AARising has just posted up their feature interview with R&B singer songwriter Dawen. It’s fairly in depth but helps you gain an insight into who Dawen is and how his experiences and musical idols have influenced and defined his sound. He seems to be a very level-headed guy and very self aware, which is definitely harder said then done, especially for musicians. They talk a bout a lot of different subjects but if you got some time I recommend you check it out!
You can read it at AARisings or in full after the jump.
This A-Profiler we bring you musician and songwriter Dawen. Find out what he is most passionate about with respect to his music, who some of his influences have been, and what he thinks is the biggest misconception of being a music artist.
What R&B song best describes who you are?
Erykah Badu’s “On & On” and Maxwell’s “Sumthin’ Sumthin’.” “On & On” for its philosophical poetry and “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” for its sensual romanticism. The year was 1997 and I saw both of the music videos for these tracks on MTV. People were calling it neo-soul and I found it unlike anything else I had ever heard. Those two songs were the start of everything for me; they were my portal into old school soul and R&B. They also capture two distinct sides of my personality: one that finds inspiration in social issues, and one that relishes in the sensual realm.
What’s your favorite old school and current R&B artist?
There are so many amazing old school artists to choose from! If I had to choose one it would be Marvin Gaye. During his career he really developed from a singer of pop accessibility to a social activist who used music to question the problems of his time.
My favorite current R&B artist is without a doubt, Maxwell. He’s old school, too, in the sense that he refuses to jump on what’s trendy, appreciates live instruments and writes music that is well crafted.
What separates you from other Asian American musical artists?
I like writing about social issues that I care about. A lot of the time my music deals with things like racism and identity. I know a lot of people find this sort of thing tiring and irrelevant, but I will continue exploring these issues for as long as I live.
Having said that, I am not the only Asian American artist who talks about identity. MC Jin’s ABC immediately comes to mind as an album that explores dual cultures. Nor am I the only one writing within the R&B tradition. Sue Jin and Vudoo Soul are two R&B Asian American artists I particularly admire. They both opened for me at my CD release and we’ve joked about all getting on a bus and going on tour together!
At the end of the day, as unique as one may be, it’s still about collaboration and community. I truly believe these things.
Do you believe Asian Americans are well represented in the music industry?
Not at all. We caught a glimpse of it when At Last (currently known as Tatum Jones) appeared on “America’s Got Talent”, and when Harlemm Lee won “Fame” a few years back. (Does anyone even remember that?) But mainstream America will still have William Hung burned into their consciousness. The recent success of Far East Movement is just starting to undo all that damage. It’s also nice when artists like Jay Sean make it to #1 on the Billboard Top 100. However, with Jay Sean there’re two problems: one, Jay Sean isn’t American; and two, no one knows that Jay Sean is of Asian descent. Currently, any Asian American representation in the music industry feels like the rare exception. Just look at Shania Twain’s incredulous response to recent American Idol contestant John Park. The guy’s got soul, Shania! Get used to it!
How has R&B music progressed since the 1980’s?
R&B, like every other genre, is blending and morphing into cross-genre categories. Artists like Beyonce, for example, are just as comfortable on pop stations as they are on an R&B ones. Meanwhile, Auto-Tune has been influencing everything from R&B, Pop, and Hip-Hop.
I think R&B reached a peak in the mid-90s when Boyz II Men were at the top, and Lauryn Hill was debuting her solo album. Babyface’s songs ruled the charts and TLC was combining R&B and Hip/Hop. Songs were very melodic and harmony-driven. During this time, R&B was very much pervasive in mainstream America while never losing its essence.
I get nostalgic thinking about this time period. It’s also why I like Maxwell so much. He’s managed to explore and grow without crossing over into pop. At the same time, Erykah Badu has done the same thing by going in the opposite direction, stretching the confines of R&B into abstract realms that an artist like Bjork could appreciate. Meanwhile, R&B lovers everywhere are waiting for Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo to get back in the game.
What are you currently working on? Where do you see your music career taking you in 8 years?
I’ve been promoting my debut album American Me, which came out last September.
I’ve actually just returned from the December part of the American Me Tour! It was such an amazing experience that brought me from LA to New York, to Hong Kongand Taiwan. I even ended up getting hospitalized in Taipei after my last show! Since then, I’ve been using January to recuperate and get back up to health. The American Me Tour starts up again in February! Next month I’ll be playing at Luminance @ The Loft, UCSD, and the Firecracker Nite N Day Festival in Los Angeles, just to name a few.
Having a career in music is the most fulfilling thing in my life. I hope that in the next 8 years I would have finished a few more albums, collaborated with some of my musical heroes, (Maxwell, Erykah) and inspired a lot of people. It continues to be an incredible journey and I can’t wait to see what happens next. As an Asian American advocate I’d like to see my music empowering other Asian American artists. I want to be at the forefront in leading the community, and to be in a position to affect real change.
What’s the most interesting experience you’ve encountered with a fan?
Last November while attending BANANA, a conference of Asian American bloggers in Los Angeles, I had the chance to meet in person AA blogger Minority Militant. Although we had never met before, he recognized me from my days playing in Chicago. He came right up to me and called out something that I can’t repeat here but to the creative effect of: “Holy &^#@!, It’s Dawen!” Although I knew his remark was loud enough for the whole conference room to hear, I did marvel at the fact that we live in such a small world. Apparently, Minority Militant saw me perform at my first Chicago show ever as a singer-songwriter! What are the odds?!
Last CD or album you purchased? What artists can we find on your mp3 player?
As I’ve just returned from the Asia segment of my American Me Tour, the last CD I purchased was that of Taiwan artist Yoga Lin.
On my mp3 player right now are: Prince’s Lotusflow3r, Maxwell’s BLACKsummers’night, Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise!, The Decemberist’s The Crane Wife, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, D’Angelo’sVudoo, Zap Mama’s Amazone, Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis, and a copy of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaroconducted by Riccardo Muti.
If you were in a boy band what would be the name of your group and the title of your first track?
We would be called The Bruce Lees. Our first track would be called “Nunchuk Girl”.
What are five things you want to do before you move on to the next life?
1. Learn another language, maybe Arabic or Hebrew?
2. Write a symphony
3. Run a marathon (I’ve done a half-marathon already)
4. Become an ambassador for bone marrow awareness (Check out A3M!)
5. Travel to each of the 50 United States.
What is it about music that inspires you?
Music is the ultimate window to the world. Through it I experience different cultures, genres, moods, styles. Whether it’s through the lyrics of a Bob Dylan tune or through the movements of an hour-long symphony; through a bossa nova or bluegrass folk song, through an Italian aria or Mando-pop tune, music has the ability to make me laugh, cry, and everything in between. Through music I gain a better understanding of people and of myself. The life experiences that others pour into their music ultimately inspire me and get interpreted with my own experiences and my own music. I can’t think of any other art form that pervades my entire being in such a visceral way.
What can we find you doing if you aren’t working on music?
Training for a marathon (I’ve been training for years, haha), reading a bunch of books all at once, shopping for groceries at Ranch 99, and catching up on Lost in time for the last season!
What’s the secret to writing song lyrics?
Write what you know.
Write what you don’t know.
Keep the inspiration coming by expanding your sound library. In other words, listen to a lot of other music that’s completely different from your own. Read books. Learn and draw inspiration from great writers.
Live your life to the fullest and experience as much as possible. That way you can better relate and express through your lyrics what it is that you feel.
What are you thankful for this holiday season?
Everything! This year has been so blessed. I’m so thankful for the completion of my album and the amazing CD release show! I am grateful to my family, friends, fans and supporters who all turned out in full force. While this has been a challenging year for me in many other ways, I am thankful for the love and support that I have experienced the whole way through.
What are you asking Santa for this Christmas? Will we see a Christmas album from you?
I’m asking Santa for a new keyboard! It’s time for a new one!
I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas album! However, I think there may have to be a few more non-seasonal albums first.
The first time you performed in front of live audience how did you feel?
Exhilarated. I’m sure there was a huge rush of adrenaline involved.
When did you first realize you could sing?
I think at a very young age I found myself constantly singing around the house. There was always a lot of classical music playing. I remember I used to try singing along with the symphonies that I heard. It didn’t really work because the symphonies were always so long and there were so many instruments playing the melody.
What are some misconceptions being a musical artist? What’s the biggest perk?
There’s a misconception that being a musical artist is all about performing music. I’ve learned over the years that being a performer requires a lot of organizational skills and business sense, especially when it comes to booking venues and marketing one’s show. For both those who are indie, and those who are on a label, there are a lot of things that go into a music career that have nothing to do with the music. For this reason, I really wished I had taken more economics and business classes when I was in school.
The biggest perk is the fact that I get to do what I absolutely love. Not only does playing music let me inspire people, but I also get inspired by the people I play for. I just can’t imagine doing anything else. Every artist relishes the moments when fans come up to them and tell them how much their music means to them.
What career path would you have gone through if you weren’t singing?
Hmm, I dunno. When I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a fireman. Maybe I would have pursued being a gourmet chef, or president!
Thanks for answering my questions; do you have any words you like to leave your fans with?
Thanks for reading guys! Check out my music at http://dawen.us. I’m also on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Peace!