It’s a strange and refreshing paradox because with Yoria, it’s always no holds barred and you would never expect to hear such a beautiful voice and music sing about such real things.
Whether or not you recognize his name means nothing—you will, eventually.
He is lovelorn. He is angsty. And, with a pop sound sometimes reminiscent of Davíd Garza, the 40-year-old Chicago-born Colombian-American singer-songwriter has made a name for himself in and around Texas music circles and beyond.
Photo by Anthony Rathbun.
All of Yoria’s storylines are taken from his life, from his relationships, from overheard conversations between strangers. He writes and sings heartfully in English and Spanish and 2004’s playful I’ll Be Here Awake placed him on the map. In January of 2008, the Dallas Morning News singled Yoria out as one of the next big names in Texas music ready for primetime.
“I was extremely flattered by all the things they said about me,” he said, bashfully. “I also hate to agree with them on all the things they said about the Houston music scene but, they were dead on.”
He is referring to the article claiming that aside from the musical meanderings of Beyoncé, chopped-and-screwed rap and his music, Houston offered very little. Continuing in this vein, the title and content of his album 281 is what he described as a “goodbye kiss” to Houston.
“I moved in with my folks to make the album and it was the northwest side, which isn’t a really cool part of Houston anyway, so I thought, I’d make this album and give it that, at least,” he said.
His own musical influences are worldly, ranging from songs he heard as a young boy by Argentinian political singer Piero to The Beatles. As a young boy, he would snatch his parents’ vinyl and would play Piero over and over to really digest the music and the entire songwriting process.
“What got me about Piero was just how articulate he was and the way he created a pop song,” he said. “His music is really interesting and with a Beatle-esque quality.”
After a stint at the University of Houston in pursuit of a political science degree, Yoria dropped out. He fell in love with music. And, throughout his life, his musical love affair and free-spirited ways have pushed him to shed most of his worldly possessions. He once even cashed in his 401K and traveled the globe.
Although he subsists off money made off gigs and royalties from jingles and songs, recently, the tough economy has made Yoria a bit more nomadic. He moved from his childhood home of Houston to San Antonio and then very recently from San Antonio to Austin, where he has been sleeping (very comfortably, thank you) on a friend’s couch.
Who is this friend he is staying with? Eduardo Fajardo, dear friend, fellow musician in Monoceja and another Colombian-American.
Although new to Austin, he’s no stranger to our city’s musical landscape. He has played at numerous places like La Zona Rosa, Stubb’s B-B-Q and The Parish. His newest release, the completely digital canciones para duo vol.1 are available for listening and download on his website.
A couple of days ago, beer in hand, he spoke to me candidly about his love of music, his triumph over panic disorder and his life’s trek thus far. Meanwhile, Bob Dylan played on the jukebox.
Arthur: Actually, I started playing music really late. I think I was a junior in college when I picked up a guitar. I met these guys on campus who were songwriters and I thought it was absolutely fascinating and I became obsessed immediately and I dropped out of college and have been doing this ever since.
When you say obsessed, explain to me maybe how music took over your life.
Arthur: Well, basically, staying up for two days trying to write what I thought was a good song and trying to figure it out. It is constantly listening to new stuff, reading things, just completely obsessed.
Your parents were from Colombia. How did has your upbringing and your culture influence who you are musically?
Arthur: I am in a really unique position because I have access to both of those cultures and, in my opinion; I am definitely at an advantage with more to dip into. I am fascinated by both cultures. I am American, you know, I was born here but I love my parents culture. Once I was old enough to travel on my own, I went to Colombia. It was interesting to grow up in predominately Caucasian suburbs because there is a certain brand of humor and irony that comes from growing up in that position. And, when you get that humor, coupled with a culture that is very passionate, that is a very interesting combination. I feel very blessed. I dig being where I am since I have access to both and I am extremely privileged. I am very common right now and I think our country is getting a lot cooler. When I was growing up, I felt very isolated and I took that isolation and turned it into something positive.
Tell me about how you are putting your records out and how the Internet has kind of changed things for you as an artist.
Arthur: I started a label called 12 Records in 2003 with a good friend of mine, Matt Maloney, who used to play for the Houston Rockets. We started it to release a full-length album of my music, since I had only put out a number of EPs and I really wanted to do a whole record. We had talked about it for a good while and finally did it with I’ll Be Here Awake and it all took off pretty quickly. That album definitely put me on the map and I was able to get some licensing. Meanwhile, the last album I put out was digital only since sales were going down and people were not buying as many CDs and the last actual CD I printed out I ended up sitting at home with a lot of copies. I mean, yeah, they would sell at shows but it wasn’t justifying itself anymore. I am open to whatever happens with the music industry and I have pretty much come to terms that nowadays a lot of it is free and I am cool with that. I think it’s cool to be giving away music for free because there really are other sources of income for a musician.
Photo by Chuck H.W.
Arthur: I think if your stuff is good, you want as many people to hear it. If free music is going to bring them to shows and going to make them fans, then I am all for it. I have an extensive catalog of music at this point and I am thinking of ways that I can personalize an actual, physical product for the few hardcore fans. One of the things I have been thinking of is a homemade CD where I get to personalize it and for a certain amount of money they’d be able to download a bunch of tunes from my catalog…this is still kind of fresh and I am coming up with it but I think that’s the key nowadays in music…you have to personalize it for your fans. A true fan will pay $30 for something that includes a lot of information about the artist not just the music. For someone who is an independent musician, I think the key is to just be open and be ready to adapt because things are changing and new music developments are happening every single day. If you get stuck in that old model, or take people to court like Metallica, c’mon, you are just holding back music’s evolution.
Well, that’s an admirable way of looking at things.
Arthur: Yeah, I mean if you think about it I am producing stuff and sending it to friends and saying, “What do you think about this?!” I mean what’s the difference? It’s just a broader friend base and the money will come… I mean if you are in this business to make a lot of money, I think it’s a horrible decision.
Tell me about the jingles you have written and how you pay the bills.
Arthur: Lots of gigs I play and for a while I was doing jingles for www.cheapbooks.com. They approached me after hearing a song from I’ll Be Here Awake. I wrote a couple of songs, and that kind of sank with the economy, so it’s been really rough over the last year. But I still get some royalties from the song “Call Me,” which was used on The O.C. That song opened a lot of doors I was able to get songs in a couple of major movies, including National Lampoon’s Adam & Eve and an indie flick called Breaking Dawn. I’m constantly hustling. Every day is a hustle. I’m always planting a lot of seeds.
What have been some things that are funny along your journey?
Arthur: Well, a funny thing 2003, after I’ll Be Here Awake came out, I developed panic disorder. I became agoraphobic and I could not leave my apartment for six months and I had just put out a record. I could not even gig or anything and it kind of forced me to do something and by default I got really into all the online stuff and releasing things online and it was great because that stuff actually paid off. I think once I started talking about it, and coming clean about my panic disorder I realized that it’s really, really common. But, the experience taught me a lot. I think I had always been an anxious person and it kind of crept up on me and came to a head. I got on medication and I kinda re-learned how to get out there. It made me totally aware of myself and things I shouldn’t be doing and how to make myself comfortable. You know? Everybody changes, everybody grows, everybody adapts. Initially, though, it was so bizarre, it was like this does not make any sense, this is stupid. But, now it’s awesome and I am glad I went through it. Once I got over it, I started doing a bunch of touring, went to Europe.
Arthur: [laughs] It’s one thing to be inspired by something but imagine a relationship song, you know, something goes awry and you write about it. Over the years, I’ve admitted to myself that writing songs is definitely therapeutic. Whether I share it with people or not, it feels good to get it all out of your system and just write a tune. Take for example a bad relationship, it’s venting but I make sure the song isn’t just about that. I want things to be multi-dimensional to be of any worth and be a part of my catalog. That’s the idea, my songs are deceptively simple. A song could seem to be about something like this one relationship but I am trying to make several parallels like any decent artist would try so I hope that even at some point, maybe even after I am gone, you know, people will look back and say that there was something more to his music or that song.
Photo by Maurice Eagle
Arthur: Financial stability, definitely. I did work for Gallup for seven years and did the whole 401K thing and it wasn’t for me. I don’t own any property and I guess I probably should at this age but it’s just not in the cards for me and it’s not something I yearn for. Like I said, I became obsessed with songwriting and everything else fell by the wayside. It was my job to create the best and most beautiful song I could and it was pretty much going to take my whole life, I knew that. I knew a lot of people, myself included, where the 9 to 5 life was not the life for them. I mean, if you want the white picket fence, music is not the way to achieve it. When I first started doing this, you don’t know how many times I heard from people, ‘Dude, are you serious? Music?’ and after a while I didn’t need to tell people, I just worked and let my music justify my decision.
Do you think any of that societal pressure led to your breakdown?
Arthur: I think yeah, I was so high strung that all of those things were factors in me tripping out. I was just thinking about everything too much, all the really unnecessary things way too much. It’s kind of what makes a considerate person, considerate but it’s way too much stress. When you tell people your dreams, you will see what you’re made of. But, by the same token, I had a ton of people believing in me.
What made you move to Austin two months ago?
Arthur: It was by default. If I made any of this stuff, my life, sound glamorous, it is definitely not the case. I have had to cut corners just to survive making music. I was in San Antonio for the summer living with a cousin of mine, who more or less took me in. I would help him out with bills and stuff and times got tough with him as well. I am essentially in Austin because someone else is helping me out. But, the goal is ultimately to pay off my car and travel. Lately, I am really obsessed with paring down. My set-up is really simple and it is self-sustained. In a couple years, the ideal life for me would be three months here and three months there. All I need is some gigs and couches and that’s about it. There is so much going on here and people are willing to listen. Here’s the thing, at one point when I was living in Houston I had a pretty broad circuit of shows that were guarantees but they weren’t really venues and you would just have to play and some people would be really annoyed, like, ‘Aw, man there’s gonna be music?!’ You’d pull out your guitar and people would just be like, ‘FUUUCCCCKKKK.’ It was almost an aversion to music in Houston, but obviously I am not tapped in there anymore. At least here in Austin, people understand the performer-audience dynamic. With Austin it’s like, ‘Oh, there’s somebody playing in there? Let’s check it out and if he sucks, we will leave.’
You have some funny song titles like “Usar el Bano o Hacer el Amor” or 281’s “No Messin’ With My Rectum If You Like My Erection”. I mean where the hell did these come from?
Arthur: It’s funny. That song caught a lot of people off guard and it maybe turned quite a few people off. That’s what I was saying earlier…ya know, a lot of these tunes are disguised as pretty pop tunes. For some people, that’s all they want, a pretty pop tune and they listen and they are done and it’s like really cool and perfect for them, they like the beat and it has a good melody. But, I don’t wanna sneak things in all the time and this is my statement. I can write a pretty pop song and be totally honest. I mean, it’s a practical tune. [laughs] It pretty much spells me out and what I dig and don’t dig. [laughs] It’s not even profane. I am using all medical terms.
Are you happy at this point in your life?
Arthur: Artistically, yeah. Financially, no. Artistically, every morning I wake up and I am excited about what I am working on. But, money is tight, and I am trying to make moves to remedy that. The guy that I am staying with Eduardo is another Colombian-American guy and we have a band called Monoceja, which is really dance-y stuff with a lot of distortion, guitar and it’s in Spanish. Eduardo is singing on it and I put together most of the music. I’m also working on doing a lot of new songs in Spanish. I think in the future, at least for right now, I am going to be concentrating on that. I miss the hell out of it and it seems like the language lends itself sometimes poetically.
Yoria’s next Austin show is at Thunderbird Coffee on Saturday, Dec. 12 at Thunderbird Coffee at 1401 W. Koenig Lane. To download his music, buy a t-shirt or sign the guestbook, check out his official website. Become his fan on Facebook and MySpace.