Spotlight: Yna

Meet Yna, a queer Filipina singer, songwriter, and our Artist of the Month for May and AAPI Heritage Month! Learn more about her story, artistry, inspirations, her Music Forward journey, and more! Be sure to check out Yna on Instagram and pre-save her single off her debut album, “chasing daydreams” out on May 10th.

Can you introduce yourself and share some insights into your background? Describe your journey into music and the experiences that have shaped you as an artist today.

Hi! My name is Yna, and I am a queer Filipina producer and songwriter. I was born in the Philippines and moved to California, where I grew up, and at 21 years old, I moved to Chicago. Music has always been around in my family, especially from my mother’s side, which heavily influences my musical abilities and inspirations. My earliest memories of music find themselves in this blue butterfly notebook I had around 9 years old, which is when I got my first acoustic guitar, keyboard, and ukulele. I started learning how to play through YouTube, began writing songs, and found myself lost in the world of music. I remember writing songs about saving the world or finding love. However, from middle school to high school, a lot of my doubts sank in about my writing, my voice, and my appearance, so much that I barely touched my guitar. Around junior year, I started to cover songs again and went on to audition for my school’s talent show with an original song I wrote the night before auditions called “I’m Leaving.” It was the first song I wrote about not only myself, but trying to fight the doubts that I had within me as the lyrics depict leaving such self-deprecating thoughts. I remember crying on stage for a bit and seeing friends come up to me after saying they resonated with my lyrics. I feel like that was a turning point in my relationship with music because I also went on to play for my senior year’s talent show with a song I wrote for my class, and I had them all sing along at the end, which was so bittersweet. After high school, I produced this one single for fun called “garden of roses” and put it on SoundCloud and other streaming services. I initially saw the song as a one-time project until I received an overwhelming amount of support and love. At the time, I was majoring in film at San Diego State University and had dreams about being a film director since I fell in love with the art around the same time I started getting back into music. But something was calling to me after I put that song out. Throughout my years in college, I started to fall back in love with music as I produced and wrote more than I ever thought I would. I then released “if i was an artist” and “unaligned” under my new stage name, Yna, a nickname my mother gave me, to honor my childhood and heritage. 

I then decided to move to Chicago during my last year of college to immerse myself in a new city and new people in hopes it might inspire me more with my music, which it absolutely did. After finishing my degree from SDSU online while in Chicago, I had the opportunity to learn what it was like to live on my own and figure out who I was, the community I wanted, and my voice. I released “camino santa fe,” which I believe was a catalyst for everything that followed in my career. After an amazing and talented filmmaker and my now partner, Cee Pham, asked to direct a music video for the latter song, it drove more people to my story and her vision than I ever expected. I played my first live show in Chicago thanks to my manager Sloane, had numerous opportunities at different venues via Sofar Sounds, formed my band that consists of my now closest friends, got my first venue performance at Schubas, flew back home to California to play at Chapman University, got more gigs at notable venues in Chicago, received a grant for Music Forward’s LGBQT+ Emerging Artist Award, found a beautiful community of friends who I have the honor of creating with, worked on many photoshoots and music videos, collaborated with a bunch of talented artists in Chicago, and finally finished my album that I started 5 years ago when I was living in California. 

I learned so much in just the almost three years I lived in Chicago, and it has taught me so much about myself and who I want to be, not only as an artist but also as a person. I got to share my story and hold space for not only my pain but that of others as well, even mere strangers. I battled with so many obstacles being away from home–healing from a traumatic childhood, understanding my emotions and my triggers, and finding comfort in my own skin and home. Chicago broke me down so I could build myself back up, and I will forever be grateful for the experiences and the people who supported me throughout this journey. It’s also very fitting that I’m living in the city I once wrote about wishing to live in, so to finish my debut album in this very city is full circle for me.

May is AAPI Heritage Month. Can you tell us about how your culture impacts your personal music journey and your sound?

I was born in the Philippines and moved to the States when I was 2 years old. Throughout my life, I was very in tune with my culture, whether it came to our customs, food, culture, or language, I was gratefully surrounded by it all. However, growing up in a very Filipino and Catholic household meant a lot of values and beliefs that conflicted with who I was and who I wanted to be once I started figuring out who I was. My family comes from a long line of nurses, so inevitably, that desire for me to pursue the same profession was strong. I started to feel ashamed for things that I wanted and didn’t want such as not wanting to follow the medical path my family went on, wanting to major in Film because at the time I wanted to be a film director, or wanting to listen to my heart when it spoke strongly about the type of love I wanted. 

Once I came out to my parents at 16 and started following my passion for Film–which in turn led to me majoring in Marketing and finding my way back to music–I started to embrace who I was and all that I grew up with wholeheartedly. I say this because when I was young, I hated being the brown, chubby, Filipino girl with frizzy hair at my school. I used to permanently straighten my hair, use the typical papaya soap to whiten my skin, pinch my nose so it wouldn’t look upturned, shamed my body for being too short, fat, etc. On top of that, accepting my queer identity was the hardest thing to do because it wasn’t something I couldn’t physically change. It was something my heart and soul felt–that no matter how hard I tried to fix or change it for my parents, society, etc, I couldn’t take that part of me away.

The minute I started finding my way back to music and producing at 19, I began writing about myself, my thoughts, my feelings, and everything in between. I wrote about the doubts I had growing up due to cultural and familial influences, the insecurities I felt, and all the heavy feelings that made me feel like I wasn’t meant to be here. I eventually started finding peace in the relationship I had with music/producing. It was healing. Even if the things I wrote about would somehow bring flashes of memories, it made me stronger because my pain found its way through my words, my production, and into the hands of other people who also shared similar struggles. It became a therapeutic journey, one where I didn’t have to feel alone. Now, everytime I introduce myself on stage, I proudly say I am a queer Filipina producer and artist. Not to confine myself in one box or label, but to show the world that there even is a place for someone like me. 

What does celebrating AAPI Heritage Month look like for you?

I find that immersing myself in my culture, getting involved in events, and talking about AAPI is how I celebrate the month–and of course every month moving forward. I try to find shows I can play that highlight AAPI artists, posting/reposting content (either about myself or something someone else made), supporting other AAPI artists either in person or virtually, and of course just talking about it. I think the latter will always hold weight, especially all year round as celebrating our heritage should be something we do every day. Talking about the struggles, experiences, and everything in between with a whole community is how I believe we can do so much together. It also helps us not feel so alone especially when the world makes us feel like it. 

We’re also celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month. As a musician, how do you practice self-care when you’re going through a hard time?

I think practicing self-care not only with my music, but my personal life, is the one thing I have trouble doing and am still working to improve. I struggle with anxiety and depression, which affects not only my creativity, but how my mind and body approach really low lows that deviate me from wanting to live my most authentic self or a life where I feel genuinely content. When I started getting more opportunities to play shows in Chicago just last year and was given many platforms to be heard, whilst also finishing my debut album, my mental illnesses really got the best of me. On the contrary, my social media would depict quite the opposite. Besides, like people say, don’t believe everything you see on the internet. I pride myself in being open and vulnerable when I can to my community because that’s how I connect to them. But there are very low moments and dark nights where my demons and thoughts consume me so much that even posting about good things happening in my life is hard for me to believe. People would comment how proud they are of me for all the accomplishments I made or that I look like I’m doing so well, when in reality, people also don’t know about the nights where I have come close to succumbing to the worst. Playing a live show is even harder because I have to physically work myself up to the event, yet my body literally feels so heavy, not to mention the amount of mental effort it takes to even do the most simple task. Music has always been my best friend, but with depression, even doing the things I love are numbed by the weight of this heaviness. Until one day, I told myself I didn’t want this for myself. That I didn’t choose to have anxiety or depression. That although there was no fixed cure or something to rid me of it, I would learn to live with it. So I opened up more to the people closest to me that I call my community. I leaned on them so hard even when I felt like I was a burden, to which they constantly reassured me I wasn’t. I read books that spoke to me and listened to podcasts that heard me. And most of all, I promised myself I wouldn’t abandon the little kid in me anymore. That when things got really bad, I would try my best to choose choices that brought me joy. Whether it meant sitting in my bed all day and resting, or ordering take out instead of cooking, or facetiming my loved ones even if it meant just existing in their presence. I do my best every day to choose me, to listen to what my body and mind want, to nurture Little Yna, to hold space for my feelings as much as I do for others. And most importantly, I feel it all. The good, the bad, the pretty, the ugly, the light, the heavy. All of it. No matter how uncomfortable it gets, or how much it tightens my chest, or how many tears I cry, I sit with myself and hold space for these feelings, then I tell them, “I hear you, I see you and I feel you. You can stay on this journey with me, that’s fine. You can sit in the car with me, that’s fine. But know this– I’m the one driving. I’m the one leading the way. And I’m the one calling the shots.”

Let’s talk about your musical inspirations. What drives you to create music, and how would you describe the unique sound and style that define your creations?

When it comes to writing, I started writing a lot about my feelings when I produced “garden of roses” during my early college years. I was very hesitant at first because writing about myself, let alone the very vulnerable thoughts that I felt was a burden I only bore, frightened me. But the more I got into writing my feelings, singing it, or playing it, the more I felt closer to the little Yna inside of me. It’s cliche to say, but music was always my escape, even more so once I moved to a new city on my own. I found inspiration wherever I went—whether it was through the lives of others, the stories people shared, or the weight of my own feelings that found itself on the shoulders of other people—and I started finding my voice. When I got my first live show performance in Chicago, it wasn’t the best performance because I wasn’t used to it, but it made me want to learn so I could be a better performer and be more comfortable on the stage. I started going to more shows, learning from my peers, hearing their stories, and applying that to my own narrative on stage. I started finding my voice in the ambient layers I would produce in my music and started to label myself as a queer Filipina producer who makes alternative, ambient indie music. I find that all my songs are drenched in various layers of synths, strings, guitars, and textures that I hope make people feel connected to not only my lyrics but the world I create with my production.

Dream collaborations can be powerful. If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be, and what aspects of their artistry draw you to them?

I would love to collaborate with Novo Amor because of his textures, production, and lyricism. Every time I listen to his music, I feel like I’m living out the “main character” dream I’ve always wanted to live in. His layers in production are absolutely insane and give me goosebumps and never fail to make me feel something in my soul. I would be honored to be a part of the world that he has created and to collide our stories together somehow. 

Visualize your ideal performance. If given the opportunity to open for any artist, who would you choose, and what makes them the perfect match for your performance?

If Beabadoobee gave me the opportunity to open for her, I would literally combust into flames and try to revive myself as fast as I can to readily say yes. As a fellow Filipina artist, Beabadoobee inspired me a lot with her journey, the way she presents herself in her lyrics, and the versatility she has in her music. She definitely inspired some of my alternative indie moments in my upcoming debut album and I looked up to her in terms of stage presence as well, which helped a lot with trying to find more confidence on stage. 

Share some wisdom with us. What’s the most valuable advice you’ve received while pursuing your musical dreams, and how has it influenced your journey?

The biggest thing I learned while pursuing my dream is to honor the little kid in you no matter what you do and where you go. This was a lesson that I had to learn the long way after realizing that I abandoned the little kid in me when I started to succumb to the very dark thoughts that almost took my life at 16 and at 21. I also abandoned her whenever I shut myself out from the world, ran away from my feelings, believed every little thing I heard from the people around me or from my demons, and minimized myself just to fit in. When I started getting serious about my music and what I wrote, let alone sharing it, I was met with moments where I started to sell my soul and the home that Little Yna tried to find comfort in just to make anything perfect or what I thought people wanted. It wasn’t until I turned 23, after many anxiety attacks, depressive episodes, and dark nights that almost got the best of me, I finally decided to find my way back home to my little girl. I realized that if I don’t nurture the home I made for us, regardless of where my career went or what people thought of me, I will always feel unsafe and scared by myself, even if I am surrounded by so many wonderful people. So I say this to my fellow daydreamers, cycle breakers, and wandering souls: come back home to the little you. Make sure they feel heard and understood, validate their feelings and fears, water their hopes and dreams, and do your best every step of the way to stay. No matter how hard it gets, how many things will try to deviate you from your heart and soul, don’t abandon yourself. Because trust me, it shows not only in what you create, but who you are, the relationships you build, and everything else in between and beyond. Little Yna is the reason I am still here today, with an album of all our hopes and dreams in my hands.

Still from Yna’s music video from her recent single, “paradox”.

How did you become involved with Music Forward, and in what ways has Music Forward helped you along your musical journey?

I stumbled across one of Music Forward’s open mic posts on Instagram about a year ago and decided to sign up. Then, I had the opportunity to perform at one of their events and, in turn, met amazing people in the industry and fellow artists. A few months later, I read about an Emerging Artist LGBTQ+ award and thought, “Why not apply?” It was June of 2023 when I submitted my application, thought nothing else of it, closed my laptop, and kept moving on. In October, I was in an Uber on the way to a show I was playing at and received an email that I was one of the recipients. I vividly recall myself in disbelief, re-reading the email as many times as I could, and then crying in that Uber. I then cried to my friends, my partner, my mom, and my sister, and just couldn’t believe that this was happening. Around that time, I was so burnt out with my 9-5 job while also working on my album, not sure what to do with my life. Then, this grant came along as if it were a miracle or a gift that the universe gave me. It was a beautiful timing.

When I got the grant, I decided to leave my 9-5 job to focus on my album. I also used it to pay off some personal debts and expenses on my album. Music Forward’s grant allowed me to buy time, which is very rare and was what I needed more than ever. I will be honest—the journey was not pretty–I went through some extremely low moments with my mental health, relationships, personal matters, and even my connection with music. The demons and thoughts started to creep up again, especially when I had a lot of free time to sit with my feelings after a difficult journey of balancing a corporate job and my passions. However, if I had not gone through all those trials and tribulations, I wouldn’t have learned so many lessons and found my way back home to myself. I think a lot about all the different and better ways I could’ve handled the grant or even the time I bought for myself, but all I know is that I did the best I could at the time. Music Forward gave me the opportunity to not just work on my music but also work on the Yna behind the art. That is a gift I will forever be thankful for because it led me to the person I am now.

Yna (bottom right) as a recipient of our LGBTQ+ Emerging Artist Award.

Looking ahead, what are your future aspirations in your music career? Can you share specific goals you have for the future, both artistically and professionally?

Right now, I am really excited to finally release my upcoming debut album in the summer. It’s an amalgamation of all the different versions of me and the struggles and experiences I went through. After tirelessly working on it for the past year, with songs that I wrote either 5 years ago or a month prior to the album being finished, I’ve never been more proud of myself. With this album, I hope to make a difference and make people feel something. I want my music and lyrics to be a vessel for people to fill up with their own stories and emotions so they can be heard, seen, and understood. I want to be a role model for my fellow queer Asian femme creatives and find my way into the hearts of my people through my music. In terms of goals I have for the future, I really want to do a small tour with my amazing band, Yna and The Seasons, in the Midwest and also back home in California to collide with both my communities. I also plan to bring my community up with me– all my friends and loved ones whom I had the honor of working with on my album. Whether it was on the production, visuals, merch, or mere support since day 1, I am eternally grateful for their love and would not be here if not for them. 

As for professionally, I hope to be part of a narrative that’s bigger than me. Whether I find myself in a corporate job again that I care about and aligns with my values or just a part-time job at a local bakery, with good people and good vibes, I plan to surround myself with things that just make me happy, and I’ll do the best that I can from there. 

Lastly, let’s delve into the essence of music. How does music personally move you, and what emotions or experiences fuel your creative process?

What moves me about music is the way it translates itself into different mediums that people use to create. For me, I use it as a vessel to hold my story, pain, triumphs, emotions, and everything that is interwoven in my words. But I also see it interlaced in the movements of dancers, the painting strokes of artists, the words of poets, the scripts of filmmakers, and so much more. I see it in my community, whether it’s the way my partner chooses a specific composition for their film, the way my friend analyzes every beat and musicality in their dance, or the way my sister creates a new way of telling a story through her art. Music is so versatile, and there is never a wrong way to use it or even interpret it.

I’ve always found my emotions and thoughts as my source when it comes to my creative process. I would just sit at my piano or with my guitar, play any melody that my body was feeling, and start singing anything my heart was saying. All in all, writing about the heavy weight in my soul honestly made me feel a bit lighter thereafter. I always felt like music was my best friend that I would turn to during my loneliest nights, someone who held space for the story I wanted to tell. I jokingly talk about how my music is so sad, but it makes sense to write about what’s genuine and authentic to me, even if it means that most of my life was filled with heartbreaking moments. Besides, it’s hard for me to write about something that doesn’t come from within, so despite all the lows, I’m grateful to have come out of it with many stories to share.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, visit our mental health resources page.

Be sure to follow Yna on Instagram and check her out on Spotify!

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