Covet: “The most effective art is real”

Covet escape into fantasy with their new album ‘catharsis’, and they hope you will too.

Words: Jack Press

Nobody wants to hear about a pandemic that imprisoned music for two years. We’ve heard the same old story six-hundred and sixty-six times. But, the artists we love are still getting their lockdown projects out into the wild. For instrumental trio Covet, Covid-19 changed everything.

“Excuse my French, but we hauled ass to get that record done,” declares Covet composer-musician mastermind Yvette Young, revisiting a time that painted their 2019 album ‘Technicolor’ in darker shades. “We had all these things lined up for it, and then bam, nothing we worked for matters because the world’s shut down for two years”.

Sat backstage at L&M in Toronto before delivering one of her coveted guitar clinics, we find Yvette in a joyously reflective mood. With Covet’s third album ‘Catharsis’ ready for lift-off, she “needed those two years off”. Whereas some of us burrowed ourselves into wormholes, Yvette blossomed by simply having “some time to just work on creative things and acquire new skills.”

Two years can feel like forever, but time flies when you’re having fun. And that’s exactly what Yvette found in the mundanity of life in lockdown. It’s where ‘Catharsis’ separates itself from what comes before; it’s sonic evolution even Darwin could admire. 

Unlike ‘Technicolor’, which “was a difficult time”, Yvette’s “really excited about this new album because it really showcases my guitar evolution; I feel like if I’m just doing the same thing in touring, I don’t get a chance to experiment or do anything different than what I normally do, so two years off let me take a creative breather. I got better at guitar, I honed in on songwriting, and I started learning how to record.”

Funnily enough, it wasn’t finding time to flick through her favourite records that drove ‘Catharsis’ creative evolution; it was painting. “The first thing I did when everything shut down was I just started painting; it had been years since I did something creative for leisure.” Like a flame igniting inside her, she came to the conclusion that “when you start equating this creative thing that you cherish and love with purely a way to make money, it poisons your relationship with it”, so she sat down to paint for pure experimentation.

Freeing herself from the music industry’s infinite hamster wheel, she suddenly “wanted to just record for fun”. Whereas ‘Technicolor’ felt like “every single hour of my day mattered, I had to use it to do something productive for the record”, with the world shut down for days on end, she could “make recordings for fun” where “they don’t have to be good, I can record the same thing like six times just to see if I can improve each time.”

It wasn’t only musically that Covet benefitted from Yvette’s new-found freedom; it stretches deeper than that. “I feel guilty being stoked on shutting down for two years because a lot of people did struggle, and I don’t want to discount that. However, my personal experience was that of joy.” She found the time to finally heal from the toll life takes as a touring musician. “I needed this so bad to deal with mental health stuff. I feel like I wasn’t really able to deal with much of it because I was so busy on the road, but when things shut down, I finally could heal and work on myself. If you neglect that portion of yourself, you creatively suffer because you’re stifling stuff that wants to come out, so it was a very healing and uplifting and empowering time for me.” 

In fact, taking the time to heal led to Yvette nearly burning Covet down to the ground, only to raise it like a phoenix and rebuild it with new members – bassist Brandon Dove and drummer Jessica Burdeaux – replacing David Adamiak and Forrest Rice. “I think this has been a big lesson for me and what I needed to do to creatively nurture myself,” she says, her eyes lighting up at her own transformation. “If you’re in a toxic environment, where you feel afraid and stifled, it’s just a shame.” 

Having self-taught herself guitar after an eating disorder left her hospitalised in high school, music became “the biggest source of my own self-esteem. I’m not the most outspoken; I’m a little more reserved with words, but with music, I can actually express myself, and I feel really fluent in it as a language.” But when the band she’d built from the ground up began suffocating her in every way, it led to some difficult conversations with herself.

“For me to suddenly have this thing that means so much to me, that literally saved my life when I was in the hospital, usurped by a situation in which I didn’t feel safe or creatively fulfilled or even just happy, I was like, this is not sustainable, and if I keep going on this way, I’m going to just want to quit,” she says emphatically, empowered by the experience. “So I need to either quit or do something crazy and blow up the whole operation, try to surround myself with people who don’t make me feel afraid, who nurtured me creatively, who I feel are on the same page – and it did a world of difference.”

Despite “a lot of people being very critical, and a little misogynistic about it”, Yvette “super owns” her decision. In fact, the joy she now feels can be felt radiating from every second of ‘catharsis’’ 29-minute runtime. Even though every song was written during quarantine, they were written in bursts of creative experimentation, where rather than “trying to superimpose a melody on top of sound, I’d be like, what could I write to help this sound come to life and make this pedal look cool?”

In many ways, it’s that joy that helped spur Covet’s lineup change. As crazy as it seems, it took nurturing herself and new music for Yvette to come to terms with her unhappiness. “These songs mean so much to me, and they make me so happy, and I don’t want to have to play them under any context other than being stoked.”

“I remember having a few shows playing these songs, and I was crying after the set because I was so unhappy on stage in that situation. I remember feeling like I was a being a performer, not only in the sense of a musician, but I was also being performative, having to smile through it. I called my manager and was like, I can’t do this anymore; I feel like I’m a hypocrite, like I’m lying to everyone.”

Armed with a whiteboard, some pedal demos, and a bag of working titles ready for a nineties sitcom like ‘Stinky Riff’, Yvette crafted ‘catharsis’ like she was spending her days gaming. “I demoed all of it so I could go back and listen, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t learn how to record during quarantine; sometimes life feels like a video game, doesn’t it? Like you get these level-ups and these bonuses, and then you can access the next level. For me, learning to record is next level.”

Not only have Covet levelled up sonically, but thematically, too. In many ways, its eight tracks are eight levels unlocking listen-by-listen. “Every song is a story. I don’t think everyone has to hear the story that I hear, but that’s where my inspiration comes from.” Disillusioned by “ADHD listening”, she “didn’t want it to be track, track, track, track” and have “them all live in separate worlds”, so from the moment the shoegaze sunrise of ‘Coronal’ loads you into ‘catharsis’, it’s a “fantasy story where you jump into this void, and go immediately into this happy world, and it takes you through all these different characters and their stories and then ends on a really uplifting note; I thought that the saxophone solo was a good way to end it.”

Crafting a concept album out of instrumental music is a challenge few envy, but it’s one Covet take on and then some. While ‘Coronal’ slips into nineties dream-pop and shoegaze with Yvette’s vocals, and the honey-drenched harmonies that paint the pitter-patter of raindrop piano on ‘Interlude’ utilise vocals, it’s an abstract sandbox for you to play in however you want.

“That’s the beauty of it to me. I always equate instrumental music with abstraction because music with lyrics feels more literal like you’re telling someone how to feel, like if you look at a still life painting, it’s telling you what to look at: this is real life. But with instrumental music, it’s really exciting because you get to influence and colour what someone sees and feels with textures, with melodies, with all these musical tools.”

Feeling, whether you’re embracing it or running away from it, is at the heart of ‘Catharsis’, an album embedded in escapism. When songs like ‘Vanquish’ exist to make you feel “almost triumphant, like you’re swimming, like you’re flowing and just pushing forward”, it’s no wonder Covet create safe spaces within their music for their fans to find themselves and to heal. 

“I feel like art should be open to any purpose, so if you have negative things to say, I think it’s important to be able to say that. I don’t believe in censoring music. I think the most effective art is real, even if it’s not meant to uplift, if it’s meant to just tear an establishment down, or tear a person down, that is still valid.”

Of course, music is subjective. And for Yvette, when she’s writing for Covet, she feels “like I’m trying to write music that makes me feel the way I wish I felt, so when I’m down, a lot of the most joyful songs I’ve written have been written when I was really sad because it’s me trying to hold on to this little slice of hope.

“Sometimes I’ll sit down, and I’ll write something that makes me want to dance, and at the end, I’ll be smiling, and I’ll want to dance. It’s such a cool superpower that you can have when you start making music – to transform how someone feels.”

“Sometimes life feels like a video game, doesn’t it? You get these level-ups”

Yvette Young

Transformation is at the core of ‘catharsis’. It’s what the album lives and breathes. It’s the blood rushing through its musical veins, flowing freer and faster with every listen. While Covet, and Yvette, underwent their own transformation making it, they hope you listening to it will too. “I want people to love guitar and showcase it in an exciting way where you don’t have to be shredding to be valid; you can have moments of technicality. Ultimately, I would hope that the emotion and the emphasis on melodies inspires someone to want to write music of their own on guitar.”

The want for that drive and ambition for more people to pick up guitar extends beyond ‘catharsis’, and beyond Covet. In many ways, it’s what Yvette is here to do. As a guitar teacher that want to inspire comes naturally, but as a female with Chinese heritage in a white male-dominated genre, she feels it’s right to use her platform to promote diversity of all kinds.

“I like that you use the word diversity because that’s what I see at my shows; people of all backgrounds, all walks of life, all ages, all genders, all orientations, it’s the most hodgepodge random crowd of people,” she laughs, smiling at the thought. “I don’t feel the responsibility because when I put that pressure on myself, I get afraid. However, I feel excitement thinking about getting people to pick up the guitar.

“I want other people to know it can have that effect on someone, that it can really empower you and make you feel like you have a voice. I’m very anti-elitism; I think a lot of the rock star attitudes of the 80s are kind of funny, because why would you want to have this thing where you’re like, you can’t sit with us? You’ll just make a scene die.”

However, as much as erasing the rock star attitudes of yesteryear has always been a mission for Covet, it’s something that took making ‘catharsis’ for Yvette to truly understand her purpose as a musician. It’s the eureka moment that made the pandemic worth it.

“I’m just a girl who found an instrument that I ended up really developing a connection to, and it ended up being like a wonderful outlet for me, and it took me out of a really dark place. I don’t think I’m anyone special. I think anyone can come and pick up this instrument and have this experience, and I invite you to do so with music because it’s such a wonderful, powerful thing; I like inclusivity.”■

Taken from the May 2023 edition of Upset. Covet’s album ‘catharsis’ is out now.