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Will Yip

(Unlike the majority of interviews which were conducted via e-mail, this interview was conducted via phone call, so below is a transcription of our more conversational approach to this interview).

1. What is your name and your profession(s)? My name is William Yip… and--it’s crazy it’s the first time I’m saying it in a public light--my Chinese name is 葉浩仁 . I’m a record producer and music maker out here at Studio 4 in Philadelphia, PA. That felt really cool to say that, you’re the first person I’ve said that to aside from my family and close friends.

2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I am Chinese American. I was born in Manhattan and we moved to Philly. My parents immigrated here in the late ‘70s from mainland China. They stole away from mainland China and literally swam to a place that was a territory of Hong Kong—while Hong Kong was a territory of the UK—to get away. They left their world in the ‘70s, with nothing but what they had on them, to basically swim to freedom. Our [extended] family then helped get them over to the States and they settled down in New York City … the rest is kind of history.

3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? I have a very musical family in that there was always music in our household, but my parents were not musicians. They grew up in poverty in China. In their minds, it was a luxury to pursue music or the arts; they weren’t able to do that because they were just working all the time. Then they came to the States and my mom worked at a sweatshop for most of her life. My dad was waiting tables and cooking in Chinese restaurants. It was a struggle. So, when I brought up doing music as a profession, it was such a foreign concept to them… it kind fucked their brains (laughs). They were like “No way, you’re too smart for this. We didn’t leave a life of familiarity to come here just so you could slum it out as a musician and be poor the rest of your life.” It was just a world they didn’t understand, but at the end of the day they were very supportive. They also knew they raised a stubborn dude—I was going to do what I was going to do—and they still supported me through it.

So yeah, my parents weren’t musicians but they are very artistic people. My mom is one of the best chefs on the face of the Earth in my eyes. She has the feel for it… she’s never read a recipe. She keeps getting recruited by all the high-end Chinese restaurants in all of Chinatown trying to get her to work, but she doesn’t want to do that and have to stand all day. She’s a very artistic person in many ways and so is my dad.

A lot of my cousins have music in their blood. One of my cousins is a voice major and another is a piano major. I’m lucky that, even though we come from traditional Chinese American homes and though our parents were bummed at first when we told them wanted to pursue music, they still supported us. Without their support, I probably wouldn’t be here, if they’d fought it extra hard. Who knows…actually, (laughs), I still probably would have (laughs). So, I am very grateful for their support.

4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies. Ooooh, man, I’ve answered this question a bunch, but it never gets easier, no matter how many times I answer it because it’s such a loaded question. I grew up in Northeast Philly and I didn’t grow up around too many Asian people. We lived where we did because of my parents’ work and because it was affordable and close enough for them to get into Chinatown. I remember there were just three Asian kids in my elementary school and junior high out of hundreds of people. It was hard to ever ignore my Asian-ness, and like any other POCs, the few of us dealt with a lot of racism.

It was hard not to be surrounded by other Asian people let around see representation in the media. My family wasn’t near me--my cousins were in New York still and we were in Philly. I was always the Chinese kid, until I got into high school and college.

My parents had to teach my brother and I to have thick skin; they taught us very early that society and reality was different for us compared to our white friends or black friends or Hispanic friends—they have their own struggles. We’re definitely not the same as white people. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew it was true… it was getting pointed out every single day—whether it was on the basketball courts or in school.

That said, even with the “downside” of being Asian growing up in Philly, there was an upside too in that I liked being different. I was taught early on our culture and heritage were important. I was taught that people will look at you different, but it’s because you’re special. We came from a great place and we have a strong family and I’m grateful for that. If it wasn’t for my parents and their values and their strength they instilled upon us, I would probably in a very different place now. (laughs) I got into a lot of fights growing up in Philly, but they all made me stronger. My only hope is that the next generation of kids will have to deal with this a little bit less [of our struggles].

5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I feel very connected. What’s sad is that I felt a lot of my childhood—especially my teenage years—I spent running away from it. The one thing that all POCs/minorities deal with—that a lot of white people don’t fucking understand—is that we wake up and we have to acknowledge our Asian-ness because [we] live in a world of mostly white people and [I] work in a business of mostly white people. You’re always reminded that you’re not white. I’m always was reminded and am still reminded that I’m Chinese. So back in high school, I kind of ran away from my Chinese-ness because I wanted to be accepted for who I was… not as “a Chinese person” or an “Asian person”. I wanted to play music and I didn’t want being Asian to be a hinderance on that. I wanted people to ignore the fact that I’m Asian so they could accept me for who I am.

As I’ve grown through my years, I’ve been more grateful for being Chinese… I wouldn’t change my background or heritage for anything. Now, I’m so connected to it as I realize it’s made me who I am … the struggles I went through being a minority, being Chinese, [they] made me who I am. My parents’ stories and their struggles made me who I am and that’s what drives me and why I have a certain work ethic.

I feel very proud, not only of my heritage, but specifically of my parents and what they’ve sacrificed and what they’ve done. As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to study my heritage more and Chinese history in general… something I tried to ignore and run away from as a kid. I now just feel so grateful to be Chinese--the last ten years or so I’ve been trying to go back and understand my own heritage and history better.

6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)? There was always music in my household. My older brother was my biggest influence and he taught me at a very young age to have a very eclectic diet of music. As young as I could remember—maybe five or six—there were Boyz II Men cassettes in my house… there were Fugees cassettes in my house, Nirvana cassettes, Beatles cassettes, Pearl Jam cassettes. He saved all his money to fuckin buy cassettes and I wanted to be just like my brother, so I started to listen to all the music he would listen to. My brother was so passionate about music—he’s a DJ on the side now (laughs)…it makes sense 'cause he’s got great taste in music—and he just showed me all this music, from The Chronic to In Utero. Those two are they’re definitely in my top five records of all time and most important records of all time and that’s what got me into music. I was a fan of music. My parents wanted me to pick up violin or pick up piano and I just didn’t have any interest in that. I didn’t have any interest because at that time I didn’t make the connection between a violin [and] Dr. Dre… they were so far removed from one another in my mind. Me being who I am now, I know that is so far from reality… it IS Dr. Dre… there are tons of string loops, you know? As a little kid I just knew I loved hip hop, and punk music, and grunge music. In fourth grade, I wanted to join the jazz band because at least there were drums and I wanted to hit the drums because I wanted to be like Dave Grohl. I couldn’t yet because we never really had the space for drums and couldn’t afford drums, so instead I picked up the alto sax and I played that poorly for about six years. It wasn’t until my junior high days when I sat behind a [drum] kit for the first time and I played a beat. I loved it. From then on, from second one of me playing drums, I knew that it was what I was going to do… I was going to be a drummer. I wanted to emulate the stuff that I loved from punk to hip hop beats. Literally, a year later, I was in the studio recording drums with my band, and it was at that time in the studio that I fell in love with music production on the spot. I was twelve. We had saved up months and months of allowances for $100 which afforded us one day of studio time, and that’s when I fell in love with building music. I thought drums were it, but when I was in the studio, I realized, “No, I want this role; I want to be the big picture guy.” I always felt I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t think I was a good song writer because I played drums and I didn’t play guitar yet. I didn’t think I was any good at anything other than playing drums, but when I saw that man [producer] telling someone, “Oh you could try this, or try that”, I realized you could have people play your ideas for . you—and I thought, “This is the shit! I want to do that!”. Every day for the the rest of my life I was in the studio, since I was twelve or thirteen, just interning, taking the trash out, getting coffee, and I fell in love with it.

I went to Temple University for college and that was a tough conversation with my family because they always thought the music thing was a phase up until then. They wanted me to go to an Ivy League school. My brother went to a great school called Haverford. My parents said something like, “Oh, you’re smarter than your brother, you could go to Penn!”… so it was between paying a bunch to go to Penn or taking a full-ride at Temple University. They really pushed Penn, but I told them I really wanted to do the studio thing and my favorite place in the world is this studio called Studio 4. The reason I knew about that place is because both of two of my favorite cassette tapes, both Boyz II Men and Fugees, they were both worked on at Studio 4! I used to be a nerd and read the credits on all this shit and I remember seeing “Studio 4 Philadelphia”. I saw that the owner of Studio 4, Todd, was a professor at Temple. So, I went to school for Music Studies which was a part of the Communications School at Temple. Honestly, if I didn’t do that, I probably would have ended up at Penn studying … who knows what. The only job I had in high school was working at the studio, so I knew I loved it and that that was it…. producing music was it, drumming was it. To me, there was no other option for me, I had to make music.

6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now? I knew I wanted to pursue a career in music as soon as I stepped into a studio… from the very first second. I was always a career driven and goal driven person. I thought I wanted to be a doctor when I was little because of my parents’ influences, but as soon as I stepped foot in that studio, that all went out the window. I saw myself handing money to someone else to produce music and I realized I could be that guy. My parents definitely didn’t see it. They supported it, but they weren’t happy about it. When they saw it was happening for me—when they came to the Lauryn Hill show and when I called to tell them we had gotten nominated for a Grammy for the Code Orange record—they were like "Holy shit". My dad actually sat me down one day and said, “I wish we would’ve known you were this gifted at music because we would have invested more into it and gotten you into music classes earlier.”… but I know I would’ve turned out differently then; life worked out just right. The reason why I became who I am is because I loved punk and hip hop music. The “schooling” I had that got me to where I am now was making music in friends’ basements and learning how to use Fruity Loops on a PC and listening to cassettes. I told him, "I’m just grateful that you just let me do my thing"; it was just a cool conversation to have with my dad—to recognize there wasn’t just a cookie cutter way to make it doing what I love.

Actually, I was talking with my mom recently about growing up and having dreams, and how she said I taught her that lesson. I realized that for a lot of white kids, they end up being handed things and many take those things for granted. On the other hand, we grew up and were told that those dreams weren’t for us, knowing we didn’t have the same opportunities as they did. I’m hoping I can help show other people (including my mom) that this dream is for us too. It means a lot to me.

7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse. That’s a loaded question too (laughs), because [my answer] might make people unhappy. People roast me on the internet for saying “This is my favorite record I’ve ever done” and then the next one, saying “This is my favorite record I’ve ever done” (laughs). Straight up though, that’s how I fuckin’ work and how I feel. I think there’s a misconception as to what a music producer is and does… the role of a music producer is so varied and wide—some people are hands on, others are hands off… I like to think that I’m very hands on.

When I get into the stu’ together with my artists and community, we get the best out of each other. If there’s a part of a song we don’t feel good about, we’re going to change it and we’re honest about it. We’re usually not protective about it, we just want to make the best record possible. I usually walk out after every record, making what I think was the absolute best record we could possibly make together because we turned every stone.

In terms of the records I’m most proud of, if I have to make it objective, are the records that really got me here. There’s a band called Blacklisted—they’re one of my favorite hardcore bands ever—I met them when I was working at that studio when I was 15 or 16. I was running the rehearsal rooms and they were rehearsing; they were recording elsewhere in Boston but they were recording their demos into a cassette recorder. I went up to them and said, “Yo guys! I love the band. What if you recorded the demos in my parents’ basement? I’ll give you decent demo recordings”, and they said, “Hell yeah!”. So, I kept in touch with them and recorded demos for them for one or two records. Then, one day they just gave, me a call. “Dude, you just did the demos for this new record. Why don’t we just do a record with you?” That was my first record. I was 20 years old when this happened and felt an incredible amount of pressure; they were huge for a hardcore band and no one wanted me to do this record other than them. That record led to so much—that record is why I got to start working with Title Fight. The Title Fight record, it was almost the same thing. Title Fight was a huge band and everyone [producers] wanted to work with Title Fight. They were having meetings with huge punk producers and they told their manager, “No, we want to do the record with Will” and their manager was like “What? Who is this kid?!” (laughs). So, to do those records and for both those records to go on to be successful meant so much to me. Those records—No One Deserves to Be Here More Than Me (Blacklisted) and Shed (Title Fight) were building blocks for my career, which is why I have to name those records. Without those records I wouldn’t be here today. Oh, and working with Lauryn Hill and the Quicksand—those were two artists I kind of grew up listening to, so for me to be able to work with Lauryn and produce a Quicksand record definitely meant a lot to me. They meant very similar things to me as did the Title Fight and Blacklisted records, but all the records I’ve worked on are truly important to me.

Endorsements: [I forgot to follow up with Will about this question, so this is on me… I might miss some, but from what I could gather from the internet:] Regal Tip, Universal Audio, Korg, Fender, Neve, Zildjian, and probably a handful more :)

8. Describe to me your dream project. When I first started working with my manager, he asked me for a list of my dream projects—big, small, whatever—and I told him I didn’t have one. That’s not how I work.

My dream record is to be able to work with an artist who wants to work with me the most. It’s like being on a date; you can have this concept of who you want to be on a dream date with, but if they don’t want to be there, it’s going to be a terrible date (laughs). Same with this interview—if I didn’t want to be on this interview or if you didn’t want to be on the other side of this interview, it would probably be a bad interview. So, for me and music, it’s really about the chemistry. I just want to work with the people who want to work with me. If that’s the case, then I know we’re going to make something great. That’s why those records (Title Fight and Blacklisted) meant so much to me—they wanted to work with me when everyone else didn’t want them to.

Also, I’m okay just being a fan of my favorite bands, I really am, because I am a fan of music—all I give a shit about is the fucking music. I can just be a Deftones fan for the rest of my life.

Bottom line, I love all the records I’ve worked on and I’m not really a client chaser. I don’t chase artists and I don’t chase checks; I chase music. I think that’s why I get to work with some of the best artists in the world because they know that all I really care about is the music.

9. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry? For Asian Americans, there’s just a huge lack of representation. As a younger kid, if you don’t see people who look like you doing what you want to do, it’s not going to really help with your confidence in pursuing that thing. None of the people I looked up to when I was growing up—in producing, drumming, or even basketball—looked like me. So, of course, it cast some doubt in mind if it was possible. I still remember playing my first show with an early band of mine, and after the show, I was on a message group online and saw someone post, “What the fuck is that gook doing behind the drums”. Damn, I remember I saw it and tried to shake it off, but I knew that racism was real…. and it was due to a lack of representation! That guy had never seen a Chinese guy behind a drum set either. It really just goes to show that representation is so important. Even now for me, as I grow in the music industry and work with labels and run my own, the whole music world is dominated by old white dudes. It’s hard to think that as a Chinese person you can advance, because you don’t see others doing it, so I keep going back to what I thought when I was younger—that I am just going to have to be the best, I have to undeniably produce the best music.

Honestly, there are only a few instances where I felt like being Asian has helped me in and out the music industry: one was connecting with my fiancé who is also Chinese (laughs)… and now, this is the first time that I think it might be “cool” for companies and brands to say, “Oh hey, I represent an Asian dude” and I love to be on this of that (laughs) because I’ve spent my entire life being on the other side of that. That said, I don’t take advantage of things ever, so I don’t think there was ever a time that I’ve taken advantage of being Asian… I don’t know what that feels like. There’s no fucking model minority, you know? That shit’s just a fucking myth to further systemic racism for people who think that a model minority exists. Growing up Asian American and being taught you have to work harder than everyone else to achieve your goals has really given me a great work ethic. We know it’s not an equal playing field, and I’m not a white person, so I know I have to be that much better to stand out and it’s made me become a greater version of myself; I’m very grateful for that.

A couple months ago I did a large fundraiser raffle [to #StopAsianHate], and I reached out to a bunch of companies—most of them are run by white people; when they responded to me saying they wanted to be a part of it, that was the first time I didn’t feel alone in my Asian-ness in music. I actually felt a sense of solidarity in those conversations I was having and I am so grateful for it. It felt so gratifying to feel and believe that this world and society could change.

10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? Growing up, being in the punk and rock world, it was so hard to find any, but I remember being in junior high and someone told me, “Hey, that dude in the Deftones is Chinese! You could be like him”. He was talking about Chi—R.I.P., God rest his soul—who was Asian American and Deftones’ bassist. That was the first time I caught myself thinking, “If he could do it, I could do it”. I would see him in music videos, playing for one of my favorite bands [Deftones], so what he was able to do really resonated with me.

Currently, there’s people like you—musicians like you fuckin’ doing it who inspire me. Being able to see Asian people in general fuckin killing it right now inspires me. Michelle from Japanese Breakfast is killing it right now, you know, she’s absolutely killing it right now. She’s an Asian female literally dominating right now—she just wrote a #2 bestselling book and will have a charting record when it comes out. I remember having this same conversation a couple years ago with Mitski—we were working on a song together—about Asian representation and how this community is very important; she inspired me—she can be a very chill person, but she’s also such a beast and monster who can control and dominate a room and it’s so inspiring. It was the complete opposite of the quiet-Asian-sitting-in-the-corner stereotype; you have beasts like Michelle and Mitski just fuckin’ running shit right now. White singer songwriters look up to them! I’m grateful I get to exist in the world with them as contemporaries right now.

10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? My hope for AAPI community in general is that there will be more understanding from other [non-AAPI] people; it’s one thing to accept and welcome AAPIs into your society and consciousness, but it’s another thing to understand AAPI stories and make it a part of your education. In elementary school, we had to understand white people’s history which includes the stories of a lot of racists and white supremacists—we still were forced to learn and understand their stories. Minorities really need their stories to be told and understood for the advancement of the greater society to really occur. Our white friends need to understand black culture and black history, Asian culture, Asian history, Latino culture and history, indigenous culture and history, etc. My main goal is just for people to see more representation all around.

How many brilliant minds’ dreams did lack of representation squash? There could be so many brilliant AAPI minds with all the creative potential in the world who just didn’t have the thick skin to be able to look past the racism and lack of representation, so they gave up. They could’ve been way more brilliant than I could ever be. Let’s not squash or hinder any more potential due to a lack of representation… it’s a big goal to hope that the next generation won’t have the same apprehension about entering the music industry like we did.

I’m grateful for people like you who are giving people like us a fucking voice so we can share it, so that the next Summers and next Wills and people who are even greater than us, can say, “Oh shit, we can do it too”.

11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? It’s the same advice I’d give myself now (laughs)—everything is not the end of the world. I always use stress as a way to inspire and push myself; I’d think, “Dude, if I fuck this up, I’m done” (laughs). If something doesn’t turn out perfect, I worry that I’ll lose everything, and then I’ll be broke, and I’ll have to work at a bank” (laughs). Part of me still thinks like that.

I would tell my teenage self that “everything is not the end of the world” and to “keep doing you”. I really am proud and a bunch of my friends have been able to accomplish in our world, I just wish I was a little less stressed doing it. As long as you’re on the right track and you’re doing the best you can, it’s all good. Sometimes you have to take a step back and take a chill pill… and that is the hardest thing for an Asian American in the music industry to do (laughs). I hope there’s a little less anxiety for the next generation of AAPI Gen Zs in the music industry.

12. Do you have any upcoming projects for which you are excited and about which you are allowed to share? Is there anything non-music-related on the horizon about which you would like to share? I am very passionate about sports. I am a very competitive person and I love sports and use sports to inspire me. Watching the Michael Jordan documentary—The Last Dance—inspired me; I want to be the MJ of music. The name Michael Jordan has always been synonymous with greatness to me; he was always a huge inspiration for me. You see greatness on the court every night and that was always special.

I’m also very passionate about food; I grew up in a household with some of the best cooks in the world. I was taught very young to appreciate all types of food and know how big of a role of food plays in a person’s culture. It’s so parallel with music to me. In the studio, we always use cooking analogies (laughs); I made an analogy today—I said, “You know sometimes it’s not just about ingredients. For instance, you’ve got Anthony Green and you have a pop song [by another artist] that’s overly harsh and overly bright; he can take the progression and vocal melody and lyrics and transform it into this beautiful singer-songwriter song. So really, it’s kind of the same ingredients, but it’s plated differently. You could take a burger and chop it up and mix it up to make it a fine dining four-star Michelin meal if done the right way.” (laughs) So I find a lot of parallels with food. We all connect with food. I remember when these [anti-Asian] hate crimes were happening, I’d see so many Asian people saying, “You fucking love our food, but you hate us”, and I thought, “Damn, that’s so fuckin’ real. Love each other like you love each other’s food”.

I remember being in Africa with Ms. Lauryn Hill; someone high up in the Rwandan government invited us to his backyard to have this meal and it was the greatest sign of respect was to invite us to have this meal because we were playing his political show.

Eating out side of a food truck in New York City, I feel the love, I feel the connection people have over food. I think it’s the same kind of way I feel with music. So maybe one day I’ll probably take up cooking (laughs), it’s in my blood somewhere, yeah (laughs).

13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. It’s so shitty, I’m never allowed to share projects (laughs). Everything’s so good that people want to leave it as a surprise. I have some projects coming out soon—the new Mannequin Pussy record is coming out. Movements has a livestream that we’re working on. There’s about twenty records that are either already finished, about to finished, or about to start that are all fire… a lot of bands that people freak out about, that I just can’t talk about (laughs).

14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? We’re in tough times for everyone—for people of all colors—I hope people take care of each other and be grateful for one another and their cultures, their music, their backgrounds, their beings in general. I hope more people realize that when you take the extra step to understand someone’s culture, it makes you more well-rounded and it makes you a better person … it helps society become better.

Thank you so much.

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AllMusic: Will Yip

Photo provided by Will Yip (@WillYipMusic)

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