From 3,600 narrowed down to 36 and culled to just six — all by popular vote. That’s the seemingly insurmountable obstacle South Florida band Yardij faced when they entered the Destination Okeechobee contest. Those final six musical acts would be added to the festival line-up and given the opportunity to perform for the crowds at the 2017 Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival.
Yardij, a five-piece, female-fronted Indie outfit, has the distinction of kicking off the festival on Friday, March 3 at 12:15 p.m., and it’s been an amazing journey for the band who, in their own words, thought it was a long shot.
Formed in 2014, the band — made up of Deja Elyze, lead vocals and guitar; Nick Fernandez, lead guitar and backing vocals, Alex Athanasaw, bass; Jordan Solomon, drums; and Mike Ross, piano — didn’t think they’d even make to the second round of the Destination Okeechobee contest. They had to garner support from fans and get them out voting.
“We had to get them to a bar in Miami on a Tuesday night to vote for us,” Deja recalled.
Alex and Deja met in high school and, while both played instruments and made music separately. They’d never jammed together until one day in their senior year. From there, Jordan, Nick and Mike were added to the band, and they set off on their music-making adventure. Yardij brings their fresh vibe to alternative rock with a powerhouse sound like Paramore and Janis Joplin fused with the rhythmic mellow of Sublime. Other influences include No Doubt and Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name a few.
When asked their inspirations for becoming musicians, Alex responded “Music is an international language, it’s a world language.”
Nick chimed in with “Music definitely brings us all together. That’s definitely why it’s cool being a musician. Not only can you share that with someone, you can change someone’s perspective who doesn’t know anything about music but just wants to appreciate it.”
“Creating a song with someone is a really special thing,” Deja added.
Why the name Yardij, you may be wondering. Well, according to the band, Yardij comes from their manager, Cheryl Steele, who used to own a venue in Hollywood, FL called the Junkyard, where she hosted rehearsals, music videos, events. Just before they became a band, it closed down. They were trying to think of a name, and they took forever.
They could think of everything under the sun but it’s hard to put a label on themselves. Cheryl’s husband actually suggested doing something about the Junkyard, like yardage. The band felt that the traditional spelling was bland, and so they turned to the dictionary to find the source of the word. They found the phonetic spelling — yardij — and thought it looked pretty cool.
Deja began as a solo artist when she was fifteen, and when she was signed to a production label, she was going more in the pop direction, but she wasn’t really happy with it.
“It wasn’t really what I wanted to do but I just didn’t really know what I wanted,” she said. “I was young, and you’re still learning about so many different kinds of music. Deciding on the artist you want to be, that’s serious stuff. That’s your brand.”
Her junior year of high school, she began to get into jam bands and blues singers, and had considered going into the EDM (electronic dance music) direction, but she knew that something else was way more important for her. “I think I kinda put it out to the universe that, ‘I want a band, I want a band, I want a band,’ and it kinda just all came together nicely.
“For me to know a kid all these years and not do any music with him one single day of our lives until our senior year…it’s just kinda crazy how things work out,” she said, speaking of Alex.
Even after they formed, Alex stated that it had been a difficult road for three years. “It’s like trying to fight with your husbands and wives, apparently, because that’s really the whole deal. I think we’ve really come together and made this all our own. I think that if we can’t really stick together, how are we going to go on tour if something were to ever happen, and we all fight and halfway through, we have to cancel the tour because we had a falling out because we couldn’t handle it.”
Alex believes that it’s really a connection between people that only music can nurture. “If you’re not arguing with someone you’re trying to be creative with, then you don’t care about what you’re creating.”
He went on to stay that coming from a band that used to jam in his living room and Deja’s grandparents’ living room to practicing three times a week and then trying to produce a show for something like the music fest, it isn’t something that a person can be taught. “You can learn some tips and tricks but as far as getting through the actual experience, it’s definitely something that you learn to deal with every day.”
In addition to playing the main stage at the West Palm Beach music festival Sunfest in 2015, Yardij has released two alternative rock EPs, The Blue Room and Something Along the Lines. They continued their upward momentum by opening for multi-platinum artist Bon Jovi at the BB&T Center on Feb. 12.
“That’s, like, 20,000 steps ahead of where we are,” Deja laughed.
“It’s such a unit and everybody works so hard and so fabulously together,” Deja said. “Everybody was really awesome. Nobody was treating you like a Joe Schmoe.”
Yardij plans to release another EP and just released a brand new music video on YouTube for their song If I Stay.
If you’re attending the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, be sure to check out Yardij on the Here Stage on Friday, March 3 at 12:15 p.m. For more information on the band or to listen to their music, check out www.facebook.com/Yardij and www.youtube.com/yardijmusic.