Q&A with Vienna, February 2005

Chat and sip. Beret optional.

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Postby jblittle » Fri Feb 18, 2005 4:29 am

I wasn't sure I was going to post on this thread. I've been content just reading everyone's posts. But I at least wanted to add another "Thank you!" for the Q&A. It's nice that you enjoy connecting with your fans on a deeper level than just a "hellow" at a show.

No questions at the moment that others haven't already asked.

I'll take a shot at answering the "what do I look for in music" question. Like others, I struggle to define why certain music connects with me.

Generally, I'm drawn to a combination of interesting lyrics and a pleasing melody. The tough part is defining the specifics behind this.

Lyrics can be interesting for any number of reasons. Sometimes just not being ordinary is good enough. Or lyrics that find a unique way of saying something. Or an interesting story. Or lyrics that you really have to think about to try to piece together any kind of meaning, even if at times the in reality there may not be a clear intended meaning (i.e. some of Paul Simon's songs seem more like a stream of consciousness...).

But obviously the sound is important, too. Enough so that it sometimes makes the lyrics less important. For example, songs in a foreign language can often be beautiful or emotionally powerful..... (Funny thing is that sometimes an English version of the song can be less enjoyable....if the lyrics are too ordinary.)

My taste in music is not as eclectic as many on this board. I don't have an extensive music collection, being pretty selective about what I buy. My taste in music developed largely in college, helped along greatly by my college roommate who was a huge Elton John and Marc Cohn fan. I got hooked on Elton John by my roommate repeatedly blaring "Skyline Pigeon" on his stero. What was it about "Skyline Pigeon" that drew me in?

Sometimes I look for other qualities in music, though. Sometimes a higher priority gets put on something that is relaxing, for example. I used to spend hours in college listening to Enya while studying. Nothing better to cut the stress of studying then a few hours of Enya.... After college, Loreena McKennit filled a similar role.

Add voice to the list. I prefer vocalists whose voices are truly instruments that fit in with the arrangements of their songs.

And songs that capture you emotionally can be an attractor, as well. That's what first drew me into Sarah McClachlan's Fumbling Toward Ecstasy as I was getting used to an arrangement that was a little different than what I had most liked in the past.

So like others I have largely failed to capture the essense of what draws me music. Instead, I have produce a list of many things that somehow has to come together just right to capture me.

What's rare is to find all of the attributes that you value in music in a single musician. Those are musicians that end up with a special place in your collection. And that's what you have been since I stumbled across your name a year ago in the fall--on Sarah McLachlan's website actually as I was checking to see when her new album was going to be released. I came to your website, listened to Lullabye... and Tower and was hooked. When I received your album it was somehow a little different than I expected, but that different quickly turned out to be better.

In your music, in addition to many other things, I'm particularly drawn in by both the lyrics and the sound. Harbor, for example. The lyrics are good, but it's the sound of the song that I can't get enough of. On the other hand, on songs like Eric's Song or A Decade and One, the lyrics dominate in drawing me to them.

Now that I've wasted several inches of perfectly good screen space failing to answer your question well, I'll finally close with "I hope you're back in Minneapolis for a public show soon, possibly even at the zoo!" I need to be careful, though. If I keep this zoo thing up, I'll get known as "zoo boy" on the forum.... :unsure:

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Postby Tad » Fri Feb 18, 2005 5:16 am

    Vienna and others

    As Vienna knows, I had the vision to bring Vienna to my school with 360 high school students and 250 middle school students during the middle of the tour with Marc Cohn in November 2004.Vienna, thank you for making this happen.

    These 11-18 olds loved Vienna and Alan and some of the students are still asking me when she is coming back to our town as they listen to her music on ther IPODS during the day. I think they also bought a few CD's

    I guess to answer Vienna's original question, music that inspirs me is that music that asks questions. If a string of lyrics asks a question that may not have an answer, I think that is okay. I also think it is permissiable for a singer songwriter to produce songs that can be remembered with little brainpower. Think about Louie- Louie!

    I also believe and I was told recently by another high school student that songs should keep you in the present. If a song makes you feel more gounded in a time when things are more of a turmoil for you, then that is good.

    We hope to see Vienna in Maryland again soon as she helped some high school students realize that iti is important to dreamand hoping she will end up in the state of Maine in the summer months as well.


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    Postby Vienna » Fri Feb 18, 2005 5:59 am

    on Blue Caravan:

    I came up with it in a day — beginning at around 7 a.m. in a parking garage in New York, and ending after soundcheck that night in Kent, OH. It was the first time I'd managed to complete a song on the road. (Little wonder that it alludes to travelling, I guess.) Sometimes the muse sends presents, and in this case I think she sent some orchids and a note that said "You'll write again. Don't worry about it."

    Why it's a story about illusion and regret, I don't know. I was thinking about Tolkien's Middle Earth, the movie Vanilla Sky (Abre Los Ojos), the darker possibilities in Harbor, conversations I'd had with my bandmates. The lyrics came from everywhere; the melody came from nowhere. Though I will admit to stealing the high-last-verse idea from Noe Venable and her Midsummer Night's Dream.

    It seems a foregone conclusion at this point that it'll end up on album 3, since people seem to like it and I like it and I'd fight for it if a producer or label wanted to cut it. It may raise a fuss when we come to the arranging process, however. There are myriad ways to dress this one.

    Speaking of dressing...

    on image:

    I've always been ambivalent about this, and I think it's reflected in what my image currently is. There'd be no quandary if I had my own sense of style to begin with; I'd just be myself and tell the powers-that-be to accept it. But I tend to look <a href='http://www.echeng.com/journal/index.php?p=904' target='_blank'>like this</a> when left to my own devices, and trying to push me too much in the direction of fashionable starts to get insincere pretty quickly.

    That said, it's also just a matter of funding. I'm sure there are stylists who can figure out how to make someone look amazing while still being herself, and I'd probably have someone like that to help me with photo shoots if there were a budget for such things. (Major-label style photo shoots are not cheap. Producing a video is astronomically expensive. Hopefully that answers the "why don't you have a music video?" question.) But if I have to choose, I'd much rather spend the money on a good piano mic. Anyhow, I think Adam Tow and Glen Rose have done a splendid job with the albums, especially considering how limited the resources they had to work with.

    In terms of "public" appearances like shows, the informal approach seems the most appropriate anyway, for solo/trio performances in intimate venues. It's folk music. But I probably won't wear jeans the night of a premiere with an orchestra. ;)

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    Postby Joe » Fri Feb 18, 2005 10:39 am

    Good Morning Vienna

    You have alluded to in the past performances that you have had to explain/persuade to your parents/family why you are choosing a career other than what you went to college for. Other than the tense conversation of telling them you were leaving your computer job. I would assume that they have been very supportive and must be proud of what you have done. I am glad you chose to share your music with us.
    Are members of your family able to join you for shows on the road?

    Since you capture interpersonnel relations so well in you songs is this an area you could tap to help write your 3rd album? It would not have to be autobiagraphical per se.

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    Postby Vienna » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:35 am

    Are you interested in playing in central Iowa, and anytime soon?
    Do you see yourself coming to Connecticut area anytime soon?
    Are planning on coming into New York City to perform any time soon?

    This year I plan to stay off the road more often than I'm on it, but we will do at least one national tour. New York is always a favorite stop. Connecticut and Iowa are less certain.

    Here's how touring works: if I'm supporting, I go wherever the headliner plays for the dates that I've been invited. With colleges and universities, it also comes down to where and when I'm invited. If I'm headlining clubs, we generally route the tour to be driveable and to go through the cities where I already have a following — this ensures that the venues don't lose money and we have an enjoyable show. Occasionally, usually only if it fits with the existing route, we'll play a "secondary market" and see how things go. For that to be successful, we need a really enthusiastic promoter who can rally the community (like in Pensacola), or to play in a series that already has a loyal audience (like in San Diego), or some great press and radio to pique people's curiosity — preferably all three. Of course, there are also house concerts, a great alternative to the club circuit; I wanted to explore the Southwest last fall, so we planned a route just for living-room shows. Maybe we can visit Iowa-Wisconsin-Nebraska-Dakotas the same way sometime. But on the whole, if it's off our beaten path like the Midwest or central/south Florida, my apologies: we probably won't make it over there this year.

    Have you seen any films recently, either in theaters or on DVD that particularly impressed you?

    Hotel Rwanda really affected me. It was one of those films that made me forget I wasn't seeing a documentary. Lately I've been watching a lot of movies with Jim Batcho, who's teaching a course in media aesthetics, so I mostly remember a lot of "See how that's all natural lighting in those candelit scenes in Barry Lyndon? Kubrick used a Zeiss 50mm, f/0.7 lens for that; he was a groundbreaker that way. And extensive use of bright light flattens and lends a sense of objectivity, as you can see in Lucas's THX 1138..."

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

    The guys will be pleased to hear that. Full disclosure: I'm suppressing the Estonia EP because I'm not happy with my performances on it — songwriting, vocals or keys, none of it. But with enough popular demand ;) we might do another show and open it to B&Ps or something.

    When you write songs about your own experiences, do you write them purely for yourself as an expression or did you know that you will be playing those songs to an audience in the future?

    Maybe I differ from some songwriters in that I don't feel like I'm baring my soul when I write songs. It is a form of expression, sometimes of intimate and difficult things, but they're things that I'm consciously sharing with an audience. I don't really write songs to keep for myself; I have other outlets for sheer venting or secrets I don't want the world to know. When I turn to music, I'm already hoping that someone out there will understand and feel understood by what I'm creating. Art as communication. I think that's always been the case.

    What compelled you to do the "Wall of Pillows"?

    They were 99 cents each at IKEA, and it seemed like an amusing solution to the nasty acoustics of a square room. Pillows all the way across would be too loonybin-like, I thought, so we painted the wall behind red and checkerboarded them. I think the name of The Asylum has stuck anyway, though.

    Have you ever gone scuba diving with Mr. Cheng?

    Some day, definitely...I'll have to get certified first!

    What is your favorite food?

    This is like "what is your favorite" anything — I can never answer these. A friend of mine was once asked what his favorite kind of weather was and he said, "Whatever I'm properly dressed for." That's my answer too. Context is everything.

    What is the first non-classical song you learned to play and at what age?

    My piano teacher gave me some Peanuts themes early on. I think the first song I ever figured out by ear was the theme song to The Land Before Time.

    Why is dbeattie transcribing your music to paper, instead of you?

    Because he's better at it. Seriously. Transcribing is a very different process from composing or playing; it's painstaking work. I'm also much lazier than he is. :)

    When you write piano motifs or come up with them, how do you remember them all? Do you record them on your computer, or do you just remember them in your head, or do you write them down?

    If they're worth remembering, I generally remember them. (Sometimes even if they're not.) I record things to work them out further; sometimes listening back to them in different settings will lead to other ideas. But if I can't recall how a motif goes, chances are it wasn't that compelling.

    I’ve always wanted to hear more about your background as a classical pianist. Is it true, as the SF Chronicle once reported, that you gave two-hour piano recitals while still in your teens? Are there any Klavierwerken that remain particular favorites?

    My teacher did ask me when I was about fifteen whether I wanted to go to conservatory and study to be a concert pianist. At the time, I guess I showed enough promise that with six-hour-a-day practicing I could have a shot at doing it professionally. But I was never a stellar classical musician. The required level of technique always defeated me eventually (Beethoven's Waldstein piano sonata, yeeeeow); expressively I had decent intuition, but nothing special. More importantly, I wasn't passionate about the classical repertoire — I wanted to live in the contemporary world musically. So I played two solo recitals in high school and won a few honorable mentions in competitions, and that was pretty much the pinnacle.

    I still love the intricacies of Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier, and I've got a special place for Rachmaninoff (I agree with him that he wrote much more interesting stuff than that C#-minor prelude). Lately I've been thinking of re-learning a short piece and playing it as an encore. Maybe the band can learn one movement of a piano trio.

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    Postby Ant - NY » Fri Feb 18, 2005 9:32 pm

    Vienna, I really appreciate you answering my question (and in such a nice way). Your own devices are better than a Rolex, because you can adjust to the right occasion ;) . And congrats on the 'wall of pillows' and nice painting.
    By the way, it took me a while to answer the two questions of yours, so I cannot imagine the effort to deal with the so many questions from all of us. Thank you.

    Ant. :)

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    Postby TDG » Fri Feb 18, 2005 9:32 pm

    Here are a few easy ones for ya…

    Who are your piano heroes?
    Did you take voice lessons or is what we hear innate beauty?

    Your previous post sorta answered my next two questions, but not specifically…
    Which classical composer do you prefer listening to?
    What is your favorite piece?

    and finally…
    Lyric-wise, what song do you enjoy most?


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    Postby Jennifer » Fri Feb 18, 2005 10:52 pm

    Hi Vienna! I don't have any questions but wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed reading your answers! It's really great that you are taking the time for your fans. Can't wait for album #3!!

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    Postby andrew3 » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:10 pm

    I had a thought some weeks ago while listening to Feather Moon, of a title to suggest to you for #3. If I may: "Walk, Don't Run." To me, it suggests the deliberate movement your music reflects, in my mind.

    And thanks, again, for the unexpected, and beautiful "Green Island Serenade" on the Warm Strangers album.


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    Postby shawn » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:28 pm

    andrew3 wrote:I had a thought some weeks ago while listening to Feather Moon, of a title to suggest to you for #3.  If I may:  "Walk, Don't Run."

    And if Vienna chooses to branch out into surf music, the title would be doubly fitting. :lol:

    (The Ventures had a hit with a surf guitar instrumental that had that title in the early 1960s.)

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    Postby Steve J » Fri Feb 18, 2005 11:45 pm

    Hi Vienna, I'm getting in on this conversation late because I spent some nice time this week with my sweetheart/Valentine/Wife. :)

    I just want to say thanks alot for doing this. You are giving us all a great Valentine's gift by spending so much time with us.

    I say about YOU, as my boss said to me me several times many years ago when I worked for her in a deli/bakery: "You're a good egg!" (Whatever on earth that means...lol)
    Loyal fan/groupie/friend/ETC. of Vienna Teng, Kyler England & Taylor Roberts Music (Now "Glorydive").

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    Postby The_Man_in_Blue » Sat Feb 19, 2005 2:03 am

    shawn wrote:
    andrew3 wrote:I had a thought some weeks ago while listening to Feather Moon, of a title to suggest to you for #3.  If I may:   "Walk, Don't Run."

    And if Vienna chooses to branch out into surf music, the title would be doubly fitting. :lol:

    (The Ventures had a hit with a surf guitar instrumental that had that title in the early 1960s.)

    "Walk Don't Run" was also the title of one of Cary Grant's last films. I remember the setting for the story was a speed walking competition at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. So Vienna could have Teitur appear as a guest artist but instead of his unique interpretation of Jerry Lee Lewis, he could do a surf guitar version of "Chariots of Fire"(LOL) It has been 40 years since I saw the film, so my memory is a little hazy, but I think the Ventures instumental you referred to is played over the opening credits. I would have double checked my memory with some web research, but I am again on the road in Metro NYC using a pay per hour terminal.

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    Postby Ang Mo » Sat Feb 19, 2005 3:21 am

    Thank you Vienna for answering all of my questions. I feel really good tonight reading your responses to my remaining questions. You even put a lot of thought and put a new spin into my last question which was pretty much a softball.
    Thank you.

    I look forward to buying the new album.

    Best Wishes Always,

    Ang Mo
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    Postby cmooreNC » Sat Feb 19, 2005 4:54 am


    First I'd like to personally say what a pleasure it was meeting you at the shows with Marc Cohn in Greenville and Charlotte last November. I must admit that I knew nothing of you before that "mini-tour" with Marc, so you definitely got one new fan out of doing that. Actually quite a few more than just me, for sure, as many of the friends I convinced to come to the Charlotte show (it's amazing how easy it can be to "convince" a friend to come when one buys his or her ticket! :D ) wound up purchasing your CD's at the show and have raved about that evening ever since. Anyway, I hope the NC calligraphy item I gave you in Greenville made it into the suitcase and somehow straggled back home with you such that you can occasionally come across it in a drawer somewhere and think fondly of us "southern folk"!

    I'll have to think on your question of why I like certain songs for a while before I can answer --- not easy to explain, that.

    For my question --- I'd like to know what you thought of "working" with Marc for those shows? I've had the pleasure of seeing him perform five times now (and we're flying out to Utah tomorrow morning to catch he, Shane, Jay and Jennifer one more time in Park City tomorrow night) and I must say that your performance and his were quite well matched and complimentary, in my opinion. I noticed Alan and Jay dining together at the restaurant next to the Neighborhood Theatre before the Charlotte show, so I'm guessing that the length of your string of shows allowed you all to befriend each other somewhat. That really seemed to carry over to the stage. I was pleased that Jay could join you to provide percussion on the one song in Charlotte and of course Marc had you join in on backing vocals for a few songs. Can you relate any funny or special experiences that you all had, either together or seperately, while you were out there on the road in November? Other than Marc and his band being delayed by the train, of course.

    Thanks in advance for considering my question. If you consider it too "prying", please feel free to decline to answer.


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    Postby Ken » Sat Feb 19, 2005 7:46 am

    For Vienna:

    Do you listen to or have you ever listened to Chinese music while growing up? If so do you have any favorite songs or performers? I'm thinking of songs beyond classics/anthems like Green Island Serenade. There are lots of great singers from the 70s to 80s period (and even 90s). Teresa Teng from the 80s to 90s comes to mind. Lots of excellent melodies (some almost like lullabies) that I'm sure your parents know very well. Tsai Chin is also a wonderful singer with a more baritone voice (her song "Forgotten Time" was made famous again in the recent Infernal Affairs trilogy of Hong Kong movies). Would you consider doing another Chinese song cover (your rendition of course) for the next album or some future EP?

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