Having released her debut EP, Eternity, in 2020, LA-based artist YAZ is back with her first full-length album, Inferno (out 2/18). Inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, from the Divine Comedy, the project is “an exploration of the idea of sin, and a rallying cry against the demonization of women and empowered female sexuality that is found within traditional religion, and in our society as a whole.” The music of YAZ blends elements of industrial, trance, techno, and other electronic styles. “Inferno” represents a definite evolution in her sound; it’s darker, more intense, and more varied than her initial EP. YAZ is also involved in many visual art forms, which she feels integrate with her music. In an email interview, she discussed Inferno and other work.
Inferno seems to have a more varied sound than your Eternity EP. What do you feel are the main factors behind the evolution of your musical style?
YAZ: Thank you, I’m glad it comes across that way, as that was definitely one of my goals with the record. I’ve always loved darker and heavier music, and I wanted to explore making it, but I didn’t feel comfortable doing so on Eternity because it was my first release, and I wasn’t able to go to that place from the start. In the last year and a half, I’ve had a pretty intense period of personal transformation and evolution, in parallel to the album being made, that has culminated in me being able to finally go to that darker, heavier place sonically and creatively. I’ve said that Inferno has really been an exploration and exorcism of the darkest parts of my psyche, and it would not have been possible for me to make the record if I hadn’t gone through that transformation.
I also think that the actual length of time this record took to make was a big factor in that evolution. I’ve had the time to further my technical skills in producing and to be more creative and try different things and really explore different soundscapes in a way I wasn’t able to with Eternity, and I think Inferno really reflects that.
Could you discuss your background and how you got into electronic music?
YAZ: I’m a primarily self-trained multi-disciplinary artist. My background is mainly in visual and performing arts, as well as costume design, and I minored in Film, TV, and Digital Media at UCLA, so I took a few courses on directing and producing. However, the majority of my development as an artist has come from just diving in and doing things hands-on.
I started working in entertainment when I was 16, and from there things just sort of took off. My work was internationally published for the first time when I was 17 and still in high school, right before I moved to LA to attend UCLA as a pre-med student. Once I moved to LA, things sort of
exploded. I was producing, styling, co-directing, and doing costumes for music videos when I was 18, and still studying to be a psychiatrist, and once I finally came to the realization a year later that being a psychiatrist was not going to be the best path for me, I switched majors, added my film minor, and went at it full force.
Initially, I was working on other people’s projects, because I was petrified of being in front of anyone, but I finally got to a point where I realized that I what I have to say is important, and that no one was going to be able to be the figurehead for the message and movement of YAZ better than I could be, so I had to stop being afraid and just do it.
That transformation happened about two years ago, and from there music was a natural fit. I had always wanted to make music, but I had these self-restraining beliefs that because I have no formal musical background that I needed someone else to produce my work. I reached a point in mid 2020 where I decided that it was time to move beyond that, and I started using GarageBand and other beginner programs to get a feel of what I wanted to explore sonically. From there I started using Logic, and created my first EP Eternity. I’ve always loved electronic music, and was drawn to making it specifically both because of that love, and because it felt less intimidating than other types of music that are more instrument-based rather than things I can produce on a computer. I also believe that there’s no greater joy than being able to come together and be liberated on a dance floor, and electronic music in my opinion is the perfect conduit for doing that.
Who would you cite as influences?
YAZ: There are so many influences, I’m a huge fan of Madonna, Cher, Lady GaGa, Kraftwerk, Nina Hagen, David Bowie, Rammstein, 80’s metal bands, and art movements like Viennese Actionism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and the Bauhaus. As odd as it may sound to some people, my music is also influenced by psychology and philosophy with luminaries like Carl Jung and Anton Lavey being sources of inspiration. I would also say the archetype of Lilith has been a huge influence on this record and its message specifically. And strong, powerful, feminine women are always an influence and inspiration in my work.
What made you decide on the Inferno concept with a track for each of the nine circles of hell?
YAZ: I read The Divine Comedy in high school, and actually went to the church Dante is buried at in Florence when I was there in Fall 2019, so I had somewhat of a background with the source material, but had the actual idea of making Inferno in Summer 2020. I had just started the final mixing of Eternity, and had been thinking a lot about the next record I wanted to make. One night during that period of time, I was playing with this projector that I own that changes colors, and it switched to the red setting it has, and when that happened the idea hit me. I have multiple forms of synesthesia, a lot of which are color-based, so I often get ideas from something as simple as a color, and that’s essentially what happened. From that moment, I knew that Inferno was the next record I was going to make. The idea for doing a track for each of the nine circles of Hell was instantaneous as well. From there I immediately began collecting source and reference materials, and researching about Dante’s life, and started producing the record shortly after.
In terms of having a track for each, to what degree were they written/produced around them, vs perhaps matching material you’d already been working on with titles?
YAZ: I wrote and produced completely around the concepts. With the synesthesia, once I get an idea it’s just a matter of scoring what I’ve heard in my brain when I’m thinking about the concept. I tend to approach my creative work in general that way.
What are your primary tools in creating music?
I use Logic Pro as my DAW, and I’m a big fan of the different loops that the software has natively. I also love plugins like the various Soundiron choir VSTs for example.
I see that you have other creative endeavors. How much of a focus is music for you? Do you feel that there is a crossover between music and your other work?
YAZ: Music is definitely my central focus, however all of my work is integrated. In addition to producing all of my own music, I’m also a performance and visual artist, singer/songwriter, director, filmmaker, writer, costume/clothing designer, and photographer among many other things, so I’m heavily involved in each step of the creative process with my work, and I tend to fuse all of the mediums I work in together to create a fully immersive world when I release a project. Music is the perfect vessel for me to do that, as there are so many directly adjacent avenues for me to work in, whether that be something like directing, producing, styling, and creating the costumes and set design for a music video like I did on this record, or building props like a prayer kneeler to shoot with, or creative directing the record’s promotional photography, or shooting, and editing the Inferno collection that’s coming out in April on my avant garde design label Yaz Mania. It all goes hand and hand.
Were “Lust,” and “Heresy” obvious choices for the first singles?
YAZ: “Heresy” definitely was. “Lust” came a bit later, it was between “Lust”, and “Violence”, and ultimately I felt that “Lust” was a better choice as it represents a more dynamic range of the album with “Heresy.”
I see that you’re planning on touring to support the album. What is your approach to live performance?
YAZ: The most important thing for me is that my audience is entertained and leaves thinking about what they’ve just seen. I don’t do things gratuitously, there’s always a deeper message and meaning behind what I’m presenting, so I always start with the meaning and message and create and mold the visuals and performance to best represent and amplify that. I definitely take
the performance art route over the more traditional presentation of electronic music that we see in a lot of club settings, and I like live performances that are fully immersive, and are also interactive enough to keep the audience engaged without becoming too monotonous. One of the big things I’m toying with for this record specifically is performing an exorcism on stage, so I’m in the process of sorting out the logistics of how to best do that.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
YAZ: Just to thank you for a great interview, and to let our readers know to keep an eye out for the music video for my next single, “Heresy”, that will be out in the next few weeks, and to connect with me on social media, @yazxmusic on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, @yazxxmusic on Twitter, and at my website theyazcollective.com.