What can you tell our readers about you? How and where did it all begin?
I was born in China, moved to the US with my parents who got a scholarship to study in the US when I was 6. Grew up all over North America, following my father’s fellowships. Lived in Chicago, Calgary, Amherst, Lousiana, Texas, and California. We first started going back to China every year after the Tianmen Square Massacre because my parents were worried about our family there, and I finally moved back permanently to China about 11 years ago to start working for MTV. Hated the job so I quit less than a year in. Started my first band in China about 10 years ago, just as a hobby cause I was working as a DJ at a radio station at the time and my show was only 1 hour a day, so I had lots of off time. At the time the Indie Music scene was tiny, since then it’s exploded and I’ve watched it grow for a decade. Had no idea at the time it would become the center of my life. Things just moved in a natural fashion, maybe you can call it destiny. I had to quit some jobs to stay doing music and touring, and now it’s my career.
What had you first interested in music?
Before I could remember. My father and mother used to sing a lot, when they were courting each other. I can’t explain but it’s a really Chinese thing, you know to do duets and stuff. It’s like a birds doing mating calls. They were both sent to Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution and they would, I kid you not, literally sing to each other while herding sheep on the grasslands. It sounds romantic but my mother likes to remind me that my father had a lice problem at the time. So before I was born my parents already decided I was going to be into music, so I don’t remember when I first encountered music, but I just knew I was always doing it.
They never forced me to do anything just encouraged. I had really liberal parents compared to other Chinese parents, but we were poor so we couldn’t always afford things like instruments or lessons. But they always did what they could, maybe community workshops or the YMCA. That kind of stuff. Or taking piano lessons from friends. It was the one thing in my life that never stopped, then later at school with choir and these kind of things. I started with piano but we couldn’t afford a piano when I was growing up, so I started singing.
Who motivates or influences your quest to make great music?
My parents. I used to be really introverted as a child. My parents were poor students, I couldn’t speak the language (english) when we moved, and we always lived in areas where I was the only Chinese person they ever met. This was when everyone perception of china was rickshaws and ponytails. It wasn’t my culture so I didn’t know how to behave in social situations. We moved around every few years following scholarships cause my parents couldn’t legally work so they were always looking for fellowships that could maybe give us a touch more money to survive. I was bullied I had low self-esteem and every time I would make friends, we had to move again. But they pushed me out of my introversion through music but just filling my life with the arts even when I wanted to crawl into a cave every day.
Everywhere we went they surrounded me with intellectuals, artists, musicians, and teachers. And even through we were poor, I had a really rich upbringing. We always took time to go to Museums and watch concerts. And they taught me not to compromise, to follow an idea, even if others reject it to it’s end. That sacrifice is the only proof of true passion, and those unwilling to make sacrifices to create something, are not doing it with passion. That’s why they left a comfortable life in China to struggle in the US, because they didn’t believe in the system and they wanted a new life under a new system. That gives me the courage to do things because they provided me with the security I need to try new things and to push beyond what is pragmatic or acceptable. That comes from my family, that no matter how far I go with things, I know that even if they don’t understand what I’m doing, they will still support me with everything they have.
Tour of Australia! Then finishing up the Mix for the new album. I think we have a China and Asia tour coming up and a festival in Madagascar.
What are some of your biggest goals you hope to accomplish as an artist?
The most grandiose is maybe to change the world perception of my race. There’s a lot of endemic racism out there now about China, people used to think we were cute little people with Opium and Rickshaws, and now they feel like we’re some kind of creativity free robot land full of lemmings or some evil Orwellian super power. It’s very one-sided just like people’ understanding of Islam. China is changing so fast because it’s just waking up after a lot of bad stuff, but the people are like people anywhere in the world. There’s a diversity in my culture, and there’s a general confusion and soul searching in the people living in China. Our music represents that, and me as an individual having felt this racism all my life, doesn’t want to be looked down upon or seen as a villain anymore. Maybe more an equal with something different, unique and relevant to say. If I can do that, shock people, make them re-evaluate and question their own concepts, whether it’s at home or abroad, whether it’s about race, art, music, life, what’s good what’s bad, and reboot their brains it would be great. And the more people we can get in front of, the more people we can confuse, the better. That’s one of the reasons we don’t do things that are very “ethnic” in our music like having ethnic instruments. We don’t want to be just cast aside as a “cute” bit of exoticism we want to relate to our audience in a way where they can’t so easily discard us as being foreign and entertainingly different and have to relate to us in a much deeper and more disturbing manner. We are not musical tourism, we want to dig right for the soul.
What can fans expect from you in the coming months?
Album release. Our music is built around social concepts and a lot of personal soul searching. Their not straight up loves songs, so we wanted to make more visuals videos. To explain our world. Stuff like we did with “Beautiful Boys” which I wrote about transvestite prostitutes in Rome, but translated well to China because it’s about prostitution, surviving, family, obligation and closeted life. There’s a lot of stuff in there. We want to make lots of stories like that to match our coming album.
Success, what is the secret to it and what has been your biggest career highlight so far? Not sure if I know cause, if I knew than I would probably be more successful. For me I just work hard, and surround myself with other talented people and try and build a safe place for everyone to work on something that is grander than all of our personal egos. Just try and give everyone the feeling of security my parents gave me, so that we can focus on the story, the music, the audience. Career highlight, the response we got from the LGBT community in China for the video Beautiful Boys, the show we did at Icelandic Airwaves, the traveling to all these wonderful places. Nothing really stands out, because every day is another potential highlight. It’s not about the size of the stage, more about the feeling.
Which stars of the music industry do you find inspiring?
Patty Smith, because she really did it her own way and maybe Nile Rogers. I just saw him play and he thanked the audience and all the people like Daft Punk for giving him the “best year of his life.” It was seeing his passion for being on stage, and for what he was doing after all these ups and downs in life and how he was still humble enough to appreciate and thank those around him. That was really inspiring.
How would you best describe you and your music to your fans?
It’s like a dream, where all the pieces of your life and the deepest reaches of your emotions crowd into a dark club and do a funny little dance.
What can you tell us about your latest album?
It’s very conceptual and cinematic. Me and the band we all had a lot of things going on in our lives in the last few years, and a lot of emotional journeys and big life changes. All that wrapped in the social context of such a confusing place like Beijing. I think the album is based off a lot of fragment of images in my mind, and stories of people around me and our own stories. It’s more like a film, a really strange film like something made by David Lynch.
Are there any new exciting projects in the works?
Yeah I’m personally going to do some sort of collaboration project with in France at the Cite de la Musique, and outside of that, just our first album.
The music industry is huge, where do you see yourself a few years from now?
I don’t know, doing this maybe on bigger stages, maybe with different new concepts.
I like Cut Copy, saw Matt Corby’s show in LA and that was really good, I quite liked Architecture in Helsinki awhile back.
The shape of the music industry has changed significantly over the years, including the use of social media, how do you feel about the industry as a whole and what does it mean to you in getting your records out into the public eye?
The Social Media stuff really time consuming. It’s good that artists get their voices out, but there’s just so much noise that you have to be screaming out every day not to drown. The thing is I spend I think 90% of my time promoting myself these days and not working on the music. I know that this is just a step in the process and I like going directly to our fans, but everyone these days become so busy building a cult of personality, that we occasionally lose the plot. I try and do it every day, but I’m trying to focus less and less on that now. As we are doing better now we can work with more people who help us with that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to spend a few hours answering interviews everyday. That’s why I like getting involved in the video making process or going to the studio. At the end of the day, having a solid something, giving birth to something, is so much more fulfilling than just maintaining an online presence.
As for the music industry, the work-finanical reward is really off balance, it’s still nice that I’m afforded this amazing life. Nova Heart’s only been around since 2011 and we’ve done super well for a relatively new act especially coming out of China. I think we did it cause we have a good management team and lots of friends and we work with good people. I mean that’s the lesson I think I took from all this, it’s always important to work with people who are willing to fight for you when nobody else will, because the most powerful ones are often times the ones that care least about the music or the artist. And yes, this industry sucks!!! There’s no doubt about it, so protect yourself with honest people who are there for your best interest and who will stay loyal to you through the ups and downs. You will occasionally have to work with people you don’t trust, but if you have those people protecting you it makes things so much better. Loyalty runs both ways, and loyalty pays.