By BRUCE DENNILL
After singer-songwriter Yahto Kraft, who came to fame in The Voice SA’s Season 3, released his debut single Ugly, he received an overwhelming response, with a high volume of streams, downloads and views of his lyric video. But more important to Yahto and his team was the deluge of messages sent to him about how the song had resonated. The song was always more than “just another single” to him – it was about taking his power back, owning who he is and being proud of that.
Included in those messages were requests to give more information about the song, lyrics and video – so while in lockdown, Yahto recorded a behind-the-scenes video for all those people – and others who haven’t been in touch – who might be feeling the same way…
“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?
Initially, I wanted to be a strictly musical theatre performer. I started writing music with no intention of letting anyone hear it, but later realised that I have stories I want to tell and it seems there’s people who want to listen! When I first started writing, my influences were old school rockers like Queen, Kiss and The Rolling Stones. Everything I wrote was very theatrical and musical theatre inspired, with a distinctive story. Everything was linear.
Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?
I only wanted to pursue music as a career in the last few years, so it has definitely changed a lot! I listen to everything, so it all influences the style of music I want to make. It makes deciding what style to put out into the world difficult. The main genres I write in are rock, pop and country – surprisingly – with some folk and indie sounds thrown in the mix. My main musical influences are Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, Harry Styles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, The Darkness, David Bowie and Elton John. I personally love any old school, organic sound for my music. Very little artificial synthesizer and drum kit in the mix, unless the song calls for it. Generally, I prefer a live mix rather than an overproduced sound.
Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?
There are so many! The Chain by Fleetwood Mac immediately springs to mind. Lyrically, it’s extremely visual and anthemic. It makes the listener feel confident, like they can take over the world. It’s bad-ass and empowering. The production is so raw and upbeat, with a driving bass line that comes in at around three minutes and just grows and drives it home. It’s a perfect song that builds and builds until it ends, leaving you wanting more. It feels extremely crucial in today’s climate, as it empowers every listener, and I feel like we could all use a bit of confidence.
In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?
I think production-wise, it’s about the sounds you use. It can be as big and high BPM to a faint background noise. I think the tempo is very important to establishing the mood of the song, as well as the key. Generally, I like an organic sound -it makes the listener feel like they are at a live performance.
Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?
In my music, I priorities lyrics. Writing lyrics is usually how I start the narrative of a song. Lyrics are the building blocks of what becomes a legendary piece of art, in my opinion.
What’s your favourite piece of gear?
Right now, Its my iPhone 11 plus. It has all of the software built in, like Garageband and Imovie. It has easy ways to build a professional-sounding demo and basic idea for visuals, by yourself. An iPhone microphone has really good sound quality and the camera and video quality is insane!
What is the story behind Ugly – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?
Ugly started all the way back in 2016. I was going out with friends and we were doing things we definitely were not supposed to and kissing people we weren’t supposed to. It just so happened that the boy I kissed was my crush for the longest time, so I was absolutely on top of the world! The next weekend we decided to do it all over again, and I thought this bit and I were going to turn into one of those couples you see in a movie. But alas, it flipped and went from a cheesy rom-com to a horror movie. When I tried to kiss him again, he just looked at me and said: “Dude, I was desperate and gone, you’re not my type, you’re fat and ugly.” Needless to say, my little heart was absolutely shattered. I went home and put my feelings into words. And Ugly was born. I took this raw piece of work to the incredible Matthew Marinus and he helped fine-tune my lyrics into an actual song. I then was offered the opportunity to perform the song at the Lyric Theatre at Gold Reef City in 2016 as part of Born To Perform’s SHINE! This arrangement, by the incomparable Brian Schimmel, was big and theatrical – perfect for the stage. I got to perform this version again in 2019 at The Teatro Montecasino. This will forever be a defining moment in my career. I got to perform my own song that I wrote on a stage that I’ve dreamed of since I was a child, wearing something I sewed myself. I had complete free reign over my performance, and it felt incredible. The amount of personal growth I’ve experienced since writing this song is astronomical, and I owe it all to this one song, that I knew I had to share with the world.
This version of the song is a little different than the one a few people might have seen me perform in Born To Perform – I decided to change it for two main reasons. I wanted my own sound to come through in the orchestration and I wanted to make it sound more universal. I wanted my voice to be heard in every guitar lick and drum snare. I wanted people to relate not only to the lyrics but to the feeling of the song. This one has a more anthemic rock n roll edge to it. Thanks to the amazing people at Oriison and Audio Culture, this sounds exactly like it does in my dreams. It makes you feel nostalgic, with its glam rock flicks, yet it is completely new and now. It has some Queen in it, some David Bowie, some Alanis Morisette, some Janis Joplin, some The Darkness, and a whole lot of Yahto. It’s massive, it’s raw, it dares you to look your heartbreak right between the eyes and say “You don’t scare me anymore”.
It’s not about my singular experience anymore, I don’t think it ever was. It’s a song about resilience. It’s a song about taking back your power. People like the boy who broke me don’t realise the weight of their words. It makes me shudder just thinking about what others go through in a similar situation.
And it would literally not be possible without my amazing publicist Collett Dawson! I am so lucky to be surrounded by some of the most incredible people who inspire me and keep me going!
Yahto Kraft’s new single, Washed Away, is also available now.