Onyda (pronounced On-eye-da) is a striking figure, looking like someone straight out of the world of Cowboy Bebop. From Stoke on Trent, they sit at home, surrounded by instruments, where they create alt-pop that tackles a wide range of subjects including gender and loneliness. We talk about their new EP, dream gigs and performing at Glastonbury.
So your first EP Queen of Duality is out. How are you feeling in the run up to that?
Onyda: I think that I think this is probably the same for any artist. Once you’ve done something you just wanna move on to the next thing, I’m writing the second EP at the moment as the first one’s coming out. So I guess, the creative process and that spark of excitement and everything. Not that it’s not still there and I’m proud of it. I guess the joy gets put back into it for me watching other people hear it for the first time.
I know what I want is being released as we speak. What’s the vibe or the message through that song?
Onyda: It’s basically like, it’s just like fuck you *laugh*. I guess I’ve always felt very othered in my life. I am just, a bit weird. I’ve always kind of struggled to fit in a little bit. And I guess this song is an ode to that, an ode to being yourself. There’s power in you, just kind of being yourself and not really caring or trying too hard, but try not to care what other people think about that.
I think it’s kind of a story. It’s also about me meeting my partner and it’s about chaos too. It’s about the chaos of life. And my attraction to that so yeah, it’s about a few things. It’s mainly like a love letter to yourself.
For the music video, you’re seated on a throne as, and I quote a, ‘dystopian cowboy’. What was the inspiration behind that, as you have a very distinct look?
Onyda: Do you know what initially, it was just a really strong image that I had in my head when I was writing and I wasn’t really sure why it was there. Like I’m a very visual person, even when I’m writing songs I can’t really do it without having a whole cinematic play going on in my head.
And then when I kind of delved into why that happened I am just obsessed with the idea of Cowboys. I think like the act of being yourself is kind of being in a Mexican standoff with the world sometimes. I love my hometown and it’s raised me. I feel like I do belong here, but also I do walk down the street and it feels like a sea of people are like parting around me.
Like, what is this thing?*laugh* You know what I mean? I guess it’s just being a lone ranger. I think this is a bit off piece, but with my gender identity I guess sometimes I just feel like a bit of an alien. I just kind of naturally played a bit of an ode to that as well. So it’s not just like, like your regular dusty cowboy like, it’s this freaky alien cowboy thing.
So with your gender identity, you’re non-binary am I correct?
And so with this song, is it you affirming who you are?
Onyda: I think who you are naturally comes out in your writing or your art, obviously your art is like a direct reflection of you. And I love exploring gender and all of these ideas about myself when I write, I learn something new about myself every time, so you’re absolutely right.
And even like coming into the music industry there aren’t off the top of my head, I can think of sort of a handful of non-binary musicians. So when you are presenting your music out there, do you present identity first or is it, I am a musician who is also…?
Onyda: I’m a creative first and foremost. But I guess I think the reason why end up kind of like exploring and talking about that so much is because we’re like we’re in a war at the moment of people being like “I don’t agree with people being trans nonbinary” Or “I do agree with being trans nonbinary”. We’ve kind of got to the point where we can accept, I think for the most part that people are gay or straight or whatever.
We understand that being homophobic is wrong generally as a society, but when it comes to being trans and nonbinary, I think people still feel like it’s up for debate. I feel like I’m on the front line of a war at the moment, which is not particularly where I wanna be.
You said you are very cinematic and you’ve sort of touched on your creative process. To delve into that is each of your songs have these storytelling elements to them. Are these stories from your own life?
Onyda: I’m a very personal writer. I think I’ve only ever written one song that didn’t relate directly to me and it’s none of these songs. And I don’t think any songs that I will write in the future either; they’re all from my own experiences. I quite like dishing the dirt on myself. Everyone knows my business.
If someone asks me a question, I’ll give them the very honest answer. Like, no matter what it is, sometimes to my detriment. I’ve handed over my power to other people because they know everything about me and I don’t really guard myself. It’s kind of a superpower.
Your sound is very unique and has this sort of quite ethereal quality to it? I’m thinking especially like a dog, is that the is that kind of the vibe you’re looking for? Where are your sort of musical inspirations?
Onyda: I think I’ve always kind of been in that vein with this EP specifically, working with Ben the producer characterized that a lot and he really drew that out in an incredible way.
But my influences are really kind of like Lana Del-Ray as cliche as it is for every artist in this day and age. She’s ricocheted through the entire musical community. And I don’t know how old I was when I started listening to it, like 14 or something and she kind of like birthed me, I think *laugh*.
She kind of raised me into that cinematic part of the world, that romanticism of life and art. So I think she started me off on that path. And then I found artists like Scott Walker, Lee Hazelwood. I found my way from that, but I think that was the start of my journey.
The titular track, Queen of Duality includes this desire for escape within it, is it literal escape from a place? What was going on when you were writing that song?
Onyda: It’s escape from a place and escape from one’s own mind basically. When I was growing up I fucking hated living here. Like, absolutely despised it. And it’s only in my later years, I say that like I’m 70. It’s only in more recent years that I’ve grown to absolutely adore it because I moved away. I went to the city, I was like “shit this isn’t for me.”
And it brought me right back and I started to appreciate it for what it was, but I grew up in New Chapel. I’m from Tunstall, but I moved to like a more secluded part of Stoke. And I guess I’ve had a lot of like experiences with isolation and loneliness here.
And also the feeling of that that comes with having like mental health issues. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive. And I’ve struggled quite a lot to be honest. I’m kind of surprised that I’ve got to this point.
I almost quit music for about four years. I didn’t know if I was ever going to go back to it again and I didn’t know if I was going be living here. I thought that my life was going to be completely different. But I mean, I love my life here now and I can appreciate Stoke because I’ve grown in myself. It’s about the deepest, darkest parts of my mind and my experiences.
And just on the process of that song, it’s got this three act structure to it. What was the creation process when you wrote that?
Onyda: So I started writing that just in my room. It was during lockdown. So I was feeling particularly isolated. I quite often get to this point where I’m just, “what’s the point of anything”. I’m quite an existential thinker and if I’ve got a lot of time to spend with myself, I will usually end up there <laugh>.
So it was during lockdown and I was feeling pretty glum and I just felt really trapped, felt really trapped in my own mind and in the place that I was in.
So the verses came really naturally, like the story. I guess the cinematic dips and peaks only came when I recorded it. It was actually quite flat when I initially started it. Then when I actually got to thinking about the way that I wanted it to go; I think of it like there’s a cloud above my head and it like rains ideas onto me.
And I don’t really have any say in that, like the rain is the rain, I can’t choose what kind of rain comes out.
And when so if, when you get to performing this on stage performing it, let’s go to fantasy land and say you have unlimited budget. How would you want to present your own music on stage?
Onyda: I have thought about this a lot and I can answer it in extreme detail. Full choir. That’s the only thing. So this EP was not written with live in mind because ideally we need an entire orchestra and choir to enable the full experience of the EP.
I have thought about trying to get a choir on board. I’ve had some ideas about recording it in huge warehouse spaces, it’s a project for the future. Cause I don’t really have the resources for that, but that’s the dream.
That is quite the aspiration. Just to go quite far back to 2017, you performed in Glastonbury, how was that was very early in your career?
Onyda: Sure. I’m gonna give you the real answer and I’ve never given anyone the real answer because obviously when you usually do interviews and you talking about stuff, you have to be like, “yeah everything was great, blah, blah.” But honestly, like it was a really bad time in my life.
I loved the experience of playing and you know, it was great to experience that. And I’m really grateful to of had that opportunity and the actual playing itself was fine. I think it was too early for me really…creatively, I wasn’t really developed, I didn’t really believe in what I was playing really. I just kind of felt all over the place.
And I was in a really bad relationship at the time. I don’t really remember it, when you kind of like suppress a memory because you don’t really look on it very fondly, you know?
I can’t really remember it to be honest, that’s a really depressing answer. I wish that I had a better one for you, but honestly where I’m at now, creatively and musically, is the first time in my life where I’m standing on my own two feet. I’m in a good place, I’m in control of the situation. And I’m doing exactly what I wanna do, you know?
That’s very, very good to hear and I think its genuinely showing through. You have a distinctive look, now to and just going on your Instagram, when you see a piece of clothing or something like that, what makes you go yes ‘this is me?’
Onyda: If it’s ugly. I’m just obsessed with idea of like being like beautiful in an ugly way. I just think I know that probably sounds bizarre, but no shade to anyone that is beautiful or pretty or does things that look pretty for pretty sake cause we need that.
But I guess the world is so saturated, with images and visuals at this point of like particularly social media and where we’re at. Like there is so many things out there that look perfect and look pretty and are like airbrushed and you know you can find someone that looks perfect and will be completely pleasing to the eye on Instagram within about two seconds.
So I guess I’m just kind of really bored of that. And I wanna be interesting before I’m attractive. If it interests me, if it’s ugly if it makes me wince a little bit, if it makes me feel something, that’s not just like, oh, that’s nice that I’ll wear it.
So what have you bought most recently that you are the most proud of that is truly ugly?
Onyda: My wardrobe is right here. Where is it? This is so ugly. I’ve not even worn this yet. Cause it’s so ugly. I can’t even make it work. Wow. But it’s this like horrible cotton. I don’t even know what this is it’s too big for me. Yeah, it’s this like horrible like sheer material, but like the color is just like so bizarre.
And just to finish up, you are working on a next EP. You’re constantly creating what is the next stage for you and your music?
Onyda: The next step for me is creating a second body of work a second EP. I’m really, really, really excited as well. For this EP, I have like a full band at my disposal this time and I’ve never had that luxury.
And I’m also writing with my band mate, Matt who I just completely adore. And yeah, I just think that like out of everything that I’ve ever done, this one has the potential to be the most authentic, the most the most true like expression of myself and my art.
Words: Peter Wellman