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Yahra [Interview]

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Hailing from India, Yahra is a DJ & Producer currently based in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a strong inclination towards the deep and organic house spectrum of electronic music with a special focus towards lush, emotional and cinematic sounding melodies is the major driving force in his productions. This is especially noticeable in his carefully curated DJ sets and mixes. From a young age, Yahra has made it a point to emphasize heavily on individuality & uniqueness and hopes to continue in following this motto by taking influences from his own life as an inspiration in his productions. Although relatively newer to the producing scene, Yahra has already managed to gain a fair bit of recognition in the music community. Kickstarted by a remix of ‘CRi - Never Really Get There’ making it to the final 8 on Anjunadeep’s remix competition earlier in 2021. He has gone on to produce tracks that have been received well by the community with two of his recent productions making it to the Beatport Top 100 Releases charts in their respective genres. In addition to this, he has developed a sound following in Arizona through his live performances Re:Sound Music & Relentless Beats at some of the best venues in the state. Yahra is on the right path to grow and create a unique sound for himself in the electronic music community. This week sees Yahra returning to Madloch's 3rd Avenue with a new EP 'Lightly'.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Yahra to learn more about the release of ‘Lightly’, his studio process, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Yatish, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hi, thank you for having me! Currently, I’m taking a breather from a busy start to the year with some of my music projects and am excited for what 2023 has in store! Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of ambient and downtempo tracks, one that has been on repeat is: The Ambientalist – When Silence Speaks.

How’s your start to the year been so far? And what are your plans for the coming week?

It’s been quite a busy start to the year in the studio for me! I’ve tried being as productive as I can and have finished up some new tracks over the past few weeks. I’m excited to start playing them out soon. For the coming week, I’m fully focused on promoting my upcoming EP on 3rd Avenue – Lightly and sending out some new demos!

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

Music production has always been the more fascinating part for me. However, I started out with learning how to DJ first, putting together mixtapes and playing at house parties etc. But as I started to DJ more, the urge to make my own music increased and eventually I picked up production as well. I enjoy both equally but making a good sounding track gives me more satisfaction, if that makes sense!

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

I first downloaded a DAW around 7-8 years ago and kept messing around with it quite a bit. A lot of YouTube tutorials helped me get up to speed with the basics and generate nice ideas, but I never really was able to make something that sounded complete and professional. I think this is where mentorship helped me a lot and turned things around for me. Sometime during the pandemic, I met Michael Hooker who taught me how to take good ideas and turn them into a well-polished final product. Within a year or so I was able to pick things up and turn ideas into complete songs. I feel like there’s no shortcut to music production. My advice for new producers would be to utilize online resources to teach yourself the basics, how to generate ideas and keep practicing. But at the same time if you can, find someone who can mentor you and help you take the next step of turning those ideas into a solid track. If anything, it accelerates the process but like I mentioned it is by no means a shortcut!

Talk to us about growing up and living in India, how did you discover electronic music there and who from your country inspired you?

My love for electronic music started during my childhood days in both Dubai, UAE where I was living and my hometown Bangalore, India which I visited a lot during the year, so these places will always be special to me. Some of my first shows were in Bangalore and people like Nikhil Chinapa helped shape the electronic music scene in India quite a lot! I used to listen to a lot of Trance (especially Above & Beyond) and he was one of the first people to bring such artists to the country. Not only did that provide the opportunity for several fans to finally catch their favorite artists live, but it also helped educate the scene in the country a lot. I think the dance music scene in India wouldn’t be what it is today without people like him, so he’s been a great inspiration!

If you were a tour-guide for nightlife in India, what would be the clubs you’d take the people to see and what local DJs do they need to hear?

I’m from Bangalore so I’ll be biased and take you to that city first haha! But places like Goa, Mumbai and Hyderabad are right up there when it comes to quality music and nightlife so those are a must visit! People like Nikhil Chinapa, Nawed Khan (Browncoat), Tuhin Mehta etc have been big pillars of the music industry there so I would recommend checking one of their sets. In addition, several artists like Anyasa, Goos, Greenage, Nosh & SJ and Weird Sounding Dude are now putting the Indian scene on the world map with their music so I wouldn’t miss one of their shows!

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

One thing that always stood out to me or inspired me in my early days of going to live shows is watching people’s reactions to certain tracks and how it brightened up their mood on the dancefloor. Whether you’ve had a bad or exhausting day, walking into a club and dancing with other people listening to music you love can restore some energy and happiness in you. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m sure as a DJ playing that music out, it must be really satisfying. Experiencing moments like this made me want to be a part of it myself which is what partly inspired me to pick up DJ’ing and production. Now that I’m actively doing this, I’ve been lucky enough to feel that satisfactory feeling many times and I’m always trying my best to bring in such influences in my own music.

You eventually relocated to the United Sates. What prompted the move and how is the nightlife there?

I moved to the United States to pursue my master’s degree. Although I moved here for education, I made sure to continue my passion for music. The nightlife in America is absolutely great. It’s a no brainer that this one of the biggest markets for most artists at the moment and it only continues to grow bigger. Something that’s stood out to me is the variety of music that’s available across the country. Regardless of what genre you like within dance music, you’ll always find a festival to go to. Within some genres like Organic and progressive house especially, there are some great promoters and communities of people that share an immense love and passion for the scene. I have personally met some amazing people who’ve not only supported me in my journey as an artist but have become great friends in life as well!

I find your music has a nice balance between organic and progressive house, what are some of your biggest inspirations when working on new music?

I try and listen to as much music as possible from other artists between those two genres. I do this not only to seek inspiration but also to discover how other artists structure a track and to understand how I can be different and bring in new influences and sounds to the market. I guess being a DJ and being able to play shows frequently helps a lot with this since I’m always digging for new music to play out. In doing this, I often find certain parts that I like from different tracks which I use as reference to lay down my own ideas. Another thing to mention, I often try to think of what platform I’d like the track to be more focused towards. If I’m in the mood to make something that is meant to be enjoyed on a rainy Sunday morning while sipping some coffee at home for example, then I obviously try to focus more on creating a lush and dreamy atmosphere. On the other hand, if it’s meant to make people dance at a club then I make sure to emphasize on getting a solid groove going and then packing some energy into the track. To put it simply there’s no particular formula, it all depends on the mood and how I’m feeling at that moment!

You have a new EP ‘Lightly’ out this week on 3rd Avenue. Tell us about the release and how the tracks showcase your current sound.

Firstly, I’d like to thank label head Madloch for believing in my music and providing me a platform to showcase it to the world. Receiving support like that from a label is a great motivating factor as a producer!

With these two tracks, I wanted to make something more dancefloor and club focused. Most of my music so far has been heavy on the melodic and atmospheric realm, which is great, but I don’t often get to play it out at a club. So, I wanted to make something a little more energetic and groovier, something that people can dance to at a nightclub. I was a little worried when I started working on this sound, that I’d end up not finishing it, but I enjoyed the process a lot and ideas flew in much better than I had expected. I’m hoping to make more of such tracks in the future!

What does your set-up like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of this EP?

My setup includes an Output Platform Desk, an ergonomic chair from Hbada, KRK monitors, a Scarlett Focusrite Sound card, Sennheiser HD-660 S headphones and some wall lamps to set the mood. I think my best investment so far has been the Output desk. It has helped me keep everything clean and organized and I can’t tell you how much of a difference it has made to my workflow! I haven’t really spent too much time with physical gear yet, so everything is software based. The Arturia V collection and Pigments are my absolute go-to VST’s for now, and were heavily used in writing the Lightly EP.

Let’s talk about production for a moment, where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?

I try and take as much inspiration as possible from personal life experiences. I love traveling, especially to beaches, islands and scenic spots. With the style of music that I’m aiming to make (organic and progressive house with heavy focus on lush melodies), this actually plays a significant role. For example, I recently finished working on an ambient track wherein I took inspiration from one of my recent trips. In December of 2022 I traveled to Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The summit is around 14,00 ft above the sea level and I was lucky enough to go all the way up and watch a sunset from there. It is hands down one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life! I took some footage of the time I spent up there and I sat down one morning just watching all of it back. While doing this, I was building an idea in my head, basically some music that I thought would go well with the footage of this sunset. After spending some time sketching an initial idea in Ableton, I was able to convert that into a full track in a few days. So, this is an example of how I try and find inspiration to start new projects!

Looking closer at ‘Lightly’, walk us through the production process on the tracks, and if applicable was there anything in particular which inspired the track?

I took different approaches while working on both these tracks.

With Lightly, I first started with a plucky sample that you hear distinctly in the first 1 minute or so and then it runs throughout the entire track. Once I had found that, I added a pad to create an atmosphere. After that, I wrote the lead synth that you hear building up all the way into the break. With these core elements laid down, it was then all about adding in layers to fill up the track and creating a solid arrangement and structure. Believe it or not, the vocals were a last minute add! It adds a nice character to the track.

With isec, I took a little bit of a different approach than normal. Usually, I start with a melody and then build a track around it but with this one, I actually wrote a groove and bassline first and then built everything else around it. It’s a simple track with a nice groove. Most of the other elements in the track just complement the bassline. The strings were the final bits that I added to create a dreamy atmosphere!

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents or exercise play in the process?

First of all I find it necessary to keep my desk and surroundings as clean and clutter free as possible. This reduces stress and helps me think better. I recently invested in some wall lamps that are customizable so depending on my mood and what type of mood I’m trying to create with a project, I try and set a color tone based on that. I’m not saying that is a game changer but it’s just something that helps keep my mind fresh and active. I love drinking hot black tea especially during long days at the desk, sometimes I end up drinking 4-5 cups in a day haha! In addition, I try and avoid eating at my desk. I think it’s necessary to take a break from your work surroundings when eating so that’s something I always make sure to do. That’s it, simple things!

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

After I’ve laid down an initial theme or sound direction on a project, the most enjoyable part for me is the arrangement and structure building process. This is the part that I think can make or break a great idea, it can be challenging but that’s what makes it fun. Building up energy and keeping the listener interested throughout the entire length of the track takes a lot of work. Although I’ve gotten much better at doing mixdowns, I honestly prefer to have a professional audio engineer take a final look at it before the mastering process. This is something I’m getting better at with every project but for now, I prefer the extra set of ears.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

To begin with, I’d like to first build a dedicated studio with acoustic treatment. At the moment, I have a small den area in my apartment that I’ve converted into a studio space, however the acoustics are not great so that’s where I’ll spend the money. On top of this, I’d love to invest in some analog gear and start experimenting with it.

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

My emphasis with DJ’ing has always been to present something new and unique to the audience. A question I always ask myself when preparing for a set is: how are my sets going to be different than the others? I try to dig deep and make it a point to play out music from lesser-known artists and labels. There’s so much good music out there that often goes unheard so I try to support it as much as I can through my DJ sets. Not only does this provide a fresh perspective to people on the dancefloor, it also sets you apart from other DJ’s. I think it's really important to give people a reason to come to your live shows. While playing most of the in-trend tracks is great to keep the audience engaged, there’s probably a lot of other DJ’s already doing it out there so you need to provide something new for people come see you instead.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

My approach to production has changed a lot after I started to play out my own tracks at shows. When a track lacks energy or if the mix/master isn’t great it usually sticks out like a sore thumb when played at a club on a big speaker system. With some of the very first tracks that I finished; I learnt this the hard way. After playing them out at some shows, I instantly felt the need for improvement. I’ve learnt how to build and maintain energy throughout the entire length of the track through this process and I’m starting to see the effects of these changes slowly!

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

This is always a tough question to answer since there’s so many artists that I seek inspiration from but here’s a mix of some artists that I admire and would love to show support:

Wassu  2 - 4 PM

Tim Green 4 – 6 PM

Sebastien Leger 6 – 8 PM

Nick Warren 8 – 11 PM

Guy J 11 PM – 2 AM

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

I’m not much of a book reader but I love watching movies. Interstellar is probably one of my all-time favorite movies. The message that I took from the movie is to always be curious about things, keep exploring and never stop learning!

What’s a superpower you wish you had and how would you use it?

The ability to be anywhere you wish, anytime you want! I love traveling and often use it as a method to de-stress so with a superpower like this, I’d probably never be stressed since I can travel anywhere anytime haha!

If you could travel anywhere for one day, all laws and limitations void, where would it be?

I’d fly myself to the remotest island on earth and disconnect from the world!

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Spending quality time with friends, traveling the world and spending a few hours racing on my at-home racing simulator. I’m big into motorsports (especially Formula 1) so I spent some money on putting together a basic racing simulator at home where I often play the F1 game or Gran Turismo. It’s a great stress buster!

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

2023 is looking exciting! I have loads of music that is scheduled to release in the next few months (both on labels that I’ve already released before and some new ones) and am also looking forward to playing more shows. A major focus of mine this year is to put out as much as I can and start branching out for shows across the country!

'Lightly' is available now via 3rd Avenue: https://bit.ly/3Tno28C

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