Back in 2017, Yonaka played Brighton’s The Great Escape Festival for the first time. Packing out the basement of Patterns, guitarist George Edwards went so hard during the set, he accidently cut his own head with his guitar and played the rest of the set with blood running down his face. That rock & roll, eh?
Earlier this month, the alt-rock trio returned to the festival for the first time since to close out a night of raucous guitar music at Brighton’s Chalk. A lot has changed for Yonaka over the past six years. They’ve got more than three songs to their name now for a start and this time, it was Alex Crosby’s guitar that ended up covered in his own blood. “We’ve always put in the energy,” vocalist Theresa Jarvis tells whynow with a grin.
When we speak, it’s a couple of hours before the band hit the stage to deliver an almighty performance that confidently pulls from across their swaggering back catalogue but also hints at what’s to come next for them. All three members are huddled in a cupboard backstage at Chalk, feeling nervous. It’s the band’s first hometown show in over two years and they’re following buzzy local bands Snayx and Lambrini Girls. “It’s good nerves though,” says Theresa. “Excited nerves.”
The band started the year supporting American emo-rockers Palaye Royale on a lengthy tour of the UK and Europe. It was the longest stint Yonaka have ever had on the road, visiting 26 different countries in the process. “It was a good test of endurance,” explains Alex, but in truth things are only just getting started for Yonaka.
That run saw them play new single ‘Panic’ and unreleased track ‘I Want More’ for the first time, while their Great Escape show saw them debut the recently released ‘Welcome To My House’ and newie ‘By The Time You’re Reading This’. Rather than fans desperate to hear the hits, there’s an enthusiasm about where the band goes next. “I’m excited to play new songs so I’d hope people are excited to hear them,” says George.
‘Welcome To My House’ started life as a beat created by Alex, who didn’t even think it would work with Yonaka. As if to prove him wrong, Theresa encouraged him to continue working on it for the band. The end-result is inspired by Radiohead and Caustic Love– era Paulo Nutini, but there’s also a chunky guitar solo and breakbeats. “I remember when I heard it for the first time. It’s so fucking different but so powerful,” starts George. “It’s always really exciting to get out of your comfort zone and when it works, even better.”
Lyrically, ‘Welcome To My House’ sees Theresa reflect on a conversation she had with her therapist. “I was talking about how I was experiencing all this shit, and she told me to imagine myself as a house with all those problems just as guests – they come and they go. It helped remind me that nothing lasts forever, and that life has ups and downs.” The song sees Theresa tackle coping mechanisms and self-hatred before twisting it to talk about herself in a positive light.
“I want people to be able to lose themselves in that song,” she continues, with their live shows hopefully providing somewhere people “feel comfortable enough to fucking lose themselves for a bit and leave feeling like they can do anything.”
“I also want ‘Welcome To My House’ to reassure people that others are going through the same things as you.” Struggling with mental health can “feel really lonely at times but there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone,” she says. It’s a message that can be heard throughout Yonaka’s music and has gone someway to earning them a dedicated fanbase.
Speaking of which, Theresa recently got “creature” tattooed on her arm “because our fanbase is called The Creatures and I’m a part of that as well. I feel like it’s a big family. I used to want to get a massive tattoo of it across my throat but I’m glad I got over that, because this one fucking hurt,” she admits.
“More people are getting them as well, which is so fucking cool,” she continues with the band regularly asked to draw up signatures or doodles for fans to get tattooed. “It still blows my mind that people are that dedicated to something like us,” says Theresa. She figures you have to be a fan of your own bands though. “If you don’t love it, what are you doing?”
“Ask us again in 30 years when we’re doing the greatest hits tour,” grins George.
There’s no fear about telling it like it is either. Yonaka started the year by sharing ‘Panic’, a song about panic attacks and how “mental health carries a weight so heavy that it’s hard to feel affected by outside dangers,” while an accompanying TikTok saw Theresa detail her journey with mental health.
“About five years ago, I had my first panic attack. It freaked me out and my life has never been the same since. Then I got a panic disorder, an anxiety disorder. I was scared to do anything on my own, it was really upsetting, I had no idea what to do.”
She went to doctors and therapists, but they didn’t get it because “you really cannot understand it unless you’ve had it.” She eventually found a therapist that did understand and helped Theresa change how they saw the condition. “If anyone out there is struggling, there are ways we can cope,” she encourages.
“I wasn’t nervous about sharing that song, I was just excited,” Theresa says, before explaining how “it’s getting easier to talk about the things I want to say.”
“When my mental health was at its worst, that’s when we were making [2019’s debut album] Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow and you can hear that on the title track and ‘Bad Company’. More recently, I’ve wanted the songs to feel more like ‘I can do this’,” she adds.
Both ‘Panic’ and ‘Welcome To My House’ will feature on Yonaka’s upcoming EP, which shares the name of the latter track and once again sees the band push things forward. “When you’re writing for the next thing, you spend the first few days recreating what’s come before until you find something new,” explains Theresa. “Then you just have to keep working until you find a song that signposts where you want to go. ‘Panic’ was that song.” Rather than chasing a vision, the band built the record around the songs, meaning it’s “all killer”.
It’s the first new release since the band shared their 2021 mixtape Seize The Power, which felt like a reset, blending rock n’ roll swagger with electronic experimentation and big, stadium-ready pop hooks.
“I wasn’t completely happy with all the songs on Don’t Want ‘Til Tomorrow, but I couldn’t have been more confident in Seize The Power. We produced the whole thing as well. It felt fun,” she explains. The overwhelmingly positive response to the record gave the band the faith to once again chase a buzz and excitement with Welcome To My House.
“I don’t know if we feel any pressure to follow it up. We’ve got a lot of music ready to go, so it’s always a case of what’s next,” says Theresa. “I didn’t think of the pressure, so thanks for that,” adds George. “Perhaps this is the delayed, difficult second album in a way.”
Just when it looked like things were beginning to calm down with Seize The Power at the end of last year, the title track was used in the end credits to Marvel’s She-Hulk. The track quickly became the most Shazam-ed track in the world and the song has now been streamed over 30 million times. “Numbers aren’t everything but it’s nice to know people care,” says George, who believes it’s the perfect introduction to the band. “It encapsulates everything we are. It’s basically a rock opera,” with lyrics designed to give fans a feeling of “strength and empowerment”.
Yonaka’s continued success comes as electric guitars are finding their way back to the charts while pop-punk and nu-metal are both having a resurgence. “I don’t think we’re a part of that really,” says Theresa. “We have songs that could fit in that world but as a band, no.”
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an outsider though,” adds George. While a lot of those buzzy new bands are reworking sounds and styles from the turn of the millennium, Yonaka are pulling from completely different worlds. “We’ve just never been interested in being nostalgic,” says George.
“We won’t chase a scene either because that would feel wrong,” adds Theresa. “Everything about being in this band is about feeling right and feeling good.”
Yonaka knew they definitely wanted to put their all into being a band after their first show at the now-closed Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar in Brighton. “It felt so different to everything else,” says Theresa. Their ambitions back then were to play shows like the one they’re about to play at Chalk after we speak, but now, they want to take things to the next level.
“I want to take America next,” says George with Theresa adding: “We want to make songs that are live-forever big.” There’s talk of a UK headline tour later this year to bring everything Yonaka have been working on over the past few years together alongside appearances at Reading & Leeds and other European festivals.
“There’s always a lot of love at our shows,” says Theresa. “It feels like everyone’s in with each other, which is nice because I want this band to represent empowerment and a community.
“There’s always a lot of energy as well,” adds George. “It’s always good to champion that.”