Yvette Young may be best known for her popular Instagram videos (she has up to 207,500 followers), but the gifted musician, artist and guitar aficionada has already made a career for herself amongst today’s generation of new musicians.
Young, who was born to two Chinese parents in San Jose, CA, became consumed by music at a young age. “My parents had me play piano when I was four and violin when I was seven,” Young explained. Forced to compete in competitions and orchestras, she said “it was just a source of anxiety for me all the time.”
But the guitar saved her. Known for her intricate “math rock” guitar compositions, where she inverts time signatures and approaches the guitar from the perspective of classical piano, Young’s work ethic goes unnoticed. She writes and records her own solo material under Yvette Young, makes her own album art, does guitar paint jobs for hire and is the frontwoman of math-rock trio Covet.
I spoke with Yvette during her solo acoustic tour in November of 2017.
How did you first pick up music?
I’m primarily a piano player and my parents had me play piano when I was four and violin when I was seven. At the time I didn’t appreciate it or enjoy it because I was forced to compete — they forced me to do competitions and orchestra and it was just a lot of pressure and stress, especially with academics. I didn’t consider it fun and didn’t like it at all … I don’t think music or art should be a competitive thing. It’s such a subjective thing and it’s hard to put a quantitative value on it and pit people against each other. So to me, it just didn’t make sense.
I feel like it taught you really good discipline at an early age, though.
Oh definitely. I practiced piano two to four hours everyday and I was pretty good when I was little, just because I would put in so many hours. But it made me unhappy and all the pressure got to me and I got really sick … I was taken in and out of high school and while I was in the hospital, I started to play guitar — that’s how I started! I liked a lot of bands and I used to go to shows all the time and was like, I want to do that! So I found some bands that I liked and tried to learn their songs.
So I know you grew up with a strict discipline, but do you have a discipline for yourself? What is your typical songwriting routine and work ethic like?
I try to write something everyday, be it on violin, piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar. I jam for a little bit with myself and if I come up with something, that’s great, I record it. If I don’t, that’s okay because at least I tried. I feel like with songwriting, you won’t always get something. It’s like fishing; you’ll sit there with your rod and maybe you won’t catch anything today but the longer time you sit standing there, the more possibility you’ll have that you catch something. I’m at a point where I flex that writing muscle enough so that every time I sit down I can at least come up with something.
In terms of practicing and getting stuff tight, I usually sit there and play the same [guitar] riff for like five hours. That’s how I get it to muscle memory.
A lot of people know you from Instagram (@yvetteyoung). How did that journey start for you and did you think you’d be where you are today?
I started posting videos online because I was like, “Here’s a song I wrote! Nobody cares!” A lot of them went viral and then I woke up to a bunch of people asking for endorsements, one of which is Strandberg Guitars (the seven-string [guitar] that I play is from them). My life changed after I got endorsed.
I went to UCLA for Fine Art and Visual & Performing Arts Education and I used to teach, so I thought I would be a visual artist and teach at a school. My life got turned upside down … I feel in a constant state of disbelief because I almost feel like I don’t deserve this. It kind of just fell into my hands. I think that makes me appreciate it much more because it’s such a gift and I shouldn’t take it lightly.
I know you make your own album art and do guitar work. Tell me a little bit about that.
I like it since I’m an artist, I can do everything myself and save money, time and don’t have to communicate to someone my ideas and can just translate them directly … I’ve always loved art and drew when I was little … and that love continued in high school.
I feel like I would’ve died if it weren’t for art or music because when I was really sick, the number one thing that helped me was feeling like I had a voice. I feel like I was sick because I felt I had no control over my life. Art and music made me feel like I had a voice and gave me so much self-esteem that wasn’t related to my external appearance … I think in this society, sometimes it’s very superficial and there’s a lot of pressure for women to look a certain way. I think I fell pry to that when I was sick, but with art and music, I started shifting my self-view and now my favorite thing about myself is what I can do with my hands. I think everyone needs to find something, and I feel art and music are such great ways [to] communicate what you want to say. It’s your story.
Do you think growing up Chinese has affected you musically or in your career?
I think it has. I wouldn’t like to say that my culture is a very disciplined culture, but a lot of my practice discipline comes from my parents being very hard on me and having really high expectations for me. I think at a certain point when you bring up a child, you build habits in the child and a lot of my perfectionism and my practice and my drive comes from stuff that was internalized when I was really young. I’m inspired by the sounds of Americana but I do try to incorporate some Asian music elements. Especially in my piano, that’s where you hear it.
I think the key to being a recognizable, successful artist in any form is finding a voice and being really comfortable with it and owning it, no matter what. As long as you know what you want to sound like and know what you want to say with your work, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter what other people say.
Yvette Young’s latest release, “Piano EP,” was released in January of this year, as well as her “Acoustics EP 2,” now available through Bandcamp. Her band Covet released their latest album “effloresce” in July of 2018. You can follow Young online on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.