For the better part of a decade, Yvette Young has established herself as a driving force in math rock, and one of the genre’s most bright and prolific stars.
Employing her haunting sense of melody, skillful two-handed taps, and a propensity for setting online discussions on literal fire with open tuning ideas, Yvette and her band Covet have challenged thousands of people all over the world to think differently about the concept of a guitar hero.
They’ve also helped turn the tide in an ongoing struggle to bring more diversity to music at a critical time.
More women than ever are making music, and we couldn’t be more excited about it. And even with all this social distancing, Covet is still managing to bring people together. There is hope after this. And a lot of good music.
This week, the band released a music video for single “Nero,” a groovy new track from the band’s upcoming full length. While the video speaks for itself, the track comes as a great indication that listeners are in for a laser-focused sequel to 2018’s Effloresce. Just listen to that crunchy outro.
But life’s not all fruit loops and cyborgs.
Technicolor, the recently announced title of the upcoming release, is a reference to an old celluloid treatment used to colorize black and white film. It’s an apt metaphor for the band’s natural evolution to be sure, but it also helps represent diversity and progress in the face of tradition. I’ll let the expert explain.
In this interview, Yvette Young was kind enough to talk to us about her recent collaboration with Ibanez, the importance of representation versus dialogue, and what it means to stay graceful in a treacherous music industry.
FB: Your new signature Ibanez guitar is unique for several reasons, but one thing that really stood out to me was that it’s set up in an alternate tuning! What would you say is the biggest advantage when switching from EADGBE to FACGCE?
Yvette: I wouldn’t really say it’s an advantage per say, but rather a way to shake things up a bit! I used that tuning for a lot of new Covet so I thought it would be a fun way to personalize the guitar a bit more when it gets shipped out to people.
Of course, people can tune to anything, but I totally encourage people to explore open tunings a bit because it’s a great way to get out of playing the same shapes and start using your ear to really find the melodies you want. Also, sometimes the tunings themselves can inspire new melodies and harmonies!
FB: I was also happy to hear you refer to it’s neon slime paint job as “Flubber Green” at one point with Joe from Reverb. Was Ibanez surprised when you wanted to throw in a sticker pack for it as well?
Yvette: I was thrilled when Ibanez was down for the sticker idea! For this entire signature release, I just wanted to do something a little different that would tie in my non-music background as well. I went to school for teaching and art, so I figure it would be a fun way to bridge both worlds and encourage people to think of music visually to get inspired as well!
FB: Innovation is clearly important to you, as evidenced in your playing as well as the guitar design, stickers, ec. What does it mean to you personally to be a creative thinker?
Yvette: I think being a creative thinker just means not being afraid to try something different and take risks. I purposely didn’t want to model this guitar and the “campaign” behind it after anyone else because nothing new happens and nothing grows from just mimicry and playing it safe. Of course, it’s cool to take things you like about other scenes and people to find ways to incorporate them and re-contextualize them into your own “vocabulary,” if that makes sense!
I think a large part of thinking creatively comes from problem-solving, actually. Like, finding a way to address your needs working within a predetermined set of parameters or restrictions. I am getting a bit heady here and could go on forever, but I’ll just leave it at that!
FB: You got a footing early in your career by posting dozens of clips to Youtube and other social media sites. What are your thoughts for up-and-coming musicians taking a similar route, now that touring or even playing outside the house doesn’t appear to be an option?
Yvette: I would say that now is a great time to just work on things for the sake of having fun and for the sake of enjoying music! I’ve been even trying to explore things I’m uncomfortable with and get better at them! I got started doing music just having a nice time exploring a new instruments and posting videos or my progress for fun… and in some ways, that hasn’t changed. I think I got really lucky that it ever amounted to anything but I think one thing that gave me an advantage was just doing it so frequently.
If you don’t put yourself out there then there’s zero possibility for anything more to happen, but the world is full of crazy surprises and opportunities if you just open your heart and mind to them and stay authentic. Even statistically speaking in terms of visibility, the more you try, the more opportunities you give yourself for something more to develop!
FB:Fender announced last year that they would be releasing more signature guitars for female artists than they had in several decades, after discovering that 50% of their new guitars were sold to female customers. Do you feel more pride or pressure when people look to you as an inspiration for representing women in the music industry?
Yvette: I try not to think of my gender too much because one of the steps in equality and “normalizing” women playing guitar is to just go out and kick ass instead of having a lot of discussion about how special and rare it is. I think visibility is even more important than dialogue!
From day one I never thought about how I was a girl playing guitar… I just did it because I thought being in a band would be fun! I think if I started thinking about it now I’d psyche myself out and stop being authentic. That being said, I do think about what it means to have a platform and be responsible with my online presence.
In everything I do, I want to make sure I am being deliberate with the message I am putting out there and not setting a bad example or being a hypocrite. I am very fortunate to have this platform and I want to use it to celebrate creation and to some extent, transparency in the fact that I am human and struggle too sometimes.
I also want to be approachable and supportive in the way I conduct myself because honestly, fuck that rockstar bullshit. I don’t think it sets a good or realistic example for anyone, and doesn’t encourage people to take up guitar.
I think it only pushes them away. I’m happy that more girls are playing guitar, and to be honest I’m happy that more people are turning to guitar in general! Music is such a great outlet. It literally saved me, and could do the same for so many future players!
FB: Sometimes when people work together, we reference things we have in common so often that we forget the ways we are different. What would you say is the biggest misconception men have about women that play music?
Yvette: I think I experience that weird disparity when I play at venues and a guy remarks that he didn’t expect a girl to be up there when he heard the kind of music being played. Men definitely think that there’s specific genres or styles girls are drawn to, but I think that’s for sure changing with the times.
One conception that is actually quite accurate though is that it’s difficult navigating a male-dominated music industry as a woman. So many times, I have just wanted to work and be serious/professional, but have had to sidestep creepy advances. It can be difficult to read peoples true intentions and that has been quite an alienating feeling for me.
It’s also hard to gracefully shoot those people down but still have to share the same workplace as them and not “burn that bridge”. I’m not sure how to fix that issue other than to have to put up a wall all the time when I’m around industry dudes.
FB: What do you think of the phrase, “female-fronted is not a genre?” Do you think it makes a point about representation for representations sake?
Yvette: I think female-fronted is absolutely not a genre… not to be dismissive, but I think making a separate category for “girl music” is part of the problem! It’s amazing to have representation but I think it’s a bit heavy-handed to have a whole band’s identity revolve around the fact that a girl leads it.
I get if the singer of the band is a girl and you like girl vocals, but then just say that it features female vocals. If it’s instrumental, I don’t think people can hear gender from a guitar, keys, bass, etc.
FB: What other ways can men make the music industry a better, safer environment for women?
Yvette: I think when a woman speaks up about feeling unsafe in a scene, people should take it seriously and ask what the girl needs to feel safer. It shouldn’t be about a witch hunt, it shouldn’t be about canceling people, but really people should ask the person who feels unsafe what can be done to allow them to do their job without being consumed by fear or anxiety.
I recently went though something very traumatic relating to something a band dude did, that affected my ability to perform and be on the road. I was told (and even threatened) by men to stay quiet about it, and at first, I tried to, but it felt like the problem just got worse and I found myself feeling so out of control and jaded with this whole industry. The moment I stood up for myself and made things right, I immediately felt relief. Everyone was pretty supportive as well in the end, and I wished that I had just stuck up for myself from the very start.
I also felt like I was setting a better precedent for women in the future who might feel pressured to keep quiet out of shame or fear, because nothing will change if everyone is told to just keep quiet about power abuse and just silently deal with it.
FB: You have always been open about making music for yourself and staying true to your vision, no matter what others think. Do you ever struggle to hear your own voice with so many opinions on what you’re doing or how you should be doing it?
Yvette: I definitely feel a lot of pressure, and a lot of working with others has been learning how to gracefully compromise. It’s unrealistic to think that I’ll never have to compromise in any shape or form in regards to my own art. I think it has mainly been about recognizing where I’m willing to budge a little and make other people happy too.
Part of the beautiful thing about working with a band and a team is actually being able to work together and communicate and make things happen as a team! It feels a lot less lonely that way. In terms of listening to opinions of what people on the internet want, I try to not read too much of what people are saying. There’s so much music out there and I think if I started to curate my work to the conflicting tastes of everyone out there, I would slowly lose my mind and fall out of love with music.
That being said, I am so grateful and lucky to have the support of anyone that happens to enjoy and get something from what I do. I will never ever take that for granted.
FB: In your feature on Vox’s Women Who Rock, and even here, you occasionally refer to a certain grace that is important to you. It’s no secret that much of the music business has long been dominated by men, and not always particularly good ones. What’s the hardest thing about staying above it all, and remaining graceful?
Yvette: I have grown and changed so much from my experiences in this industry throughout the years. I think the main thing that has helped me stay true is to recognize that this is an absolute privilege and remembering what it was like to work a 9-5 job, sneaking to the bathroom to write music in secrecy.
I don’t have to do that anymore and that is a total luxury. I remember that I have what I have because a group of people had faith in me and invested in me as a person (shoutout Ola Strandberg, Aaron Dixon, Angelia Trinidad, just to name a few!), and when I think about that, it’s hard to ever have an ego about anything.
I think sometimes it’s tempting to be a diva and try to micromanage my art, because it’s MY baby and I’ve clocked in the hours… so in that regard, maybe I struggle with that a little. But at the same time, my team is choosing to give their time to this project even without substantial financial gain, so that once again humbles me and makes me feel really lucky to be doing what I’m doing.
To me, grace is about conducting yourself in a way that makes the world a bit of a nicer place to exist in. What kind of industry do I want to exist in? What sort of place can musicians really thrive? How can I help contribute to that place?
I always try to keep that in the back of my mind, no matter what.
You can pre-order the band’s new album here , or check the rest of their discography out on their Bandcamp. Extra Special thanks to Yvette Young for the opportunity to do this interview. We hope it inspires people everywhere make music, even in the face of adversity.