Interview with Haneri (a.k.a Daphne’s Khoo) - Bridging cultural and musical gaps with optimism and (real) love
One of my best childhood memories while living in Singapore was watching the very first season of ‘Singapore Idol’, a spin-off of the then-wildly popular American reality singing series. Every episode, we would tune in and I would root for my favourite contestant Daphne Khoo. I was particularly enamoured with her rendition of Des’ree’s ‘You Gotta Be’, significantly marking my first forage into pop territory and the R&B genre.
I’m not sure if it was because of her sweet personality, or the fact that she was one of few female artists amidst a male-dominated batch, but I had all the faith that she would go somewhere with that voice. Although I’m sure Daphne wouldn’t like to be defined solely by her performance in a show that aired over a decade ago, it seems that I wasn’t too far off the mark about her career trajectory, which has consistently gone from strength to strength since her debut in 2008.
Khoo has gone on to become a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter in the Singaporean and the western music scene, dabbling in a wide range of genres while keeping things consistent with the addition of her sweet, soulful vocals and empowering lyrics. Re-debuting last year under the moniker of Haneri, the talented all-rounder is making her mark in a unique way, simultaneously paving the path for local creatives to take their collaborations to a more global level, while establishing her own unique, upbeat sound. While promoting her new single ‘Real Love’, we took the opportunity to speak with her about working through this shift, and her intriguing creative philosophy.
In collaboration with Taiwanese YouTuber/singer-songwriter Dena Chang, Asian Pop Weekly is launching an all-new video & print interview series called ‘Cream of the C-pop’ where we go deep with our favourite Mandopop artists to create effortlessly engaging content accessible for both Eastern and Western audiences. Each episode will comprise of a video interview and tailored game segment hosted by Dena aired on her YouTube channel, released simultaneously with the feature right here on Asian Pop Weekly.
Kurt Hugo Schneider is all about the grind. For all his millions of subscribers all over the world, the down-to-earth YouTuber is still used to wearing all the hats-from recording and producing his own tracks to filming and editing the videos. Known for his innovative and tasteful mashups and medleys of pop songs, the 30 year-old rose to fame when his Michael Jackson medley with Sam Tsui went viral. Since then, the multi-talented creative has continued to expend his influence by pumping out new, never-before-seen methods of transforming well-known songs. Be it sonically or visually, KHS is truly a pioneer of the remix culture as we know it today.
From Billboard hits to Bollywood, the gregarious personality seems to have done it all, contributing greatly to bridging gaps between cultures through music. As Kurt succinctly puts it, “Music, universal language. Even if you don’t speak the language, everyone kinda gets music". He shared with us how he comes up with his inventive ideas for mashups.
“Usually it’s just listening either on the charts or radio and seeing something that I like and also something I think I can do something different and cool with. Sometimes it’ll be a song that I like but I actually don’t have a super cool idea for how to make it different so I might not do something with that.”
One of his covers which piqued our interest in particular was KHS’s collaboration with Casey Breves and Jasmine Clarke on a cover of Mandopop favourite ‘Love Confession’ by Jay Chou, where he reinvented the song as a duet with an uplifting, atmospheric arrangement. After hearing from Breves himself, we thought it would only be fitting to hear from Kurt himself how the collaboration came together.
“I did it with a friend Casey who is incredibly enough-I don’t know if he would say fluent because he talks with people all the time in Chinese… (but) he’s also just really good with languages and a very smart guy. (Jasmine Clarke) just hit me up, I thought that this would be the perfect song and I said ‘let’s do it’ and it all went from there.”
Despite calling several big-time artists including Sam Tsui, Lindsey Stirling and Rebecca Black past collaborators, Schneider sees his channel as a platform for collaborations with anyone to come to life; as long as their music is up to scratch.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people who have absolutely no following but they’re good. I think if something’s gonna be fun and interesting I’m down… It’s my pleasure that I can work with so many talented people all the time.”
But out of all his past collaborations, there is one notable collaborator who has been a seminal influence and part of his works since the very beginning-singer-songwriter Sam Tsui. Kurt spoke a little about his friendship with Tsui, which started when they were in middle school.
“The person I’ve collaborated with the most is my friend Sam. He’s an amazingly talented singer and an all around great musician too… It’s been a long time. Obviously there’s some people who I’ve just known for so much longer and collaborating with them is still easy. Not only did we go to the same middle school we also met when we were on the same bus.”
Kurt also let us in on how he manages to keep those brain juices flowing to keep up with YouTube audiences’ ever-growing appetite for new and interesting content, even when his inspiration has reached its breaking point.
“Go out and eat some food and come back. Sleep on it and wake up the next day. I guess try to get your mind off it and do something else. I wear many different hats doing the music side and post production on music, like the more technical…but the nice thing about doing things like that and also video is that if you can’t come up with an idea on some piece of music, you do that and come back (and) you have some idea you didn’t have before. Sometimes I feel like working in a different area recharges the brain a little bit.”
From hiding a mattress in Yale University’s multimedia centres so he could create content day and night to becoming one of YouTube’s most prominent personalities, Schneider has come a long way. Along the way, he’s learnt several important lessons; about the importance of maintaining personal non-work relationships, and navigating the YouTube landscape. But most importantly, he gave some choice advice about creative control in an industry where authenticity is key.
“Creative people tend to be control freaks about their stuff. If it’s something creative that you care about, yes you want to have a lot of say in how that turns out. But at the same time there’s only one of you, so gotta learn how to let go of some of that stuff.”
From our interview with Kurt, it seems that in working your way to the top, the goal should not always be just about the end destination. Instead, it’s about not letting external validation consume you, finding a way to make things work that works for you and always remembering why you do what you do.
Watch Video Interview With Dena Here
Interview With No Party For Cao Dong 草東沒有派對-Going With The (Post-Rock) Flow: How A Band Subconsciously Became A Musical Representation Of Taiwanese Contemporary Society
No Party For Cao Dong are a dichotomy. They are elusive; yet easy to talk to. They travel widely, and have toured the world with their music; yet gather inspiration exclusively from their experiences in Taiwan, the environment where they grew up in. Their music has had such a revolutionary impact on the scene, earning them multiple accolades and earfuls of praise; yet they are humble and subdued when asked about their achievement. The phrase that came up most during the interview was ‘沒有想那麼多 Didn’t think too much about it’, which seems to be part of the band’s musical philosophy.
The band, made up of Wood Lin, Chu Chu, Sam Yang, and Fan Tsai started as many do-with a group of friends who liked the same kinds of music. While the former three members met in high school, Fan Tsai met them while in university and that was how it all began.
“Everyone liked the same kinds of music, so starting a band seemed natural. Through a shared interest we added our own colours to the mix.”
Indeed, despite the band’s heavy-handed taste in genres which range from post-rock, indie to metal, their approach has always been to go with what comes naturally. Saying that they don’t use genres to restrict themselves, amongst thrashing drums, impassioned screams and subdued electric guitar riffs No Party For Cao Dong found a unique sound that shook up the local scene.
“We don’t go out of our way to use ‘mainstream’ or ‘indie’ to categorise our music, whether something is mainstream or not is defined by the time period and audience.”
An (albeit dark) breath of fresh air for a scene which has long been criticised for a lack of differentiation and too many soft love songs, the band says all they’re trying to do here is express themselves.
“Everyone tells their story differently, we are just trying our best to honestly express ourselves.”
A small-town girl with a deep love for music, Sijie Liu, currently the Vice President for Booking and Artist Development at the formidable Modern Sky USA has been at the peak of the trend bringing well-loved Asian indie artists to tour in the states over the last few years. From Korea’s Hyukoh to Taiwan’s Sunset Rollercoaster and Hong Kong heavyweight Edison Chen, Liu slowly opening the floodgates for Asian music to find a home and audiences in the West. In my experience, it often takes someone special to end up in a position like this, so I had to scratch my itch (as I do when finding like-minded people) by documenting her story in this Q&A.
Tell us a little about your background. Have you always been interested in Asian music and pop culture?
I was born in a small town in Sichuan, and came to the states for college when I was 17. I’m like most of the Chinese kids who studied piano and passed the highest level of the tests for amateurs. I started as listening to Mandarin pop music (I think I was the first one in my class to listen to Jay Chou actually), and after that, lots of pop and jazzy stuff in high school.
Because of the love in all these Asian pop music, I just wanted to learn more about music, I chose to minor in Music Studies for my undergrad. Also Indiana University has a really reputable Music School. That’s when I really started digging in lots of different genres of music.
The reason why I changed my path from studying Finance/Data at a later time was mainly because of all those classes I took for the music studies, and it just opened a new gate for me.
We hear you moved to the states to study Music Business at NYU. What was the reason behind this decision?
I actually studied Finance for my undergrad. Before I came to the states, I’ve never thought about studying music as a profession even I’ve always surrounded by music and enjoyed listening to music. Not until I was getting my first Master degree in Data Analytics, I thought I was going to be a consultant or working for a bank.
However, minoring in Music and getting exposed to all these different genres of music was the reason why I decided to change my path. I went straight to my first graduate degree. But during the first semester, I just had this feeling that I want to do something in the music industry, and something that I could also apply what I’ve learned in business school.
Your passion for helping Asian musicians achieve success in North America is amazing! Where do you think it stems from?
Aw thanks! I think it’s closely related to where I’m from and the kind of music I was exposed to when I grew up. I loved all the classes I took about Western rock, jazz, blues, and that’s how I started grew a real passion in the music industry. But all this just made me want to find about more about great Asian bands, singer-songwriters, etc.
You’ve brought the likes of Edison Chen, Song Dongye, Hyukoh, Sunset Rollercoaster and more to North America to share their music with the Western world. Could you share a little about the process of booking these artists and helping them achieve success?
Most of the artists I’ve worked with are Modern Sky signings and they’ve had great success in Asia. There are lots of factors that affect the booking process. Usually it starts with analysis of the current markets both in Asia and here in North America. Then it moved to availabilities of the artists, and we would check if that’s a suitable time for the market here. Then it comes to finding appropriate cities and venues and it usually takes lots of rounds of negotiations to confirm all the details.
We don’t just do booking, in most of the cases, we also take the role as Promoters. So it then requires working on the visa process, marketing, ticketing, advancing, tour managing, etc.
Has there been a most rewarding part of your journey (or memory) thus far in helping so many Asian artists to perform in North America?
I think same as all other staff who work for a tour or a festival, the most rewarding part is when I see the artist performing on the stage in front of their fans. I know this sounds very simple. After putting all the efforts to book and promote a tour, when you see the show is finally happening in front of you and all the audience enjoying it, that feeling is just…
Why do you think helping artists of Asian descent to tour and expand their prominence in the West is important?
Expanding new markets and to play in different cities is always appealing to artists. But another prominent side is the fans as well. I always use myself as an example of when I was in school here in the states. I was always wanting to see artists who I like from Asia to perform here. I still remembered the first time I attended Modern Sky Festival NYC in Central Park, I was still studying in school. And I saw bands like Queen Sea Big Shark, Omnipotent Youth Society, Dessert Zhang (Anpu). To see them here, that feeling was indescribable.
You’ve certainly come a long way, and on a path that not many have chosen. Do you see an increasing demand for people with an understanding of Eastern pop culture in the Western market?
We know that it is not easy to break into the Western world here.
But as I mentioned in the last question, there are lots of Asians/Asian Americans and growing number of international students also with increasing purchasing power to live/visit here. I think the market is promising. Just need to market it the right way. Also, I’m not giving up on marketing Eastern pop/artists to Western crowd here, I always want to find an effective way of promoting them here to the local crowd.
What advice would you give to those who are inspired to bring more Mandarin or Asian music to the rest of the world?
You must be aware of all the risks before signing on to this. Not just financially, but also risks with visa, marketing, etc.
What’s on your playlist right now? Are there any musicians or particularly influential figures who have inspired you on your journey?
I’ve been listening to Leah Dou for a while now. I really liked her latest album and I saw her at a festival in Beijing this year. She is incredible.
Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
Event wise, we have Modern Sky Festival NYC (9.22), Toronto (9.23), and L.A. （11.10）coming up . Also we’ve announced tours for Tizzy T, Sunset Rollercoaster for September, and Crowd Lu tour in November. There are more tours to be announced for this Fall and next year. We are also having new projects with different artists too. Stay Tuned!!!
An inspiring story from a woman who’s got a strong head on her shoulders, Liu seems to have it all figured out. By thoroughly understanding every step of the process of bringing artists overseas to perform, she now has the skills to fully focus on a niche market that few have considered-and to maximise the potential of such a market. As always, the biggest philosophical struggle is to find acceptance of Eastern music by Western audiences, but I have no doubt that with her heart in the right place, Sijie will continue to contribute greatly to efforts that will encourage a truly universal music culture.