Whenever the holiday season rolls around, it’s a good time to come back home. It’s an opportunity to catch up with family and friends. And for Hartford native José Oyola it’s an opportunity to come back to the place where it all started.
Based now in Los Angeles, Oyola created his latest musical project JOATA while he was in Brooklyn. On November 21, Oyola will be bringing this project to the stage of Café Nine in New Haven. Local indie rock band Ports Of Spain, Philadelphia rockers Elison Jackson and Hartford pop-rock act The Professors Of Sweet, Sweet Music will be rounding out the bill starting at 8pm.
Oyola and I talked about how JOATA is different from the music he’s done in the past but also similar, a couple collaborative songs he put out, having a couple of logos, living out in L.A. and his big plans for the coming weeks.
RD: Under the moniker of JOATA, you blend hip hop, indie rock and Caribbean rhythms together to create a unique sound. What initially made you want to pursue this project and in which ways is it both similar and different to what you were doing previously with your indie rock band José Oyola & The Astronauts?
JO: If you look closely, JOATA is actually an acronym for José Oyola & The Astronauts. I got tired of people asking what it is so I basically simplified it and now it’s just me so I figured I’d streamline it with one simple name. Honestly, to me it’s the same music but I understand that people think it’s very different. I feel like I’m evolving as a musician so the music is evolving, some of the songs are the same songs but in different formats. Overall, I guess it’s more hip hop now and more pop leaning but I feel like it’s still me, it’s the same voice so it’s hard for me to say what exactly has changed even though it has changed. It’s less band and more concept oriented for me to make music by myself.
RD: I definitely get the pop sensibilities of the music and this year you released two collaborative tracks, “Eh Doo Kashun” with Kool A.D. and Aphta that came out in July and a remix of “Outside” with Myles Bullen and Rowan that came out in September. What was the experience like making these two songs and how were you able to link up with the artists involved in both of them?
JO: Kool A.D. is somebody I used to listen to as a kid, I used to listen to the hip hop group Das Racist that he was a part of. I don’t really remember how we crossed paths but I just remember when it happened with him following me on Instagram and me being all excited about it. It was during the pandemic, he was doing freestyles and I messaged him about this beat I had by Aphta to see if he wanted to freestyle on it. He freestyled on it and when he got back to me I never thought about making it a song between me and him but then I asked him if he would be cool with it being a song we did together. He said “Yes” and it was very organic in a weird way, not to be all fanboy about it but I was definitely fanboying the whole time because I couldn’t believe that I was doing a song with Kool A.D.
He’s somebody that I listened to when I was 16 years old in my friend’s basement. Rowan was already on the original track for “Outside”, she’s a really good friend of mine who I met in Brooklyn and she’s living in Austin [, Texas] now. Myles and I connected through Ceschi Ramos and the record label Fake Four Inc., we were hitting it off and I think Ceschi sent me Myles’ music saying that we’d sound good together. We followed each other on Instagram, we started liking each other’s stuff but we never really spoke. It was that goofy relationship human beings have these days where they’ll like each other’s stuff on social media but they’ll never actually meet in person.
I sent him the instrumental and he sent me a freestyle over it, it’s kind of like the same thing with Kool A.D. The remix gives life to “Outside” again and when I first heard the demo I was like “Yo, this is lit, this should be out and people should hear this.”
RD: I think the remix sounds really cool. Along with the music, you also have a couple logos for JOATA with one being your head as some sort of cartoon ice cream popsicle and another one being a purple beanie with a streak of blonde hair sticking out at the bottom side. Did you create both designs yourself? What made you want to have both of them be the logos for the project?
JO: The ice cream is on the cover of the first JOATA release Como Se Dice? and Matt Bourke is the guy who designed that album cover. A lot of things just kind of happen by mistake and Sticker Mule had a deal on stickers so on a whim I decided to make the ice cream a sticker. What came in my head was a circle sticker, but when I got it it was an actual die cut of the ice cream and I love merchandising, I love merch, I live for merch. I just started putting it up and I realized that people would ask if it was me every time I handed them one. In my head, I’m not looking at myself and I know what I look like but it’s very intriguing when my head is on the sticker and they look at it and then they look at me.
My good friend Adam Matlock in New Haven around 10 years ago was like “José, you’re the only person I know who can make your logo you and it works.” The beanie is kind of foreshadowing, I never wore hats until I moved to L.A. I started wearing one when I started working at a deli in Brooklyn right before I moved. It was a job I had for two months and I had to wear a beanie because of my hair and I was dealing with food. I didn’t want to wear a hairnet so I decided to wear a beanie and it kind of grew on me.
When I moved to L.A. I bought this purple beanie right before and I started to like it, in my head for some reason it signifies me doing whatever I want. Sometimes on the East Coast I was trapped in what I wanted people to think of me and I thought that I had to have my hair out all the time because that’s what I’m supposed to look like. Then I realized that if the beanie makes me comfortable, there’s somewhere deep inside of me that feels safe. It’s kind of like in the movie Big Daddy when the kid puts the sunglasses on and he feels invisible, the beanie gives me a sense of home. That’s how it became a logo and everybody knows that I have a blonde streak in my hair, I like logos that you can look at and you can recognize what it is even if it’s a silhouette.
RD: Being from Hartford and now being based in Los Angeles, how has it been for you living out on the West Coast and what took the most adjusting when you first moved out to L.A.?
JO: It’s nuts. I’m still adjusting and it’s different, I consider myself lucky to have gone to Brooklyn first and then to L.A. but the toughest part is being so far away from my family and friends. The time change does mess with me a little bit and people always ask me “Oh, what do you like better?”, both areas are so different that I can’t really pick one. It’s like asking me if I like spaghetti or if I like rice & beans, I like them both and it depends on my mood. The people are very different, as I’m getting older I’m enjoying the weather in L.A. but at times I think of Brooklyn, I think of Connecticut and just the Northeast in general.
There’s things that I miss and there’s pros and cons to both of them. Something in me was yearning to see what the West Coast is like and I couldn’t let that go.
RD: I totally get that, absolutely. After this upcoming show at Cafe Nine and after the holiday season that follows, what are some of your plans going into next year?
JO: I’m really happy to be playing in New Haven and I’m really happy to be playing at Cafe Nine because that’s where my music career got started. The people who run the place believed in me and they kind of gave me free reign with my shows. It’s a really nice room, even if I ever get famous I’d always want to play there. It’s called “The Musician’s Living Room” for a reason and the day after Thanksgiving I’m headed to France to record the new album. The same guy who produced my last album is producing it, he moved to France from New York City so I’m going there with a buddy of mine. We’re filming the whole thing so it’ll be like a documentary and I’ll be there from November 26th to December 28th.