The “acoustic soul artist” with the single name hopes to have her guests’ ears at Saturday’s Kickstarter Launch Party, a fundraiser for her latest album project
It’s easy to find yourself feeling sorry for mononymous songstress Yoza at times, particularly when she starts talking about her past battles with drugs and alcohol, her homeless years and her ongoing struggles as an underground R&B/pop/Latin artist fighting for an audience in a traditional Hawaiian/Jawaiian-dominated market. But then you witness her upbeat nature and her fearlessness in rising to meet life’s challenges and frequent setbacks, and you realize the heavily tatted singer-songwriter who’s blessed with an indomitable spirit, a sultry voice and fingers that can deftly pluck the strings of most instruments doesn’t want your pity. All she requires is your ear and a bit of your time this weekend.
Music lovers who show up at Saturday’s Kickstarter Launch Party at LBLE, Hilton Waikiki Beach’s lobby bar, with their ears tuned to Yoza’s soulful vocal and instrumental stylings promise to be richly rewarded, as she and a handful of other artists — Johnny Helm, Kings of Spade, Izik and Aidan James — attempt to raise funds for her latest album project. The 6-9 p.m. event is open to all ages and includes free admission, an auction and prize giveaways.
For this musical force of nature, Saturday’s show is an opportunity to raise a good portion of the $25,000 needed to help cover costs for the much-anticipated album.
“I know it’s a lot to ask for, but we’re hoping the Kickstarter will help stop the financial bleeding we’re experiencing from having to pay all the guest musicians we used for the recordings,” says Yoza, a highly accomplished ukulele, guitar and saxophone player who served as one of Roy Sakuma’s Super Keiki performers in her youth. “We’re also hopeful that enough money will be raised to cover the cost for physical (CD) copies.”
Her forthcoming album, an EP slated for a summer release, will unveil Yoza’s maturation as what she calls “an acoustic soul artist.” It also promises to be a worthy follow-up to her 2013 eponymous debut LP, which garnered her a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for “R&B Album of the Year.”
“This album will be much better, in large part because the level of musicianship on it is so tight,” says the one-time finalist in the reality TV singing competition The Voice. She adds that the album will feature many of the industry’s most seasoned backup musicians, including drummer Derrick Wright (Adele, Toni Braxton), percussionist Nathaniel Townsley (Quincy Jones), bassist Al Carty (Ed Sheeran, Rob Thomas, Alicia Keys) and guitarist/producer Hanan Rubinstein (J. Cole, Pharell Williams).
The yet-untitled EP will showcase six original compositions, including the emotionally charged track Girl Without A Home. “It was so difficult for me not to cry while recording that song. It basically talks about me leaving for L.A., it not working out the way I had hoped, and me not wanting to come back here to Hawaii with my tail between my legs,” confesses Yoza, who relocated to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue a market with ears for her type of music.
Here’s what else the talented musician told Musical Notes about a certain artist she’s often compared to, her drug and alcohol abuse years, and what she was able to accomplish during her time spent in the City of Angels:
MN:Your vocal stylings, the things you sing about and your headto- toe tattoos all remind me of Amy Winehouse. Is that a fair comparison?
YOZA: Yeah, I get that a lot. I mean, we share similarities in the topics we write about — drug addiction, alcoholism, hard times and heartbreaks. We also both have rough exteriors with our tattoos and really don’t care what other people think of us. But Amy had more ability than I do as a singer. I can’t hit the notes she could hit.
MN: Were you a fan of hers from the start?
YOZA: No. The first song I ever heard from her was Rehab, and I didn’t like it. At the time the song came out, I was three years clean and sober, and I thought she was a fake and just trying too hard. But then I kept listening to her because her songs were so in your face, and I soon realized that really was her. She wasn’t putting on an act, a front. There was pain in her voice, and I began to fall in love with her as an artist.
MN: Like Amy, you battled your own drug demons. How did your addictions nearly derail your music career?
YOZA: After I earned a full music scholarship to attend Hawaii Pacific University, I began teaching dance and touring the Mainland performing in dance competitions. I would hang around with all these dancers who were older than me, and that’s when I began to drink. I wound up dropping out of college and found myself on the streets for about two and half years — basically living out of my car. To make ends meet, I began to run drugs. Eventually, I met this guy who was a raging meth head and ended up hooking up with him and getting involved in heavier things. I was out of control, crashing my cars and winding up in hospitals, and everything just began to spiral downhill for me.
MN: What woke you up from your drug and drunken stupor?
YOZA: An overdose. When I came to in a hospital, I noticed that no one was there for me — not family, not friends. And that’s the moment that I was like, I’m all alone. Everybody just stopped caring. So I made this life decision to stop and get better — and that came by realizing that I had to leave this guy.
MN: Is it that toxic lifestyle and relationship you’re talking about in your 2013 release How Can This Be Love?, when you sing, Cause this is sick love and I know I’ve gotta leave, but you got a million tricks up your sleeve?
YOZA: Basically. That song was about trying to leave someone who you love so much just so that you can stay alive.
MN: Did you feel like you had to move to Los Angeles in order to keep your music career alive?
YOZA: Things just weren’t happening for me here. I was so stagnant and frustrated that I literally woke up one morning and had this moment of clarity that I should leave. So I called my mom and told her I was moving to L.A. I didn’t think much about it — I just grabbed as much clothes as I could, shoved it in a suitcase and left the next day.
MN: In hindsight, do you believe the move was productive?
YOZA: Yes and no. In L.A., nobody knew who I was, so why would they pay a $15 cover for someone they’ve never heard before, right? The trick was to get on someone’s bill who had a huge following. But even when you got on the bill, the crowd would show up late because that was when their favorite band would be playing. So it was a really hard thing for me, and took at least eight months to get anyone to say yes to opening for them. Thank God Hard Rock Hollywood were fans of mine; they really were the ones who kept me financially afloat while I tried to get a following. What was good was that I got to see what the industry was like in other places, especially in L.A., where it’s cutthroat. Also, it was there where I got to really talk to Willie K. He got my number and called me and asked if I could open for his show. I said yes, of course.
MN: You had to go all the way to Los Angeles to get Willie K’s attention?!
YOZA: (laughing) Oh, yeah. We had met a few times before, but we didn’t really connect until I was in L.A. Honestly, Willie has been the driving force behind my career. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t even be trying to do an EP