Journey Forward: Yvette Young on Music and Healing

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Yvette Young - Photo by Lily Pearl McLaughlin Photography

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 9 – Autumn 2019 – Ladies of Metal

Music as art. Music as passion. Music as therapy. Music as escape. For Yvette Young, the guitar is more than a source of expression; it’s a lifeline.

In Covet, she is joined by bassist David Adamiak and drummer Forrest Rice. The trio recently released a three-song EP, acoustics, completed a short headlining tour, are spending early fall on the road with Periphery and Veil Of Maya, and are in the preliminary stages of their next album, the follow-up to last year’s effloresce. [Their debut EP, Currents, was released in 2015.] On her own, Young released piano, a five-song project that she spent a year writing and recording.

Piano is, in fact, her first instrument. She began playing at age 4, adding violin three years later. As a teenager, she joined the California Youth Symphony and performed as a competitive and concert pianist. In her late teens, she began playing guitar. By the time she started classes at UCLA, where she double-majored in fine arts and visual performance education, songwriting had become a passion. She joined her first band, jammed with other musicians, attended rock concerts, and found her calling.

Her early achievements came as no surprise; rather, they were expectations. Yvette Young comes from a family of musicians, and her parents only allowed her to listen to classical music at home. An only child, she was — and remains — an admitted perfectionist. But the pressure of practicing music, entering piano competitions, maintaining high grade point averages, and excelling at everything during those teen years took its toll. From eighth grade until graduating high school, she was hospitalized numerous times for anorexia and related heart conditions. She self-injured. She battled depression and anxiety. And, as she candidly discusses in this interview, she remains a work in progress, albeit a now happy and healthy one.

“I had a lot of rough stuff happen to me this year,” she says, “but the one thing that always cheers me up is composing and writing. I always write music from the same place: a desire to detach myself, escape, and feel empowered by something I’m making.”

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The new EP is not your first acoustic project. Is it a reset of sorts whenever you move into that realm?

It’s a different timbre completely. A few of our songs I probably wrote on acoustic first and then took them to electric, so it’s not that foreign for me to take something, put it on acoustic, and have a mellow, delicate version of it. One of the songs, “Glimmer,” the acoustic version is more detailed, while the album version ends heavy and dark and grungy. So it’s interesting to do these reimagined versions and see them take on a completely different mood with the addition of piano and violin.

Instead of thinking about texture in the form of guitar effects, I think about texture in the form of how I approach the strings, how I’m plucking them, and what kinds of layers I’ll add to get more nice, warm sections. I’m always thinking in terms of how to make it texturally interesting and how to balance the parts.

You also released a piano EP earlier this year. When and how did that come together?

I’m so stoked to finally get that out! I worked on it here and there whenever I could.

You worked with Mike Watts at VuDu again for that EP. Is that where you recorded the piano? Which one, or ones, did you use?

Yes, I recorded with Mike in Port Jefferson again, and I used one of their pianos. I did the writing process on a Yamaha in my living room. I have two baby grands in my parents’ house because my dad used to work for Yamaha and Steinway, so we have one of each. I’m very spoiled! It’s nice to be able to have access to two pianos.

The piano at the studio — I liked how it sounded, but I didn’t like how it felt. When I was playing on the keys, there was no resistance, and that’s really hard to do dynamics on. There was also noise. I like a little bit of ambient noise, but that piano was screechy and making clicks. So we ended up going to Dream Studios to rent their space and use their piano. I liked how it felt, but I wasn’t crazy about the tone. The next time I do this, I’m recording at home, and I’ll fly someone out to help me engineer!

Mike is known as a metal guy. What was it like for both of you to create this work?

It was cool, and we cranked it out fast. Whenever I work with Mike, he lets me do all the layering. I had what I wanted already planned out, and at the very end, he suggested some bass parts on one of the songs, and I really liked them. He’s a good sounding board, and he doesn’t make me feel like he’s breathing down my neck.

 

How do the Yamaha and Steinway pianos differ?

Pianos are so different. Whenever you’re dealing with wood, it’s such an organic material, so there’s no way that two pianos will sound the same. It’s like guitars. You can have the same model of guitar, put the same pickups in it, the same everything, and they will react differently. It’s the same with pianos. The Yamaha is a little brighter sounding, and the keys have an easier action, a little bit lower action. The Steinway is a bit stiffer to play. The action is a little higher, it’s a warmer sound, but it’s not as resonant.

Instrumental music tells stories without words and leaves everything to the listener’s interpretation. Does your interpretation of the music also change as you write or record or transpose it?

Definitely. Sometimes, accidents happen, and they’re good accidents. For example, you might get feedback when you didn’t want it there, but it sounds amazing, so you end up keeping it and maybe even exaggerating it, and you build off of that.

With the acoustic guitar, different timbres inspire different ideas. With the electric versions of our songs, I want to use more aggressive tones. I’ll put on some overdrive, or we do ambient stuff in the background. I actually think that acoustic guitar is a way more dynamic instrument. You don’t have to rely on tones to make something sound aggressive. You can dig in or play lightly, and you can hear it in the strings and the fret noise, so I rely less on effects and more on how I play and how I touch the guitar. Because it’s so delicate and airy, I hear areas that could be strings or piano, and you can play more staccato on the strings and have it be percussive, so it’s fun to play with that.

Covet has a new album in the works. What can you tell us about the material? Is there a release date?

I think we’re looking at sometime next year. It isn’t set in stone. We’re going to book studio time with Mike Watts, probably in fall.

This album is really important to me because sonically, it’s where I’m interested in going. I think people associate me with intricate shredding, but I don’t consider myself a shredder at all. I’m fascinated with piano, and the way I play guitar is basically how I play piano. I never was interested in shredding. I never had any shred idols or anything. So with this new album, I’m focusing on what compels me and what makes me feel excited about music, not on technicality. For me, it’s always been about a good melody and something that can transport you and take you somewhere emotional. Like what you said about instrumentals earlier — having the ability to tell a story without words — that’s my favorite thing about instrumental music.

A lot of these new songs are way more texturally focused, so we’re going to bring our boards to the studio and play with all kinds of effects. It’s very delay- and chorus-heavy. The mood — it’s all over the place, but there’s an overall feeling of nostalgia. It’s more indie, some of the writing. There’s at least one song where I actually sing. It’s not a huge vocal section, but I wanted to explore the indie music world a little bit because I think that’s where our hearts and interests are. We get booked on shred-guitar tours, but we love indie music and pop and all that. It’s not that we don’t like shred music, but we enjoy writing stuff that is emotive and melodic.

What is the writing process like for Covet?

I usually write the foundation of the songs, the structure and riffs, and I bring it to the band. They crank out the rhythm section together, and we toss around ideas on how to vary the structure. So the very last step is collaborative, but we all do our separate things at first.

You play Strandberg 7-string and Ibanez Talman Prestige guitars. What makes them right for Covet’s music?

The pickups in the Talman inspire really cool melodies, and I feel like I soar on that guitar, both physically and speed-wise, because the necks are so nice and thin. Also creatively it feels so effortless. The Strandberg feels amazing as well, but I have to fight it a little bit. It’s weird how instruments can do that.

I care about how dynamic the instrument is. I like having a dynamic response from the pickups. I currently use the Seymour Duncan Five-Twos. I like to set my amp to where it’s mostly clean, but then, when I dig in a bit, I get a little bit of breakup. You can especially hear it when you do minor seconds. I like that overtone that rings out. I like it to be dynamic and sound fluid.

You also have other projects: your artwork, you paint guitars for other artists, and you were teaching. Is that something you still do?

I was teaching, but I had to quit because I was never around. I thought it was unfair that they had to hire substitutes, and the kids would get to know me, and I wasn’t there. Also, I wanted to devote all my time to writing and doing creative things. Now is a time when I can pour all of my efforts into art and music, and in the future, I can always go back to teaching. I enjoy visual arts, and my goal is to get to a point where I can make things for myself and sell them because I haven’t painted for myself in a long time.

Last year, you were a guest on The Peer Pleasure Podcast, and it was so powerful. Recent statistics have documented the increase in depression and suicide among young people, among young women ages 10 to 14, and among youth in the LGBTQ community. These are our readers, and as such, I would like to address some of the topics you discussed in that podcast. Are you OK with that? 

Yes, that’s fine.

You have spoken so candidly about your battles with anorexia, cutting, depression, and anxiety. I will ask bluntly: How are you now?

I’m OK. With the self-harm stuff, I don’t do it anymore. I discovered that part of it was that I was struggling internally, but I also had a lot of toxic people in my life who didn’t bring out the best in me.

Self-care is not only working on how you feel; it’s also choosing who you give your time to and who you should be around. I believe you should surround yourself with people who make you feel inspired, make you feel positive, and who don’t put you in a negative mindset. You can let toxic people into your life very easily if you’re not discerning and you’re not careful.

One of the things I’ve learned in the past few years, and that I’m still working on because it doesn’t come naturally to me, is boundaries: setting boundaries with people, and identifying when people might bring out certain poor characteristics in me that might trigger me to do stuff.

I have always been a welcoming person. I want to be everyone’s friend, and I want to constantly give. When I meet someone and I like them, I invest myself in them. I don’t know what it is — maybe it’s also part of my career and having to be around so many people — but I’ve been a little more withdrawn and closed to giving myself to people recently, just because I feel like it’s good to take time to get to really know someone before you invest yourself.

When I think about the steps I’ve taken to care for myself, it’s recognizing that I have to walk away from a person who might bring out negative attributes. Certainly, if they’re going through something, it’s not their fault, but also I don’t think people should make themselves martyrs. I don’t think that’s a good idea.

I also recognize the things that make me feel whole, and like I said earlier, writing music makes me feel so good. It’s like a sacred thing to me. That’s why I don’t like involving other people always — because to me, it’s kind of a ritual. I’m alone with my instrument, I hear things, I get to figure out how to make them happen in real life, and it’s such an empowering feeling. The same with drawing. Both are forms of escape for me. Last night I had some bad stuff happen. I retreated to my garage, I was just sitting there drawing, and I felt better. I forgot about the pain and everything that was stressing me out. It’s such a productive outlet, and to go back to your point, a lot of it is about finding productive outlets that empower you.

The whole reason I play music is because I’m so passionate about it, and one thing I’m constantly thinking about is I never want it to become a chore or an obligation, because when I start doing it for other people and to please other people, that’s when the art form dies for me. So it’s really important to be sure that I’m authentic and that I’m doing it for myself and I’m doing it from a pure place. I know that sounds idealistic, because you do have to make compromises to be marketable and to sell records and to write music that other people like, but I think you can find a good balance, as long as you’re not doing something that you don’t feel proud of. I always have to feel proud of what I put out, and I always want it to be my voice. I never want it to be something I listen to and cringe because it’s not me.

So having those outlets has helped me so much. Figuring out who I am and what voice I want to have is constantly going to be in flux, but every year, I understand what I want a little more. It feels a little like a superpower that I can’t control, but it’s magical and fun. Every year that I’m alive, I get a little closer to being able to control it and understand it. I know that’s kind of a weird analogy, but it does feel like that.

In terms of the eating disorder, it’s kind of like an addiction. When you go through times when you’re stressed out, the things you turn to are either eating or not eating. I had a stressful last tour because I was dealing with some trouble in my life, I guess, and the first thing that went was my appetite, so I wasn’t able to eat well on tour, and I got lightheaded and passed out a few times. But as soon as I fixed that, the eating part came back, and right now I’m totally fine. And it’s not always conscious. When I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t thinking, I’m going to starve myself. It’s just your appetite goes away, and I physically couldn’t swallow. Now that I recognize when I’m getting there, I have the discipline to prevent myself from going full-blown back into it. I will say that I’m not perfect; when I’m stressed out, it’s still my go-to, but it’s easy to control it now.

You’ve spoken about the stigma concerning mental health in the Asian community. It seems there is a stigma concerning mental health in every community. If it’s your brain, you should be able to “just change your attitude” and fix it. Where did you draw the strength to come forward and speak publicly about your battles with anxiety and depression?

I thought it was really stupid that people laugh at you and judge you for having any struggles, because — let’s face it — everyone goes through something difficult, and it’s a lonely world when everyone feels they have to be quiet about it and hide it. I value communication, and when you’re going through something, it’s almost your obligation to tell people because it affects everyone around you.

If you’re going through depression and nobody knows, your personality changes, you treat people differently, you act differently, and rather than have people around you wonder why you’re like that, it’s better to be completely candid and let them know, so they can anticipate it. But also, if they want to, they can help you. So it’s such a silly thing to hide that. Everyone goes through it, and I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of.

I was just like, I don’t see the fuss. I’m going to be open about it, and some people might feel like it helps them to know that someone else is going through it and that they’re not alone.

The worst thing for people going through that is to alienate them and make them feel like they’re doing something wrong. Sometimes it can feel like the end of the world and nothing is ever going to get good, but for me, it helps to know that it is chemical and that it’s not going to be the be-all/end-all. If you power through it and take care of yourself, there could be a day when you don’t have to struggle with it.

Were the people around you accepting and understanding of your situation? Unfortunately, honesty isn’t always the best policy. You speak out, and you’re shunned.

You find out who your friends are when you’re struggling. When people walk out, I always feel like, That’s OK. They don’t want to deal with my s**t. But also it’s inevitable. They’re eventually going to walk out on you anyway. I’m sympathetic to people who don’t want to be around it, because I’ve been in that position where I’m like, I can only be so positive around this person, and they’re not going to be positive, and I can only say and do so much, so I have to love them from a distance. I can understand that, because some of the people who are walking out on you are probably taking care of themselves, too, because they can only handle so much of other people’s problems, and I never want to blame or shame someone for taking care of themselves.

When I’m going through a hard time, I like to be alone anyway, and I don’t reach out or talk to people. But I do have a few people that I called to keep me company, and feeling cared for by them helped me take the steps to lift myself out of my depression and start eating. I remember when I was anorexic and I was having trouble putting food down, all it would take was someone supportive to sit by me and make sure I was eating, and I would do it. It’s a very involved process for them to have to sit with me to eat all the time, but I had friends who did it. Sometimes it was just a simple reminder of asking, “Did you eat today?” to help me take care of myself because I realized, These people really love and care about me, so maybe I should love and care about myself. 

Part of recovery, of course, is addressing the systemic issue of yes, you’re chemically depressed, and you need to either naturally or through medicine get to a good place. But also part of what makes recovery easier is staying distracted. I got through it by making things, traveling, and having fun friends to be around, having good company. The distractions don’t solve the issue, but they help take your mind off of it. So having good, healthy distractions, people who support you, and feeling like someone notices helps a lot. I have a dark sense of humor, and people who know me well are surprised that laughing at dark things sometimes is a weird coping mechanism for me. When I make it into something funny, it feels like I have power over this darkness.

What helps you now? Do you still find yourself going back to that dark place?

Having really good friends to talk to, music, art, exercise, being out in nature makes me feel like all my problems are inconsequential. Even if I fail at everything I’m doing, it doesn’t matter. I still sometimes go to a dark place, but because I have all these outlets, it helps me. If I wake up feeling sad, or something bad happens, and I just want to lie in bed, I know I won’t feel better. What will help is if I force myself to get up and work on something and be productive, and when I finish the task, I feel empowered, which isn’t going to happen if I’m just lying there.

It takes a lot of willpower. Even surviving it feels like it takes such willpower. When I had depression, I couldn’t make myself go to class sometimes. I’ve always been a straight-A student, overachiever to the max in high school, and when I got to college, I almost flunked a class because I couldn’t get there on time. In your head, you can’t do this one simple thing, and it feeds into a vicious cycle of beating yourself up for being a certain way, being inadequate, being sad, being lazy. It’s interesting how you can get stuck in those cycles, and it takes willpower to break out of it.

Whenever you do something good, let yourself celebrate that. “I set a deadline, and I met it.” When I’m feeling bad about myself, I remember that I did “this,” and it helps me have a better mindset about who I am. A lot of my negative feelings about myself come from feeling like I’m not doing enough with my time. I have this feeling like my life is an hourglass and I haven’t done even 30 percent of what I think I should do in this lifetime. I have a lot of stress from that, and every day that I don’t work toward that, I beat myself up about it. So I’m trying to work toward enjoying not doing anything. It’s hard for me. A vacation is a nightmare to me because I’m not writing, I’m not being productive; I’m just sitting on the beach doing nothing. But I think it’s important to let yourself have that time.

Sometimes, writing music feels like a vacation to me. I go on a vacation in my head; I hear all these pretty melodies, and I feel like playing them. So it’s tough. Sometimes it was finding little things to look forward to in the day. Your whole life feels overwhelming, and you’re thinking, How am I going to make it to next year? You have all these things you have to do, and it’s a very long process. But if you think about, What do I have to look forward to today, in just this one day? It can be as simple as, I just bought a new shampoo and I’m excited to use it. Even something as small as that. Or, There are beautiful flowers in my back yard, and I’m going to go outside and appreciate them for a little bit. It’s something to look forward to.

Do you have some words of wisdom or encouragement for readers who are facing their own battles?

I realize that I am in a very privileged situation. I got immensely lucky with how my life turned out. You can say it’s hard work, you can say that I did the grind and I pushed, but I totally don’t believe that it is entirely my doing. I got really lucky.

Life is magical like that sometimes. You may feel like your life is headed down this bleak, dark trajectory, nothing can get better, you’re stuck in this routine, and you feel miserable and uninspired, but you never know what can happen in life. If you were to tell me, even two years ago, that I’d be doing what I’m doing right now, talking to the people I’m talking to, and I’d be friends with certain people who were my heroes growing up, I’d be like, “No. No way.”

When you’re feeling down, focus on what can make you happy in the moment. It’s OK to, if you’re not feeling great, let yourself watch a TV show that you like, or buy a pair of shoes that you like, or go splurge on some gear that you really want. It’s OK as long as it’s not every day. Do things, find things out in the world, talk to someone you care for. This is going to sound really New Age, but even saying something positive and giving a compliment to someone else can lift your spirits and change your mindset and make you feel more positive too. Finding beauty in the world, and finding ways to spread beauty in the world, can make it more bearable.

 

And it gets better. You never know what’s waiting for you around the corner, and a year from now, you might not believe where you are. If you’re not there yet, don’t get discouraged. It takes time, and patience is always rewarding.

Thank you for being so candid and open about your struggles, and for speaking out about subjects that we’re told should be hidden and kept to ourselves.

It’s my pleasure to be candid and open about this. I want to always be honest about it because I don’t think it’s something people should hide. I feel like it’s my responsibility to educate people that it’s not something rare. A lot of people struggle with it, including people you may think have it all together. There are textbook ways of dealing with it — therapists, doctors, and some who will also tell you how to talk to someone who has depression.

But I feel it’s also important to have someone who is real about it. Everyone is different and experiences it a different way, but someone who is not contrived and not giving a Hallmark-card answer is important to have because it makes it more realistic. It means a lot that I get to talk about this stuff. Sometimes I think about having a platform and how much responsibility comes with it, but I’m glad I get to talk about something meaningful and important to me.

Yvette Young’s guitar gear and accessories

EarthQuaker Devices Warden Optical Compressor
Meris Mercury7 Reverb
MXR Carbon Copy delay
Way Huge Supa-Puss delay
MXR bass octave pedal
ZVEX Box of Rock
Walrus Audio Julia Chorus/Vibrato
Tonefield Klon Klone
EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
Ground Control Audio Amaterasu Bright Preamp
Vox AC10/AC30
Two Ibanez Talman Prestige guitars
Two Strandberg CL7 7-string guitars
Cort Grand Regal GA5F

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