Q&A with Vienna, February 2005

Chat and sip. Beret optional.

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Postby Scot » Mon Feb 14, 2005 10:01 pm

Hi Vienna!
Hope you're getting a break and enjoying time at home in beautiful SF!

First- your question:
My #1 critieria is emotion - the song must be performed with emotion - no wimpy music please. That can be done by
the tune, the lyrics, the pre-/post-song discussion (if live), but it must be there. There's nothing worse than seeing
a band play live that is just up there going through the motions. Ditto with recorded music- there has to be some
substance. The best songs have all: an emotionally-connected stories, stirring lyrics, and a strong tune. (Sound
familiar? :>)

Now a few of my questions, since you so bravely opened yourself up for them:
1) What's your ultimate success dream? Sold out Madison Square Gardens, a
long career of intimate performances, an acting role, etc.?

And since it's unfair to ask if I don't answer them myself. For me, I'm just hoping to stay
employed in the field, and continue to find time to make at least moderate new finds and
discoveries. If I end up getting paid for management, that's OK, as long as I have some
research time and results as well.

2) What music do you like that you are almost embarrassed to admit?

Not sure how I would answer this one - maybe Prince. I do like Prince and in some circles,
that woudl be embarrassing to admit, I suppose. He does usually put feeling behind his songs,
though! :> Some of the early 80's stuff I dismissed then as trash is now sort of nostalgic. Sigh.

3) And inspired by Erik, what was the first record/CD/tape/8-track:>/whatever you bought youself?

For me, it was "Love the One You're With" the Isleys.

Thanks, Vienna and hope you have a wonderful Valentine's day!

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

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Postby Jack » Mon Feb 14, 2005 10:50 pm

Vienna poses a great question...what is it in the music we listen too, that makes us like it?

I come at music from a very basic premise...first, my age allows me the fact that I've listened to music since before there was genre known as Rock-n-Roll. I have no training whatsoever in any music discipline, and like the bumblebee, I therfore am not jaded by right or wrong. Most importantly in my opinion, is like so many here at the Forum, I tend to listen to all genres of music and am pleased when someone shows something new. I know what I like and dislike, either when I hear it, see it or read it.

I am lyric driven and the writers whose music I gravate towards must have depth and meaning. If I wanted music only to rhyme, then I would go to the children's area at Barnes & Noble.

I often imagine the wonder of penning great lyrics or scoring music and to me, those that do it and do it well with success, may be like the ol' bumblebee, not knowing aerodynamically that it can't fly...but just does it.
You do it because you can. I can take photos, but I can't do what Eric Cheng does with a camera and no amount of instruction can take me there...he does well because he can. Look at any other profession...especially in the arts and I feel you will find the same.

Vienna, thank you so very much for allowing us a look inside. Best wishes for 2005 to you and yours.
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 Vienna » Tue Feb 15, 2005 12:52 am

This is definitely a lot harder than the average press interview! In a good way, though.

On what ultimate success would be:

At the risk of sounding too vague, success would simply mean being really good at what I do, and being recognized for it. I'd like to become a really solid musician: to be able to sightread music and to improvise, and to play anything at the piano that I can dream up in my head. I'd like to be able to pick up a few other instruments and play them decently. I don't have to produce or engineer all my own recordings, but I'd like to be comfortable behind the board. I'd like to know my voice intimately, so that singing is purely an act of expression, rather than the half-technical endeavor that it currently is. And I'd like to become a truly skilled songwriter — writing is still clutching in the air for me, which is why I'm so slow at it, and I think with time and practice it'll become a less mystifying process.

I'd like to look back on my career at the end of it and know that I'd written some beautiful songs, that I'd grown and evolved as I discovered new influences, and that I'd done something creative and meaningful with my time. To know this for certain would mean getting some recognition, of course; playing for appreciative audiences around the world, thoughtful reviews from intelligent critics, getting to collaborate with other great artists, maybe an award or two. I'll admit to being insecure enough that I couldn't consider myself successful without some outside affirmation. But it's not about Billboard chart positions or selling out amphitheaters; I'd just need to know that people were finding my music, and enjoying it because it was done well.

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Postby Vienna » Tue Feb 15, 2005 1:20 am

Some short ones:

How much TV do you watch and what are your favorite programs?

Never got into the habit of watching TV. (As a result I've never gotten desensitized to the TV screen either; my friends tease me for staring at car commercials.) I watch PBS and History Channel documentaries sometimes. If I were to get into anything, it'd probably be some of those HBO series: The West Wing or The Wire or Six Feet Under.

What music do you like that you are almost embarrassed to admit?

I always have at least one guilty pleasure in the changer, along with at least one "People say (s)he's brilliant, I'm sure if I listen to it long enough I'll get it" artist. Currently they're Maroon 5 and Bob Dylan, respectively. (I grew up listening to Dylan covered by other people, which ain't the same as hearing the man himself.)

By the way, Scot, I know of many people who wouldn't call Prince a guilty pleasure at all! ;)

What makes Teitur think you’re such a princess?

Your guess is as good as mine. I think we were talking about similarities between Jewish-American and Chinese-American culture at dinner once, and he decided he was going to call me Ethel Abramowitz. Not sure how I qualified for the "princess" part. Maybe it was all that kosher caviar I had shipped to the hotels.

What was the first tape you bought yourself?

I think it might have been Susanna Hoffs (from The Bangles), When You're A Boy. I don't remember hearing the second side of the cassette.

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Postby Frances » Tue Feb 15, 2005 1:29 am

Hello Vienna,

Thanks for doing an interview online! We know how valuable of a commodity your time is.

In answer to your question about what I look for in music:
a) it contains Truth, it is Organic
B) Clear, centred melody and unrestrained emotion <-- sorry, i tried putting "b)" but it does a smiley
c) Rhythm
d) it fires up my imagination (i.e. lyrics & even sound samples other than the backbone instruments)
e) there is an unrest/tension in the music that makes me want to listen to the song again
f) it is not formulaic / predictable, but at the same time there is some structure

Ok, how much more vague can i get here.

My question to you would be: if money were no object and you could truly make the album of your dreams with as much or as little production as you wanted, what would that album be like? who would you want to appear as your dream guest musicians, or what kinds of ensembles or crazy instruments would you want to experiment with on the album (like an orchestra, etc.)? and where would you want to record the album (in terms of a particular city or country)?

Thank you!

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Postby Jazzfrac » Tue Feb 15, 2005 1:59 am

OK - I've been feverishly scanning to see if a question like this has been answered before and I don't see it so I'll ask.

Actually I guess its a 2 part question:
1) Do you write the poetry or the melody first (more often)?
2) In either case, when you're in the process of getting it all to work, are you more likely to rephrase / change words or rearrange parts of the music to fit the lyrics?

- Tim

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Postby Vienna » Tue Feb 15, 2005 2:10 am

On giving my song to another artist:

I started to answer this one first and couldn't. Part of me thinks I won't know how I feel about it until it happens. My best guess is that I'd be happy to let other people record my songs. It's the writing process that I'm protective of; once the song is complete and I'm happy with it, I don't necessarily have to be the one to record it.

I never felt I was quite the right vocalist for some of my songs, like Hope On Fire and most of the Estonia material. So I wouldn't mind at all if someone else sang those, and became more well-known for them than I did. For something like Homecoming, I've always loved the idea of having an actual Southerner do the song — Kyler does a lovely rendition, which is why we had her sing it at the show in December. And some songs might take on a whole new life if re-arranged without piano, or produced in a way that's beyond my budget or my imagination. To lean on the song-as-child analogy, some songs are like kids who love figure skating or fashion design; I just don't know enough about their interests to help them realize their full potential. I can try, but it's probably better to find a teacher or a mentor.

What's tricky about the music business, though, is that I don't choose who decides to adopt my song as their own. Copyright law only ensures that I get credited and paid for writing the song, not the power to nix someone's decision to record it. So my kid's figure-skating instructor could be someone who wants my seven-year-old to do striptease moves on the ice. (Someone wanted to do a techno remix of Daughter once. I'm not sure if he ever did, but it seemed unwise.) But the analogy breaks down there, I suppose, because I could always record my own version, truer to what I originally intended. And even if that version never got the same amount of exposure that the questionable version did, at least it'd be out there.

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Postby Joe » Tue Feb 15, 2005 2:42 am

Hello Vienna,

Thanks for your time.

You obviously travel a greeat deal for your job. Do you have the opportunity to explore the towns you visit and do any site-seeing? I travel a great deal for mine but I am only able to explore a limited amount of the time. I hope you have better luck.

Second question

Are there any recordings of your Estonia efforts? I would like to purchase them.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the Ann Abor folk festival. I enjoyed it also. I will see you at the Ark in April.

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Postby ben » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:13 am

Vienna wrote:What do you look for in music?  Take a song you've really loved or connected with: what was it that made it so compelling?

That is nice of you to give us another chance to know you better. I missed the first chance actually. So thank you very much Vienna.

As for your question, I'm usually drawn to songs that makes me think or feel. A song does not have to have deep lyrics to make me think about it, at lot of times, there aren't any lyrics. And the thinking part does not necessarily have to be about what the song is conveying, it doesn't have to mean anything to me, sometimes it's about why or how the song was written in the first place. Example, Don McLean's American Pie is such a riddle. Beethoven's 9th Symphony is such a wonder and most of it's wonder is wandering how he wrote it when he was deaf. Your song, The Tower, when I first heard it I have to say the picture painted in my mind was a lady missionary telling herself to be strong for others (but later found out it was about a dorm mate). I like Sting's and Eric Clapton's stories, The Cure's wierd lyrics, Nick Drake's kind'a wierd way of thinking (you know things like Pink Moon and Clothes of Sand). I get a kick listening to the Monty Pythons and Wierd Al Yankovic. The thing is there is intelligence in these songs even if they sometimes sounds foolish, unlike most pop songs out there that doesn't have much substance. Songs that make me feel, most of these songs falls under the "sad" cathegory but definitely not exclusively. One such song was Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, play it with an up-tempo, it's a happy song, play it with the right tempo, it's simply melancholic. I find songs with sudden cresendos seems to find a way to my heart. Eddi Gorme's rendition of "Send In the Clowns", George Michael doing "I Can't Make You Love Me (If You Don't)", Robin Beck's "Tears In the Rain", Matt Monroe's "For Mama", Rachel Portman's OST of "The Joy Luck Club" and Kitaro's OST for "The Soong Sisters" and "Heaven and Earth", these are very moving songs. I also enjoy "peaceful" songs, mostly instrumentals that falls under New Age, such as Yanni, Suzzane Cianni, Enya, and Keiko Matsui (Jazz).

I can love a song as a whole, or just the lyrics, or the message, or simply just the tune. My all time favorite songs are Cindy Lauper's "Time After Time" for its lyrics and tune, and Dire Strait's "Tunnel of Love" for its guitar sequence, they're my favorites for 1 and a half decade already. Rythmic base is also a favorite of mine, Bill Wither's "Just the Two of Us", Sheryl Crow's "Leaving Las Vegas", Sting's "Every Breath You Take", U2's "With Or Without You", Ben E. King's rendition of "Stand By Me" and etc, can really make me waste a couple of hours with the headphone.

I guess that's long enough. But one question please... Your songs have always shown depth, in content or meanings and the choice of words or phrases. Do you always think that way or you just write that way? You know, most of us just think "and the melody dies/subsides" do you think "the swelling fermata as the chord dies"? :P
Always look on the bright side of life.

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Postby kinopio42 » Tue Feb 15, 2005 4:15 am

Yeah, Kyler's redition of Homecoming at the December concert was epic.

I've listened to Homecoming much much more since then.

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Postby firefly » Tue Feb 15, 2005 5:03 am

I'm really excited about this...you are definitely my favorite singer since I stumbled upon your CD in Borders about a year ago..you should thank them for their placement of your stuff near the little listening stand thing, because that was how I found your music. Ever since I found your albums, I have tried to share your music with my friends--I even left a copy with my host family in Japan last summer ^^;;

Your favorite song of mine (although I enjoy many) is definitely "Mission Street." I can really connect to the feeling of being without a purpose in life and then finding some light somewhere... I think lyrics definitely help me connect with songs, but the music itself is very important too. I've heard that music can kind of subconsciously manipulate our emotions, and it's true; I've been brought nearly to tears by stirring piano or violin solos.

So really, I think lyrics work together with the melody and beat of a song to connect with listeners.

My question would be...when is your next CD coming out?? Another would be...are you interested in playing in central Iowa, and anytime soon? Because that would totally rock my socks :lol:

P.S. Happy Valentine's Day!

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Postby Ken » Tue Feb 15, 2005 6:39 am

What do I look for in music? Tthe melody comes first. If it's not catchy or if it doesn't grow on me, the arrangement can be fantatic and maybe have interesting lyrics (somewhat), but that would make me skip a particular track on a CD. I find certain vocalists to be a major turnoff, even though they or their band may have great melodies, arrangement, and lyrics. Case in point for me, Smashing Pumpkins or one of the hottest bands out there, Interpol. At times it gets so bad that when I hear them on the radio, I just change the channel.

Then you have melodies that are great, catchy, maybe you can dance, boogie down, or hum to, but for some reason the lyrics don't fit, or are too banal, trite, been there done that. I like Travis's version of "Baby One More Time" as they play the same chords in Radiohead's "Exit Music". The lyrics are shall we say, abusive, but the arrangement and melody seem to work.

Some vocalists have such a soothing and charming voice, that even though I am not a big fan or listen to much of their music, they have a calming, soothing effect. So when I do hear them in the CD shop, the radio, or wherever, I give the songs my full attention. Most of these successful vocalists are usually female, and some examples that work for me include Sarah McLaughlin, Norah Jones, Emiliana Torrinni (who sounds quite like Bjork).

Where do instrumentals like jazz and blues fit in? You can have a long winded jam or a solo (guitar piano bass drums etc). To me a soloist can be like a lyricist/vocalist. Some solos are fantastic and can be described as "lyrical", as if a human voice was doing the singing (scatting is a common singing technique in jazz). A musician can be extremely technical, play 1/32 or 1/64 th notes on a complex scale, but it doesn't mean the music is alive or lyrical. Some fans describe their favorite players as "playing all the right notes", which is purely subjective. Is Miles Davis telling the whole story when he does a rendition of "So What"? How about John Coltrane when he does a long winded 15 to 20 minute solo on "My Favorite Things"? Or Jimi Hendrix when he extends a 3 minute album blues song "Red House" into 15 to 20+ minutes live?

Certain artists are able to pen music and lyrics that not just strike a chord, but really move you in ways you could not imagine. Sometimes you can feel the artist telling a story, or sharing his pain/experience and emotions. Some albums really tell a whole story from beginning to end....the track listing order is perfect and could not be re-arranged any other way. The mood shifts between songs can be interesting and captivating, and you can still have one central theme. The Cure have accomplished this with "Disintegration" and also their live performance "Trilogy" brilliantly archived on DVD.

You can still have a powerful piece of music without vocals. I can also appreciate movie and TV soundtracks, and have been enjoying some fantastic pieces from Japan and Korea. Even the cheesiest of romance dramas have some great compositions that miraculously match the mood perfectly.

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Postby The_Man_in_Blue » Tue Feb 15, 2005 11:20 am

Vienna wrote:...what do you look for in music?  Take a song you've really loved or connected with: what was it that made it so compelling?

This is a hard question. I like so many different types of music it is hard to isolate one characteristic that draws me to a piece of music. A feel of raw energy and/or emotion can link many of the artists and genres that I enjoy. Exuberant energy is the link that attracts me to such divergent genres as Bluegrass, R&B, Zydeco, and some Rock-N-Roll. Other music reaches me with complex melody or incorporating novel sounds be it unusual instruments or a unique vocal style. I am attracted to other music by intelligent well-crafted lyrics. In looking back at the albums I spent money on back in the days when I didn’t have much to spare, intelligent lyrics are a dominant theme. I had a lot of Simon and Garfunkel, and Carly Simon etc. Intelligent lyrics reach their apex when they manage to unleash memories or emotions.

I retrieve the memories quickly as I can
add them to the portrait we all draw in our minds
your body gone, we shall keep the man

Those three lines perfectly capture the emotions from when my father died in a traffic accident almost 20 years ago. When I heard them on the way home from that first concert where you opened for Over the Rhine, I spent the next two hours in a roadside rest area following the lyrics in the liner notes while I listened to both albums. It was the lyrics that sent me traveling to your concerts in far-flung places, instead of being content to listen to your CDs while awaiting the next CD or local concert.

When I started to answer this question I knew it would be difficult. Four hours later and after several false starts, I am still not satisfied with my answer. I think it explains why I like about 90% of the music I listen to most often. I doubt someone could read this and pick music I would like with as much accuracy as the suggestions generated by the software at Amazon, since ultimately the characteristics I identified are subjective.

Here are a few more questions for you.
Have you seen any films recently, either in theaters or on DVD that particularly impressed you?

What sights or experiences from the London trip are most memorable? What about London most surprised you?

Which Comedians do you find to be really funny? What types of humor do you most enjoy?

Ant - NY
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Postby Ant - NY » Tue Feb 15, 2005 6:07 pm

I push my luck and I post another question I am curious about.

Music business and Image B)
How important do you think image is in today’s music business?
I mean, you are very beautiful, but you don’t seem to push to the top this side of you when you perform. True is that your grace more than compensate this, but do you think that image is an important part of the show and that could help the buzz around your music?

Ant. :)

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Postby ballegre » Tue Feb 15, 2005 6:59 pm


Can you tell us a little about your musical development as a child? When did you start playing? Do you have an earliest memory that you would like to share? How did writing music happen to you? Any major influences? Were you a Suzuki method student?



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