Big Yen, a San Diego-based trio, is a band with a name that carries a profound meaning. Rooted in Chinese culture, “Yen” translates to a lifelong yearning or desire, and on their latest release, aptly and uniquely titled Punkadelic, Big Yen intends to utilize music to ignite a similar desire within its listeners. With a mission to inspire thought, challenge conventional norms and habits, and encourage living in the moment; Big Yen challenges listeners to ask themselves “What is your big yen?”
Co-produced by George Spits, known for his work with acclaimed artists such as Slightly Stoopid, Damian Marley, Nas and Llammabeats, this EP ventures into uncharted musical territory.
Big Yen’s music is a breath of fresh air, deliberately avoiding conformity and genre limitations.
In fact, each track on Punkadelic showcases the band’s versatility, drawing influence from punk, reggae, ska, hip hop, and jazz, often with a dash of tongue-in-cheek humor and introspective insights. Their sound can be likened to Jerry Garcia sharing a joint with Tribe Called Quest, a delightful collision of unexpected musical choices. In a contemporary music landscape where genres are often rigidly defined, Big Yen’s ability to break free from conventions is nothing short of refreshing.
Led by James Frolio on guitar and vocals, accompanied by Bryan Prusiensky on bass and Jordan Starke on drums, Big Yen is a band that defies musical boundaries, promising an unforgettable sonic journey that leaves listeners eagerly anticipating their next evolution, including a hip hop single produced by Little Stranger.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Frolio to discuss his insight into the music industry, where he hopes to take Big Yen, and to further explain just exactly what in the world, “punkadelic” is.
James! Thank you so much for chatting with us. Always like to start off with a bit of history. Can you tell us how you first got into music?
- James Frolio: I probably got serious into music when I joined my first real high school band. We were called “Panda-Moanium”. I took piano lessons as a child and even middle school band for a few years but something clicked when I started playing the guitar. There’s something unique about being in a garage with your best buds, and coming together every day to make something brand new – defining our own musical goals together as we went. Writing songs, putting our spin and flavor on parts. We played a few local house parties and park festivals so I got a taste for the whole thing. The first time we created something from scratch and actually dug it, it blew our minds. It was somehow both zen AND stimulating.
You hold many roles in the music industry and contribute in a number of ways – what is your favorite role and why?
- JF: I think learning so many roles, not only helped me understand the music industry better, but more importantly helped me be a better artist. On the road, in the studio, on stage, with the guys, writing, recording, and performing music is where my heart is because it’s always new. Each new state, new show, new song. Original music has never happened before and that’s exciting to me. It’s also rewarding to make art that reflects how you see/feel the world. Hopefully other people get something from that.
I love that. The focus is a lot about the expression. What is punkadelic? How did you develop that kind of sound?
- JF: Punkadelic is just everything I like. No boxes, no one genre. Reggae, punk, and hip-hop are some main pillars that inspired punkadelic but it’s also just a term that turns heads and gets attention. No one’s ever heard of that combo. It felt right for this EP to call it Punkadelic. Also, I think punks and hippies share a lot of the same goals but happen to wear different uniforms. I grew up on both and feel like both have this big freedom; big energy– question everything, move with intention, and be unapologetically yourself regardless of opinions.
Yes! I couldn’t agree more. What is your biggest aspiration in terms of your music? What message do you hope you can deliver through your music?
- JF: I hope people realize that you can do anything with this life if it brings you joy. Even if it’s weird, does not fit the mainstream, or only makes sense to you. That’s what I’m doing anyway. Also, if we can cause a room full of bodies to jump around and have a good time; it feels good to share that feeling.
Have you been working on this EP for a while?
- JF: I actually started this EP with Big Yen in Charleston, South Carolina back in 2021. Some life stuff happened with all the guys and, fast forward, I ended up in San Diego with the new lineup and somehow linked up with George Spits (Slightly Stoopid, Damian Marley) to finish it up in Miami. So the songs are actually quite old but I felt a duty to get the songs out that the homies and I started jammin’ in a hot attic in Johns Island, SC.
I love that you carried these songs with you for so long. Sounds like something your soul needed to settle. Very cool. What comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?
- JF: I’m not sure. Sometimes it’s neither. I’ll have a feeling or a perspective I think is either interesting or a lesson for myself, sometimes it’s sarcastic, sometimes it’s heartfelt, but I’ll just pick up whatever’s at hand and try to move toward that. If I have an instrument I’ll find the chords and melody, but if there’s only a pen or my phone, I’ll start letting words fly and see how it feels later. I often just throw paint at the wall and see what sticks. Usually much later after some time away.
What about dream collaborations for Big Yen?
- JF: I would have loved to just sit in on some of Sublime‘s early recording sessions. Besides that, I think I would love to tour with someone like Little Stranger or Mike Pinto. Amazing people and super lit live shows.
I remember catching your first solo show in San Diego with Little Stranger. I’ve kept my eye on what you’ve been doing musically ever since! Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
- JF: Lately, it’s been artists I’ve gotten to work with in the scene. Realizing they’re all just regular humans who decided to create and never stop; everything from Q-tip and Andre 3000 to Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan. The list could be endless but I try to take inspiration from all over. Especially from people who paved their own path outside of opinions and stay humble.
Love the variety! I’ve been saying for years labeling music in terms of genres is so limiting! Love that you’re challenging that. Where do you find a lot of support these days?
- JF: When you first start, the homies are the supporters. Lately, we’ve been touring and getting new real fans, but it always starts with the homies. Dudes dig the punk rock stuff and chicks seem to dig the chiller hip hop suave vibes. So we’re rocking between the two and finding our sweet spot.
What is your favorite song to play?
- JF: It’s one of the first songs I ever wrote but we end every show with “Knocks Me Down”. It’s about quite a few thoughts I was having at a strange house party in college, but mostly it just explodes in a 2-minute rock/hip hop time bomb. That tells you to live your life immediately and share your thoughts. Never fails.
Mental health is something that isn’t talked about too much but is a huge variable impacting those in the music industry (and those that aren’t). How do you maintain your mental health in this industry? What tips or tricks do you have for other musicians?
- LF: Yoga, meditation, and digital detox. The digital detox paired with a change of locale will do wonders for my spirit and cluttered mind.
Lastly, my most important question– If you had to describe your band as a midnight snack, what snack would it be?
- A toasted mushroom chocolate panini with a shot of whiskey and a freshly packed bowl.
Punkadelic will be available on all streaming platforms at midnight EST on Friday, September 22nd and 9:00 PM PST on Thursday, September 21st.