yvette young willow
[Photo via YouTube]

Yvette Young talks painting, collaborating artistically with WILLOW and more

You wouldn’t know it from hearing her play, but Yvette Young of Covet yearned to abandon her classical music upbringing and used to sneak out of the art classroom to compose songs. While Young eventually found her way into rock music, the artist still fluidly draws from her extensive background in classical music and fine arts, producing a unique and skillful form of guitar playing that is as approachable as it is dazzling. Young sees it as a natural path to blur lines between visual and sonic arts, part of a broader project to inspire others and express herself through her work.

Read more: WILLOW announces title and release date for upcoming full-length

I’m really amazed by the level of craft that you bring to everything, from playing guitar to painting and piano. I know you started playing music when you were young. Can you tell us about your progression to the guitar?

I started piano when I was 4 and violin when I was 7. My parents really wanted me to go the typical route. I was on that track to basically be a classical performing musician. It was a lot of pressure for me, and I got really sick from it. I landed myself in the hospital. It was that time when I was hospitalized that I was like, “I really want to play guitar.” I’ve always wanted to be in a band. I never wanted to be a solo shredder guitar person. I always just wanted to be in a band.

My parents are really strict, so I wasn’t always allowed to go to shows. I would sneak out to shows. I always really admired that world and [was] like, “They’re traveling the world just making music with their best friends. How cool is that?” So I guess that’s how I got into playing guitar. I also just really admired good songwriting. I think a lot of the music I listen to was just people who wrote really compelling, emotional music. And for me, music is something that I feel more than I think about.

I think your classical training speaks to your technical ability. How did you go from your first experiences with shows to being this virtuoso technical guitarist?

You know, I wish I had a good answer for that. I feel like I still have a big case of impostor syndrome where I’m just like, “Whoa, how did I end up in the virtuosic guitar world?” That’s wild! For me, my passion was songwriting. My passion was composing stuff. We just started doing all these tours with all these shreddy bands.

At first, I was really nervous, and I guess I felt like maybe I had something to prove. So I wrote music that was more on the technical side, more note-y. But then I realized that I really wasn’t having fun. I was just stressing myself trying to nail these runs. At these shows, people pull out their camera, and you have to nail that one crazy part or else everyone is going to post it to their social media. It was just a lot of pressure for me. 

I realized that I shouldn’t be letting outside pressure dictate what I write because that’s succumbing to the pressures that I faced as a classical musician playing music for other people, which is not what I want to do.

Ultimately, I feel like I’m quite selfish with what I play. It’s just to please myself, and I just write music that I want to hear, that I’m stoked on. [In] the last couple of years, I’ve been toning it down hardcore, and I’ve been writing stuff that gets me stoked, really focusing on storytelling with sound. I feel like that’s my main interest. It’s cool because I did get my foot in the virtuosic door. But now I’m just like, “All right, now that I have your attention, let’s focus on the types of music that I truly care about.”

You’re oozing creativity. You were playing piano, you were playing violin, you made banners. Now you’re painting skateboards and guitars and all kinds of things. Where does visual art come into the picture?

I went to UCLA, and I double majored in visual and performing arts education and fine arts. When I graduated, I wanted to be either someone who showed in a gallery, or I wanted to be a teacher. I was like, “OK, well, I really enjoy working with painting and stuff, but also, it’s hard. It’s a competitive scene for people who want to show in galleries. So I think I’m better off just being a teacher because I like being around kids, too.” I was doing that for a while, and music was my side gig. I just played for fun. That’s why I feel like such an impostor, still.

I did work really hard at it, don’t get me wrong. But I really feel like I got super lucky with guitar, and I was at the right place at the right time. I do think that a lot of it is just being blessed, being fortunate enough to have people’s attention.

I remember working as a teacher at some art studios and some different schools. And then more and more, I had to take a month off to do touring. It started becoming really hard for me to juggle basically two jobs. I had to make the difficult choice of being like, “Well, should I sacrifice financial stability to invest more time into being creative and pursuing my real passion while I’m young?” Because I used to do things like run into the bathroom and hum songs I wanted to write in my phone in a voice memo.

It was very apparent that I was more invested in writing music than I was being an art teacher. I guess that’s how I started doing the basics of art. So I guess my long, convoluted point is that I actually started in the visual arts world before I even dipped my toe into doing music as a career. It was only natural for me to merge the two worlds. I do all the album art, all the merch designs for my bands and my projects. And I guess it is just natural for me to start wanting to customize gear.

I ran a guitar-painting business for a while, but it just got really overwhelming. The demand was a little too high, and I stopped having time to write music. For me, it’s constantly juggling things. I’m still trying to figure out that rhythm. To this day, I don’t have it down. If only there were more hours in the day and if only I was not human. 

WILLOW guitar
[Photo courtesy: Yvette Young

Your painting skills eventually led you to collaborate with WILLOW on her guitar. How did that project come about?

I saw her doing music stuff and was really stoked for her. And then I remember learning that she was getting more serious about guitar. One day I think I commented on one of my posts, and she said, “I want a TAB book.” And I was like, “OK, I’ll happily just send you a TAB book. That’s so dope.”

So I just sent her a bunch of merch. Then in L.A., I was just hanging out, I think at the time with a friend, and I had an off day, so I was like, “I should just hit her up.” I always like to meet people in person. If I know you online, I’d rather just have a more personal connection with you. So I was like, “What do I have to lose?” I could just hit her up and be like, “You want to kick it?” And so she was like, “Yes, of course.”

So we just hung out for a day, and we got food. I went to her house, and she showed me some music stuff she was working on. She showed me an anime that she did the voice for, and she showed me some stuff that her brother is working on as well. And I just remember thinking, “This is so chill.” She’s just so down-to-earth and cool. I don’t know if I had any expectations going in. I really didn’t want to because I just wanted to enjoy the experience for what it was and get to know this really cool young lady. She just blew me away with how mature and down-to-earth she was and how generous and kind she was. So that was our first interaction formally in person.

We kept in touch here and there. And then she just emailed me and was like, “Yo, I want you to paint my guitar.” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, of course, I would love to.” It made me so excited because I knew she was working on new music. I consume music very visually. And for me, the two worlds are so rooted. For me to have the opportunity to help her have a vessel for creativity, a guitar that embodied her spirit and the kind of music that she was writing, potentially inspiring maybe even new music in the future.

That was so cool, the fact that she was going to trust me with that. So I viewed it as this… I don’t know, it sounds cheesy, but it’s hella sacred to me. And I really enjoyed pouring my heart into her Ernie Ball guitar. Every time I see her play it, every time I see her have it, I just glow with how proud I am of her. Also, I’m proud to see she actually likes my art.

WILLOW guitar
[Photo courtesy: Yvette Young

That human connection is really powerful. I’ve seen bands that I love a bunch of times. When I see some kid seeing a band for the first time and their eyes are closed or they’re jumping around, you just feel so endeared to them. I think it’s why people love festivals so much—because they want to watch a band with the most people ever that like the same band.

[Music is] like a form of therapy. It’s medicine for me. Not to be dramatic, but I definitely wouldn’t be alive if not for me discovering art. For me, just the ability to spread the gospel and joy of playing music for the sake of self-expression. Maybe even you can branch out and say exploring your own identity, having, I guess, a productive outlet in this chaotic world. For me, if I can just help anyone with that, with their journey and inspire anyone to want to pick up a guitar, or want to play music or even have the courage to do something that maybe not a lot of people who look like them do, that’s all worth it.

This interview appeared in issue 395, available here.