Yvette Young and her band Covet released the song Shibuya in 2018, but when she posted a video of herself playing it, fans took notice and still light up when they hear it today.
"Everyone always takes out their phone when I play that song," Young said. "Being a guitarist who's also on social media, I just posted for fun. I never thought any of this would happen, but that's the first one that went viral. So now whenever I play it, you just hear everyone go - yes."
Young plays guitar with a genuine sense of joy and ease, but her initial exposure to performing made her feel just the opposite.
"I started out playing classical piano, something my parents wanted me to do," Young reflected. "I liked certain aspects of it, but the performance aspect and the competitions made it a high-pressure environment for me. At the time it felt like a curse, but now it's completely a blessing. Then I started playing violin and with an orchestra. At the time I hated it but now I appreciate it because it taught me how to play as a group. But I had a tenuous relationship with music at the time. I got really sick with an eating disorder because of all the pressure from school and having to win all these awards. I was in the hospital, and that's when I started playing guitar. I started taking guitar more seriously. I started writing more music and before I knew it I was playing in a band for fun. Then I ended up quitting my teaching job to do this. I love music now, and it really helped me recover."
The guitar helped Young recover in part because she chose it herself.
"I never got to do that before" Young continued. "Then, there's no pressure around it. It was purely exploratory for me. I didn't even have a teacher. What it also did for me is when you have an eating disorder, you become really fixated on how you look and it's all about control. At the time I was really focused on how I looked and being a perfectionist. What guitar did for me was take my focus off of my external appearance and it put my self worth more into what I can do with my hands and make with music."
Young was born and raised in San Jose, California. Her parents came to the U.S. from Beijing. They enjoyed a lot of classical music, it's just that Young's love of guitar led her to a different sound.
"It was really empowering for me and made me feel like I had a voice," Young said of finding the guitar. "I wasn't the most outspoken. I had trouble expressing emotions, and the guitar became this super cathartic, beautiful thing like music therapy. When I was in college, I did a little music therapy and that was rewarding. Now I feel like I get to do it just by playing music at shows."
That's exactly how it feels for listeners.
"The key is you have to be excited about it," Young said of learning an instrument on your own. "I'm pretty bad at sticking with something I hate doing. It was a fun way to escape. Then I started changing the guitar tuning and writing my own stuff. It's like playing a video game and you conquer a level and learn a new skill. So with guitar I learned finger picking and tapping, and it was really reminiscent of playing piano but on guitar. Even to this day I feel like I'm still learning. I haven't done bending and palm muting but just realized how cool it was and started doing it more on this new record. Ten years in and I'm still learning."
Some instruments she learned as a kid helped her with the guitar.
"Piano informed me the most," Young continued. "My frame of reference is that I always envision a keyboard rather than a fretboard. There's this translation that's happening. I write with my voice. If you can hum a melody, you can write a song. I start out humming, and then I can picture it immediately on the keyboard. Then I retroactively figure it out on the guitar."
The new songs came from a lot of demos and effects, the dance and 1980's music she listened to recently, and the deadline for the record.
"I think half the record I wrote in about two months," Young said. "It represents what I'm interested in at this moment. I've gotten better and improved. Unfortunately there's a lot of shortages and backorders when it comes to vinyl, and we're waiting for vinyl which likely will hopefully be by the fall. Definitely going to drop some singles and videos."
Young likens writing instrumental music to creating abstract art.
"To me that's the most fun part of writing instrumental music, where you can't draw any sort of literal meaning from it" Young reflected. "But you can use colors and textures and compositional elements and shapes to convey a feeling. When I write instrumental music, I compare having effects to colors. Melody is the black and white drawing and you use effects to selectively color in parts of the black and white drawing to bring it to life. My goal is to think about someone when I'm writing and try to do it justice whether it's a feeling, person, or place. To me I've succeeded when I play it for someone, and they are pulled in several directions and feel uneasy."
Young truly believes she wouldn't be here without music.
"This thing I'm holding, this guitar is sacred to me because I wouldn't have a sense of who I am," Young said. "It's crazy how context is everything. If you put music in the context of having to compete and make a name for yourself, I think I hate it and don't want to do it. But when I put it in the context of therapy and how it can heal and speak to people even if you don't speak the same language - I look at our audience and there's every age and background and every gender. It's just so cool. When I'm playing a song, they're just listening to music. And it's helping people and telling stories and maybe inspiring other people to do that as well and find music as an outlet for themselves. For me when I was going through my eating disorder, music was my outlet. I wouldn't be here now if not for finding those healthier outlets. For me, it's a chance to spread that joy and the gospel of guitar. Life's hard. I think everyone can agree that music is tight."
Covet performs tonight May 28 at Ace of Cups.