Q&A with Vienna, May 2004

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Ang Mo
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Postby Ang Mo » Sun May 16, 2004 11:37 pm

I want to ask you many questions, but I keep it them to a reasonable quantity.

1. Are you lonely? I mean this in the sense that you are probably travelling all the time, don't get to spend time with family and friends as much, and because there are no set hours or schedule for work to speak of it must be hard to plan time around just your own personal space and activities. Have other friends settled down and started families while you have been travelling about all over the country

2. Now that you have achieved your goal to become a singer, and have two albums out, performed on national tv, and radio, does it still give you excitement and enjoyment doing it. I guess what I am trying to ask is, is it better being a known singer now, then simply being at your old job dreaming of being a singer? Is having, better then wanting?

3. Have you ever thought about performing overseas like Japan, Taiwan, or Hong Kong?
Pascal told only half the story. He said man was a thinking reed. What man is, is a thinking reed and a walking genital."

hiro
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Postby hiro » Mon May 17, 2004 1:12 am

Hi Vienna,

On the subject of the large Asian American fan base, it can be a long, drawn out philosophical discussion. But I guess what it boils down to is this - you can only be you. You can't control how or why other people are drawn to you. Some of us are drawn to you because of your music, some of us are drawn to you because of the "novelty," while others are because of your ethnicity, and whatever other reasons. There's really nothing you can do about it. If you were a punk rocker, you certainly would have a very different fan base, but that would not be you, would it? Or let's say if you had put in "In My Arrival" instead of the "Green Island Serenade" in the Warm Strangers album, you might also have slightly different fans and followers, I don't know. But you made a conscious decision of not putting in In My Arrival. And that, I think, is significant in saying something about you.

But you are in control of how much you want us to know about you. Like you said, your art is only a part of you. Whether you want to let us know more about you is up to you. People come in and out of our lives for different reasons. Your fan base will also change as you grow, both as a person and as an artist. Sometimes what we reveal about ourselves have unintended consequences - witness the Dixie Chicks.

And my final question on this topic to you is, if it turns out that the major percentage of your fan base is consistently Asian, is that... bad?

Sorry for the long-winded rant. I guess I am not trying to make any concrete point, and I didn't really mean to take up any more bandwidth with a discussion that probably belongs in the Socrate's Cafe. Take care.

[/end rant]

Vienna
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Postby Vienna » Mon May 17, 2004 1:48 am

Thanks to all of you for your stories, encouragement, insights and great questions. I wish press interviews were always this interesting! I guess that would require all reporters to be devoted fans, though. Well, one can dream.

Time for another easy-ones-first post. I've been trying to answer them in the order asked, but some require a bit more thought.

on the background of the title for "The Atheist Christmas Carol":
It was the working title that stuck. I sat down at the piano sometime in December or January a few years ago and started singing images that came to mind when I thought of Christmas. Most of the impromptu lyrics didn't make it into the song ("It's the season of gift wrap and tinsel and pine needles in the carpet..."), but the chorus came immediately: "Don't forget I love you." I knew it was a Christmas carol. But it wasn't a Christmas carol in any traditional sense, not even in the "Silver Bells" or "Let It Snow" sense. So I tagged it with the name "Atheist" because I couldn't think of anything more accurate. This is what an atheist might contemplate around the holiday season, I thought. Kinship and community, human beings' own potential to rescue each other, a little warmth in the long winter.

When we got into the studio I hadn't thought of a proper title, and other people seemed amused by what I was calling it, so it stayed. It also seemed like a way of counterbalancing Shasta and Homecoming, both of which have distinct Christian overtones, and maybe part of me wanted to startle people back into uncertainty about what my own beliefs are. (Grace asked about religion and abortion...will get to that, eventually.)

on favo(u)rite places to visit and play:
There are a lot. Austin. Philadelphia. Washington DC. Lansing. Boston. New York. Chicago. Charlotte. Dallas. Atlanta. It's interesting to find out where the best live-show audiences are, because it's not simply a matter of numbers. Some audiences are attentively quiet, which is nice but not great since I can't tell how things are going over. Some audiences cheer loudly but they're rowdy too, and I'm never sure how to deal with that. And some nights, actually, the audience can be perfectly fine, but a bad monitor mix or a nagging cough or a general inexplicable out-of-it-ness can put a serious damper on the show. The best nights are the ones where I'm in good form, the room is full, and it's silent during the songs, but in between I can sense the people respond. They exhale. They laugh. They yell out requests and encouragements and snappy one-liners. There is an energy an audience feeds to the person on stage, and it's crucial to a good performance. It's not really something you can teach, but the crowds in some cities seem to know it intuitively.

It's also completely unrelated to how much I like the city on its own terms. :) I don't think I would move to Charlotte or Dallas of my own accord, but some of my favorite shows have been in those towns. I love Portland, but I've yet to headline there and walk out of the club with the endorphins still going.

on playing with Joan Baez:
I've heard conflicting reports about other people's experiences touring with Joan Baez, but we had a great time. I confess I didn't really get to meet Joan in any meaningful sense; she was in a mood for privacy, partly for health reasons, on two out of the three nights we played, so all we got was a hello and a hug when she walked off stage in Seattle. The last night, though, she was gracious enough to come out and listen to our set, and to invite us up to her bus after the show was over. So it wasn't like we became friends or anything, but at least I got the sense she was glad we were there. What made the whole thing a great experience, actually, was the rest of the people: the crew, especially Crook the tour manager, and the band, a handful of very funny, friendly and talented guys. And the audience was like none other. Not to dis my own fans, but I couldn't believe how amazing Soon Love Soon sounded with 500 Joan Baez fans chiming in. Boy, those ex-hippies can sing. ;)

on the Green Island Serenade video:
That was filmed at various locations around the Bay Area in February, right before I left for tour, and it aired on China Crosstalk while I was on the road. The project was a gift from the producers of China Crosstalk, who really wanted a video made for the one song I sing in Chinese. The filming of it was sort of weird and stressful for me, and I haven't seen it yet. In fact I'm going to the director's house right now to watch it...seeing myself on videotape always makes me cringe, so we'll see how this goes. :) I'm not sure whether we're going to do any wider release, because I never meant for my cover of the Green Island Serenade to get this much attention. But we'll see.

AlanMacF
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Postby AlanMacF » Mon May 17, 2004 3:07 am

Vienna,

Thanks for answering my previous question. Concerning arrangements for songs, are there are songs which you have recorded that you now think could be re-arranged? Have you considered using a complete orchestra in your recording or is that too expensive or maybe not in the plans at all? I think of some of the music as the Beatles evolved where different instruments were added to the basic guitars and drums. I realise that re-production on tour would be a problem but with your classical training have you ever thought, or even wrote, the music for other instruments within your music?

How about duets trio's ? Is there anyone you would like to sing perform with? Or maybe you have and it was impromptu.

This is a great idea of yours for Q&A. Thank you so much for this opportunity, to hear from the real person. Can't wait for the DC show in June.

Alan

Cookie778
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Postby Cookie778 » Mon May 17, 2004 4:20 am

Hi Vienna,

In regards to your future succcess in the music world...where do you see yourself in 2 years? 5 years? 10 years down the road?

I know that touring on a regular basis is hard, i.e. as in getting up early, meeting with various reporters, traveling for a long time, sleeping in a different hotel every night, etc. What is your favourite thing about touring? is it meeting the new fans(as well as seeing familiar faces who know and love your music), performing in different music venues, opening for other fantastic musicians?? What is the least favourite thing about touring?


How did you meet Kyler?

who is your favourite musician(s) to listen to while you are travelling to different venues across the country?

Vienna
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Postby Vienna » Mon May 17, 2004 7:28 am

on children, non-metaphorical:
I've always assumed I would be a mother. I don't know when, at this point. The recording artist's is an unpredictable journey, and I can't tell from here when I'll be in a position to provide for a child. Touring with an infant is out of the question; some people can do it, but I know I couldn't. So it would have to be in a very different phase of things. In the meantime, I have the luxury of thinking about children from an outside observer's point of view, the hypothetical view of the fiction writer. No diaper changes, no scattered toys everywhere, no chicken pox. I try to be as accurate as possible, in imagining what it's like, but I know that songs I write after I have kids will come from a profoundly different place. I'll probably write less; energy is finite and most of it will probably be channeled elsewhere. But I also think parenthood will open up new strengths and vulnerabilities, and I look forward to seeing what music I create then.

on Glen Phillips:
Thanks to one of those your-people-talking-to-my-people arrangements, I got to hang out briefly with Glen backstage at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last year. He was gracious, self-effacing, down-to-earth, and I think I was sort of awkward in my starstruck-ness. (Incidentally, he played a great show. Also incidentally, Noe Venable opened for him, which is where I met and heard Alan Lin for the first time.) But the reason Glen is in the thank-yous of Warm Strangers is because I called him a few weeks later looking for counsel, specifically about management: what they're for, what to expect and what not to, how to tell when you have good management or bad. He took the time to answer those questions, and I'm still following that advice today. I actually don't know whether he likes my music. I'd been working on a cover of "Maya," from Abulum, and I gave him a copy of a rough take at Great American, which in retrospect was a bad move (it was a pretty rough take!). So I've no idea whether the respect is mutual, but I'm indebted to him, for giving me something I needed to keep my career on course.

on whether having the musical life is better than wanting:
Infinitely so. I recently figured out a trick for telling the difference between my daydreams: the ones worth pursuing I see from the first-person perspective, and those that aren't I see from a third-person perspective. Five years ago, whenever I pictured being a musician, I imagined the view from the stage in a theater; I thought of sitting at my piano at home and playing back a tape recorder; I visualized chatting with a radio host with a studio mic hanging in front of me. The other fantasies — of being a physician, an actress, a CIA operative — were video documentaries of me, an external camera following my imaginary self around. They were dreams of what it would be cool to look like, rather than what it would be cool to do. The latter is much more truthful about what you'd be getting yourself into. And a life in music has pretty much turned out to be what I thought it would be. It's tiring at times, frustrating, exhilarating, nerve-wracking, startling, but always deeply gratifying. I'm doing what I love, and I'm very grateful.

Jessi
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Postby Jessi » Mon May 17, 2004 6:23 pm

My grandma would like to know when you'll be putting your latest album out on cassette? Because how else do you expect to be successful without cassettes available for "us old fogies who don't have all this new technology." :P

pudding
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Postby pudding » Tue May 18, 2004 2:48 am

Hi Vienna:

To reiterate...thank you very much for taking the time to answer all of our questions. You must be busy preparing for your tour once again but we appreciate that you stopped by to "chat" with us. Hope you received your luggage!

I have an easy question...one off the beaten path..but just to get to know a little bit about the person behind the music without being intrusive. What is your favorite type of food/meal?

Thanks again! :D

vinh
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Postby vinh » Tue May 18, 2004 3:35 am

ah! pudding reminded me of the question i had. ^_^ thanks pudding!


Ms. Teng! Ms. Teng! *raises hand*

Vienna's Kitchen, the forum says, "She's a helluva chef." :) are you really? what would be your most killer dish? :P any plans to take on the Iron Chefs?


Momma always said to say your peas and tank yous. :) But seriously, thanks for this wonderful opportunity for us to interact with you, it's much appreciated. Apologies if I'm being too silly, figured we could use a bit of it. :)


I see that your next tour date is in 2 days, you must be busy. There was no set date when this Q&A would end, so perhaps a good question to ask is when should we stop posting questions?

AlanMacF
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Postby AlanMacF » Tue May 18, 2004 3:59 am

Vienna,

That was a good question by Vinh. So since we don't know when this Q&A will end here's another question.

Of all the music you have written which one(s) are you the most proud of? If by some strange quirk that's not your favourite then what would that be?

I told you that I loved "Momentum" and you said "Thanks" (See one of your previous answers on what you say to people who say they like or identify to one of your songs).

Thanks again,

Alan

Vienna
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Postby Vienna » Tue May 18, 2004 7:19 am

on my political/religious views:
After I mentioned that I'd be getting to this topic eventually, I got an email from a thoughtful reader, saying "my two cents: proceed with caution." Better to be heard on the basis of openmindedness, he wrote, than to be pigeonholed as an advocate for one view or another. That's more or less what my sentiments are. I try to write songs from an openminded place; I'm not trying to "get my message out" because I have no message, per se. A lot of the time my songs speak from points of view that aren't my own, especially the songs on Warm Strangers. I am not the woman handing out pamphlets by the clinic door in "Shasta." I am not the impatient protagonist in "Hope On Fire." I'm not the parent in "Anna Rose," and clearly I'm not the ghost in "Passage." These are roles I take on, characters I can sympathize with. Actors inhabit their skin on screen or on stage, and novelists bring them to life in prose — I'm attempting to capture them in four-minute pieces of music. They may be people I agree with or people on the other side of a divide, but the common thread is that I think I understand them. Maybe that's my message, if anything: try to understand others, whether they're naturally familiar to you or not. The world is better off when we can imagine standing in each other's shoes.

That said, you can occasionally infer some things about my viewpoint on certain issues. The CD booklet of Warm Strangers notes that part of the proceeds will go to Amnesty International and the Union of Concerned Scientists. I've mentioned reading books that call for revisions to current economic theory. But in general I'm most comfortable having the music speak for itself, without any implication that I've got some sort of agenda. I have my opinions, but they're works in progress.

Vienna
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Postby Vienna » Tue May 18, 2004 7:22 am

My grandma would like to know when you'll be putting your latest album out on cassette?
For this situation, I think you can invoke the Grandma loophole in the general rule against piracy. :) At least write my name on the little sticker, if you would.

laru
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Postby laru » Tue May 18, 2004 7:29 am

Hi Vienna! I just want to say I'm pretty new here, I'm not asian and I loved your singing the moment I heard you.

Its amazing you are taking the time to come here and answer so many questions. We love all your interesting stories how songs are written, and your journal. I don't have a question now for you, just my admiration, lol. I just want to say you're amamzing with your singing AND songwriting! :)

Klaorman
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Postby Klaorman » Tue May 18, 2004 9:48 am

Hi Vienna,

I've always wondered about the following about other singer/songwriters, but since you've so generously offered to answer our questions (thank you!), I'll ask you: When you write your songs, do you write the whole arrangement, which includes all of the other instruments plus other sound effects? If not, who writes the other parts? The other musicians? The producer? Do you all collaborate to figure out how to best present your songs?

Thanks, and see you in October, if not earlier!

Klaorman
Klaorman

TRM
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Postby TRM » Tue May 18, 2004 1:49 pm

Hi Vienna,

Thanks for your answer to the politics/religion question, in my view a perfect response. I join many others in thanking you for initiating this Q&A, and appreciate learning more about you. And I especially respect you for your instinctive understanding of the relationship between an artist and her fans, with your sincere effort to share something of yourself, and yet keep some things private. Besides, one of the things I like about your music is an element of mystery: your songs always make sense and say something concrete and intelligible, but they also have an air of mystery, of something more there than is apparent on the surface. And you are yourself the more intriging as you tell us something, but not everything.

My question: You seem comfortable in many musical styles, and I was wondering whether that facility is mostly intuitive, or whether you are into music theory and whether that is an important part of your creative process?

TRM


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