YOYO: Exclusive interview with Truth In Shredding

When I’m looking out for very talented players I’m normally finding potentially great future players starting to make a name for themselves in their early to mid teens. So I was mighty surprised, when I came across videos of a very young but super talented player from China. Her name is YOYO, and she has been wowing guitar video fans with her accurate representations of complex guitar virtuoso pieces that players twice her age often struggle to reproduce.

Far beyond the sun - Yngwie, YOYO cover(live version)

I’ve been watching and listening to guitar since the early seventies and watched the guitar scene ebb and flow, genres arrive and decline. One of the latest trends has been the increase of female players in it’s nice to see a new trend arriving, one where very talented young female musicians are starting to make their mark on the global guitar scene.

You can check them out yourself on YouTube, players like Li-sa-X, Ayu Gusfanz, and JiYeon Lee. I am fascinated and hooked at the potential of these incredible players, can they break out of the prodigy stage and onward into writing and performing original music? So in this interview I set about talking to YOYO, who is currently studying school at home because of the global pandemic, to get some of her precious time and find out a little more about this sensational player.

YOYO Guitar Cover Steve Vai—《For The Love Of God》

[Truth In Shredding] At what age did you first start playing a musical instrument? Did you choose the instrument or your parents, and what was it? Are your parents musical, do they play instruments?

[YOYO] I started playing guitar in May, 2013 when I was six years old and doing my first year at primary school. In China, most children born in the past forty years are in a single child household with their parents. As a result, we have the nickname “a pearl in the palm”, which is a Chinese phrase that means the apple in the eyes of the other family members. In my case, I am the pearl in the palms of my grandparents and parents.

Dream Theater - The Best of Times - Cover by YOYO - A 10 year old girl

However, like many other single-born children, I do not have siblings to play with. My parents are doctors and have very busy working schedules. In 2013, right before the 2-month summer break, my dad thought I might be lonely at home because there weren’t many kids in my community that I could play with, and I shouldn’t always have to stay with my grandparents, therefore my dad suggested that I learn a musical instrument, so I might meet some other kids at the same age.

At that time, the purpose was just to kill the lonely summer. Although my dad promised me that I could learn whichever instrument in the music store, my initial and final choice was the guitar. My father used to always play guitar at home, which had some influence on me. Therefore, even before learning guitar, I had some positive feelings towards the instrument.

When I was in primary school, he always taught me to sing children’s songs accompanying me on guitar. My mum, on the other hand, wasn’t so interested in music. My mum wanted me to study more and do better on the academic side, so I could go to a top university and find a decent job in the future. So, she frequently suggested that I take some after-school academic lessons. Sometimes my parents could not agree on music or an academic both having differing opinions but music won out. So, even though I found it harder studying at school without extra academic lessons, I still felt lucky that I didn’t take them, which gave me more time to play guitar (my classmates envied me for that reason, too).

A 9 year old girl YOYO(Pinxi Liu)Cover Angel Of Darkness-Andy james

[Truth In Shredding] I know piano is quite popular amongst those who learn to play music. Do you play any other instruments?

[YOYO] Indeed, piano is one of the most popular instruments in China. Many parents want their kids to learn piano because of the rumour that playing piano can make one classy. My dad can play a little bit of piano. Although he cannot play piano fluently, he is good enough to accompany my singing.

Because my dad is a music lover, there are many musical instruments at home, like piano, electric piano, harmonica, Cajon and etc. I do play those instruments for fun, but I have not practiced hard on them. For piano, I can only play some simple chords; but I am not bad on Cajon.

Cross-Ozielzinho, Cover by 8 year old girl YOYO(Pinxi Liu) from China

[Truth In Shredding] Quite often I see musicians that are polymaths? Do you have any other areas of interest, like art, design, mathematics that you are interested in and you study or observe?

[YOYO] My parents’ generation grew up in a social environment that had fierce peer competitions, so they paid attention to their children’s future developments at an early age. Most Chinese kids received art education because many thought knowing arts could make themselves more competitive than others, or make them more popular among peers. Another reason is that many parents are often occupied by their heavy work schedules. So unfortunately they do not have enough time to hang out with their children all the time. On the other hand, my school’s academic lessons are really difficult, especially mathematics. Even though I am not interested in academics, I have spent enormous time on my academic studies because I have to finish my school work.

I frequently work with HOHO Zhou, a Chinese artist, also a metalhead. She was born in an artistic family and raised in Germany. Her father is a top-tier artist in China and has some well-known paintings.

I once performed in an art exhibition as part of an art work, in front of many well-known Chinese artists. I was proud of my performance, and I also saw some great art works at the exhibition.

I enjoy visiting artists’ working studios and I like their Utopian lifestyles. Although I am interested in art design, I do not have that much time to learn the skills. Therefore, I like to participate in art as a fan rather than a creator.

[Truth In Shredding] I often ask this question of talented musicians. As well as hearing music, do you see music as colours (synesthesia) . Do you have perfect pitch? Or is it that you have learned pitch ?

[YOYO] Rather than seeing music as colors, I see music as a language- everyone knows at least a little bit, everyone can participate in his or her own way, and everyone can enjoy music.

I have had some ear training lessons, so I have relative pitch. But I do not have perfect pitch. My dad thinks it is not a pity that one does not have perfect pitch since having perfect pitch is not essential for learning music, as well as not a required condition for succeeding in music.

[Truth In Shredding] I know you study very hard at school. How do you get time to practice the guitar? Has learning the guitar helped you in your schooling? Would you wish there was more time to improve your guitar skills?

[YOYO] When I was in primary school, I played guitar for an hour almost every day, and I also had some extra time to play with other kids. However, since I went to junior high school, I only had about half an hour a day to practice guitar. School starts at 6:45 in the morning. Even after that and me going back home at around 9pm after evening lessons, I still have homework to kill. So, it is always between 10:00 to 10:30pm when I finish my late dinner and homework.

I know half an hour is not enough for achieving something on guitar, which can only keep me from falling back. Surely, I hope I have more time practicing guitar and learning music, but it is not realistic for me to give up academic studies. I have to say thanks to guitar for making it possible for me to go to different places, go to different countries to see different cultures, and communicate with people that have different cultural backgrounds, which all help me know the world better.

Cliffs Of Dover - Eric Johnson - Cover by YOYO

[Truth In Shredding] Do you listen to specific types of music or all music? Do you listen to jazz music for example, or any other style? I know Li-sa-X likes Polyphia for example.

[YOYO] I like all types of music, especially rock songs and guitar tunes. I also listen to pop music so I know better about what is going on in the music industry and have more topics in common with my classmates.

But honestly speaking, I do not listen to Jazz very much.

[Truth In Shredding] LOL, yes I wasn’t expecting you to like jazz. Perhaps you can list a top 10 of albums that you listen to? What are your current favourite individual pieces of music?

I rarely listen to a full album, from the first track to the last one. My time doesn’t allow me to do that either. Normally, I can tell which song is my “cup of tea” after my first time listening, and then I will select it and repeat it. Then, I will add it to a playlist and repeat the playlist. Therefore, I don’t have Top 10 Albums, because I only have my Top Selections in a playlist. Maybe I will have my list of Top 10 Albums in the future?

It is also common for me, when I start listening to a particular genre, just for learning something different, and then I fall in love with that type of music. These days, I listen to Extreme a lot, as well as other Funk music. I recently did a cover of Tomo Fujita’s Just Funky, you may want to check it out if you are interested:

Just Funky - Tomo Fujita - Cover by YOYO

A 10 year old girl YOYO(Pinxi Liu)Cover Fuzz Universe-Paul Gilbert

[Truth In Shredding] Who are your main guitar player influences? Who are the best Chinese guitar players you know? Do you have musical influences outside of guitar?

My main influences are John Petrucci, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Andy James and so on. I can always learn a lot from them. Besides guitarists, I listen to David Garrett a lot. There are many great guitarists in China as well, but I don’t think I can rank them or comment on them specifically.

Among those musicians I do know, I think Y. Z. Tan (who is also my music teacher) has the best musicianship. Although he is a keyboardist officially, he can play guitar really well. He studied music in Canada and had a career in the pop music industry after returning back to China in 2004. Besides, he is also doing extremely well on playing other instruments like bass, drums and keyboard.

Tan is referred by the media as one of the Godfathers of Chinese Music Industry because he is one of the most famous music producers in China. He builds a dreamy music studio at home, which is like a museum of synthesizers.

[Truth In Shredding] How do you view the world of a female musician, do you think it's more difficult for you to be recognised as a legitimate player being female, or do you think it has no impact on you at all?

I have never been disturbed by being a female musician because everyone treats me nicely. I don’t know the situation in Western countries, but I think being a female musician is advantageous in Chinese music industry. In China, a female musician has better chances of getting audiences’ attention so she is more likely to succeed.

Wonderful Slippery Thing - Guthrie Govan - Cover by YOYO - A 11 year old girl

[Truth In Shredding] You have been successful in gaining a number of endorsements with music equipment manufacturers. Can you tell us that and about the gear you have.

Yes, I currently use ESP, EII and Maton guitars, JOYO pedals and Orange OR15 Amps.

I would like to recommend a JOYO 2×4 Stereo Pedal MINI Guitar Amp- Jam Buddy. It is a mini-size amp with three channels- Clean, Classic Overdrive and Hi-Gain, Delay Effect, and a built-in lithium battery. It sounds good at an affordable price. Moreover, its small body allows me to put it in my guitar cases. When I travel, I always take it with me so I can practice as I go.

[Truth In Shredding] There is a term called GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) that most musicians get. If you had a free choice on what gear you might like, what would that be, that could be recording software, laptops, pedals, cameras, you name it.

To be honest, this is my first time hearing this term. I know many guitarists’ houses are packed by their equipment because they collect musical instruments like artworks- I think it is normal for musicians (my teacher Y. Z. Tan has a house full of synthesizers). However, I am not keen on purchasing more instruments because I like to solve problems with simple methods.

Because of school, I rarely perform in different cities. My parents do not want my musical activities to negatively affect my school performance. Furthermore, they do not want me to be too commercial at a relatively early age. As a result, they only admit me going to some large events, or events that are meaningful or influential. Therefore, I only perform two or three times a year.

I value every chance that I perform in public. At the same time, I want relaxing and enjoyable travel experiences. When I perform, I may need multiple guitars to fit different music genres. However, if I take two different guitars or more, plus luggage, the whole trip might be energy consuming. Therefore, I prefer simple setups so I can enjoy my time on the road.

[Truth In Shredding] You went to Japan and met and recorded with Li-sa-X, can you tell us a bit about that experience? Would you like to work with Li-sa-X in the future?

[YOYO] Yes. In 2017, I went to Japan with my father. When we got there we had dinner with Li-sa-X’s family, we discussed things to do and agreed that we should play guitar together. The next year, Li-sa-X invited me to work together on one song from her album, an offer that was supported by her record label. Therefore, we filmed the video together in Japan. We spent half a day together. Most of the time we were working on preparations, while the filming took less than half an hour. Li-sa-X, her father, and Sony Music’s crews were very professional and efficient.

I learned a lot from the experience and I was also influenced a lot by it. So, I started thinking about my own licks and music ideas, in the hope of making my own album one day.

Besides, I played with Li-sa-X again in 2019 Music China, and your Youtube channel has that video.

Li-sa-X & YOYO Liu GUITAR LIVE@MUSIC CHINA 2019 - Shanghai

[YOYO’s Father] YOYO and her teacher Y.Z. Tan both have the idea of making YOYO’s original album. However, I know making the album means she needs to work harder, learn more, gain more experiences to get better music ideas.

Besides, she needs a professional arranging team, a professional producer, a better-quality recording studio, and more financial investments. After realizing all the factors, I know it is a tough job that might be impossible to be achieved in a short term unless we invest an enormous time.

Maybe signing a record label can make it easier for us to make an album. Actually, several record labels have talked to us about it in recent years. However, signing a record label means many limits and more commercial activities, which makes it a double-edged sword.

Every coin has two sides. I think YOYO is too young to be limited and controlled by record label’s deals, so I refused their offers. YOYO is ambitious, as well as anxious about making her album, which makes me feel that I might have made a mistake by rejecting those offers while putting too much burden and pressure on her to think about it on her own.

However, I will always be supporting YOYO’s dream of making her original album with my full ability. But at this moment, I have to persuade her to slow down. For her, there is still plenty of time ahead so she does not have to push herself.

[Truth In Shredding] You have played live at the big Shanghai music trade festival. What was it like playing in front of an audience, how did you prepare for that?

I go to Music China (official name for Shanghai music trade festival) every year. For me, it is like a holiday that I can meet friends that only meet once a year. Every time the Music China ends, I start looking forward to the next one. Haha, I met some great players like Andy James, Jennifer Batten, Douglas Aldrich, Alex Hutchings there, and I even played with Takayoshi Ohmura, which was a wonderful experience.

YOYO Guitar Show Time Amazing Guitarist!!

[Truth In Shredding] Wow that’s awesome Takayoshi Ohmura is a brilliant player.

[YOYO] Because I don’t have enough live experience, I actually feel very nervous every time before getting on the stage. I am afraid of making mistakes. I think the audience can tell that I am nervous. To some extent, being nervous is like my performing style. LOL, I guess I just need more live experiences.

I normally play a 30-minute set. Because most of the tunes I choose are technical, I need to prepare about one month before the show. However, each day I can only practice less than one hour (because of school). In 2017 and 2018, I had more time practicing so I was better prepared for each show. As a result, I felt less nervous during the performance and I thought the two years were my best time (so far) playing live.

[Truth In Shredding] if you could play with any guitar players who would you pick to play and why would you want to play with them, or even get guitar lessons from them?

Among those guitarists I have seen live, Andy James, Takayoshi Ohmura, Douglas Aldrich, Alex Hutchings are extremely awesome. Live, their stage sound, is almost perfect to me, it’s almost like I am listening to recordings.

In Music China, I almost had opportunities to play with Andy James, Douglas Aldrich, Ozielzinho. However, because of language barriers, I missed those chances. So, I made the determination that I should learn English really hard.

There was once a rumour that Dream Theater was going to perform in China. I was really looking forward to it. However, it actually proved itself to be nothing but a rumour.

I really hope I can see Dream Theater live someday. If I can be a guest and feature on a solo, that would be a huge dream come true. As the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma said, “keep your dream alive, because it might come true someday.”

Glasgow Kiss - John Petrucci - Cover by YOYO

[Truth In Shredding] This pandemic has been a terrible strain on all around the globe. How have you and your family coped with Covid-19?

We are living in a city that is about 150 kilometers from Wuhan. However, the Covid-19 didn’t hit my city that seriously. My parents are doctors. During the epidemic, my dad fought the Covid-19 at the frontline in a local hospital. Due to the concern of bringing the virus back home, he lived alone in a hotel that was selected by his hospital for a month without going back home.

Before my father left to do his job, he bought enough food for us. Also, he left me the job of supervising my grandparents and preventing them from going out, because the virus is more dangerous for old people than me.

I have been taking online lessons at home. Those lesson contents are not very different from in-person school lessons’, so I need to sign in, answer teachers’ calls, participate, and so on. Actually, online lessons make me even busier than studying in a classroom. I only have one day off a week. On the day that I do not have to take online lessons, I usually watch some anime movies on my computer and play guitar.

[Truth In Shredding]
Thank you so much for your precious time. The very best of luck with your school studies and your musical progress. My best wishes to you and your family and stay safe.

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