The pop harp world is going from strength to strength: we never cease to be surprised and delighted by what artists from all over the world are doing with our electric harps. While Jakez was in Taiwan, he was very impressed by Paige Su, with whom he performed a concert as part of the Camac Harp Day. He emailed me afterwards about her, so I immediately set about the onerous side of my job that is surfing YouTube and iTunes.
Described by the Taipei Times as “one to watch”, Paige Su is a harpist, flautist, and singer-songwriter: an exceptionally diverse musician with equally broad formal training. Quite a lot of her web presence is in Chinese, so it’s great that she had time for an English-language interview with Harpblog. In any case, one of the best things about music is that ultimately there are no language barriers.
On her study background
“I started Western classical training at the age of eight (piano), picked up the flute at eleven, and continued studying with private teachers. I graduated from Taipei’s Hwa-Kang Arts High School (music department) in 2001, majoring in flute and minoring in piano.
Then I was accepted to the University of North Texas College of Music in 2002, majoring in Music Performance (Flute). In 2003, I started secondary study in Harp (I didn’t think about it too much at the time. I just loved the sound and the instrument so much), and soon I was accepted as a double major in Flute and Harp Performance. At the same time, I was awarded the George Moray Flute Scholarship.
When I was fifteen, I started dreaming about becoming a jazz musician. UNT has a world-renowned Jazz program, so I was able to learn a lot and be involved in a very diverse musical environment. Other than Western classical and jazz, I was strongly influenced by world music, especially South Indian (Carnatic) music. I had a great teacher for that, Poovalur Srinivasan.
After graduating from UNT in 2006, I travelled to South India many times, for up to six months at a time, doing further research and studying the Carnatic flute. Currently, I’m also a founding member of a world- fusion group called “Coromandel Express.” This group combines Indian and Western music, and in the group I play flute and harp, as well as provide some vocals.
As well as these kinds of academic musical pursuits. I started writing songs in 2005 and finally recorded my first independent EP called “Heterogeneous” in 2011. It was released by Asiamuse Entertainment. There are four original songs featuring me on vocals and harp, Cody Byassee (USA) on drums/percussion, Martijn Vanbuel (Belgium) on bass, Mike Tseng (Taiwan) on jazz organ and Xiao- Yang Zhong on guitar. (I have also attached a review of the EP from the Taipei Times, the leading English newspaper in Taiwan.)
On singer / songwriting:
I have spent a long time wondering where I belong in the existing “musical categories.” Sometimes it’s frustrating not being able to tell people what I do in one simple phrase, since I really love all my diverse musical projects. At first, the ”Heterogenous” EP was just a fun project. I did not put too much thought into it other than just to record the music that I wrote and wanted to share. But soon, I realized I could actually combine all the musical elements that I love together. I realized that I could create something new, something different, something I hear in my head as a whole.
It’s hard for me to describe my own sound. I usually just take whatever sounds I hear in my head. It’s really like a melting pot of alternative, classical, jazz, rock, folk, world, etc. In my songs, I usually write about my observations of life, sometimes about animals or nature (as metaphors for human beings), and often about personal realizations that I make in my own life. I usually don’t plan my writing out too much. Usually I write because I feel certain emotions while I’m practicing my instruments. At first, I try to be intuitive to what I’m feeling. Then I take the material from my inspiration and craft it into song structures later. I even write when I’m traveling - I have written a few songs using ipad apps!
I like to do cover songs of singers/musicians who have inspired me. Sometimes I make special arrangements of songs purely for fun, or for the shock factor at live shows :)
On upcoming projects
I am performing a series of six concerts at the Legacy (one of Taipei's premier live music venues) throughout 2012. This concert series, titled "Paige Su - No Boundaries", will contain a different theme with each show, and it gives me an opportunity to present a wide range of musical expression from different angles. Each production will see collaborations with a revolving cast of some of Taiwan's most talented musicians, resulting in fresh arrangements of my existing songs and new songs to showcase each show's theme. No two performances will be the same. The first show was on February 22, and it was called “Deep Blue”. The next show will be on May 9, and the title is “Departure”. Musically, we are going for a folk-rock/Indian sound: we will feature Indian musicians on tabla and sitar, along with a rock band format that includes me on harp/vocals (I’ll be playing the Camac Little Big Blue), plus electric guitar, bass, and drums. (Some videos from a similar program we did last year can be found on Youtube).
Other than the “No Boundaries” series, I’m working on a new album. I have also just been nominated for “EP of the Year” and “Future Shock” awards by the Association of Music Professionals in Taiwan.”
Here is a review of Paige’s EP, Upside Down, in the Taipei Times. You can download it from iTunes.
Paige Su (蘇珮卿) is one to watch. In producing this beautiful sample of sophisticated jazz-pop, the singer-songwriter drew from extensive formal training: She graduated from the University of North Texas College of Music with a degree in flute and harp performance, and while there explored jazz and ethnic music. She now travels regularly to India as a devoted student of the Carnatic flute, a bamboo instrument used in South Indian classical music.
The EP’s title track, Upside Down (格格不入), begins with an alluring, fluid harp intro and breaks into an orchestration that’s one part jazz and one part rock a la Queen. But there’s no Freddy Mercury flamboyance here: Su comes across as having a gentle demeanor, with her silky rich voice treading delicately on top of the bombastic guitar-bass-drums arrangement. Her lyrics are simple but evocative; this song’s power comes from Su’s soft delivery, particularly when she sings the line “screaming and crying for help” repeatedly.
Su proves herself an adept jazz singer on Break Out (The Chicken Song), a funky fusion number that gets wonderfully weird with an instrumental jam full of angular, dissonant harmonies. On Raindrop Still Life, Su showcases her talents on the harp, weaving a droning hypnotic groove laced with Japanese koto-like melodies.
With these three songs (or four if you count both the English and Chinese versions of Upside Down), Su shows the artistic depth needed to make intelligent pop music. Let’s hope she follows up with a full-length album.