Q&A with Vienna, May 2004

Chat and sip. Beret optional.

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Postby ShaynePepper » Sat May 15, 2004 9:32 pm

I can't think of any really great questions but here's one:

Do you plan on releasing any exclusive EPs on iTunes?
That seems like a good way to handle the bandwith issue while allowing fans to have immediate and centralized access to the music.

Thanks for coming to New Orleans, and I hope, hope, hope that you come back!
Also, thanks for playing "Cannonball" and "Homecoming" in Dallas!

My friend, Jane (who was with me in New Orleans), drove from New Orleans to Birmingham to see you play at the WorkPlay Theater. She said it was another amazing show.

Also, I think that the harmony part in "Homecoming" ... "I've got a whole congregation living in my head these days, and i'm preaching from the pulpit to cries of amen brother"is one of the top 10 moments ever put down on a record in the history of music. Right behind the guitar solo in "Let It Be" and right above the end of "Fake Plastic Trees". ;-) (YAY YOU BEAT RADIOHEAD!!!)

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Postby Jack » Sun May 16, 2004 12:56 am

Vienna, first of all, thank you for allowing questions and taking the time to answer them. My question is more one of logistics. It is apparent that your music career is taking on a certain exponential quality (tour growth, appearences/interviews, forum, CD sales, etc.) that could mean future success. How or when do you make that decision that will keep you from meeting with your fans and signing autographs?

I must tell you, that it is great watching this forum grow not only in numbers, but the locations of our fellow members from around the planet that are now hearing and sharing your awesome music. As John Denver was so fond of saying, "FAR OUT!" Continued success Lady Teng, we await your return to the Mucky Duck. :D
I told her I ain't so sure about this place<br>it's hard to play a gig in this town and keep a straight face---Shawn Mullins

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Postby Alderon » Sun May 16, 2004 1:07 am

Hi Vienna!

My question for you stems from a comment you made in answering this Q&A. You said that you felt that currently you are limited in what you are able to do as a musician. What areas are you looking to grow in (i.e. musical style or technical abilities on piano or singing or songwriting?), and how do you plan to go about it (besides taking jazz piano lessons, as you have told us about in the past)?

thanks for your time, especially since this is on your time off, and cheers!

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Postby Vienna » Sun May 16, 2004 1:22 am

So many great questions. I'm trying to take the time to answer them truthfully.

If this is your first time on the forum, by the way, welcome. :) Or maybe some of the more frequent participants should be saying "welcome," not me...

on having an Asian-American fan base:
That's a tricky one for me. Very tricky. I'm not sure how I feel about showing up at a gig and noticing that most of the audience is Asian. It happens frequently. On the one hand I can understand it; I went to see Better Luck Tomorrow simply because there has never been a film made by Asian-Americans that got so much mainstream media attention. So I realize that a lot of Asians are intrigued by the sheer novelty of what I'm doing, and if/when they find out the music is actually something they like, they're all the more compelled to tell their friends about it. So that's the natural word-of-mouth network that's developed, and I'm definitely grateful for their support. On the other hand, I'm writing music that I think (I hope!) a lot of different kinds of people can connect with, not just Asians; I hope those other people have found me too, and will continue to discover what I'm doing. And I hope that having a large part of my fan base being Asian won't be intimidating to them, somehow. A fellow recently said to me at a show: "Geez, I'm like the only white guy here!" He said it laughingly, of course, but it made me think. I don't want there to be any undertone of exclusiveness, however subtle or unintentional. I don't want anyone to come to one of my concerts and feel like he or she doesn't belong there.

There's also the responsibility aspect. One of the songs that almost made it onto Warm Strangers was called "In My Arrival," sort of my preemptive strike against being "claimed" by the Asian-American community. The second verse begins: "I am not your spotlight haven/I am not your passionate voice..." I'm wary of being a representative of Chinese America, or being a role model for others of my ethnicity. But whether I'm comfortable with it or not, that's slowly what I'm becoming, in some people's minds. I do think that if I succeed at this, along with other creative Asian-Americans, it may help expand certain parents' narrow ideas of what their children can or should do with their lives. It would be nice if a career in the arts were considered equally legitimate to a career in medicine, or electrical engineering. A society thrives when individuals are allowed to do what they do best. If I can help that along, in however small a way, that can only be a good thing.

Hmm. I don't think I answered the original question, which was "how does this affect your music or what you do?" It doesn't really, in short. I still make whatever music I want to make (or, more accurately, what I'm inspired to create — something that's not entirely in my control). The only example I can think of is the decision to make the Green Island Serenade a hidden track, rather than a listed song on the back of the CD. I didn't want to make a big deal out of the fact that I was singing in Mandarin. It's a song my parents taught me, and a beautiful piece of writing; I wanted to try covering it, that was all. But even putting it on the album has drawn attention: reviewers often make note of it, and when I perform at radio stations they usually request it. I'm still trying to figure out how to walk the line, how to acknowledge my heritage without "playing the race card." So, yeah. Tricky.

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Postby tjkyon82 » Sun May 16, 2004 2:54 am

Asian-American, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, White, Black, Hispanic...whatever other race that exists out there.....it's definitely a sensitive issue. Maybe this is a generalization, but many Asian-Americans have the tendency to compare one thing to another. I remember my parents always comparing me to other students, to my older cousins. (It still happens now) It is almost like it's expected of us to accomplish certain things; from point A to point B, no detours, no obstacles in the way. But of course, that is not how things work - my take on this is two different generation of people joined togetherl, especially the traditional Asian parents, doesn't go well together - but hey, what do I know????

Vienna, are you first or second generation Asian American?

I'm sure that everyone can relate to your music, not just Asians - I think its GREAT to see one of our kind making it big and of course, like everyone else, we are VERY HAPPY FOR YOU!!! :D

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Postby Grace » Sun May 16, 2004 5:43 am

Hi Vienna,
Thanks for the Q&A. Big fan of yours.

This may be too personal but I'm curious everytime I hear your music, I wonder and that's alot so.........

Are you religious and am subtly telling us?

Ah, the more personal, difficult question perhaps..... anti-abortion?

Sorry for the hard questions B)


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Postby Grace » Sun May 16, 2004 5:52 am


Sent to wrong area. Complex forum, too many hallways.

Planning on coming back to Indy? Loved your show there last November. Ever thought about coming to Purdue?


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Postby vinh » Sun May 16, 2004 7:02 am

hello everyone! to visitors and members, new or old, welcome! when i first appeared i was given a warm welcome, so it looks like it's my turn to welcome everyone. :) i'd say we're a friendly bunch, no one bites, so don't be shy. ^_^

hello professor,

i hope you're having a good day; i see that office hours has gotten busier. i hope we're not taking too much time from the thumb-twiddling. we all know the importance of the opposable thumbs and the need to exercise them with a good routine of thumb-twiddling and occasionally thumb-wrestling. :)

in any event, i thought i may have a different kind of question, and possibly a fun one for you.

my question is this:

what question(s) would YOU like to answer, that hasn't already been asked (here or anywhere else)?

it can be any type of question(s), it need not directly pertain to yourself even, e.g. perhaps you know a good trivia or fact you're just dying to tell someone and wish they'd ask you... such as, why the sky is blue?

and the questions themselves need not come with answers, i.e. answers are optional. though be prepared, as i'm sure many people will get curious and wanna know once you've said it. ^_^

the question is open ended. be serious if you want, go crazy if you want. have fun with it. it's all about you and not what anyone is asking of you. if it's too time consuming, or brain-racking, feel free to ignore this question. :)

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Postby ctakim » Sun May 16, 2004 7:25 am

What a great and thoughtful reply to a difficult subject. I must admit that I was initially struck by the novelty of a talented Asian woman pursuing a self-defined non-traditional career. I thought it was a great example for my own daughters. However, now that I am quite familiar with Vienna's music, I don't really think in terms of Vienna being an ethnic artist. In my view, she is an artist who happens to be an Asian American as opposed to an Asian-American artist (if that makes any sense to you all). Personally, I think Vienna's current approach is a good one. Being an Asian-American is part of who she is, but it does not define who she is.


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Postby Vienna » Sun May 16, 2004 9:02 am

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?

Well, uh, "rabid" is a relative term. I'm glad y'all seem to be well-adjusted people. For most part. ;)

I've always thought of myself as separate from my songs; in a very loose sense they're like children that I send off to college, to make friends and interact out there in the world. If you fall in love with one of them, it's the song you've fallen in love with, not me. So often I don't know what to say when someone tells me how much my music means to her, or how a certain set of lyrics really resonates with him. "I'm so glad," is all I can think to reply. It wasn't me sitting there with you with the car stereo turned up at 2 in the morning, or in your headphones at work, or at your friend's house. It wasn't me as another human being. It was something less, and something more.

You do know me, to a certain extent. You know me as I've expressed myself in songwriting — a rather deliberately chosen aspect of me, truthful but not the whole picture. And if you've come to a show, you've seen what I'm like onstage, which is a variation on what I'm like in so-called real life. You've maybe read my musings in the scrapbook or on this forum topic. There are limits to that understanding, although it's real. I don't mind people thinking they know something about who I am. It would bother me if people thought they knew me well. Or if they thought they had some kind of claim on me, just because they've gathered a lot of information. That hasn't happened yet, fortunately.

Being a performing songwriter is an interesting thing because you do get to communicate immediately on a deeper level; there's no cocktail-hour socializing, no slow creep towards familiarity over the course of months or years. You can talk immediately about death and love and spirituality, and if it works, people are moved rather than startled. The catch, of course, is that it's one-way. At the end of the night, I don't know you. And there's no good way to open that return channel. That's what makes the autograph table so awkward: what do we say to each other, now that music, the medium we connected in, is taken away? There's also the problem of simple proportion: one songwriter, one hundred listeners. It doesn't make each listener less important, when it comes to the music and the act of sharing it. But it does make it harder to forge a human relationship, when all you've got is twenty seconds and the club is closing.

This forum helps some. I get a glimpse of what some of you are like (also a narrow window, obviously). And I get to see whether I'm conveying what I meant to, or whether there's been a misunderstanding. Sometimes the misunderstandings are better than the original intent! So that's fun to watch.

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Postby Vienna » Sun May 16, 2004 9:36 am

on old songs, and whether I get tired of them:

A strange thing happens with old songs when I play them live. Everything hinges on the audience. For a lethargic or quiet (i.e. hard to read) crowd, it's work; I know how the song goes, I don't need to hear it again. It's actually stiflingly boring for me to run through old songs on my piano at home. But if the whole room is tuned in and I'm feeling warmed up and the vibe is good, all of that changes. Suddenly I want to give the best rendition of the song ever. This happens especially on nights when I'm opening for someone whose audience seems receptive. There's the thrill of playing for people who've never heard me before — who are hearing each phrase, each piano motif, for the first time. Newness for a listener translates to newness for me. Lyrics that I've sung almost ritualistically strike me anew; dynamic shifts become these joyous swells I can lose myself in for a few seconds. For some reason, that feeling is harder to summon when playing for people who I know have memorized the songs. Nights like that I try to think of the random friends they might have dragged along. :)

Of course, I'm still early into this, two albums in two years. I've no idea what it's like for Paul Simon to sing "The Sounds of Silence" almost forty years later.

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Postby mes70 » Sun May 16, 2004 7:39 pm

Hi Vienna!
I saw you live at Borders Books in Boston on your last tour. You were great. Here's <a href='http://www.steinbergphoto.com/teng1_600C.jpg' target='_blank'>one </a>of the photo's I took. We look forward to your return.


- I don't see any videos of your performances on the site. Is there a reason for this?

- Have you/would you consider doing "live" chats via this site occasionally?


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Postby Scot » Sun May 16, 2004 8:08 pm

Vienna, Wow- thanks for the wonderfully-crafted answers to my (multiple) questions! Lots of chance for follow-on discussion, but I will resist the temptation
to further clog this topic up with my words. Thanks so much, good luck and see you in Santa Fe! :>

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

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Postby Jennifer » Sun May 16, 2004 8:29 pm

Hi Vienna! I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions--not many artists out there would do that. I can't think of any questions at the moment! Jennifer

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Postby Malanai » Sun May 16, 2004 11:04 pm

Vienna wrote: Hi Penny :) Did you see I'm finally coming to Cincinnati, with Over The Rhine? I'll probably be playing a standard opener's set, between 25-40 minutes. I'll definitely be around to say hi afterwards!

I did see that, and nearly fell out of my chair in excitement! OTR is a great band, I hope you have fun opening for them. My friends have heard me rave about you for years now (!) so I'm hoping to get a large crowd to attend the show!

Thanks for answering all our questions, it's very kind of you ^_^

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