as instruments.
It's this uniquely layered and incredibly detail-oriented sound that Dietterich says makes their live show so special: “All of our arms and legs and mouths are working over time.”
Pfender adds that people are often surprised by the amount of sound the two members are able to create with the simple set up of a guitar, a keyboard and a drum machine. “There is a lot going on, even if you can't see it on stage.”
For four years, it has just been Pfender and Dietterich on stage, blowing people away with their high-energy, complex sounds. It was the power of their two-piece that earned them a spot as a finalist in this contest. As of a few months ago, however, Yoya has a drummer: Lucas van Bura of local band King Washington.
Get ready, because Yoya's live shows are about to get even crazier.