Y.Q.S on empowering their fans: “If you’re different, be different”
In partnership with BandLab
Being a member of Y.Q.S is essentially a full-time job. On top of writing music, learning choreography and creating social media content, the unsigned R&B girl group also share managerial responsibilities and self-release their own material. This already-busy schedule is further complicated by regular evening rehearsals (which can go on until midnight) and twice-weekly band meetings, though all four members of the group are undoubtedly committed to the cause.
After all, each member manages to squeeze in their music duties amid their day jobs, studies and other important obligations. Von’Jai Johnson is a healthcare assistant, Dena Wilson is completing a degree in neuroscience, while Rhoda Boadu balances work alongside training as a table tennis player and Francheska Marcheggiani, who has designed some of Y.Q.S’ artwork, is an artist. But the quartet understand the importance of taking a break, too.
“We’re mainly about female empowerment. I love how we can all come together, and if there’s any differences we can put those aside and purely work on music,” Johnson tells NME, before then sharing an unexpected anecdote about their close inter-band bond. “At the same time, we know how to have fun. We’ve been on holiday together, to the Canary Islands: Fran and I had a near-death experience!” That near-death experience came in the form of an encounter with a hammerhead shark. “Everyone else was like, ‘Oh, it was fine. It’s not like it was a great [white] shark,’” Marcheggiani adds. “There was still a shark in the water!”
It’s clear that Y.Q.S, which stands for “Stop Questioning Yourself” backwards, have built a strong friendship over their two years together. They’re also keen to celebrate their differences, too: Marcheggiani is Venezuelan, Johnson is of Ghanaian descent but grew up in the US and UK, Boadu has Ghanaian and Nigerian heritage, and Wilson’s background is Nigerian and Russian. Their different backgrounds proved the inspiration for their forthcoming single ‘About Last Night’, which includes lyrics in Spanish, Twi and Ga in addition to English.
“We want people to appreciate our art for what it is,” Johnson explains. “We want people to appreciate our differences, and that ties into our whole entire thing of ‘stop questioning yourself’. If you’re different, be different. If you can speak Spanish, incorporate Spanish. If you can speak Twi, incorporate Twi. It’s your language.”
Having been selected for the BandLab and NME present: Get Featured initiative, which gives a platform to up-and-coming acts from around the world, Y.Q.S spoke to NME about their multifaceted sound, plans for new music and what message they want to communicate to the world.
NME: How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard your music before?
Boadu: “We’re very versatile. We try not to sound like everyone else… we’re all from different backgrounds, so we try to input all of that into our sound as well.”
Johnson: “Imagine if 90’s R&B had a baby with 2000’s pop – that’s how I would say our sound is.”
Marcheggiani: “And then we throw some Afrobeats [in] sometimes. I speak Spanish.”
Johnson: “And Rhoda and I speak Twi. We’re trying to incorporate Russian [as] we’ve got Dena, she’s fluent.”
Wilson: “The word I always use is unique. On top of that, genre-wise, [it’s] R&B-pop with an Africa and Latin swing.”
You have a wide mix of influences. How would you identify which specific artists inspire you the most?
Johnson: “I would definitely say, in terms of R&B artists that inspire us, mainly Teyana Taylor, and I would say Destiny’s Child because they’ve done R&B-pop. Then [there’s] Little Mix for straight pop, but it’s more like [the] ‘Think About Us’ type of R&B-pop. That vibe is what we like.”
Marcheggiani: “There’s also K-pop, surprisingly.”
Wilson: “We’re probably a mix between the modernness of Little Mix and TLC, which are completely different opposites of the spectrum – but I think that’s what makes it so unique as well. Chloe Bailey is a big influence, as well as Afrobeats: Midas The Jagaban was an influence on ‘About Last Night’ and, I think, Burna Boy. Latin-wise, Rosalía.”
We’ve recently seen the emergence of FLO, who have become one of the most buzzed-about girl groups in recent times. How does it feel to be part of this ongoing girl group renaissance?
Boadu: “I think there was a period where there weren’t any groups, either girl bands or boy bands – it was all solo artists. I think there are a lot more girl groups and boy bands coming up now, which is good: it gives you competitors and it can also inspire other young people as well to actually get involved in music.”
Wilson: “It’s crazy timing. I remember when I first heard about [Y.Q.S], they were like: ‘There’s a gap in the market. Little Mix is gone’. We then didn’t know about any other [groups], and then, all of a sudden, everyone’s a girl group, and I’m like, ‘OK, we gotta get our act together’. It’s really exciting: I love that it’s a thing now and it’s so Y2K, the vibes – especially FLO. There’s something communal about girl groups and boy bands which we don’t really get nowadays – everyone’s fighting for themselves.”
What can you tell us about your upcoming music?
Wilson: “‘About Last Night’ is coming out soon. It’s a completely different vibe to what we’ve done so far… I don’t think I’ve seen what we’re about to release in the UK music scene [before, as it’s] obviously inspired by the world. But then I think it’s something the UK music scene is going towards at the moment, as there’s been a lot more Afrobeats-inspired releases. But this fusion of Afrobeats, Latin and our UK sound, I don’t think, has properly been done before, in the UK at least. We’re excited to be one of the first people to do it.”
What do you want people to take away from your music?
Johnson: “We want people to learn [and] grow with us, because some of our songs are actually teaching you. For instance, on our debut single ‘Work It’ my lyrics are literally, ‘When I work it I make ‘em nervous / I got you watching, got you mad on purpose’. I want you to feel empowered, I want you to be like, ‘You know what, if Von can do it after crying, I can’. ‘About Last Night’ is mainly about embracing your culture, where you’re from, the fact that you’re so different, the fact that you are foreign.”
Wilson: “I think anyone can do it if they’re willing to put the work in, and you don’t have to follow a set cookie-cutter way of doing art. If you want it, you will have it. Honestly, I think hard work is underrated. I’ve changed so much this year: a year ago, if you told me I’d be doing all of this, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Y.Q.S have been chosen as the first selected act for BandLab and NME present: Get Featured, a new music initiative through Opportunities via ReverbNation. You can submit a track to be considered for the next round of Get Featured here.