iyla – Arty hip hop Diva, with more depth and creativity than you have seen in a very long time.
In the industry you come across something very special, that catches your interest, and you never figure out exactly why. All of the good things about an artist conjoin to make them the gem they are, but still, if you can’t nail what it is down, then they really have accomplished something. It keeps you perpetually intrigued, and always making you think. Los Angeles based Hip Hop Diva iyla is such that kind of gem.
iyla (spells her name with no capital letters) is a Diva in the discovering with visuals that will leave you going back over and over to see what she was saying. The beautiful imagery in her videos, mixed with an abstract mystique, and some “in your face” pain, or just plain, unsettling. She mixes a “Twin Peaks” concept, leaning towards Lady Gaga. Vocals reminiscent of the Cardigans, but an elegance all her own. iyla is in fact many different mediums of art.
I caught her final gig on her recent tour, where I was able to see a different side of her. Her videos show her as a stoic, almost immobile persona, with little emotions. However, on stage, she smiled, danced, and bantered with the audience, talking to them through the set, calling them on to shout back at her, and making sure that she made eye contact with as many people as she could. Being that this show was in “Small Lake City”, I recognized so many of the fans from the Loveloud and Encircle events that I have covered. At least in Salt Lake, her LGBTQ fanbase is pretty solid. When you see her performance, you will understand why it is such an enamoring event. The way she dressed, with a full long waist cape, the stage adorned with a wall of flowers, even her microphone stand and instruments were decorated.
JH: Hello iyla, thanks for taking the time, I know that last night was a bit rushed, but wow, what a show. I know you had done a great job with the stage setup, it was elaborate and your band members said that it was about ready to come apart, but as long as it lasted ’til last night to the end of your tour, right? What a way to finish the tour, you guys sounded fantastic. And, unfortunately it’s the last show I’ll get to do for a while, so great we got to squeeze you in.
iyla: Thank you, Yes, it’s been a crazy journey, and I’m honored.
JH: I wish I could have stayed through the whole gig, but I wasn’t even supposed to really be in a crowd, so I shot your performance, then hung out in the back for a few songs then had to leave. It was one that I REALLY wanted to see, just on the artistic merits alone from your videos.
iyla: Thank you, it’s been so amazing, we did 16 cities in the US, and Toronto, and it was the first tour that I have ever been on, and I had my core team with me which was amazing. It was an incredible life changing experience.
JH: Yeah, your manager and I broke the rules and talked about you behind your back, (she laughs) and he said this was really your “getting your feet wet” tour. I have shot at that venue a lot, and the lighting there is just shit, they are notorious for that, but, the sound, with a full audience, and acoustics, it’s always great, world famous actually. Thus you sounded absolutely fantastic, especially standing in the back.
IYLA: Wow, thank you, good to know yeah, it was a great audience. They were lively, a lot of fun. I had my producer Kadis play the MPC, he has produced both of my projects, and we have been working together for five years. And I had “Lame Ronnie” is what he goes by, he played keys, and he was on my last project too, they are both very talented, and great friends of mine and wonderful to perform with.
JH: Well, I looked at it all online, and I see how you are so artistic, and how beautiful, and powerful and subliminal your videos are, I was wondering how you would be able to deliver and present that on stage. I’m going to throw you into the DIVA club, because that’s exactly where you belong. (she is laughing) I see these “wanna be” Divas on stage, and they are kinda boring, not very animated, and last night, you were the complete flipside of that, and even your videos. You were very animated, dancing, getting into the fans faces and their personal space, getting them to dance with you. I was surprised, because your videos, you are so stoic, poker faced, and don’t move around. It was 30 seconds into your first song, I was thinking “Ok, I LOVE THIS GIRL”, and hey, you DO SMILE. Watching you banter with the audience, having them talk back to you, out of character from the videos but great to connect with your audience.
iyla: Oh yeah, that is funny, I love doing that, not having to stick with the persona really, being on stage, especially in the smaller venues like that, it is really fun to do that, and get them moving, singing with me, we all have a good time, that is something I learned by just being on the road, and enjoyed it, creating this shared experience with these new people a new venue every night. The fans are just wonderful.
JH: How is that received for you, I mean a strong part of your demographic is young gay men, exactly what every up and coming Diva needs. I’m sure you the older gay crowd will have a lot to take from your work as well. I have to say this, I noticed last night that I was “THE OTHER” Straight guy there.
iyla: Are you sure? I think there were at least 4 of you (laughing). But yes I LOVE MY GAY FANS, they are an inspiration. I have always wanted to talk about loving myself, and owning who I am, exactly who I am, and I think that idea is really appealing to those people, because of how I have been through that on my own. And my dream is for that message to get across to everyone be it in that community and outside of it as well. I also think it’s one of the biggest honors to have the community support you as an artist, because it is such a leading force for everything artistic in this culture in this country and beyond. It has been cool to travel, and see that there are a lot of different age groups as well on the tour, it depended on the city and it was something that I honestly wasn’t expecting. And I think it was great, and an eye opener to reach this broad of an audience. So it means a lot, and it also ties back to the art, I’ve always been very art driven, my team is very art driven, whether it’s in the studio, writing the songs recording, or even on stage performing it. So it was super important to give them all a small taste of each thing. In the videos we are very art focused, but on stage yes, I do have a very different persona, and my quirks. And yes I talk directly to my supporters on Instagram, so it’s not really any different than when I’m on stage. So I encourage everyone to be their honest selves, and authentic at all times.
JH: Yeah, I remember the first time I saw P!NK this was like, 20 years ago, but she would play her songs, then stop and talk to someone in the audience for a couple minutes, banter about their t-shirts, or whatever, then go back to playing her song after interacting with her fans for a few minutes. Last night I could see you doing that, I’m sure you played concerts in Los Angeles, and had friends there, or “regulars” but now there you are in cities not your own, and you are making yourself available to them, saying “hey, let’s talk” and you weren’t having this wall between yourself and your fans.
iyla: Well, yes, I love them. I love connecting with them, and we can talk, and make the whole experience great for both of us. I don’t see my performances as being a one way street. People are there to enjoy my show, and I have really learned how much I can enjoy them, just being there, so, talking to them, putting myself out there, has turned out to be such an amazing part of the tour, I LOVE my fans, I love what they can give me, so that invisible wall between us, I don’t think it should be there if it is going to take away from everyone’s experience.
JH: So, here is my final question I ask this of everyone I interview, and I think your response should be an interesting take, because you are just breaking into the industry, and from what you have learned on this tour. What would you say to that young person, who is gay, in the closet, scared, terrified to come out, maybe suicidal, and in that vulnerable place? (Her video for Shampoo kinda sucker punches you over this subject)
This video contains sensitive subject matter, viewer be advised
iyla: Wow, what a question, I can’t even imagine being in that kind of situation myself, I can only empathize with people who are. I want them to be strong, to know that there is nothing more important in their lives than the experience of knowing who they are. Find your beauty, find ways to share it, people will see it, the right people will love it, and accept you for it.
JH: Thank you so much for that, I hope to see you on the next time around, and I’ll expect a bigger venue for sure.
For even more music, check out iyla’s newest LP- “Other Ways To Vent“