There are very few times when one may get awestruck by the charming abilities and immeasurable range of spectrum emitted by artists. When those moments do come about, there is a sort of allure that can’t help but spring out. A charm that lingers even when the moment is over.
Daily Cpop had the honor of interviewing the very entrancing Matt Hsu ( Matt Hsu’s Obscure Orchestra) and the captivating Cait Lin, in light of their collaboration, “Welcome to the Neighbourhood”.
The collaboration, also features CHUNYAN and ILL MO, adding on to the excitement of the dream collaboration.
Daily Cpop’s Exclusive Interview With C-pop Artistes: Matt Hsu & Cait Lin
Q1: Working and collaborating with various artists must be a whole different ball game as compared to solo work. How did your collaboration for “Welcome to the Neighborhood’” come about?
Matt Hsu: When I’m in my composing mode doing my ‘one person orchestra’ thing – I feel like Hayao Miyazaki in the studio, floating around in idea and rich imagination, but outwardly very quiet and determined looking. When the instrumentals feels whole, break free from that solitary mode and start feeling excited about collaborative possibilities – what poets, singers, rappers, instrument specialists I can work with. After being in my bedroom studio for weeks, I’m suddenly filled with social energy. It’s been so exciting working with more Taiwanese rappers before.
My Taiwanese heritage is something I’ve felt very disconnected too, and in my wanting to touch those roots again, but in a way that I throw my whole heart into and feel deeply engaged with, and that’s music.
Cait Lin: The Taiwan version of ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood’ began with Matt and I connecting online. I had just heard his award-winning track ‘Make Everything’ and followed him on instagram as I absolutely loved his unique sound. Soon enough, Matt and I bonded over our shared cultural background, as we are both Taiwanese-Australian ‘華僑’ as well as our mutual love for music and expression. One thing led to another, and soon enough I was on board to co-produce the Taiwan version of ‘就當家裡: Welcome to the Neighbourhood.’ We’ve also just released a jazz version of the the track produced by my band ‘Zy the Way 中庸’ which shows how much of an exciting journey this song has been on since it’s release.
Q2: How long did it take to finish everything concerning the song, from the songwriting process, to the music video?
Matt Hsu: Composing the original instrumentals took me about 3 weeks in my room, playing different instruments and experimenting with different textures and arrangements. I completed the original version with Australian rappers and poets in late 2020.
On a whim around that time, I sent some music to Taiwanese radio stations – a song called ‘Make Everything’ that features Taiwanese vocals. Caitlin, who hosts a show on ICRT, got my message, and we started chatting about a Taiwanese version of the ‘Welcome To The Neighbourhood’. She’s incredibly well respected in the Taiwan music scene, so she brought literal hip-hop icons Chunyan and ILL MO, as well as special spoken word guests like Vita on board in the next few weeks. This was around the start of 2021.
Around March 2021 when everyone’s schedules freed up, we got stuck into recording. The rapper wrote their parts really quickly, a week or two I think, while Cait got to work adapting the chorus lyrics into Mandarin. I had the rappers film their recording sessions, so I began mixing the music and editing the music video at the same time, integrating some footage of Taiwan I took on a trip in 2017 to dig into that feeling of neighbourhood.
About a month later, we had a complete song and music video, ready to send to the world. Caitlin and I got stuck into press and promo, we tapped into our networks rather than pay for a company to do it.
Cait Lin: Matt and I initially began exchanging ideas for the Taiwan collaboration at the end of 2020 following our ‘e-introduction’, however it was only until early 2021 did we manage to get Ill Mo and Chunyan onboard. Once we had all the players confirmed Once we had all the players confirmed and ready to work, we recorded the track over March and April 2021 for a May 2021 release. I’d say the real meat of the track and details really came together around late March when we could hear all of the moving parts and it was a matter of just fine tweaking the elements.
Once the song was send off for mixing and mastering in Australia, Ill Mo, Chunyan and I began recording our portion of the music video. After we got all the visual bits and pieces together, it was time to start putting together the press release and reaching out to our networks in preparation for a release.
Q3: Your song talks about the time period we are going through currently; as artists, how has the pandemic affected your usual work?
Matt Hsu: The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but it’s always shown the strength of community and the perseverance of our social ties. As musicians, we’ve had show cancelled and can’t easily rehearse, but it’s also given opportunities to go focus on composing and songwriting – those things that do require a level of reflection and solitary crafting.
Cait Lin: For the first year and a half of the pandemic, Taiwan was largely not effected due to the government’s careful handling of the situation. Unfortunately on May 15th 2021, Taiwan joined the rest of the world and went into a lockdown, which it saw all performances, gigs, festivals and other opportunities either be postponed or cancelled. The lockdown proved very difficult for me since I am a session singer and I love working with people. I had to invest in a home set up, which I previously did not have. Since then I have been doing recordings remotely and instead of rehearsals we have online band meetings. Though I have really enjoyed using this time to listen to new music, release some songs and focus on other ways to improve myself as a musician other than through the traditional ways of practice and performance.
Q4: How would you each describe the message you would want to relay with ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’?
Matt Hsu: I feel the core message is, through whatever challenges the world throws at us, our culture is still exuberant, cheeky, community-oriented and rich with diversity – what makes us a community is still there in us, even if it’s harder to be together physically.
Cait Lin: To me,’ Welcome to the Neighbourhood’ is about celebrating our culture and the why we are proud to call ourselves Taiwanese. Throughout Taiwan’s history as a country, we have largely been denied a seat at the table due to political concerns. Though time and time again, we see the people of Taiwan find a way to rise out of any situation and even welcome others into our own neighbourhoods.
Talking to Matt Hsu!
You are, interestingly enough, a One Man Orchestra. How did that idea come about?
Music has always been a core part of personhood, but I didn’t know it would end up being like this, and I’m really happy it is this strange experimental orchestra!
I was in a folk-punk band called ‘The Mouldy Lovers’ for 10 years. A scruffy ragtag group of seven who I had so many fun adventures, travelling around the country and touring Japan. That decade was period of opening my eyes to so many things – it freed me from these corporate train tracks I was on, and without realising it, I was surrounded by eclectic music and different instruments. It made the perfect incubation for my Obscure Orchestra sensibilities.
For clarification purposes, exactly how many instruments do you play?
Okay, this question is tricky, because I believe anything can be an instrument. The turning of a doorknob, seed pods, bicycle spokes… maybe it’s easiest to list them and let you decide.
I’m also very far from an ‘expert’ in any of these instruments – and some instruments, if you can play one you can play the other with little learning. I’m just willing to give everything a go, and practice until I get the ‘knack’ of something.
Vibraphone/maribma/xylophone/t’rung/tuned cups of water
Percussion: gong/triangle/shakers/cups/plates/bits of nature
I also enjoy taking field recordings and using those in music.
When did you pick up your first instrument?
Properly, trumpet when I was 10 years old.
Is there a specific genre of music that you would say has influenced you the most?
I think my entire musical outlook is shaped by the variety of music I seek out. But at a pinch, I’d say film scores – movie soundtracks.
You tend to merge poetry and music, was poetry the basis of your songwriting beginning?
No, I don’t tend to write poetry and I don’t think I’m a particularly good lyricist. But I do happen to work with a few spoken word artists!
Getting to know Cait Lin!
Describe your earliest memory of your venture into music.
I first dabbled in music at the age of 6 years old when I was living in Russia. My parents were big fans of classical music so they took me to the ballet, orchestral concerts and even signed me up to piano classes. Although I don’t play classical music anymore, this exposure to music definitely had a profound impact on the way I listened to music, how I embraced it, and ultimately my choosing of my career later in life.
Your voice is so beautiful and clear cut. Who would you say, if any, were your vocal inspirations when starting out?
My biggest vocal inspiration would have to be Amy Winehouse, she was the first jazz/soul artist I heard and soon thereafter began digging into these genres. She lead me to discover Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald, who still to this day are all my vocal inspirations. Prior to Amy, I loved Alicia Keys, P!nk, Christina Aguilera and Rihanna – they were the coolest singers around when I was growing up!
Do you have a specific genre of music that you would say has influenced you greatly?
I’d absolutely have to say vocal jazz music. When I was in high school, I was very fortunate to learn and discover the ‘Great American Songbook’ which has been the foundation of my musical development. Learning countless classic jazz standards and popular tunes from the earliest part of the 20th century lead me to truly fall in love with the art of performance and the freedom of jazz. From jazz I then slowly ventured into learning a bit about the different styles of popular music from the 1930s to today.
If you were to pick any of your songs, that would best describe your style, for a new listener to get acquainted with, which song would that be?
As it currently stands, I’ve only released one single under my artist name and it’s called ‘累 Lei’ which means tired in Chinese. It’s a bilingual tune featuring a mixture of neosoul/urban sounds. Actually, it’s also the beginning of a music genre shift I’m in the process of making as I’m set to take my career in this direction over the next few years. Though don’t worry, it doesn’t mean I’ll stop performing jazz music, my band Zy the Way is still very much making original modern jazz and our jazzy arrangements of popular tunes.
Bonus content! We asked the artist to each give us a five song playlist and name it!
This is a pretty zig-zaggy playlist, but it represents a good sliver of the stuff I lovey. Let’s call it ‘Bemusing Bikeride‘
Ohashi Trio (大橋トリオ) – Milk & Sugar (ミルクとシュガー)
Tkay Maidza – Don’t Call Again
Nardean – aux cord
Fleet Foxes – Going-to-the-Sun Road
Blackbird Raum – Honey In The Hair
I absolutely adore jazz and soul so here’s my list!
I’d probably call it ‘Soup for the Soul’
Until You Come Back to Me – Aretha Franklin
Star Child – Ashley Henry, Judi Jackson
Small Stars – Zy the Way 中庸 (this is my jazz band!)
Insanity – Gregory Porter, Lalah Hathaway
Give Me the Night – George Benson
Don’t forget to check out “Welcome to the Neighbourhood”!
Also, be sure to checkout the Jazz rendition of the song!
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