Friday, August 22, 2008
Sui Zhen, Sydney
Current band rollcall?
Becky Freeman - lead vocals, acoustic guitar and percussion.
(Also doing time writing an album with Jamie Lloyd for a project called Little Hat.)
Sui Zhen has been around since....
2003, when I performed my first solo show at Bar Broadway.
Let's play Six Degrees of Sui Zhen....
Darren Hanlon emailed me last year and I played a couple of shows with him, including one in his backyard where a jingles producer was eagerly watching. Not sure if it has helped with 'Sui Zhen' but it has helped my income a lot!
My ex-band member and brother Dan was in a rock band that was produced in LA by Limp Bizkit's DJ Lethal....
Getting to support bands like The Brunettes, CocoRosie, Kimya Dawson has definitely opened the ears of new fans and has helped get my CD out into the world.
I have worked with some of the guys on the electronic music label, Future Classic and have sung on a tracks for Jamie Lloyd, Trickski and Zwicker.
And last but not least, ... I have sung for the devil, I mean, an Unmentionable-Brand-That-Will-Likely-Sue-If-Referred-To-Slightly-Negatively.
First song ever written?
I distinctly remember hiding in my brother's room when my sister and all her 15 year old friends were downstairs. We got out the four track and old Yamaha keyboard and recorded a song about how scared we were of these noisy girls who did not have any alcohol but were naturally hyper and high and hysterical and scaring us into isolation... We made several songs on this subject matter - much to my sister's disgust and offence when the tape was discovered.
The first serious and complete song I wrote and performed was called It's Okay and I recently deleted a bedroom recording of it from the net, I fear it is still out there. It was about, surprise surprise, my first love and consequential first break up. Yay.
Music making for you began when....
Early music making began for me in my teens. Mostly at night, usually quite late, often after a day of solitude.
In my later teens, I would meet up with Jamie and we would make some nice electronic down-tempo stuff. Which has now developed into Little Hat! He was a big influence early on for new and interesting music, often electronic or with some experimental element.
Most unusual sound/instrument you've used in your music?
On my EP we used the sound of X's hands rubbing together, the sounds were soft but crunchy because X had incredibly dry and peeling skin due to dermatitis so it was a great rhythmic sound. That was on Big and Small.
Also on Big and Small there's the sound of me turning the pages to this Russian War time trilogy I was reading at the time and wanted it to be a part of the recording.
We also used gongs, bells, thumb pianos, marimba, vibraphone and all that kind of stuff which was pretty.
I did strike a match for the beginning of Full of You and we looped a section of the crackling flame sound which continues mixed low throughout the entire track.
And there is this massive crescendo at the beginning of Heat which is the sound of piano strings being played in a run, with a screw, reversed.
There's nothing else incredibly experimental because the songs didn't call for it. But I do try to make every sound I use in my music unusual, otherwise it just sounds like everything else!
I think my new project, Little Hat takes on Jamie's philosophy (which is shared by pioneer electronic producer Matthew Herbert), of using lots of found sounds - which I like because they are original and often have a lot of character.
Strangest gig you've ever played?
I have played two fairly odd shows in the 12 months.
One was recently at the Sydney Opera House, for Pierre Huyghe's art installation, Forest of Lines. I had to walk through the forest singing the same song on repeat for a couple of hours at a time, on two different days.
I did a late session and was often approached by drunk people or people offering compliments and I felt so rude because I had to ignore them as to not ruin the artist's intended aesthetic. Also I think the fake fog and my lack of glasses was making my vision skewed. Singing the same song for so long and so loud felt almost psychotic, like I was demanding attention whilst simultaneously being completely ignorant. Overall, it was a interesting experiment which I quite enjoyed.
The other strange gig was when I performed for the Adelaide Fringe Festival Poster Launch.
They had created this fake art gallery scenario in this massive warehouse, I was perched on a huge cube platform on a bicycle seat that rotated. I was covered in a three-metre-high and two-metre-wide recreation of the paper dress I wore on my EP cover. On top of this, I sung two songs with my guitar whilst revolving. There was ambient lighting and I had one of those Madonna headset mics. It was quite angelic and euphoric.
When it was over, I was wheeled on this cube to the corner of the room. Another performance was to begin to take the attention off me so I could discreetly undress and make a exit. Instead people kept watching and the stagehand accidentally ripped the paper dress in two, revealing an awkward me, scampering for cover in nude undergarments. People thought it was part of the performance.
Unlikeliest thing to influence your music?
I often transcribe dialogue from reality TV shows or commercials and, out of context, it can take on a whole new meaning.
Most unconventional topic you've covered in your lyrics....
Mister Sakamoto, my guinea pig, and her deep inner struggle with gender identity and how she ran away to become a legend.
If you had to offer any of your lyrics as love advice (or life advice), you would offer....
My lyrics don't really any wise advice, best I could think of was: "we are all made to procreate so, get, get, get used to it..."
Most useful lyrics you've heard in a song?
I can't remember a specific lyric, but Melbourne band The Brutals have some pretty entertainly stories to tell and I remembering nodding my head many times during their recent Sydney shows!
Do you think the country/city/town you live in affects your music in any way?
Definitely. I haven't been writing so much for the Sui Zhen album lately, but the songs I have written whilst living in my little old shop in Redfern have been directly inspired by the space.
Little Hat also reflects living in inner city amongst the pretty and not-so-pretty parts of life, which we all experience but might not often sing about.
You would love to record with....
Arthur Russell, if he were still around. Matthew Herbert, and some old blues musicians, an orchestra, animals in Africa, for a Bollywood film....
Favourite person you have performed with/recorded with....
I love performing with my brother, we started out playing shows together and it would turn into a stand up comic act.
My band is awesome to perform with.
And currently Jamie and I have been producing Little Hat together which is lots of fun, I hardly leave the house!
Outside of Sui Zhen, you spend your time....
Working to support this terrible music habit of mine and working on Little Hat with Jamie and select guests.
I also draw pictures and knit, and make felt people and objects.
Next for you is....
Completing Little Hat debut album and taking on the world!
If record stores had to come up with a new genre name to file your music under, it would be called...
For Sui Zhen, I think folk-tronic was the best description - or 'nu-folk' simple and true!
Five things you currently love
Micachu aka Mica Levi. She is from London is ridiculously young, completely experimental and her debut album was produced by Matthew Herbert. It is the wonkiest pop I have heard for a long time.
This worm book of my brother's from childhood, it has all sorts of pictures of cartoon worms with various predicaments eg. a worm suffering delusions of being a pencil. I love it and it has inspired a comic I am currently working on.
The top of Prince Alfred Park, opposite George Street in Redfern (where I currently reside). I take Mister there for sun, grass and potential excitement. George Street is also a current favourite, I live in the weirdest block, which scares and intrigues me equally. It's part Eastern Block, part ghetto...
I am very much excited by contemporary visual art at the moment, but Chinatown's Morning Glory has been visually exciting me most lately! The keyrings and bizarre characters they have for cheap-cheap-cheap never ceases to astound me!
This entire week I have been horror/thriller obsessed! I love film and studied it at Uni, so for a long time was scarred with a constant habit of over analysing. Misery and Rosemary's Baby are two stand-outs from this week. I also loved The Dark Knight.
Sui Zhen writes songs that have the unrushed energy of slow-rising smoke. Each acoustic strum and lyric sparks all the emotional temperature of a high fever. It's a dangerous combination when she's wearing a paper origami dress, like on her self-titled EP! Keep close to the crackle of Sui Zhen news by looking up her website here.