outhern California has been a place of cultural influx since 1781 when Spaniards claimed the land. The region’s history and relationship to music is rich. In the 1920s and 1930s, the African American music community infused the budding music scene throughout the country and in LA, including Charles Mingus, Gerald Wilson, and Buddy Collette. In the 1950s, Angelenos listened to Chicano music and rock, with legends like Richie Valens leading the way. Over the decade, music would begin its ascent to sounds so enthralling, the world would never be the same.
Enter the 1960s and the evolution of the Sunset Strip: all of a sudden music became a revolutionary movement and Los Angeles gave birth to bands such as The Doors, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and so many more. Music venues sprung up showcasing a pool of talent so unique, the industry would forever be changed. In the 1970s an East LA band called Los Lobos was making a splash and underground surf punk was rising in the ranks. In the 1980s we had Guns N’ Roses and N.W.A., and in the ‘90s glam rock, grunge, and so much more.
No matter the style, Southern California has been home to music greats, and the quest for unique music continues with bands gracing stages from big venues like the Hollywood Bowl to intimate spots like the Piano Bar.
Among those brilliant bands is LKYM. With a lineup of frontman and bassist Yonatan Elkayam, drummer Léo Costa, guitarist Adam Zimmon, and saxophonist David Urquidi, their music can’t be pegged as one thing or another. Elkayam’s voice is gritty and soothing, awakening and soulful and he and his band mates bring original sounds to the SoCal music landscape. Their sound is haunting, with unmistakable influences of the blues and jazz. The tone is so utterly mesmerizing that the moment the music begins and Yonatan starts to sing, you are undoubtedly hooked.
The pandemic put a halt to live music. LKYM is no exception, so we talked with Yonatan Elkayam to see how they’ve adapted and adjusted.
Tell us how LKYM came to be.
After college, I attended a school in Emeryville called Ex’pression Center for New Media [now called SAE Expression College]. There, I learned engineering and production and quickly immersed myself in studio work. Returning to LA, I began producing albums, mixing and mastering all while still doing sideman work. I was in a few bands that toured the country (and the world) and became really good at supporting other people. I realized however, through many disappointments, that my career was reliant on other people’s choices, mental health, and egos. I also had an overwhelming need to speak my truth and share my stories. That’s when I decided to take the step forward with the help of one of my best friends and first producers Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. He helped me be more sure about what I wanted to do and I began this journey.
Pretty soon, I put together a band and started performing around town. Eventually, I secured a residency downtown at a bar called The Escondite. I started putting different bands together every week of musicians that had never played together. I would send them music, we would meet on the band stand for the first time, and begin. I would often not call tunes and challenge them to be spontaneous and be in the moment. There was a lot of improvising and it was exciting, fun, and magical, although somewhat loose and undefined. It taught me how to let go of expectations and to lead in the moment. I built a lot of confidence up over the years from playing with so many incredible musicians and hearing my music reinterpreted weekly. It was a tremendous period of growth.
After one of the performances at the Piano Bar, Léo Costa who was playing drums that night said to me, “this was fun thanks for having me, but you know this could be world class if we put some work into it.” It was an immediate fuck yes to that. Léo’s drumming gave me a foundation to feel free and grounded at the same time. His musical taste and expertise were an immediate asset to the music, and our friendship has been the catalyst for a lot of beautiful creations. The rhythm section was set.
We then discussed guitar players and, although we had played with so many incredible ones, Adam Zimmon was our first choice. His sound, approach, and nuanced playing has brought so much depth to the music. His ability to create sonic tapestries one moment and then unleash into an incredible guitar solo the next is a source of much inspiration in the band. When he agreed to join, we were one step closer.
Finally, we discussed horns. Over the years I had played with trumpet players, trombonists, and sax players—each one brought something else to the music. But there was something that the baritone saxophone brought to the music that just works beautifully. It’s naturally a distorted sound, and it fit perfectly into the sound we were creating. David Urquidi was our clear choice. We have been friends since college and he was always one of my favorite people with whom to make music. His musical vocabulary, rhythmic sensibilities, and big, luscious tone were everything that we were missing. David is more like the lead guitar player in the band, and he runs his sax through guitar pedals, using distortion and effects to take that concept further. Pretty soon after the band was fully formed, Léo also took on the role of producer and, for the most recent album, he became mixer as well.
The sound of the band is a direct reflection of the members, our musical contributions, and our personalities. The band has helped me focus the sound. I like to say that it used to be a shotgun blast and now it’s a laser beam. It is so much more powerful, precise, and focused. Since the beginning of my journey as a solo artist and then into forming the band, the act was called Yonatan, but a few years ago when we were ready to release music we found out that there was already a Yonatan on Spotify so we couldn’t use the name. That was tough, and we had to pull back for a while and regroup. After many failed ideas Léo suggested LKYM which is my last name Elkayam without the vowels. All four of us agreed and we became LKYM.
Where does every band member originate from?
I was born and raised in LA, the first person in my family born in the US. David Urquidi is also an Angeleno, born and raised in East LA. We met at USC. Adam originates from New York. After studying music in Miami, he made his way to LA to continue his musical career. Léo was born and raised in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. After studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he moved to LA to continue his career. They have all played with some of the biggest artists in the business. David was in the band War for some years, Adam still plays with Ziggy Marley, and Léo still plays with Sergio Mendes.
What kind of adjustments have you had to make to adapt to “pandemic life”?
Like everyone else, the pandemic has changed everything for us. We played a show at the end of January 2020 and haven’t been together since. I’ve done two performances over Zoom this year, which was really special, but different. I’ve seen Léo twice during the year (he performed with me during the second Zoom concert) and the other guys only over Zoom. We started working on an album before the pandemic, and have had to continue working remotely. It’s made everything move much slower, but we are still producing.
We released a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” in May of 2020 and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” in September of 2020. We’ve got another release that just came out on February 12th of an original song called “Boat Keeps Rockin.” I’m so proud of the music that we are releasing, especially during this worldwide pandemic. Nothing can stop us from sharing with our fans, not even COVID-19. We immediately recognized that no matter how tough this time was for us, there were people out there hurting much more than us. We’ve used every release to raise money for the LA Food Bank, where every dollar translates into four meals. We raised over $1,600 for the LA Food Bank in 2020, and we plan to continue that with every upcoming release this year.
How has music helped you in your own lives?
I’m sure that I speak for my bandmates in saying that music has saved our lives. Growing up as a young man full of angst and frustration, music gives you an outlet to channel your feelings, express yourself, and find your voice. It’s given us community, and a deep appreciation for storytelling … and beauty. I might be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they cut the music and art programs from schools 20 years ago, and we just experienced an insurrection against the capital and our democracy. Definitely not a 1-to-1, but by losing art and music in our education system, we have robbed a generation of the ability to channel their feelings into something creative and beautiful.
Music is a gift, but it’s much more than that—it’s healing. Societies that don’t value it are doomed to suffer in countless ways. Music is our only real contribution to the rest of the universe.