Q&A with Vienna, May 2004

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Q&A with Vienna, May 2004

Postby Vienna » Fri May 14, 2004 4:01 am

Hi everyone.

This feels strangely reminiscent of office hours in college, with professors sitting in their offices between the hours of 2 o'clock and 4, twiddling their thumbs until confused and/or eager students appear. Well, except back then I was the student, and now I'm the thumb-twiddler.

What do you want to know? :)

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Postby ctakim » Fri May 14, 2004 4:08 am

Hi Vienna:

Vinh brought up your middle name (middle stage name?) of Quan-Yin mentioned in one of your online interviews. It appears to have poetical connotations. Any official comments!

And thanks for taking our questions!


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Postby Sandy » Fri May 14, 2004 4:10 am

Would you rather play:

a) Kennedy Center

B) Letterman

c) Detroit Public School #23

d) Disney's Big Red Boat Cruise Line

e) Aunt Sylvia's living room?

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Postby vinh » Fri May 14, 2004 4:42 am

Hi Vienna:

Growing up, did you read books much? If so, what kind of books did you enjoy most? Favorites? What about now?

I've noticed that you seem to have a high "active" vocabulary, i.e. words that you can freely draw upon, and I tend to believe that people acquire most of their vocabulary from what they've read as a child. So it has me curious as to what you might've read. :)

That, and the story of Medea being greek myth, had me wondering if you were into greek mythology. ^_^

Thanks again for this opportunity. It's very kind of you.


P.S. are we allowed to ask more than one question? not that i have other questions at the moment, but just as with office hours, the professor tends to be busy and we are often limited to no more than 10 minutes. :)

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Postby pudding » Fri May 14, 2004 5:02 am

A number of questions and you can answer all/either one at your preference:

1) Where in the world would you travel to if money/time were no object?
2) What artist would you like to most record a CD with or collaborate with?

That is all for now.

Thank you for your time! :D

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Postby JayKamui » Fri May 14, 2004 5:11 am

Hey Vienna!

My question is sort of a three-pronged question, but they all go along the same vein: What do feel has been the most challenging aspect of your career so far? How did you deal with folks that didn't believe you could actually go out and pursue music as a career..? (Hearing the words "back-up plan" in a conversation is starting to make me ill anymore..) And what advice would give to any up-and-coming singer/songwriter/pianists like yourself?

Thanks for doing this--not many artists are this accessible and generous with their time. :D

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Postby Scot » Fri May 14, 2004 5:54 am

Oh Gee, no pressure. I see you're reading this topic as I try to formulate an intelligent question. (Where's zwrite when you need it?)
First of all, the journey your music has allowed me to take has been amazing; thank you very much. I've also shared your music
with many close friends and they're enjoying it, too. My wife came with me to the show in Austin as did a colleague who came for the
Blues (we all came from New Mexico) and ALL of us agreed you were the best show we saw the 4 days or so we were there.
So, first and foremost, thank you for doing what you do.

OK, a couple questions:

1) Sounds like you've been playing and writing music from a very young age- how could you NOT know this was the career for you? :> If you had to do
it differently, would you change the timing of how you entered professional music?

2) Although your music has a very Universal appeal, you have a large (although certainly not exclusive) Asian-American fan base. How has this
affected your music or what you do?

3) This rabid fan base of yours, despite most of us having never said more than a few words to you, have listened to your music, gone to your
shows, traded live CDs, debated the meanings of your songs and feel like somehow, we know you. How much does this creep you out?

4) Have you reached a truce with Mission Street?

OK, OK, I'm sure I've filled my quota already.

I hope to see you in Santa Fe (I'm working nights until the day of your gig, but what's a 5hr drive on no sleep for a Vienna Teng show?:>)!

Thanks so much!

My little attempt at a Vienna Teng WWW page (Set lists, song info., and more...)

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Postby Vienna » Fri May 14, 2004 7:07 am

on the middle name Quan-Yin:
It is a reference to the "muse" of compassion, and it is part of my invented (rather than given) name. Empathy and compassion are, strangely, things I have trouble expressing in normal life, and music has been a far more effective way for me to tell other people that I care about them. I also thought it could translate as a different homonym, to "wide shadow," since the inspiration for so many of the songs does come from a dark place. But in the end, I'm an American-born student of Chinese, and my relatives will be the first to tell you that all of the above is a bunch of naïve B.S.

on where I would rather play:
a) Kennedy Center
b) Letterman
c) Detroit Public School #23
d) Disney's Big Red Boat Cruise Line
e) Aunt Sylvia's living room

Hmm. a) Kennedy Center would be my initial response. I fancy myself a performing-arts-center sort of artist, and that would be a nice milestone, as well as a great experience. But e) Aunt Sylvia's living room has a special place in my heart. I love the intimacy of small, appreciative audiences. It's the audience that matters, really. The venue's ambiance does help, but if I can hear people exhale after a heartfelt rendition of something, that's all I'm after.

As for the others, I can live without the cruise line. Letterman was quite the publicity coup and career highlight, but TV is a weird thing, in general. Mostly you hope that the tape comes out OK. Detroit Public School #23 would be an excellent challenge. Could I win them over? Could I give them just a temporary distraction, or something more enduring?

on my reading habits, past and present:
My parents gave us kids all kinds of books growing up, fiction mostly. I remember reading the Chronicles of Narnia one book at a time, wandering around in a fantasy-novel-induced daze. We had a book called Classic Myths to Read Aloud, a pared-down and cleaned-up retelling of the ancient Greek myths. Don't remember whether Medea was in there (how would they clean that up, I wonder?), but mythology definitely intrigued me early on. My dad was generally resistant to comic books, but he bought us all the Calvin and Hobbes collections, on the theory that Calvin's impressive vocabulary would improve our own. I did learn the words "hypothetical" and "arbitrary" from Bill Watterson, I know. Along with how to spell "booger."

These days I don't read as much as I'd like, but I'm reading mostly nonfiction. I've usually needed narrative to hold my interest, but I think I feel a new urgency to understand how the real world works, rather than getting lost in an alternative one. I recently finished The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider and am now working my way through Development As Freedom by Amartya Sen, underlining as I go, to stay focused. (The man may have a Nobel and a brilliant mind, but jeez does he use a lot of passive voice...) Magazines are easier on the attention span. Harpers and The New Yorker are two of my favorites.

Someone told me that I seem "professorial" on stage. If that's a criticism, maybe I should read different stuff. :) But I don't think it was.

on travel, money no object:
Funny you should ask...let me dig in my diary for a moment:
  • Dominica (the Caribbean island with no beaches)
  • Europe: London, Tallinn, Amsterdam, Prague, and Vienna (duh)
  • New Zealand
  • Wind River Range in Wyoming

These are places I wouldn't mind going as a tourist. There are plenty more I'd love to see, but in a different circumstance: working there, maybe, or visiting friends native to the place. As I've found on tour, context is everything. My New York is not your New York.

on collaboration:
Many artists I admire probably wouldn't work well with me, because our styles are so different. Maybe that's an inferiority complex talking...I figure anyone I think is brilliant wouldn't want to write with me. :) Collaborating with Damien Rice would be interesting. We have certain sensibilities in common, but his is more deliberately raw, angrier; there's an impetuous quality to it. It'd be interesting to mix that up with the way I sing and play, and see what happens.

on challenges in the music career:
In general the most challenging part of music as a career is all the stuff you have to do that you don't care about. Especially in the beginning, there's a lot of knocking on doors, mailing packages, leaving voicemails, mostly for naught. Not to mention all the research that goes into which doors to knock on, which addresses to mail packages to, etc. You have to be a salesman for your own work, which I absolutely hated, personally. I was lucky in that I didn't have to do it myself for as long as most artists do. I was doing a pretty shoddy job of it all, and I wouldn't be here if Virt Records, Deep South, Prince/SF, Alex Ross and The Agency Group hadn't signed up and decided to believe in me. So the greatest challenge is finding those people, and rolling up your sleeves and doing the work yourself in the meantime.

Now it's easy, comparatively speaking. I do occasionally have to get up at ungodly hours and travel ungodly distances in a short time. I do have to endure a really dull interview with a bad reporter now and again, that I just know will turn into a short blurb of misprints, if that. I do have to think about where I want this whole production to go, because (amazingly enough) it is something I ultimately control, and it will go astray if I don't know what I want.

My folks, supportive though they are, still worry about me. In practical terms, a music career has a tiny success rate, and even that success has its price — in public scrutiny, in the lack of stability from touring, in the toll that can take on your personal life. You have to know what you're getting into, certainly. I probably won't be able to buy a house and squirrel away much for retirement in the next few years, like I would if I'd gone to graduate school or stuck with engineering. But I looked at it in a much simpler way: I had nothing to lose. I wanted to make music; I wanted to find out how far I could take it. The regret would be from not giving it a shot, rather than giving it a shot and failing. Going to a backup plan, if it comes to that, doesn't frighten me. I'll have found out what I need to know.

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Postby wayne530 » Fri May 14, 2004 7:46 am

Vienna wrote:on travel, money no object:
Funny you should ask...let me dig in my diary for a moment:
  • Dominica (the Caribbean island with no beaches)
  • Europe: London, Tallinn, Amsterdam, Prague, and Vienna (duh)
  • New Zealand
  • Wind River Range in Wyoming

These are places I wouldn't mind going as a tourist. 

Sorry this is a bit off-topic... I can't believe Dominica is on your list (of all the Caribbean islands). I've actually been there (several times, in fact) and the longest strip of sandy beach is less than 100 yards. I recommend the <a href='http://www.fortyounghotel.com/' target='_blank'>Fort Young Hotel</a> in Roseau.

Here are a few pictures of the "beaches" of Dominica:
<a href='http://wayne.osiriscomm.com/dom/beach2.jpg' target='_blank'>some</a> <a href='http://wayne.osiriscomm.com/dom/beach3.jpg' target='_blank'>beach</a> <a href='http://wayne.osiriscomm.com/dom/beach4.jpg' target='_blank'>pictures</a>
including a <a href='http://wayne.osiriscomm.com/dom/beach1a.jpg' target='_blank'>very odd double-sided beach</a>(?) at Scott's Head.

Happy travelling! :)


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Postby joe_mate » Fri May 14, 2004 12:45 pm

My apologies if these are answered elsewhere.

1). Since I spend most of the day staring at Microsoft Visual Studio, I would like to know which Cisco Systems location you worked at, and what you did there.

2). Although you were born in America, are there Chinese letters for your name?
<span style='color:purple'><span style='font-size:10pt;line-height:100%'>~ joe_mate</span></span>

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Postby shawn » Fri May 14, 2004 1:48 pm

Hi Vienna,

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!

Though many of us first heard about you only recently (and hopefully many more are only now beginning to discover your music), you've actually been writing songs for quite a good while. Some of your songs have been with you for nearly a decade now. Yet, for many people, those songs are still "new" to them. My question is, has your relationship with your older songs changed at all? Do you find yourself growing tired of them when people request them at your shows? Or do you find some way to keep them fresh in your mind?

Thanks again...

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Postby AlanMacF » Fri May 14, 2004 3:40 pm


What was the thinking behind the song title "The Atheist Christmas Carol"? It's has beautiful words and I know songs don't have to include the title anywhere BUT for what I would count as a song about love it would seem to suggest something else.

By the way I was the software engineer who met you at Borders in Columbia, MD and hope to see you at Black Cat on June 11th (when it will be hot and humid in DC compared to the mild warmth of Columbia in April).


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Postby Malanai » Fri May 14, 2004 3:44 pm

Hi Vienna! ^_^

I just wanted to ask a quick question or two about the upcoming shows with Mason Jennings. Do you know how long you'll be playing, and also, will you be around for chats and autographs afterwards?

Hoping to go to the Columbus and Pittsburgh shows!

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Postby Michele » Fri May 14, 2004 4:41 pm

Heard you're in a movie. True? What's the name of it?
Have you gotten your luggage back yet?
Are you gonna go to the Tori DVD screening at the Metreon? ;)
The amazon.com exclusive thing is over, can we get nicer quality versions of those tracks up somewhere?
Do you still need vid of Cowell Theater? I didn't see the post about it til now. Sadly, both of the vids we did are a little messed up. Are the pics from the photo shoot outside up anywhere?
When are you gonna play the Fillmore? ;)

(I only had three originally...bah)

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Postby Cookie778 » Fri May 14, 2004 5:42 pm

On your previous tours, what is your favourite part of the US to visit? Do you have any particular favourite venues that you like to perform in?

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