In addition to being acquainted with a number of other instruments (including piano, violin, harp, and banjo), Yvette is also a skilled visual artist. She designs album covers, accepts art commissions, and paints custom guitars (including her own Strandberg).
In this interview, Yvette shares with us her experiences growing up as an artist in an area that emphasizes STEM, the therapeutic effects of music in her life, the roles teachers have played in her growth, her experiences being an Asian woman in music, and the projects she has been working on recently.
I always felt like a bit of an outcast. People here are more tech-oriented, and science and math fields always get more pushed. It wasn’t a great environment for me, and it wasn’t really conducive to building a network of artists. Growing up, most of my friends were from the internet.
Was it your decision to learn piano and violin?
No, not at all. My parents pushed piano and violin on me; they also grew up with music and wanted me to be well-rounded.
It wasn’t fun for me at first. There was the pressure to win competitions, and I experienced performance anxiety during recitals. But in retrospect, I’m really glad to have that strong foundation.
How has music helped you throughout the years?
I became sick with anorexia during high school. As a result, I went to the hospital and was in and out of school. I had to be on bed rest for a couple of months because my heart wasn’t strong enough to support my body.
I didn’t have the ability to continue piano and violin, but I did teach myself guitar during that time. Guitar made me rediscover my love for music. That’s where I really get my slogan of “Art is healing and music is medicine” -- art and music help people find an identity and voice when they’re not good at expressing it in concrete terms. It’s a great way to talk without having to talk.
Music is also great for developing self-esteem. Coming out of my eating disorder was a scary time, and it was empowering to develop new skills and feel like I didn’t have to depend on my outside features, which are superficial and fleeting. I cared less about gaining weight or looking fat, or all that stupid stuff plaguing my brain at the time. I didn’t realize what it did for me until years later.
What roles have teachers, whether academic or artistic or other, played in your life?
They’re so important. When I was younger, I didn’t get the right support from my family and friends. My parents wanted me to go to medical school at Stanford University. But I’d always known what I wanted to do, and I’d always known I was good at it. I had a natural inclination towards visual and creative arts.
My teachers were the ones who told me I had a gift in the arts, and that they would be mad at me if I didn’t pursue it. They gave me the courage to do what I love. Without them, I easily would’ve succumbed to everyone else’s wishes for me. And I’m really glad I didn’t -- I wouldn’t feel at all fulfilled doing something I don’t care about.
Do you have a most meaningful tattoo?
One tattoo that means the most to me is the one on my arm reads, “To exist in the world and not live in it.” It was inspired by a post rock song. To me, it means to be a bit like a ghost. I often don’t feel like I belong or necessarily fit into this society; I’m here physically, but my spirit is meandering. I’m comfortable with being an outsider, though.
I also have a wing on my arm. It was done by my mentor at a tattoo shop. He was my best friend for six months and passed away while I was on tour. This symbology is crazy because he encouraged me to pursue touring and art.
He really made me feel confident about myself. It’s like he gave me wings -- literally. He never got to finish the tattoo because he passed away, so I had my friend finish it. He was a 50 year old former Hell Angel from Canada. He’s such a badass. We were the weirdest pairing. He was this big biker dude in all leather and chains, and I’m this little Asian girl. But we make a good team.
Personality-wise, we hit it off. Usually when you’re an apprentice at a shop, they’re kind of mean to you and make you their bitch. But he told me I didn't need to be humble.
Well, I found David in a dumpster. Just kidding!
Basically, we’re just three friends who enjoy making music together.
What’s the difference between writing for Covet and writing for yourself?
My acoustic stuff is more somber and deals with heavier themes. I don’t like to talk to my friends about my problems -- it feels like I’m burdening them -- so my acoustic music is ultimately for myself. It’s a place to vent, to have a place to talk. Through my personal music, I’m able to find solace and closure without giving other people the weight of my problems.
Writing for Covet is less lonely. I get to bring a riff to practice and have other people contribute ideas. I try to make Covet’s music more uplifting because it’s like hey, I guess I do have friends! Covet’s music is technical, but I also want people to have a good time.
I grew up on classical music and hymns (my mother was from a very religious background). I also had a bit of a thing for the Backstreet Boys and Nsync. Admittedly, I also used to listen to Nickelback.
In middle school, I discovered my love for punk and rock and roll -- for example, The Darkness, the Living End, and My Chemical Romance. Afterwards, I got into folk music. During this time, I listened to a lot of angry music, like the Fall of Troy.
In high school, I started going to shows of local musicians. Man, I used to always sneak out. My mom would show up at the venue and pick me up all angry like, “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be doing homework!” That’s how I discovered the kind of music I currently play, like math rock and progressive rock. In fact, I’d say that most of my current music taste is influenced by what I listened to in high school. Some of my favorite bands during the time included Tera Melos, TTNG, and Minus the Bear. In terms of singer-songwriter stuff, Deer in Headlights and Copeland were my favorites.
What roles do open tunings on the guitar play in your composing?
Usually, I’ll just find a tuning that sounds cool and play around in it until I find a riff that I like and that I want to do something with. Honestly, every song is a happy accident. I just stumble around until I figure something out.
How about music theory?
I don’t think about music theory at all when I’m writing -- at least not consciously. In order to communicate with my bandmates and other people about composing, however, I do utilize the classical theory I’ve learned.
I write purely based on what I hear in my head. However, I grew up playing classical music, so the decisions I make are ultimately informed by music theory. But it’s already internalized.
Everything is really detailed. I joke with myself that I write detail rock. I care about every little embellishment that nobody else would care about -- for me, it’s therapeutic.
Also, a lot of my art deals with ethereal, surreal themes, and I think my music has that vibe too.
It was really fun to shoot. I’m all for DIY stuff. I’m not rich or anything -- I mean, clearly, I’m a musician -- and had an allotted budget. I firmly believe that a quality artistic product can have a low budget and not depend on special effects.
The music video is about a girl who is stressed out about her family life and just wants a break from it all. A ghost kidnaps her and takes her out for a day of exploring. I made the ghost with bedsheets myself and play the ghost in the music video. I tried to keep my face out of it because I don’t want my identity to matter. I want the focus to be on the music.
I got the mega-minority thing going on. I’m not only a girl playing guitar -- oh man -- but I’m also Asian, and you don’t see a lot of Asian people playing non-classical music. And I’m blind! Just kidding.
People have said that others only care about my music because I’m a girl. And I definitely do think it’s easier to be noticed as a girl. But for that same reason, it’s really hard to be respected, as people always want to attribute my success to my appearance and gender.
If people want to believe that, though, I tell them to come out to the show. And if they still believe that, they’re entitled to their own opinion.
Yvette Young writes and plays for Covet and is a freelance artist/illustrator. She studied art at UCLA and currently lives in San Jose, CA. Find her on Facebook and Instagram, or email her at email@example.com.
About the Author
Margaret Zhang used to go by Mar-gar-gar. Read her work in SOFTBLOW, DIALOGIST, Gigantic Sequins, and other journals. Next year, she plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she will continue to appreciate memes.