By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
Baiyu, the Chinese American R&B singer and actress from MTVu’s “The Freshmen”, has released a new EP, “Fan Fair”, due out April 15, 2011 through on her official website at www.baiyuonline.com.
The first single, “Together”, is available as a free download for fans to show their support with a donation that will go to the Japanese consulate in aiding earthquake/tsunami relief efforts. The EP is also available on iTunes, Bandcamp and GlobalGrind.com.
It was just last December 2010 that Baiyu released her debut EP, “B-Side” (on the JMD/INgrooves/Universal label). The airplay on led to featured spots on The Source, MTVIggy, SoulTrain.com, and various other blogs and magazines.
Baiyu was born in Xiamen, China, and raised in a musical family, She was singing in school choirs and could read and compose music by the age of six. She was eight when her family moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland, and where she took an interest in American popular even before she could speak English.
She immersed herself in activities outside of music such as kickboxing, Chinese dance, ballet and modeling. As a model and actress, she has worked with Seventeen magazine, appeared in four independent films, and was a host for MTVu’s hit show “The Freshmen” for three years.
In addition to her goals to become a popular entertainer, Baiyu focused on her studies and graduated in 2008 from Princeton University, where she was a member of the Black Arts Dance Company and a vocalist for the University’s Jazz Ensemble.
Baiyu took some time to answer questions from Asian American Press.
AAP: How has your debut album, “B-Side” been doing since it was released in December 2010? Where are you proving to be the most popular? Close to home where they know you, or are there surprise communities out there that seemed to have caught on to your sound?
Baiyu: The creation of “B-Side” was not only a huge accomplishment in my book, but also a really big blessing. It’s been quite well received, which as a first release, was a really big pat on the back for me. I don’t have the exact details of where the album is most popular, but I’ve definitely been surprised, quite a few times, with the diversity of support from not only within the states, but internationally. A few of the songs were featured in French, UK and German blogs, as well as Japanese music sites. It’s been quite an adventure!
AAP: Tell about the songwriting process and the musical arrangements. How much were you involved and how much did the label do with engineering to add more to it?
Baiyu: The great thing about the way that distribution labels are structured is that it, for the most part, gives the artist free reign when it comes to the creative process. I personally wrote and recorded every single song on the album. I was able to choose my own mixing and mastering engineer, and completed the project independently as an artist. For me, it’s quite a thrill to see this EP, that is such a pure reflection of me, really take form and take off.
AAP: Is the recording process different than the live performance? What is the difference between being on stage and in the studio? Were there collaborations?
Baiyu: The recording process is very different from live performance. For me, there’s a much higher level of self-reflection and self-awareness when it comes to my vocals while I’m recording. In the booth, my only concern is with whether or not my voice is painting the image and writing the story in the way that I want the song to eventually take form. The studio is much more introspective and personal in that it’s just me, myself and I… and well, the producer.
Whereas recording is like chopping up a live performance and going through it with a fine tooth comb, actually performing live is more so about the energy and the full body experience. You get immediate feedback on the stage, and you can actually see how people are reacting to you through their body language. Being on stage is a thrill – it’s like a roller-coaster ride – whereas being in the studio is the design and construction of the ride itself.
I love and welcome collaboration. For my upcoming album Fan Fair, the entire EP was created from the seed of an idea to a full blown song with my executive producer Kaleb “KQuick” Rollins. I also have a feature on my song “Take a Number” with an amazing MC by the name of Fred the Godson. Having a different artist on my track really adds another layer of interest and perspective to the song.
AAP: How are you being received as an Asian R&B singer in mainstream America, and overseas?
Baiyu: The U.S. market has become a lot more open minded in the last decade. When I first started off my career as an Asian R&B singer, a lot of questions arose about authenticity and marketability. Labels really wanted to push me one way or the other – they felt like I either needed to be Kelly Clarkson, or Jill Scott, where in reality, I just wanted to be me. With more and more Asian singers coming on to the scene as of recent, and with the growing popularity of YouTube, the American audiences have warmed up to the idea of something a little more different than what they’re used to.
I haven’t really expanded my repertoire much overseas but that’s definitely the next step. I’ve been working with a ton of producers in Europe, and have recently been working on pushing my tunes out to the Japanese market. I think that the time is right for both mainstream America and the overseas market to really embrace an Asian singer with a soulful voice!
AAP: Are you touring or working on a new recording project or both? Do you post your tour dates?
Baiyu: I’m releasing a new project called Fan Fair on the 15th of April. It’s a soulful, R&B driven album that has a range of tunes all the way from uplifting to party hopping. I’m releasing it as a free download on music.baiyuonline.com as a big hug and thank you to my fans for their support, hence the title Fan Fair. At the same time, I’m also allowing folks the opportunity to donate any amount that they choose towards the project, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in Japan.
I’m in the process of planning my tour, and will release dates and locations as soon as the details are finalized. Everything will be posted on my website.
AAP: It sounds like your parents were giving you a traditional upbringing with Chinese dance and ballet. How did you come to get into modeling and acting? How did you land the big jobs such as Seventeen magazine, four independent films, and as host for MTV’s “The Freshmen” for three years?
Baiyu: My belief is that a creative spirit can’t really be contained. As much as I love music, I also love to move, and speak, and play pretend. Maybe it’s the kid in me that never refuses to grow up. My parents are very much traditionalist, but at the core of it all, they’re also musicians and can understand my experimental mentality. My mom sings, but she recently took up dancing, and although my dad focuses on wind instruments, he was in a choir for quite a long time.
For the most part, getting myself into modeling and acting really just involved watching out for opportunities, and not being shy about putting myself out there. With the internet as the wealth of information that it is, it’s not hard to raise your hand and say “Hey, over here, I’d like to participate.” Also, having friends with similar interests is also a great way to find out about word of mouth opportunities, which is really how I started.
AAP: What is next for your acting projects? Do you need to be in New York or Los Angeles? Where do you base yourself now?
Baiyu: Both of the short films that I just wrapped are in post-production, so right now, I’m just waiting for them to come out of the editing room and onto the silver screen. I’m excited about doing the festival circuit, and talking about the roles! I’m always looking for new and challenging projects when it comes to acting, so definitely be on the lookout for my next move. Although a lot of film based projects are out in LA, you’d be surprised as to the number of opportunities that there are in New York. Ultimately, I’d like to be bi-coastal, but for the most post, I spend my time in New York City.
AAP: What do you recall of Xiamen, in southeastern China? Do you visit China? Are you still very connected? Do you perform there and how do they take to one of their own as an American R&B singer?
Baiyu: I recall bits and pieces of Xiamen, but mostly wonderful memories. It’s a charming city with great food, great shopping and even better scenery. There’s nothing to complain about when you grew up on a beach surrounded by palm trees!
I try to visit China as often as possible, but I’d actually like to visit my home country with even more frequency. Most of my family is still out there, and my grandparents are getting quite old, so it’s very important to me that I stay connected to them and to my roots. Outside of small scale performances when I was younger, I haven’t performed there since coming to the United States. I suppose it’s because whenever I’m back there, I’m so set on spending as much time as possible with my loved ones – catching up and having quality time. I actually think it would be amazing to perform out there! I’m not sure if my relatives or old friends quite understand R&B music, but they’ve come to accept that this is something that I’m passionate about, and in turn, love it just the same.
AAP: You mention that our parents are musically gifted, your father a bamboo flute player. Were/are they professional musicians or was their work something else that brought them to America?
Baiyu: As much as my parents lived and loved music, they were not professional musicians back in the day—although my dad is now a professional flute teacher. It was, as with many first generation immigrants, the prospect of a better future that brought them to the United States. As college graduates, my parents came here not only to extend their fields of learning, but to also ensure that I had a bright path ahead of me. I’m extremely thankful for their fight.
AAP: Your bio notes that your early training at the age of six was largely informal to include school choirs. What spurred your interest in music? Was it there before moving to the United States?
Baiyu: To be quite honest, I feel like I was born into the music. My parents are both musicians, so singing and creative performance were part of my day to day. I still vividly remember my mom running around the courtyard doing chores, but at the same time, singing the most beautiful melodies as she worked. As soon as I was old enough to join a school choir, I was all for it, and even put on some solo performances as early as preschool. I adore going through old pictures, because it really does remind me of the beginning, and of the genuine love of music that’s been there since the very start of it all.
AAP: What was it like moving to Gaithersburg, Maryland near Washington, D.C. at age eight? Did the environment influence your growing interest in American music? What made the female vocalists of R&B your particular favorite?
Baiyu: Moving to Gaithersburg, Maryland was certainly a culture shock, but in a really great way. My lifestyle in China was very minimalistic, so it was great to come into a space that felt like an All-American neighborhood with all the amenities. Even though my life was still very simple and minimalistic comparatively to the average American, it was great, for me at least, to have the luxury of having a school bus take me to school, and a bath tub that always had hot water!
American music changed me in a way that I never could have expected. When it comes to Chinese music, performance tends to lacks the type of “soul” that’s inherent in American R&B music. Having discovered such amazing artists at Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Whitney Houston, Mary J. Blige, and TLC, gave me a completely different perspective and take on creative expression. The music of these artists has really compelled me to dig so much deeper and be that much more personal with my own creative experience and vocal expression.
AAP: How did you maintain such a solid academic standing and get into Princeton University where you graduated in 2008. What was your primary area of study?
Baiyu: As an offspring of extremely ambitious and loving Asian American parents, it’s been instilled in me ever since I can remember that education is first and foremost. Outside of being a perfectionist who is empowered by learning and thriving in an academic setting, I also feel the need to make my parents proud.
I wouldn’t consider myself that smart, but I do work hard, and I have a genuine interest in my area of study which was Sociology. As a songwriter, who’s also a people-person, this major really gave me a sort of gateway into human and societal insights. It challenged me to look at life and situations in a way that I may not have previously. Overall, Princeton was an amazing experience that I’m immensely grateful for.
AAP: What do you see yourself having to go without to pursue this career? Is there a tradeoff, whether temporary or permanent to focus so much on music and/or acting?
Baiyu: There’s always a tradeoff when it comes to seriously pursuing one’s passions. There’s going to be that question of, should I hang out with my friends on a Friday night, or do I write new music and hit up the studio? Because I’m extremely determined, 9 out of 10 times, the answer is going to be music or acting, but that doesn’t always mean it’s an easy choice.
Although my social life suffers, and my days are jammed packed and can even be a bit stressful, at the core of it, I know that it’s worth while. Nothing worth working towards comes without sacrifice. For me, I have the rest of life to socialize – right now, it’s about staying focused, and loving every blessed moment that I have to be creative.