“It’s a game we used to play as kids in Singapore, a bit like rock-paper-scissors,” bassist Saam tells us, jumping straight in on the origins of his band’s name. “So, you all say ‘OooyapaaayaSOM’, and on ‘SOM’, you would either show the back of your hand or the underside of your hand. It’s kinda like an analogy of life, it’s half chance.” I’m sat with the international trio in a cosy corner of Unit 51, tucked away from the Baltic wind which howls relentlessly outside. Despite the location being a far cry from the equatorial tropics of Saam and fellow band mate Ashwin’s childhood games, OYA PAYA are a band that seem to inject light into a room, all big smiles, laughter and loud, colourful patterns. Even the minimalist surroundings of Unit 51 can’t fail to be warmed by their very presence.
“Me and Ash went to school together in Singapore,” Saam continues, as he explains how the trio came to be. “It was a pretty strange setup where you got given a problem at the start of the day and had to solve it by the end of the day. Some days you could get away with doing practically nothing and we used to just mess about and somehow blag it!” After flying halfway across the world, the pair found themselves studying at LIPA where they met singer and guitarist Max. “I lived in France for most of my life and when it came to applying for uni I applied for four French business schools and LIPA,” Max explains. “With my dad originally coming from Liverpool he had always told me about LIPA. When he came back here he picked up an application form – and I suppose the rest is history.”
Bringing together a variety of ideas grown from different cultures and interests, the three set about making a band to tie their backgrounds together. “Having known Ash from Singapore and then meeting Max at LIPA about four or five years ago, by the time we became a band I had already got over hating them,” jokes Saam on their relationship. “It was all just a bit of fun in my bedroom when we started out,” Ash explains of the band’s origins. “It was just me and Saam at first, and it was only when we wrote Nothing Left that we felt we had something.” Upon hearing the instrumental, Max was given the chance to sing on the track, and thus Oya Paya the band became a trio.
As a unit, being a three-piece suits them well, and it’s clear just from the sheer amount of laughing and smiling that this is an extremely tight group. “We found that we all came together as friends with completely different musical tastes, but now all our tastes seem to have unified into one and we all listen to very similar stuff,” says Saam. Citing the smooth future soul of Hiatus Kaiyote and the blunt rap of Rich Chigga (an Indonesian rapper who taught himself English through listening to Tyler, The Creator and Macklemore) as common influences, it’s clear to see that the three love music in all its forms. Favouring the slightly leftfield, their taste is not something that reveals itself explicitly in their own work. There are nuances of all three band members’ eclectic tastes flickered throughout, whether that be the basslines of Thundercat or the aggressive lyrical delivery of Chigga. But it’s not just their geographical and musical diversity that influences the trio. From Max’s extensive background in rock bands to the production skills of Saam, the three-piece have managed to fuse together their individual talents into a sound that’s fresh, vibrant and striving to succeed.
Nothing Left is the perfect example of what Oya Paya are all about. The genre-bending track fuses elements of hip hop and rock within its many layers, which blend expertly to create a pop song with meaning and depth. The cryptic lyrics actually refer to cult animated series Rick and Morty, which deals extensively with the philosophy of existentialism. Much like Rick and Morty, Oya Paya manage to hide serious topics behind a laidback exterior. And, again like their cartoon inspiration, the trio are a true success story of the technological age. “We never hold something we’ve written in the bedroom as sacred. We just send it across to each other and can’t wait to see what comes back,” explains Max. “When you look at the Lennon and McCartney writing relationship, there’s a huge amount of competition. We’re not like [that], we’re always excited to see what the other makes of the track and how they can evolve it.”
In November last year, Oya Paya were one of the bands who appeared on Bido Lito!’s stage at the Liverpool Music Week closing party. It was there that they really jumped to our attention, and the Spiritual Bunker showcase at Meraki suited them down to the ground. With a natural groove underpinning their set, the trio really pushed the crowd’s expectations in terms of the standard guitar/bass/drums setup. Some of their slow motion RnB beats, with Max’s throat-scraping vocals floating over the top, highlighted a restraint to a standard ‘rock’ formula that was refreshing.
The band also have a penchant for peppering their online output with a series of strange, selfmade videos. Using Boomerang (an app which helps make GIF-like images) alongside their music and with liberal cries of “SPICE”, they have captivated the millennial generation’s attention with a series of memes. “It’s not something contrived, it’s something we just do for fun, you know?” explains Ash. The cries of “spice”, which is somewhat of an Oya Paya catchphrase now, is an inside joke which has grown into their online presence. “It all started out as a joke between Max and his brother, but then we all started saying it,” laughs Ash. “…But when Ash gave us some real spice – food, not the drug – it took on a whole new feeling, ha!” Saam quips.
Despite their chilled-out approach, there’s a real drive in Oya Paya’s output which is more than musical: it’s a thriving to succeed as musicians, as a band. With Ash’s visa soon to run out, there is a cloud of uncertainty above them and the other two are determined to keep him here. “Over this next six months we’re really going to push the band,” says Saam, “otherwise it looks like I might have to marry him, ha ha!”
It’s clear that the guys have a really close relationship, spending time together both in and out of the band. Like many intriguing acts that have gone before them, Oya Paya are a group of best friends and that’s what makes the music so fun. They are in touch with each other creatively, and allow their own strengths to thrive. But perhaps what they have most in common is a drive to make music their living. “I have five different streams of income and only one of them isn’t music,” says Saam. And the same can be said for the other two, with Max working as a session musician to pay bills and Ash trying to prove he can earn a significant income in the UK to stay. “I know it’s clichéd, but music really is pretty much everything.”
In a world where music is very quick to pigeonhole itself into genres and cultivate a cynical image, Oya Paya are not afraid to be themselves – and there’s nothing much like them about today either. Their first EP alone may only have three tracks on it, but within it there are elements of everything from electronica to funk to rap; they create music which is truly their own. Besides, who else would spend their time making a video of a cat in a constant state of transition moving up and down a set of stairs, soundtracked by the funk-riddled groove of a bass, harmonised by the cat’s meows to their cheers of “spice”? Exactly. And we could all do with a little more spice in our lives from time to time.
Just Around The Bend is out now. Oya Paya play the Ditto Live event at Camp and Furnace on 24th March.