The word "Iyeara" forms part of the Yoruba language from West Africa which when translated, means "self esteem" and "soundness of mind." Toby Butler, Malcolm Carson and Paul O'Keeffe are IYEARA. You might recognise their names from other bands they've played in, including The Duke Spirit (Butler), Tape The Radio (Carson) and Frank's Daughter (O'Keeffe). Together, they're creating dark and expansive electronica that recalls Massive Attack, Depeche Mode and Cold Cave at their most cerebral. Debut single 'Enclosure' came out on their own TrES-2b Recordings imprint towards the back end of last year, while January's follow-up 'Decipher' further accentuated their intentions.
With an EP in the pipeline for the spring alongside an MPG award nomination for remixers of the year - another area IYEARA specialise in - DiS spoke to Malcolm Carson about how the project came together and what the future holds.
DiS: How did IYEARA get together and when did the project start?
Malcolm Carson: It goes back a couple of years. Toby (Butler) and I have known each other a long time and we've collaborated on a bunch of stuff in the past. I co-wrote a couple of songs with him on the last two Duke Spirit albums and I also co-wrote a song with him for the recent Liela Moss album. We've been working together in different ways for a while. I also did some production for Toby and Liela's Roman Remains project which is where the seeds started for doing something ourselves outside of all those things. Paul (O'Keeffe) is an old friend of mine. I've played guitar with him and toured Scandinavia with his previous project Frank's Daughter so already knew he was someone I'd want to be involved in this project with Toby and myself. That's how IYEARA started. It was an experiment really. We started working remotely, which we still do from time to time. I've got a studio in London whereas Toby's got his in Somerset, so we'd send ideas back and forth, develop them then get together in either studio and build the songs from there. We'd experiment with ideas and then we started developing a sound we were excited about which is how the project began.
When did the songs themselves start to materialise? Were 'Enclosure' and 'Decipher' the first two that came about?
'Enclosure' was actually the first song we did together. It felt like we'd set our stall out quite well with that. Just the whole vibe and darkness of it. The intensity of it as well. It just felt like a perfect calling card for where we wanted to place ourselves. There were other songs that we'd worked on but 'Enclosure' was the first one we wanted to put out. We had other songs we felt maybe would be right in time. We wanted to take our time and consider what we were doing rather than put everything out at once. We're still developing so some of the other songs we've done don't feel right for where we're going. The thing about electronic music and the way we work means we can revisit things really easily then edit and chop them around. There are songs we're still working on that date back to the first period of the project.
How many songs do you have completed at this moment in time?
Probably around fifteen, but some of those might not see the light of day. We're always excited about the newest thing we're doing. We have a lot of songs finished and mixed but because we're still developing our sound and remixing other people that makes us rethink some of the stuff we've done previously. But then you can never have too many songs.
You mention taking your time when it comes to releasing music, but is it your intention to eventually put out an album? If not this year then sometime in the foreseeable future?
The end goal is to release an album which is what we're working towards. Also in the current climate, we just need to build up awareness of the project so people get to hear our music when we put it out. Obviously we want to put an album out, but for now our goal is to keep building. We've got a lot of songs and we're constantly writing new material.
Do you see IYEARA primarily as a studio project, or is it something you want to develop towards playing live and touring?
It started as a studio project very much so. But playing live is definitely something we want to take forward. We've only played one show, and that was with JoyCut who are good friends of ours. We did a remix for them which went really well and I've known Pasquale (Pezzillo) for a while, so when I saw they were playing in London I thought that would be a good fit for our first show. When IYEARA play live I want it to be immersive and like an event. None of us wants to do endless gigs. It has to be the right time with the right band in the right situation. Preparing for that show took a long time because we're not a band that jams in the studio. That's not the way we work so it was quite challenging but also very exciting. As soon as we'd done it we all said we have to do more! So playing live is something we really want to develop and find the right fit moving forwards.
You've worked with a number of artists such as The Prodigy, Lost Horizons and Laura Marling and been nominated for an MPG award as Remixers of the Year. Does that take precedence over writing your own material and is it something you see yourselves doing more of in the future?
Mixing and remixing is a massive part of what we do. When we started the project Toby did some remixes for Roman Remains, Gary Numan and Mark Lanegan. So he suggested we do an IYEARA remix for The Duke Spirit which we did, and it was just thoroughly enjoyable. We got the bug for it straight away, and it's turned into a really big part of what we do. Also, I think doing those remixes has massively informed our own material which has resulted in us reappraising some of the stuff we perhaps thought was ready. Doing remixes for other people has helped us develop, gain more confidence and get better at we do. So we'll definitely carry on remixing other people. Firstly because we love doing it and it's become an integral part of IYEARA. It runs in parallel with our own music. Also, it's a really great exercise because you get to delve into other people's stuff. The pressure of writing the song isn't there so what we do as remixers is try and reinterpret the original. Put it through the IYEARA filter so it has a flavour of what we're about in our own band.
It was around a year ago when we first started doing remixes and I remember Toby saying we had to make them as good as we possibly could then we might end up being nominated for an MPG award. Fast forward a year and here we are! He actually forwarded me the email he sent me a year ago. For us it's nice to get recognised. It would be even nicer to win it. But even being in that arena - we're one of three in that shortlist - is great, and if we don't win this year we'll go back and win it next year, hopefully.
Which remix are you most proud of? Which gave you the most satisfaction?
Right now I'd probably say The Prodigy. That was really easy because we just did it and they loved it. It was pretty straightforward. The thing with remixing is you're at the mercy of the artist until they put it out. Until that happens nobody knows about it so it doesn't really have any use. There's a couple we've done we're quite excited about that haven't come out yet. We did one for The Big Pink that sounds cool and another for UNKLE, which I think is coming out later this year. I'm not sure which one I'm most proud of really because the more you do, the better you become. It's just massively enjoyable and the more recent ones we're doing sound better because we've grown as remixers, so I'm proud of all of them. Hopefully, we'll continue to do so in the future.
You've also recorded a cover of Tears For Fears' 'Shout'. How did that come about?
I think that was Paul's idea. It's quite dark. We're quite influenced by a lot of those eighties bands. The Cure are my favourite band in the world. Tears For Fears are another personal favourite, The Hurting especially. That's such a great record. We thought 'Shout' would be an interesting song to approach. We'd never done a cover before so it was quite exciting. It's so stark and icy cold. It just worked and has a Nine Inch Nails vibe to it.
Your videos are also quite striking, particularly the one that accompanies second single 'Decipher'. What were the influences behind it?
So the visual element is another big part of what we do. That tends to be Paul's bag. We like to find really cool films that have been overlooked then reinterpret and edit them so they fit to our music which is how the 'Decipher' video came about. Paul found two films which we morphed together and both directors were super cool about us using their footage. 'Enclosure' was the first video we did which we're really proud of. Paul will find these really cool films then chop them up to accompany one of our songs, then we have to go and find who owns it and whether or not they're willing to collaborate with us. So there are a few heartaches along the way with people that just don't get it or want to be involved because they're too precious about their films. That's fine. Some people don't get the unity between music and film but I feel if people see the video then check out the film, everyone benefits. Putting a film to music can help bring it alive and make it even more immersive.
Will the visual element become a large part of the live show as well?
Definitely, when we get some money together! We want everything to look and sound as perfect as we can possibly make it. We've spent so long creating these songs and put so much thought into the visual side so we want the live show to be as representative of where we feel we're at as it can be. The visuals play a big part of that. We want every track we put out to have a video, which is quite a big ask. We have to focus on the quality being as good as it possibly can be. Also, we want to be inventive about how we do things. It's frustrating at times but this is why we're not rushing things. We want to take our time and build IYEARA slowly. Everything we do has to be at the right time, whether it's releasing music or playing live. We're not just doing this for the sake of it.
What advice would you give to a new artist just starting out?
Persevere! Also, too many people expect stuff to come to them which you can't just take for granted. You have to dig your own furrow and make your own luck. Try different things. Think laterally about stuff to move forward and not get stuck in a rut. Remixing has played a huge part in moving us forward. If we weren't doing that we'd be just another band making music and I want it to be much more than that. If it's what you want to do then you have to make it work. Obviously, it's very easy to get music out there but by the very nature of that it's hard to get noticed. Be true to yourself and do what makes you excited. We're constantly excited about what we're doing. Only yesterday we were working on new songs. You've got to be enthused by what you're doing. You've got to be focused and work hard.
You've also set up your own label?
That's right. It's called TrES-2b Recordings. We've named it after the darkest known planet which reflects less than 1% of light that hits it. I'm always quite excited by the meaning of that!
Will you be releasing music by any other artists on the label as well as IYEARA?
At the moment it's just for us so we've got our imprint to put stuff out. We're always up for releasing other artists' music in the future. Never say never to anything like that.
For more information on IYEARA visit their Facebook page.