Featured Photo: Meesh Cabal

The Progressive Asian American Christians (PAAC) community is full of people who come from all walks of life, particularly the creative. After hearing that PAAC community member Yiann had recently released an EP, we reached out to them for an interview with us to learn more about their journey into writing and performing music, and how they are creating new liturgies for those who want to connect with faith through the musical form.

Photo Credit: Ciantelle Tienzo 

Diverging: What is the inspiration/theme behind “Was It You?” 

These songs are psalms of sorts, expressing the mourning, the questioning, the inner conflict and agony that I felt about god, that I felt about church. They sound like romantic love songs, but none of the songs on the project are about romantic love except for one. I was in a really agonized state about my faith after I began to question if I could accept myself as queer after all. Growing up, I had told myself that if the god I cared about was real, then they would have told me by now that it was okay for me to be queer. Why would god allow me to believe that being queer was wrong, and allow all my family members and my friends to tell me it was wrong? 

I had many deep spiritual experiences in church and had experienced what I believed was the holy spirit moving and guiding me. Church was one of the places where I felt the most seen and heard, and when I felt despair and loneliness in the past, I had always turned to god. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how something so good in my life could also be hurting me in such a deep way. 

When I began to realize that I wanted to accept myself and celebrate being queer, I felt so torn and unable to reconcile this with my faith because in every way, my faith and spiritual community was telling me not to accept myself. I wrote a handful of songs over the course of two or three years in college, to express all the chaos in my head. That’s where the songs on my EP come from. 

It’s strange because in many ways I’ve moved on and found peace with things—I’m now in a much more joyful place. But because I’ve written these songs, it’s like I’ve made a monument that I have to return to that reminds me of pain and mourning and love that is still there, unresolved. I’m okay with this lack of resolution for now, but maybe I’ll come back to it one day.

Diverging: What do you hope listeners can experience when listening to the album? 

I hope that people can relate to the pain and grief in my songs, and that maybe it can help folks connect to their own pain and grief. Sometimes it helps to see those emotions externally before connecting to them internally. I hope people can relax to it, I hope people can jam to it. I hope it can help people breathe when they are having a slow morning, or a late night drive, or laying in bed, or taking a walk on a rainy day. 

Diverging: How long have you been writing + performing your music? What’s your origin story? 

Haha, the phrase “origin story” makes me think of superheroes. I probably wrote my first song with a chord sheet and everything when I was 10. It was also about god but probably more inspired by generic white Christian contemporary music like Chris Tomlin and Hillsong. To give you a sense of what my music was probably like in middle school, I’m gonna share with you my first e-mail username. It was jesuschrist4ever1996@yahoo.com. Amazing, right?

But I’ve been doing small gigs here and there since late high school or early college. I began to get more serious about pursuing gigs in larger venues and festivals right after college, maybe two years ago. It was because I started kapwa the band with two friends. We talked a lot about questioning colonial Christianity and how strange it was to connect deeply with faith, even after knowing how faith was used to colonize people of color. We also made a lot of jokes together about growing up in church, about melodramatic altar calls and feeling pressured to speak in tongues. Hah.

Anyway, being in a band forced me to really advocate for our music because it wasn’t just for me, it was for my bandmates too. That’s when I started playing bigger gigs like at San Francisco Pride, International Hotel, and Off the Grid, if you’re familiar with the Bay Area. My bandmates have moved across the country and to the Philippines since then, but I’m still gigging,writing, and figuring out what I want to do with music and how to most enjoy my music. 

Poster by Chérie Zulim

Diverging: How can the PAAC community support you?

That’s a kind question. I’d ask people to publicly, thoughtfully, and at times aggressively question Christian churches and fellowships in your area if they have racist and homophobic practices. Have difficult conversations with your church members and pastors. Create new communities of faith that affirms queer people and people of color. It takes a lot of work and time to push for change, and can be draining, but it’s worth it to create communities and spaces where queer and trans people of color thrive and experience joy!

I also usually appreciate in general when people reach out to me, if you ever want to send me a sweet message at yiannmusic@gmail.com or @yiannc on Instagram. Sometimes people tag me or send me screenshots of conversations they have with friends freaking out over our music, in a good way. I hella appreciate it, it’s so sweet! I appreciate when people share my music out and look me up online. You can listen on Spotify, Apple, SoundCloud, and BandCamp. You can also listen to kapwa the band on Spotify, Apple, SoundCloud, or BandCamp. And I appreciate invitations to play paid gigs. 

Photo Credit: Matthew Evearitt of behold creators

And if people feel moved to do so, they can send me money to support my music. My Venmo is @yiann-Chou. It would be nice to have more funds to spend on music equipment, though I’m doing decent. Part of the reason my EP is acoustic and vocals only is that I didn’t have the knowledge or resources to pay a sound engineer to record and mix a track with multiple instruments. I also thought it would work for the songs I had written, but I really love playing and arranging music for live bands and want to do that for recordings. Currently I’m learning how to produce my own music at home, with the basic staples of home recording studios. I have access to a keyboard, drum set, guitar and bass now so I’ve been tracking my own music and getting really excited about new possibilities. Anyhow, thanks for asking how you all can support!

More about Yiann! Some people say Yiann’s music goes well with a cup of coffee on a slow morning, or with late night thoughts laying in bed. You usually hear chill beats, soft singing, and jazzy chords in Yiann’s music. Their songs are emotional journal entries on being queer, growing up in church, and figuring out how to love themself. Catch Yiann playing live around the Bay Area at cool shit like San Francisco Pride, International Hotel, and Smalltown Society. Or check out Yiann or their band kapwa the band on Spotify, Apple, or wherever you listen to music.

You can listen to Yiann’s music on these platforms: 

Spotify  Apple
Follow Yiann on Instagram: @yiannc

You can listen to kapwa the band on these platforms:

Spotify Apple
Follow kapwa the band on Instagram: @kapwatheband