(Unlike the majority of interviews which were conducted via e-mail, this interview was conducted in person, 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 Yvette Young (Yang Xuan is my Chinese name) and I am a musician by profession.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship (US native or naturalized etc.)? I am Chinese--my mom's side is part Cornish--and I was born and raised in America. My parents are from Beijing so I am a first generation American.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry? My mom and dad met because my mom was my dad's accordion student and they developed a little romance. My mom does not really do music anymore these days; she was a dancer at the time and now she works in medical billing. My dad is a composer; he studied conducting at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and he does a lot of composition for ballets and also film occasionally. He also tunes and sells pianos, but he mainly focuses on composition nowadays.
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. I grew up attending predominantly white schools; I was lucky that when I entered middle school and high school it became about 50/50 Asian and White kids, so I never thought too much about my cultural identity back then. I got made fun of a lot growing up, but it was never really for being Asian; it was more about how I looked--weight wise and for being a tomboy. I got made fun of for my lunch sometimes because it was "weird" Asian food; white kids would tease me for what I was eating. So in some ways, I wanted to blend in more by asking for Lunchables and packaged food so that I could be more popular.
I guess I didn't really start thinking about my cultural identity until quite recently when I entered this progressive music scene. I grew up playing classical music and there's definitely certain genres have more Asian involvement such as classical and jazz, and not so much in the prog or rock world, but that's definitely starting to change now. I started thinking about how it is important to have representation and my identity does relate to how I can inspire other people to pick up guitar. Oh, and the worst thing I dealt with was probably being fetishized and that still definitely happens. Growing up, it was not like I experienced much racism in terms of of people calling me racial slurs, but mostly people thinking I'm a certain way sexually or feeling exoticized, being called "oriental" or "exotic", being viewed as a possession or a cool new thing to try... or even a category of people someone likes to date instead of an individual--I think that's where I experienced it the most. Even in comments, people always like to say things such as, "Somewhere across the world there's always an Asian that's better than you at something"; no, it's because I practiced and put in hours of work.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)? I consider myself multi-cultural because my parents are Chinese and I was born in the US--the cool thing about being in that position is that you can pick and choose which part of each culture you want to contribute to your identity. I don't feel super connected to Chinese culture, but I do like parts of Chinese culture and they do define part of who I am.
An example of Chinese culture is when you get food with other people, you are supposed to fight to pay the bill. My mom has had me reverse-pick-pocket people before; she'd say, "Ok, they paid for it, but you're going to slip this hundred dollar bill in their purse. They're not going to know what hit them, they're just going to find one hundred dollars"... and I'd think, "Ok, that's weird, why can't you just get them next time?" [We then exchanged anecdotes about how that scenario has played out multiple times between both of us and our mothers].
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)? 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 got into music because both of my parents wanted me to play piano when I was young. I took up piano when I was four and then took up violin when I was seven so I could join two orchestras--I was part of the orchestra at my high school and California Youth Symphony. It's funny because I hated music at the time since I was being forced to do a lot of competitions and I did not have much of a childhood--all of my time was spent on music and homework. That unhealthy pressure put me in the hospital and I had an eating disorder for about four years of my life. It was at that time in my life when I taught myself guitar.
So, on one hand, I am very grateful for that because music gave me a lot of discipline and I have take it to my work nowadays and I have very high expectations for myself and I don't like to let myself down. On the other hand it also gave me unhealthy perfectionism.
Teaching myself guitar made me feel confident and took my focus away from my external appearance and it put all my confidence into the fact that I could make things with my hands and that makes me feel good about myself. All my self esteem no longer revolved an external appearance--something that will decay and atrophy with time; I am now confident in my mind and I get a lot of self esteem from my mind. That helped me a lot in my recovery; I turned to music as therapy and it helped to re-contextualize everything else for me. So these days I love music; I love piano, I love violin, I love guitar.
I went to college at UCLA. I double majored in Fine Arts and Education--I thought I was going to be an art teacher and I did that for a little bit, but then the whole music thing all happened. It was super organic and sometimes I feel guilty for almost being handed this career that a lot people are clamoring and pushing each other to get. My parents planted those seeds when I was young and that definitely helped me get the career I have now. I feel very privileged and that makes me want to work really hard so that I feel like I deserve it.
I didn't immediately break away from my teaching job (I was teaching at an art school), I just cut down my hours initially. I then started feeling like it was unfair to the kids if I was taking a month off for music and that they would have to work new substitutes constantly; plus, I felt bad for putting my boss in that position, so I told my boss that I had to step away. As much as I love teaching art and enriching the lives of kids, I felt that my heart wasn't in it. I would be looking at the clock, desperate to go home and plug in and finish a song; I would even go to the bathroom and hum into my phone sometimes to plan out songs. [humming-into-phone re-enactments ensue]. So I realized I was young and blessed with a rare opportunity that not everyone gets, so I felt like I should just give it my all and see where it takes me, and as long as I was not compromising my values, no harm, no foul. So I quit my art teaching job and started treating music more like a job--clocking in hours of writing everyday, taking the discipline and structure of my teaching jobs and applying it to my craft.
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. I am proud that I run a band; I'm proud we started as a garage jam band-- I was just so happy to do that because I just waned to play music with other people--but here we are. Now there's traction and we're touring with bands I never imagined we would have anything to do with, bands in high school who I looked up to, and their members are now my peers and it's just so weird and so cool; to me it's always going to be an honor. My favorite part about being in a band is coming up with an artistic vision because I get to use my art degree! I get to do all the treatments for all the music videos and album art, etc.
I also am really proud of doing a bunch of DIY releases for my solo work; I like having the freedom to do my own solo work on my own timeline.
I'm also proud of all the lessons I've learned and I'm proud of what I still stand for, as I realize sometimes being in the spotlight can do bad things to a person's ego.
As for other recent collabs, I got to play some guitar on Porter Robinson's "Look at the Sky" and I am so excited to be a part of his diverse festival lineup for Secret Sky.
[I forgot to ask about her endorsements (my fault), but I know they include Ibanez and Seymour Duncan among others!]
8. Describe your dream project. I want to be in a shoegaze indie band; I've been writing a lot of that stuff. New Covet is going to be more in that direction and since I can't be in my dream project yet, I'm going to trick all these prog / metal people into listening to some dream pop. (laughs)
One of my favorite things about being an artist is that you get to tell people who you are; people try to put you in a category or a genre, but you're allowed to fight and tell them that it's not you--you don't need to conform to whatever box you're putting me into, you can let your actions show that.
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? I feel like we're in a time where everyone is pretty inclusive. In music, I feel like there are more obstacles to being a woman than there is to being Asian. Being an Asian girl, has it's own unique obstacles--namely fetishization on the internet is a big one. Somewhat related, once people told me I should join Baby Metal. Why? We play such polarizing, different genres. People listen to music with their eyes sometimes.
Also, in general, another annoying obstacle is having people attribute all your hard work to your ethnicity. Maybe they're right that your culture taught you the discipline to work your ass off, but it's certainly not like you're born smarter or more musically inclined than anyone else.
Conversely, there are some instances where being an AAPI has helped me because there I've had experiences where they've highlighted inclusivity for the sake of inclusivity, and it feels weird and patronizing in a way, but I get where their hearts are at, so I am not going to complain about it.
10. 10a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why? 10b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general? I think Herman Li is sick--he's the DragonForce guitarist. I think he's a badass for what he does; I'm pretty sure he was the first Asian rocker guy I ever saw.
I also like this band called Long Beard--she's also a one singer-songwriter and her name is Leslie. Her music is beautiful, kind of shoegaze stuff, and I really admire her. So Leslie, if you're reading this, I think you're dope.
I hope more AAPIs will be encouraged to pursue more genres outside of classical. Don't get me wrong, I love classical music, it was such an important foundation for me to have. I just hope that they see how other genres could be inclusive of us as well. I also hope the stigma behind the rock world disappears in the Asian community; my parents immediately thought I was going to do heroin because I was in the rock world. So, I hope that stigma ends up going away, because it's just a style of music at the end of the day.
11. If you could give advice now to your younger teenage self, what would you tell her/him/they? You can't exist to please people, it's an empty pursuit. Everyone is going to want something different from you. Tune out all the extra noise, really focus on what you want to do as an artist, and how you want to be as a person, and keep that as your true North; everything else will fall into place.
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'm really stoked for this new chapter for Covet; we have half of an album fully written. Seeing Forrest yesterday was so sick, because man, I miss that dude, playing music with him is really fun. David, of course, I am always excited to get together to play music with him. We have (maybe) a headliner next year for the album we never got to do a headliner for.
I have a solo project I'm trying to record acoustic stuff for, I need to book time for that.
Non-music related, Filipe and I are going to make dumb ass videos. Before I met him, one of my secret wishes was to have a friend to make the stupidest videos with. I wished I had video chemistry with a friend to make dumb clips with. I am really excited that I have that outlet now because I am a clown.
13. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate. Comedy and making jokes--even my music reviews, I love sprinkling a little bit of humor here and there. I also want to get back into painting and tattooing.
14. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community? I hope we can continue being a community; one thing I hated in music growing up was competitiveness and it's one thing I wish I could eliminate from people's minds. I hope everyone self-actualizes and feels confident and secure in themselves so they will stop the need to constantly put other people down and compare themselves to others. I hope the AAPI community will actually be a community that truly supports each other; there's enough to share for everyone at the end of the day.
YouTube: Yvette Young
Jammcard: Yvette Young
Photo by @hlc.photo
Photo by Adel Rabinovich